Literature Competition Entry #3: Fragments from an Outlaw’s Journal by Georgina Stones

Darkness folds around Joe, memories flickering, painfully, to the surface, while he waits for the train that Ned promises will come…

I pour another glass full of whiskey and reach into my pocket, the small packet of opium powder ruffles beneath my fingers. I think this is my third dose, but I cannot be sure. Nothing will be strong enough to blur the vision of Aaron, lying dead at my feet. I have long been haunted by the blood that was spilled at Stringybark Creek, but nothing could have prepared me for the blood that leeched out of Aaron. Christ. The way it spurted between his fingers in a wild arc of crimson, as he clutched at his throat and staggered backwards. But I aimed again and pulled the trigger, the shot shredded through his shirt and skin, instantly shattering his ribs, which exploded out from underneath his favorite cotton shirt. Aaron gargled and spluttered, falling backwards, he smashed his head against an old potato box. Then came the screaming and wailing of Belle, piercing my ears worse than the blast of the bloody shotgun. I looked down at what I had caused, my eyesight blurred, the bashing of Dan’s fist on the door seemed a hundred miles away…


I dared not tell Ned of what had occurred, and thankfully, he has not yet asked. If I were a superstitious cove I would tap on this table, but I have never cared for such a notion…We had gone to Aaron’s with the intention of killing the mongrels hiding in his hut, we hoped it would scare Sherritt out of Victoria. But when old man Wick knocked on the door and I heard the bugger laughing, I could not contain the rage that burned. Aaron had virtually starved us out, he had become as much our enemy as that bastard Ward and smart old Hare. I had remained loyal to him, even when my own mother was in my ear, I had not faltered in this loyalty. But a man can only be pushed so far. I had done six months in gaol for the idjit, breaking rock, my feet red raw from the ill-fitting shoes I was constantly marched in, all for the cow he had slaughtered. Spent a day and a half sweating in the lockup for the effing trouble with Ah On…After our release I swore the bastard would never put me away again; I have always been a man of my word.


I swirl the glass to dissolve the powder and throw back the contents, if I still had the sensation of taste I’d have complained of the bitterness, but my dependence on alcohol and opium has meant I can no longer taste a great deal. The weeks after Stringybark Creek, I was never separated from the bottle. How could I not be? My dreams were constantly filled with gunshots, shouting and blood. The nights were the worst. Hard to escape reality when you’re stuck in a cave with three other men, all of us with blood on our hands. In order to deal with the visons that plagued me, I’d drink myself into a stupor and obsess over the rings on my fingers. Twisting and pulling at them until my fingers were swollen and red. The following morning I would wake, slumped against the rock, with Danny standing over me, a pannikin of creek water in his hands. I was showing them to Mrs. Jones earlier, and she wanted a closer look, but couldn’t get the damned things off. They have always been a tight fit, especially Scanlan’s, I think he must have had fingers like a woman, certainly nothing like my pair of fives. Suppose these rings have become a part of me now, Ma would tell me it’s so God knows that I have sinned, but I think he knows anyhow, with or without these blasted things…


A week after Da died, Ma gifted me a prayer book for my fourteenth birthday, but not one for the word of God, I tore the pages out and replaced them. It’s become my journal, an outlaw’s journal, I suppose. I’ve been writing in it here, whenever I am gifted the chance. The bits I had written about Maggie I gave to her as a gift of my love. She is unable to read a great deal, so I recited to her what I had written. Danny reckons he keeps a journal too, but it’s only a few bits of scrap paper, and truth be told, I’ve not seen the young beggar ever writing.


