The Parkes Letter

In February 1879 the Kelly Gang crossed the border into New South Wales. The reward on their heads was £4000 and having been declared outlaws by act of parliament, they could be shot dead without challenge. Having successfully robbed the bank at Euroa and made Victoria’s police the target of much derision from the press, the gang decided to take the flashness out of the NSW police as well.

The Kelly Gang performed an incredible raid on the township of Jerilderie over the course of a weekend. They locked up the police, scoped the town in stolen police uniforms, then took the townsfolk as prisoners while they robbed the bank. The plot was executed almost perfectly, except that Ned Kelly’s attempt to apprehend the newspaper editor, Gill, to make him publish a letter he had dictated to Joe Byrne (largely based on the one he had earlier sent to Donald Cameron M.P.) had been thwarted by the man’s fleeing town at the sight of the outlaws in the bank.

Letter writing was a key part of Ned’s public relations campaign to soften his image. He wanted his version of events published so that the public would have a different perspective on events to the one pushed by the press. He believed, quite inexplicably, that he could both state his interpretation of crimes associated with him, as well as graphic insults and threats against his enemies, and come away with people seeing him as the victim.

It was not altogether unheard of for bushrangers to write to the press to state their opinions or try to clear their name. Both Frank Gardiner and John Peisley had done so in the 1860s. The key difference was in the brevity of their correspondence, whereas Ned’s letter spanned 50+ pages.

In response to the Jerilderie affair, Sir Henry Parkes, Premier of New South Wales, doubled the reward for the gang to £8000. This was an incredible sum, equivalent to over $1000,000 in modern Australian decimal currency. This, naturally, raised eyebrows and seemingly prompted Ned Kelly to pen a letter, mocking the New South Wales government and police force.

Sir Henry Parkes

March 14, 1879

To Sir Henry Parkes

Premier N S W

My dear Sir Henry Parkes

I find by the newspapers that you have been very liberal in offering a reward for the Kelly gang or any one of them Now Sir Henry the man that takes I Captain E. Kelly will have to be a plucky man for I do not intend to be taken alive. And as I would as soon die in NSW as Victoria I will give you or any other person who wishes to take me a fair chance to try your pluck. I am at present not very far from Bathurst (in fact I have been in the town of Bathurst and has taken a peep at the bank) Now I tell you candidly that I intend to rob Bathurst and particularly the bank. So now you are warned of course I will not say what time I and the gentlemen that follows in my train will visit the City of the plains. But one thing you can count on that I will pay it a visit. Now Sir Henry I tell you that highway robbery is only in its infancy for the white population is been driven out of the labour market by an inundation of mongolians and when the white man is driven to desperation there will be desperate times. I present my respects to the Sydney police

yours E. Kelly

Needless to say, the Kelly Gang did not rob the bank in Bathurst as suggested, and this was likely a ploy to redirect attention to allow the gang to move without risk of being caught, if indeed the letter was genuine.

If this is truly a letter from Ned Kelly, apparently written without the input of Joe Byrne, it gives an intriguing insight into Kelly that the other letters do not offer. Here, rather than trying to justify his criminal career and threatening violent retribution against his foes, this Kelly engages in a much more playful manner of speaking that is more reflective of the tone used in many of his speeches, albeit with less emphasis on his own victimhood and more on a political bent. It seems he is trying to summon up the spectre of the golden era of bushrangers that he grew up with in an effort to get the government on edge, if only for his own amusement. Again, if this is genuine, it provides a glimpse at a playful, boastful side of Ned that takes a back seat in his other missives.

The author does make a rather odd claim that the Chinese (referred to as “Mongolians”, as per the racist styling of the time) are forcing white men to turn to crime by squeezing them out of the labour market. Such invective was not uncommon at the time, and the prevailing belief among many lower class white men was that the pitiful wages Chinese workers commanded was undercutting their competitors, thus giving an unfair advantage that put white men out of work. Such a mentality was not helped by the press, who seemed to prey on the xenophobia. Little has changed on these fronts. The reality was that economic depression was the root cause of much of the unemployment, as would be experienced by Captain Moonlite’s gang only a few months after this letter was written, leading to their depredations at Wantabadgery.

Ned, as is well known, did not exactly have a good track record with the Chinese. In 1870 he was put on trial for assaulting a Chinese man named Ah Fook. Ned got off due to the prosecution case being weak (much of this likely due to poor translation.) Ah Fook, or at least a countryman of the same name, would later suffer a hideous fate at the hands of his fellows, being mutilated then murdered. Ned didn’t exactly deny that he had beaten the man with his own bamboo staff, justifying himself by stating that he was responding to his sister’s distress as the man verbally abused her. However, this does not automatically translate to Kelly having a racist hatred of the Chinese.