Ma has always been of the opinion that religion and having faith is of the utmost importance. Da would often humor her, but I have found it difficult to do so. I always detested going to church. A few times I would hide in Wick’s orchard; however it was always to no avail. One incident I have never been able to shake from my memory occurred just after Da had died. The priest, whom I knew to be a liar, ventured close behind me and put his hand on my shoulder, his nails digging deep into my sack coat. “You’re a nice looking fellow aren’t you?” He whispered. Unable to conceal the fear that trembled within me, I shook from him and ran out the door, not stopping until I reached home. When Ma arrived back with my brothers and sisters, her face was distorted with anger. She yelled at me for embarrassing her in front of her friends and swore I would face eternal damnation if I were to act like that again. She blamed my behavior on the books I read, so she threw them all in the fire. For a long time I tried to be the son she wanted, but I was never quite good enough. It always seemed to me she would have preferred Aaron as her son, he wasn’t, as she put it, “afraid of hard work.” I have never understood her, she would berate me for spending afternoons at the public library in Beechworth, yet she insisted she valued education…


The only time I remember her being truly proud is when I came first in my class in reading and writing. Before Da had his turn, I was always a good scholar, even when bloody Aaron tried to persuade me to muck about with him. Da couldn’t read or write anything, except an ink scratch that resembled his name, but he liked me to sit beside him at the table and write him poems. When I was given the certificate by Mr. Donoghue, I dared not put in my pocket for fear it would tear, so I held it in my hands, as tenderly as a newborn lamb. On the walk home with Kate and Patsy I held it aloft, so proud I was of what I had achieved. I can still remember, as if it were yesterday, Ma and Da’s faces when I arrived home, the look of pride, something I have not known since…


Relaxed by the opium powder and whiskey, I lean back in my chair and let my eyes wander around the room at the collection of men we have rounded up, some full of pluck, others as skittish as foals. Through the doorway, I can see Dan playing cards with one of the younger men, while Jane Jones sits on his knee, holding one of his revolvers. He catches me looking and winks over Jane’s shoulder; I merely shake my head at him. He’s always been a cheeky bugger when it’s come to girls, reckons he has had many a donah. When the pair of us would stay up, keeping sentry over Steve and Ned while they slept, Danny would tell me endless tales of his time with a young lass named Ginnie, who seemed to be nothing but skin and bone. Of course, I’d tell him stories about the women I had charmed…


Ann Jones, her cheeks flushed, moves about the bar. After the dancing had concluded she quizzed me about Maggie, I didn’t say much. What can I say? Stuck here, waiting as I am for this godforsaken train, so that we may send it and all its police occupants to hell. It’s a pity old Ward and bloody Mullane won’t be travelling; I’d give all the money in the world to see their bloated and mangled carcasses amongst the wreckage. I will never forget when the pair of them came looking for Aaron and myself at Sheepstation Creek, the way they looked down their noses, near scoffing at us they were. When I was first outlawed, I sent him word that if I ever caught him, I would shove his body in a hollow log and burn it. He knew I was serious. Joey Byrne rarely plays bluff.


Pulling the cork free with my teeth, I empty the remaining whiskey into the nobbler and throw it back in a single swig. I wish to quell the thoughts that gnaw, but I know it is all in vain; Aaron lying face down in his own blood and gore devours my mind…


Tearing another packet of opium powder, I tap the contents into the glass which begin to dissolve in the sticky remnants of whiskey and reach across for the gin bottle. Gulping the drug, I finger the keepsake that is hidden beneath my crimean shirt. Maggie, my darling Maggie. When we are alone together there is such hunger between us, I have never known a woman quite like her. She helps me to forget the reality of this pitiful existence, where I am able to lose the outlaw guise and become truly myself. Maggie is branded with the scars of her previous life in Cornwall, and I swear to her, and I swear again, that if I am to ever come across him I will do more than merely shoot the mongrel. We often lie together in Maggie’s quarters at the Vine, wrapped in a haze of opium filled bliss. I smile now as I think of her, curled around me, sucking opium smoke like clean mountain air… She has begun making visits into the Chinese camp to procure the drug, as the traps have made it too hot for Patsy to do so. I wear her ring around my neck as a promise of my love and the future I hoped may be granted to us. Yet with every hour that passes on the hands of Mrs. Jones’ grandfather clock, I become less certain…


I must finish here, Neddy is calling for me. There is a trap named Bracken who must be fetched.