Now, it is certainly possible, if not probable, that the letter is a fake. People impersonating the gang was common for a myriad of reasons. In this case it may have been a practical joke to make fun of Parkes and the police. With that said, the tone and style in of language is quite in keeping with the patterns of speech we know Ned employed when he didn’t have Joe Byrne to refine it. The strangely polite, almost erudite, manner of speaking despite the rough edges, as well as the tendency to declare what will happen with absolute certainty, is typical of Kelly. However, much of the turn of phrase and the overall contents of the letter are so unusual for him that the most likely scenario is that this was a letter penned by someone else pretending to be him, maybe even a sympathiser or close associate who was familiar with the way Ned spoke.

If nothing else, the letter is an interesting curiosity that highlights the way that Ned Kelly had become such a celebrity, even by February 1879, that people could actively contribute to the mythos by impersonating him, and his actions had begun to suggest he represented something political to sections of the population. In essence, this letter encapsulated the zeitgeist of that small period between the bank robberies and the Glenrowan plot.

Bushranging Gazette #12

Tuesday, 1 February 2022

Georgina Stones launches new Joe Byrne book

Historian and author behind An Outlaw’s Journal, Georgina Stones, has written another book detailing an overlooked part of the outlaw’s life.

Ah Nam tells the story of an incident in Byrne’s adolescence when he accompanied a Chinese man, the titular Ah Nam, and became involved in a brawl. Stones has not only crafted a narrative from the available evidence, fully illustrated with original drawings by Aidan Phelan, but has included notes, historical imagery and essays detailing her research, which provided the basis for the narrative. She also incorporates the oft forgotten history of the old Spring Creek camp in Beechworth and its inhabitants – particularly the prostitutes who worked under the infamous madam, Sarah Payne.

Ah Nam will be published through Ingram Spark and Australian Bushranging, and will be available to purchase in a hardcover or eBook format from retailers such as Booktopia, Angus and Robertson, and Barnes and Noble. The book launches on 3 February 2022.

Ah Nam with a Chinese lion in Beechworth [Via Joseph Byrne: The Untold History on Facebook]

Grantlee Kieza returns to the Kelly story

On 30 March, 2022, Grantlee Kieza’s new book The Kelly Hunters will be released. The book, a follow-up to his popular 2018 release Mrs. Kelly, which nabs its title from a Frank Clune book, focuses on the police pursuit of the Kelly Gang.

The publisher, Harper Collins, describes the book as:

…a fascinating and compelling account of the other side of the legendary Kelly story.

Via: Harper Collins

Kieza’s book will be in fierce competition with another book on the Kelly police pursuit, David Dufty’s Nabbing Ned Kelly, which Is also slated for a March release through Allen and Unwin. Both books look set to change the way the Kelly story is discussed for the foreseeable future and provide a welcome counterpoint to the oversaturated library of books that focus on Ned Kelly.

Mad Dog Morgan gets a new home release in UK and US

While Philippe Mora’s 1976 bushranger epic, Mad Dog Morgan, has had multiple DVD and Blu-ray releases here in Australia, international film buffs and fans of the movie have missed out. Now, thanks to Indicator, the movie is getting a new limited edition release for the US and UK markets.

Starring legendary American actor Dennis Hopper and the late David Dalaithngu, Mad Dog Morgan tells the story of the infamous bushranger from his time on the Victorian goldfields to his gruesome demise. Despite superficially veering from the history in some aspects, it remains one of the most authentic bushranger films to date and is well-loved outside of Australia as a slice of “ozploitation” cinema.

The Indicator release features a restored 4K version of the film by Powerhouse Films, both the shorter UK release version of the film as well as the director’s cut, a poster, and an 80 page book, and is packaged in individually numbered casing. Special features include audio commentaries, an option to listen to the original mono audio, image galleries, original theatrical trailer, documentaries Hopping Mad, That’s Our Mad Dog, Mad Country, and To Shoot a Mad Dog, as well as excerpts from Not Quite Hollywood. Australian fans will recognise many of these special features are already present on the locally produced Umbrella Entertainment release.

The Indicator edition of Mad Dog Morgan is currently available on some websites for pre-order, with an expected release date of 22 March 2022, and will cost approximately $27.99USD.

Kelly at La Mama

From 29 March to 3 April at Melbourne’s famous La Mama theatre, a rendition of Matthew Ryan’s popular play Kelly is set to perform.

The play, which has been performed in a variety of locations with a mix of interpretations, depicts Ned Kelly awaiting his trial and ruminating on what got him there.

Promotional art for Kelly

What sets this interpretation apart is that the role of Ned Kelly is being performed by an actor far removed from the historical Kelly’s ethnic background, which is sure to start much lively conversation.

For more information about the season follow the link:

Moondyne Joe

Joseph Bolitho Johns was the subject recently of a feature on 9 News. The article focused on his renowned escape from Fremantle Prison, which is undoubtedly his most iconic feat.

You can read the article here:

The Birdman of Coorong

Once again, the mythical ostrich-riding bushranger of South Australia’s Coorong is the focus of a news piece. This time it is for Farm Online National, written by Chris McLennan.

The article covers the story of the “Birdman” and features relevant quotes from The Meningie Progress Association president. Whether it is true or false is left to the reader’s imagination.

Book Review: The Story of Ned Kelly

A case of “absolutely judge a book by it’s cover”.

In a market so oversaturated with similar (and superior) content, it’s hard to fathom how a book like ‘The Story of Ned Kelly’ by Marie-Ève de Grave can get past the goal keepers of the publishing industry. It is the epitome of style over substance, with a wildly inaccurate and over-simplified “poetic” retelling of the Ned Kelly legend that has less historical accuracy than a Wikipedia entry. The words are accompanied by linocuts that were loosely inspired by Peter Carey’s novel ‘True History of the Kelly Gang’, though I don’t recall any part of that book describing Ned dressed in a bucket and waffle iron as demonstrated by the cover art. It’s nice to flick through and look at the pictures, and Five Mile Press have done a superb job with the printing and materials, but the product is wasted on such a sub-par text when so many better written, better illustrated, and better researched options are available.

I picked this up at Kmart for $12, and I wouldn’t pay any more than that for it. This is the kind of book you’ll find in an opp-shop in 20 years for $2 with a birthday message written on the inside cover.

My recommendation: If you’re looking for a kid’s book on Ned Kelly, leave this one on the shelf and fork out an extra few bucks and get Mark Greenwood’s far better offering, Ned Kelly and the Green Sash, or Janeen Brian’s quirky Meet… Ned Kelly. — AP

This month on A Guide to Australian Bushranging

A Bushranger’s Autobiography

Straight from the archives, this serialised account of the life of William Westwood, alias Jackey Jackey, is taken from the horse’s mouth.

As he awaited his appointment with the hangman, Westwood dictated his life story to a fellow convict, preserving his own perspectives on his lawless career.

Westwood’s autobiography is a frank and revealing account of a life gone astray, and the brutality of life in Her Majesty’s penal colonies.

Fact vs Film: Joe Byrne

It is well known that the story of the Kelly Gang is the bushranging tale most often depicted in film (only rivalled by adaptations of Robbery Under Arms). Depictions of Ned Kelly in media are so numerous that it would be almost impossible for one person to document them all. Given less attention, however, are the other members of the gang. Of the three other gang members, only Joe Byrne’s story has been documented in any considerable detail. Byrne is generally considered to be Ned Kelly’s right hand man and most people only know his story as it relates to Ned Kelly. Joe is a mainstay of film adaptations of the Kelly saga, unlike his best mate Aaron Sherritt, and thus we have a wealth of sources to compare and evaluate.

Because of the sheer volume of Kelly movies dating back to the silent era, there is a daunting task in evaluating all of them in terms of their accuracy to history, so for the sake of this article we will only be looking at the four of the most recent examples:

* Ned Kelly (1970) featuring Mark McManus as Joe Byrne.

* The Last Outlaw (1980) featuring Steve Bisley as Joe Byrne.

* Ned Kelly (2003) featuring Orlando Bloom as Joe Byrne.

* True History of the Kelly Gang (2019) featuring Sean Keenan as Joe Byrne.

These portrayals will be reviewed based on how they are written and overall creative choices. This will allow us to see what works and what doesn’t in each version, based on common criteria. Given the number of portrayals that will be looked at, this will be a bit longer than most articles in this series.

The real Joe Byrne, photographed prior to becoming a bushranger.

Physical appearance and mannerisms

The 1970 depiction of Joe Byrne has a reasonably close physical resemblance to the historical Joe, however he is clearly a man in his thirties. McManus’ Joe has brown hair, a stubbly beard, and blue eyes. His clothing is quite odd. He favours worn down bush clothes with muted colours, as well as a big floppy hat and tall lace-up boots that appear to be 20th century army boots. After raiding the hawker’s wagon he wears a black hat, high heeled shoes, and light coloured plaid suit. He is also occasionally seen with a velvet waistcoat and a brown scarf. This Joe speaks with a nasally Irish brogue, and tends to range in temperament from high energy and playful, to snappy and brooding. He has a fondness for an old-fashioned pint of ale, but does not exhibit any other particular vices.