Literature Competition Entry #2: The Book of Drops by Ben Holgate

The master and his apprentice occupied the hangman’s cell, intently focussed on their macabre lesson.

‘The knot is instrumental in the breaking of the spine, son. There is no room for error on placing the knot,’ advised the master.

A man in his fifties, the master was growing older, developing a bald patch at the crown of his scalp and his hands trembled constantly, affecting his script, his grip and his ability to tie a noose. It was time to hand his unenviable livelihood away. He had been responsible for 19 executions at the gallows just four paces outside the door, most of them having been clean and instantaneous, yet he had learned some hard lessons too. He would be present for his apprentice’s first execution, and no more after that. It was important that the younger man learnt fast and thoroughly.

The apprentice looked at the coil of rope his master offered in his outstretched hand, trying to come to terms with the gravity of this new vocation. Mixed emotions welled within his stomach and his chest – fear, nausea, sadness, empathy, an immutable thirst for justice – and binding all of that was a steely sense of resolve.

The master, hands trembling under the weight of the rope, tried to read behind the young man’s eyes. ‘Take the rope, son.’ The apprentice looked up from the coil of rope and the men’s eyes met.

‘I remind you sir,’ said the apprentice, ‘that I wish for you to not call me that.’

‘Ah yes, forgive me son,’ responded the master, oblivious to his continued offence. ‘I do it out of mere habit.’

‘It would please me if you would break the habit. My mother graces Heaven because my father is a wretch – ‘

‘Aye, that is true,’ the master interrupted.

‘ – and I would prefer not to be reminded of my connection to any father, except that of my only true father now; the good Lord in the kingdom of Heaven.’

The master watched his reflection in his pupil’s glassy eyes. The apprentice held his eye, attempting stoicism, but a single tear betrayed him by springing from his eye and free-falling down his face, followed by a trembling lip and a single sob, before quickly recovering his composure. The master felt his own eyes fill up for the man, but managed to hold back the water.

‘Not many men get to legally avenge their mother’s death,’ said the master. ‘You need to take the rope, before my hand gives out.’

The apprentice took the rope.

‘Let’s see what your noose looks like,’ said the master, taking a small wooden stool from the corner and drawing it into the centre of the room before sitting on it. The apprentice kneeled, and uncoiled the rope, feeling the fibres of the hemp strands run through his palms as he let it uncoil to the floor. He took one end of the rope, and made a large loop, folding the tail of the rope back along the edge of the noose. The master watched closely, every flick of the apprentice’s finger and every turn of the rope. The result was a fine noose.

‘That’s good work, son. A capital job indeed. Now rise and fit it round my neck.’

The apprentice looked up at the master, and then rose to a standing position. When he had accepted this new vocation, he was riding a wave of righteous anger, as were all others in the Clifton Hills community. Christian decency demanded an eye for an eye, and his poor murdered mother should be avenged. The apprentice had readily presented at the State Executioner’s office volunteering his services to hang the wretched devil who confessed to the bloody affair. He hadn’t foreseen any possibility that in the following weeks, as the emotional wave ebbed, that shades of grey might wash out what was initially a black and white picture. Now he stood in a chilled, bluestone cell in the gaol, the trap only six paces away, the lever only three. The ominous cypress beam dominated overhead, decorated with the scars and patina left behind by forty-four previous executions, the most notable being that of Ned Kelly’s eleven years earlier.
Now as he was about to place a noose around another human being’s neck for the first time, the conflicting emotions resurfaced. He was able to muster enough mettle to slip the noose over his master’s crown. The master inhaled sharply as he felt the rope slide past his ears, and the rest of his body joined his hands in the trembling.

‘Now slide the knot around to the left ear, right under the jaw there. You want the knot to sit firm against the jawbone, else the rope might not draw tight right enough and you’ve got a death by strangulation on your conscience.’

‘My conscience is my own worry,’ said the apprentice, terser than intended.

‘Ah, that it is my boy. Your emotions are justified in wanting to inflict a painful and miserable death, but you will be under close scrutiny from the sheriff and the warden, and a decapitated body or a man writhing in agony on the end of this rope for minutes on end will reflect poorly on my craftmanship.’

The knot rested secure under his left ear, firm but tight.

‘Now we must move to the scales. A correct weight is imperative for knowing how far to let the drop.’

Both men moved to the scales, where the master stepped upon them and demonstrated the correct procedure for an accurate measurement.

Moving to a wooden bureau, the master opened a narrow book and showed his apprentice the table of drops.

‘Greater minds than ours dictate the length of the drop, son.’

‘The British Home Office,’ said the apprentice, reading from the top of the table.

‘No drop should exceed eight feet.’

‘That’s right,’ replied the master. ‘Although I think they guess as much as we once had to.’

‘What’s your meaning?’ asked the apprentice.

‘Well, the rule is that all deaths must be instantaneous without being unnecessarily violent, even when they clearly aren’t. Abide by this chart my boy, and the surgeon won’t question your methods, despite any bungling. I’ve found it to get the job done more often than it turns to suffering, so maybe there’s something in it. Still, seeing a man kick and struggle for twenty minutes at the end of this rope is something that will stay with you.’

‘So what does the chart say for your weight?’ asked the apprentice.

‘Well son,’ began his master, ‘the scales say 13 stone 1 pound. That makes me 183 pounds, so by the book the length of the drop must be four-foot-seven.’

The apprentice’s eyes scanned the chart, looking at the rows of numbers. He was literate enough, knew his arithmetic and his reading, though he wasn’t so good at writing, but could get by well enough as to appear educated. Looking at the way the rope sat around his master’s neck, the apprentice pondered the alternatives to a precise and clean break. The rope sat a little lower than a short but deep, stitched wound on the master’s throat.

‘And what of your wound? How will it hold up to the drop?’

‘Ah, I reckon it will give out soon enough, but if you place the knot correctly, I’ll be dead before I’m aware of it, and if the chart holds true there won’t be enough force to tear my head entirely from my shoulders.’

‘Should I practice caution and make the drop shorter to save it from tearing from your shoulders?’

‘By God’s mercy, absolutely not!’ hissed the master. ‘And don’t get any notion of raising such concerns with the surgeon either. I’ve seen his meddling in my trade have grievous consequences. I won’t be the victim of one of his arbitrary decisions to change the state of things. The Heavenly Father knows I did what I did, though I don’t, but I’ll face him in fair judgment. I ought not have to go and suffer a cruel mortal death unless He wills it himself. You follow that chart son, you place this knot exactly as it is now and leave the rest to the Lord. Do you understand me?’

‘As you’ll have it,’ said the apprentice flatly.

A brief moment of silence fell before the apprentice spoke again.

‘Why did you kill her?’

Now the master’s eyes betrayed his emotions, and whilst he abstained from sobbing, his tears flowed freely.

‘I cannot even remember doing it, though I know that I did. I loved your mother, I did. My heart was her kingdom. While I was riding the tram down Bourke Street, I saw her walking in the street, arm in arm with Thomas Hogan. I took her out walking, to have a proper conversation about it with her, and when she told me she would never love me, that her love was for only Hogan, it was the devil himself bringing hell up to Earth for me to suffer here. It was the devil took control of my body. I was cast outside and the devil crawled inside me and it was he that slashed your mother’s throat. I’ll swear it on the Bible if you bring one to me.’

‘It was you. You are the devil!’ shouted the apprentice, enraged by his master’s blame-shifting.

‘Right you are, I suppose you are right. It was these trembling hands that held the razor on that cursed night, and I stand before you now ready to pay my debt to you, and to her, and to the righteous people of the colony.’

‘You tried to commit suicide and escape your true justice.’