The 1980 Byrne is the most physically similar on the list to the historical Byrne. He has a long face with large, protruding ears, blue eyes, coppery hair, full beard and light moustache. Again, he looks to be in his early to mid thirties. This Joe favours more fashionable clothes in blues and browns, and is particularly fond of flares, high heeled boots with spurs, light coloured shirts and waistcoats. His signature item of clothing is a hat with a flat crown and very wide brim that curls slightly. He can also occasionally be spotted wearing a ring on his left hand. This interpretation of Joe speaks with a mongrel accent that is mostly Irish, but occasionally slips into something Australian. He is often quiet and thoughtful, though he has bursts of exuberance and joviality, and can be very passionate and hot-tempered. He is frequently seen smoking a pipe, and sometimes drinks liquor. At Euroa he nabs himself brown flares, a brown jacket and a blue waistcoat with brown lapels. He can speak Chinese and is seen to negotiate with a gold merchant.

Orlando Bloom’s Joe is very sober in appearance and manner. He appears to be the right age, with dark brown eyes, a mop of curly black hair and wispy black facial hair. This Joe is seen briefly wearing a sort of Homburg hat, and usually favours fashionably cut clothes in black and dark greys with cowboy boots. During the Euroa robbery he sports a light grey tweed suit, which gives him a much friendlier appearance. At Glenrowan he favours black garb, a long greatcoat and a white knitted scarf. He is occasionally spotted wearing a large silver ring with a black stone set in it. He rarely smokes or drinks, and generally has a quiet, melancholic temperament when not trying to seduce women, to whom he seems to be irresistible. He can speak Chinese, and uses it to seduce a Chinese servant. He talks softly with an Irish brogue, but prefers to stay quiet.

In the 2019 interpretation, Joe is presented at first as a highly excitable dullard, and possibly homosexual, speaking with a broad Australian accent. This continues to be the case throughout the production, but he becomes increasingly prone to nervous breakdowns and zoning out. After the Stringybark Creek incident he tries to convince Ned to escape to America with him so they can eat donuts. He smokes opium almost constantly and is occasionally shown to be so completely stoned that an ember landing in his eye doesn’t register to him. Keenan strongly resembles the historical Joe physically, excepting his long, blonde hair. In terms of clothing, nothing he wears is period accurate. He is shown wearing a brown duffle coat and chinos, or tight shorts, cowboy boots, an Akubra and a cardigan with no shirt underneath. At Glenrowan he wears a pink dress with black and white face paint. He tends not to get involved much in Ned’s scheming, except at Stringybark Creek where he tries to dissuade Ned from attacking the police camp. His temperament generally ranges from childlike enthusiasm to haunted and morose.

The real Joe Byrne was only in his early twenties when he became mixed up with Ned Kelly. He stood just shy of six feet tall, and was well-built with long, delicate features, large ears, pale blue eyes, coppery coloured hair and usually wore a full beard and wispy moustache. He favoured fashionable clothing, especially flared trousers, high-heeled boots and was known to wear a felt hat with the crown turned down. At Euroa he scored a new outfit of elastic-sided boots, brown trousers with matching waistcoat, a grey coat, black tie and a Rob Roy shirt. Occasionally he was seen wearing long boots with long-necked spurs. At Glenrowan he wore brown trousers and waistcoat, a great striped Crimean shirt, blue sack coat and a tattered scarf. He notably wore rings taken from Constables Lonigan and Scanlan. In terms of personality, he could be warm and friendly, usually quiet and reserved, and was known to be very tender with women. On the flip side, he could be quick to rage and became violently angry when pushed. He smoked tobacco frequently, and was known to be addicted to whiskey and opium. Some reports describe him having a peculiar swagger when he walked. Like most young men of his generation, he spoke with an Australian accent and used Australian slang (the accent has been recorded as far back as the 1850s). He spoke in a “clipped” fashion, which probably meant that he tended to drop letters off words (eg. drinkin’, smokin’), or spoke in short bursts.

Photos of Byrne’s corpse provide the most accurate likeness of how he appeared as an outlaw.

Relationship with Aaron Sherritt

Perhaps the most important part of Joe’s life was his relationship with Aaron Sherritt, his lifelong mate. It was his connection to Sherritt that stood to potentially jeopardise the gang’s freedom and liberty.