‘I tell you again it was the devil inside me, son. I have never been capable of such inexcusable sins. I would never wilfully commit such unholy crimes. My faculties had abandoned me.’

‘You’ve made an orphan of me,’ said the apprentice. ‘In one despicable act, you’ve robbed me of my mother and my father.’

‘This is true,’ said the master, ‘but you still have your father until that trap swings open.’

‘That trap will swing open. I will pull that lever with a sure and steady hand, and I will watch my father, the devil, plunge to his rightful place. Until then, him and I have nothing to speak of, except our lessons.’

The master wiped the tears from his cheeks, smiled at his son one last time, and began demonstrating how the white hood was to be fitted to the condemned.

Literature Competition Entry #1: Meeting Dan at Stringybark Creek by Joanne Stritch

Many a ghost has come back to a place where life took them down a path they regretted. So was the situation for the image of a man kneeling next to the gum tree. Leaning his slim weight on his rifle with one hand, one knee was on the dewy ground and the other leg bent, heeled foot flat against the earth. His unbuttoned blazer exposed his waistcoat and his stained trousers were slightly baggy but tucked tidily into his riding boots.

The man felt burdened by the weight of an event that took control of the end of their lives; him and his brother and that of two friends. Near to him he saw a splayed body lying on its back, all bloody with a helmet still on. Himself, he wore a brimmed felt hat, cord under his nose, the trend of his group. He had thought it was so cool. Heroes of the bush they were, his group. What does that really matter now? He could almost feel his thin moustache cringe in disgust.

The man’s eyes looked far into the bush below, but showed no expression. In his soul he looked with regret, regret for what his young life became, how wasted it was and how one solitary event had sealed all their fates. The landscape remained similar, preserving the battle scene on the hill above the creek. The body was long gone, carried out on a stretcher with the others. They had won this event, his group, but had lost with their lives. He would stand with his brother and mates again in a heartbeat against a force so strong, so unfair and unbeatable; a man had only two options.

Immense pride at the mateship of his group flowed thru his aura. They were a fair minded group of blokes, fair to most that crossed their path. They created their own sense of justice but nobody got hurt from this justice, except maybe the banks. The supposed justice that was served their way was cruel, emotionally and physically. There was reflected hurt back to the authorities at this event but it wasn’t his group’s choice to have this outcome.

Want flowed thru him willing the bush, with all its living scents of eucalypts and peppermint trees, to force some life into him and move him on. Transition him into a higher sphere and take him away to his family. Instead he was a contradiction; stuck like lifeless paste to a place in the history of the valley, whilst the valley was full of life, feeding its nature and evolving. He fed nothing, not even hope. There was no colour in his world, only a monotone of dullness.

The man was very still and statue-like, slumped slightly. If his mother walked past she would’ve given his shoulders a friendly shake in support to try and cheer him up. But his mother was long gone, and the man wished he had led his troubles further afield from his beloved family. If he was real life flesh and blood his black coloured eyes, which pierced the air like a fast shooting bullet, would disarm the most confident person walking by. That same person would be able to see straight into his soul, with a view directly to the hole in his chest where his heart should be. A heart shredded and burnt into ash by physical forces but also emotionally destroyed by guilt.

Drawing attention to his presence did not feel like the purpose in him being here, and reliving the events was certainly not attractive. Searching for a method of how to connect to try and heal the pain was on his mind, not knowing how proved the problem. Sharing emotion was not his strong point. He’d physically been a weight bearer for his group, despite his lean appearance. Being emotionally supportive by just being present was his method. Right now he was staying patiently in a position ready to act, but also ready to wait. Could this convey sorrow, could this fix the injustices of the past, could this bring forgiveness which might ultimately let him rest? He’d been around for too long, a dead man was not supposed to be frozen in an aura of defeat.

“Dan Kelly’s Account of Chesney Vale”

Being a young man with large hands and strong arms you’d think I was perfect for brick laying but alas it was not for me. I tried to help Ned out on a job but the job just wasn’t suited to me. I tried my best to carry the blocks and mix the mortar and to be honest they were overworking me as I was the new fellow. I tried my best but couldn’t keep up, they said I wasn’t fast enough then when I went faster they said I wasn’t careful enough. The other bricklayers had a good old chuckle at my expense and once the job was done and everyone went to the pub to celebrate “Henry the German”, the foreman, bought beers for everyone but me, said I could drink like a man when I could work like a man. I’d have smacked him in his kraut mouth if I’d not have incurred the wrath of the others.

Three weeks I was there helping out and I got a decent pay out of it so I went and got myself new boots. They were good boots and they were the first I remember wearing that hadn’t had Ned’s and Jim’s sweaty feet rotting them to pieces before they reached me. The others at work thought I was a tramp because my shoes were held together with twine. I didn’t care, I had known nothing else. There was one bloke at the job who was called Bluey and he thought my rags was a great joke. If ever I took off my jacket he’d hide it so that the next day I had to come to work in the cold with nothing on but my undershirt and an old crimean shirt of Ned’s that were full of holes. Bluey was a real bastard, would call me the brat and once threw an old dog blanket at me and told me it was better than my coat and more than I deserved. But with my new boots on I felt a million pounds and was strutting about the place like I owned it. Of course the rest of me was a shambles but my feet never looked smarter. They were elastic sided boots, black leather with a tall heel and they fit into my stirrups right splendid. No socks of course – useless bits of cloth in my opinion but the calluses on my feet might have said otherwise.

Where was my big brother Ned through all of this? The one who was told by Ma to keep an eye on me and make sure I don’t come into no mischief or get taken advantage of? He got as far away from me as he could. Arm’s length were too close. Here was Ned with his fine clothes with no holes, that fit him like a glove, bought with his felling money (none of that ever reached Ma I might add as he were of the opinion George King would take it and lose it on the cards as he were a lousy gambler) his beard all neat, laying stones like a machine because of all the time he’d done on Success, and here was I his kid brother in the moth eaten wool suit with floppy hair, a fluffy moustache and boots held together with twine trying to carry his own weight in stone to stop the other men from laughing at him. As soon as the job was done I didn’t speak to Ned for a month. I went shearing with Steve and just got away from that whole scene. It were at that time that George in his infinite Yankee wisdom took up thieving with Ned. Ned were so proud of how his skills breaking horses and the tricks for rebranding Power had taught him made him a master thief. He and George daren’t breathe a word to Ma or she’d have cut their bollocks off right there and then. I tried to keep my nose clean but in the off season when there weren’t no sheep to shear and there was only so many logs to split to get an income, one falls into bad habits.

I only helped them on one raid and all I done was to help muster the animals once they was out of the farm and lead them into the ranges, I never stole any. I can rest easy knowing my conscience is at least that clear. Ned were a clever duffer but Jim were thick as two planks and got caught every time. He were a habitual liar our Jim, heart of gold but mouth full of lies. Ma would tell him “your forked tongue will get you into strife someday Jim Kelly” and it was too true. He was in Darlinghurst Gaol after getting caught red handed through a lot of that time. When he helped me on the claim he were a good worker but he were itchy footed. He thought the work boring and hated being surrounded by men so he left us to go and chase girls. He said their sweet scent were summoning him, I told him the only summons he was like to get is one to court if he didn’t behave. I guess I were right on that.

But those boots though. I loved those boots. Over time I pieced together a whole outfit – a whole outfit that were my own and there was no holes or frayed edges or mysterious stains on the trousers. I should point out that my main trousers were an old pair of Jim’s with the knees worn out and a big dark stain over the privates where the clod had spilled grease from his frying pan after a cooking mishap. You can imagine the comments I got about “the brat’s wet himself again” when I was on the site. I can’t ever say that those were happy days. I suppose being a Kelly you’re not allowed to have many happy days. Seems to be our lot in life.


Memories of Morgan

The small army of women and children Ned had decided to shift from the Stanistreets’ house moved into the inn quietly – or at least as quietly as children have the capacity for. Dan kept the door open for everyone to enter, his revolver tucked prominently in his belt. Ned peeled away from the group and strode across the verandah to the whitewashed sign that proudly proclaimed that the tiny inn had the best accommodation. He looked beyond and saw Joe resting his elbows on a fence rail behind the inn near the stables. Ned shifted the slip rail and walked past the bonfire where prisoners warmed their hands against the bitter cold and joined his mate, who was puffing thoughtfully on his pipe. Smoking like a chimney, Ned thought.

“This train is running awful late,” Joe said without looking up.
“Aye, but Hare won’t miss the chance to take another crack at us with a fresh trail. As sure as mud after the rain.” Ned ventured reaching into the pouch on his belt that held his pipe and tobacco.
“What’s he waiting for, then?” Joe’s lips pursed and he fell quiet. Ned used his clasp knife to shave a plug of tobacco to the right size, catching the shavings in his palm. He’d never gotten used to cut tobacco since leaving Pentridge. He put away the plug and knife and rubbed out the shavings, the rich aromatics of the tobacco, like wine, cherries and wood, wafting through the cold air from his warm hands. Joe’s silence began to make Ned uneasy.
“How are you holding up, mate?” asked Ned. Joe didn’t respond immediately.
“I’m just thinking.” said Joe behind tiny curls of smoke that unfurled from his lips. Ned barely glanced at his best friend, plugging the bowl of his pipe and attempting to light it with a match. The cold air made Ned’s fingers less useful than he’d like. It was just another annoyance in a long line of annoyances since Friday night.
“I keep seeing Aaron there on the floor bathed in blood. Can’t breathe, can’t speak. I blew my best friend apart in front of his wife. He knew it was me. His eyes…” Joe trailed off. He was devoid of the colour of health that usually painted his countenance, but instead bore dark rings under his eyes and a blotchy redness that stained his face from his almost constant consumption of gin and whiskey since his arrival. His shoulders sagged as if in defeat. Ned was defiant, however, clasping Joe’s shoulder.
“He chose his side and he’s paid for it.” he said, tiny plumes of smoke carrying each syllable from his mouth.
“Aye, and so shall we if this plan succeeds.” Silence fell briefly between the pair.
“Do you ever think about them – the police you killed?” Joe asked. Ned’s eyes glazed just for a moment as the echoes of gunshots from Stringybark Creek filled his head. He envisioned Kennedy’s watch and the letter, smeared with bloody fingerprints, that would never reach Kennedy’s widow. He felt his own hands releasing the clasp on Lonigan’s gun belt and wrapping the leather around his own waist. He pictured the way the letter’s pages had curled and turned black in the fire.
“Every day,” Ned said calmly, “that’s why I carry Lonigan’s gun and this watch – so I never forget that my own liberty has not come cheaply. After today we’ll never have to look over our shoulder again.”


Joe coughed to clear his throat. “See that mountain there?” he said softly. Ned nodded. “Aye, that’s Morgan’s Lookout. What of it?” Joe shifted to lean against the fence with his back, sucking the last of the smoke through his pipe and letting its woody tones paint the inside of his mouth. “Remember why it’s called that?”
Ned looked at Joe with befuddlement – the story was common knowledge, of course he remembered. “That’s where Dan Morgan hid after he crossed the border from New South Wales. He bailed up everyone from here to Benalla.” Ned bore a smirk of admiration. He’d always had a soft spot for Morgan growing up. He would read the papers with his father to learn of the latest of Morgan’s depredations and occasionally his father would come back from the pub with the latest news on the grapevine. He idolised Morgan for his one man war on unfair employers and the police. To him as a child of poverty nothing was more romantic than an outlaw challenging the very people who he felt oppressed his family and kept them poor. The thought of highway robbery took him back to his days riding with Harry Power. Ah yes, Harry Power, remembered by those who didn’t know him as a funny old rogue and a teller of tall tales, the self-proclaimed friend of the poor and reliever of burdensome purses, the tutor in crime of the notorious Edward Kelly (of course in those days he was simply ‘young Kelly’). How much had changed in the ten years since those days when Power taught him how to smoke a pipe or change a horse’s brand with iodine in between cursing him and hurling whatever was at hand at his head because his stricture was playing up. The smirk faded.

“What then?”
“What happened to him then?”
Joe’s question seemed pointed in a way Ned was not comfortable with. Joe tipped the ashes of his spent tobacco out of his pipe with a dour expression.
“What are you driving at?” asked Ned impatiently.
“Don’t you remember Peechelba Station? They shot him like a mad dog without a fight then they skinned his face, cut off his head and anything else that made him a man before dumping what was left in an unmarked grave, forgotten and unloved.” Joe went quiet.
“Aye, and if I ever find that Wendlan who put the bullet through him I’ll return the favour.” Ned rumbled. Joe scowled.
“This is our problem, Ned. Here we are at the foot of the monument to Dan Morgan’s final days about to do something even he would never dream of, and you’re shooting your mouth off about killing another person. Don’t you see how that makes us look?” Joe’s voice trembled slightly. He’d never gotten angry like this at Ned before – not to his face.
“Do you doubt me, Joe?” Ned narrowed his eyes. Joe could always tell when Ned’s pride was at risk of injury by the way his eyebrows knitted and his jaw clenched behind his dirty red beard.
“Ned, I’ve soaked my hands in blood for you, don’t you understand that? What we’re doing here… It’s almost unspeakable. If that train comes…”
“It will come.”
“…if it comes and our plan works, what does that make us? Where does it end?”

Ned sighed. His eyebrows met, his beard bristled and he puffed his chest out.
“The traps and politicians declared war on us. They’ve made it a crime to know us and they’ve shown there’s no depth they won’t drop to in order to get us. It ends when we win. They want a war? We’ll show them how we fight wars out here. This is Kelly Country!” Ned growled.
Kelly Country…” Joe scoffed, “this is not a war; we have no army here. We have the four of us, a rabble of drunks in that inn as our prisoners and a quarter inch of steel between us and the might of Victoria’s Empire. You’ve not courted a fight, Ned, you’ve engineered a slaughter!” Joe’s countenance seemed suddenly shrouded in gloom. “Maybe we really are the monsters the papers make us out to be.” Ned balled his hands into tight fists as he wheeled around to put Joe back in his place but Joe was already walking away.
“Whether at the end of a rope or the end of a bullet, we’ll have to pay the piper for what we’ve done – what we’re about to do,” Joe adjusted his tatty, crocheted scarf. “And if I have a date with death, I’m going to get some more drinking in first.”

Ned sulked at the fence, in his head he raged about that bloody ingrate, that doubting Thomas, that cad with the larrikin heels and the barmaid lusting over him at the Vine. The cold air condensing against the breath jetting from his nostrils lent him the appearance of a furious dragon. As he gazed at the mountain a crow swooped low and landed on the fence next to him. He stared at the bird with its shiny black feathers and cold eyes. It stared back at him.
“Cawww!” the crow exclaimed. Ned remembered his granny telling him stories of the Morrigan when he was a little boy, the Celtic goddess of war and death who could transform into a murder of crows and protect warriors in battle – or claim their souls in defeat. With a flurry of its midnight wings, the crow left as suddenly as it had appeared. Ned then checked the time…

…and remembered.

Memories of Morgan.png

[Memories of Morgan is a creative interpretation of a discussion that may have happened during the events at Glenrowan in 1880. It is an opportunity to examine the characters of Ned Kelly and Joe Byrne during this critical moment in their lives and how their respective interpretations of their world can help to explain their motivations and later actions during the siege. As much as we know of this event and these people, there are many gaps in our knowledge and creative work such as this can help to fill those gaps if approached in the right way. – Aidan Phelan, author.]