In the 1970 film, Joe and Aaron have just gotten out of prison and are looking for work. Their relationship is clearly one of two friends who are joined at the hip. When together they seem to have boundless energy and muck around. When Joe learns of Aaron’s betrayal he does not hesitate to assume Aaron has sold him out in order to afford new clothes. There is no internal conflict about what to do to him.

Aaron and Joe in The Last Outlaw are more like brothers. Joe trusts Aaron completely, and it takes a great deal of convincing to get him to accept Aaron’s betrayal. When he does, it boils over into an unquenchable hatred. In this version it is clear that Aaron is trying to confuse the police to help his mates, with Joe being in on it. This serves to make the collapse of their relationship all the more tragic and accurate.

The 2003 iteration has much the same dynamic as the 1970 one, except that Aaron and Joe have been friends with Ned since they were teens so it is more of a three-hander. Joe doesn’t appear to be any closer to Aaron than anyone else. The revelation that Aaron has betrayed them simply makes Joe sad, and he is left questioning why he did it.

In True History of the Kelly Gang Aaron Sherritt is never included, which only serves to push Joe further into the background and make things all the more about Ned.

In reality, Joe and Aaron had known each other since they were very young. They were pretty much inseparable from that time, and did everything together. They both worked with Ned stealing horses, but for some unknown reason only Joe was present at Stringybark Creek. However, Aaron vitally provided shelter and protection in the immediate aftermath, then acted as a double agent to keep the police distracted while the gang moved around. It is probable that Joe knew of this in some regard, which is why he tested Aaron’s loyalty repeatedly when faced with rumours of his treachery. This makes Joe’s anger and subsequent willingness to murder Aaron make more sense, for such a betrayal would have had far more meaning.

Meeting Ned Kelly

The first time Joe met Ned Kelly is a mystery. There is much speculation, but it remains simply that.

In the 1970 film, Joe and Aaron meet Ned at the sawmill where he works when they are fresh out of gaol and looking for jobs. Immediately the trio have a rapport, with Ned declaring that despite there being a lack of work he had best look out for his own kind, suggesting that he will find jobs for them. Indeed, later on we see Joe shifting lumber at the sawmill when Constable Fitzpatrick arrives to question Ned about his brother.

This is almost identical to the how the meeting is depicted in The Last Outlaw. Where this version differs is that Joe and Aaron are introduced to Ned by his brother Jim, the three of them having supposedly just come out of gaol. This time the sawmill is packing up to go to Gippsland, so instead they then join Ned in mining for gold and Joe teaches him how to build sluices.

In the 2003 film we do not see the meeting, Ned is already a friend of Joe and Aaron, demonstrated by the three of them napping together under a tree in the very first scene of the film. Joe and Aaron are next seen waiting for Ned as he leaves gaol. It is indicated that Joe is a family friend and has been checking in on Ned’s family while he was in gaol. There is no indication that they worked together.

In the 2019 film, we first see Joe when he is working as Ned’s boxing promoter. He collects the bets and hypes up Ned’s boxing match, calling him a “dancing monkey” to get him revved up. It is clear that there is a strong bond between the two.

Of course, this is an area of history that is unrecorded, so to write about the meeting is pure speculation. That said, there is no indication in any recorded history that Joe or Aaron ever worked with Ned at a sawmill, and as Ned was only ever involved in one boxing match we know of, which took place before he knew Joe, it is unlikely he would have needed a promoter. Moreover, the earliest that we know of Joe and Aaron being associated with Ned is 1877, when they helped him steal, shift and sell horses. However, Joe and Aaron could have met Ned as early as 1876, when they were in court at Beechworth on the same day as Dan Kelly, meaning they may have waited in the holding cell together. Ned was present as a witness for Dan, so this may have provided am opportunity for their paths to cross. We will never know for sure, but we can guess based on available information, and on that level The Last Outlaw gets the closest to the truth on this point.

Opium use

In True History of the Kelly Gang, Joe is frequently seen smoking opium from a special pipe (seemingly a 19th century Chinese water pipe). The historical Joe’s opium habit is well known. He is often described as an opium addict, though the extent to which he used the drug is unknown. What is known is that he sourced it from the Chinese in Sebastopol, which is where he was spotted buying it by a police spy. Of course, to suggest that Joe smoked it very occasionally as a recreational drug would not have fitted with the grim and gritty story Justin Kurzel wanted to portray, so this version of Joe is rarely straight.

None of the other productions even hint at opium use. At most we see Joe smoking tobacco from a pipe or perhaps a cigar. It could reasonably be argued that this was entirely down to content standards for film and television in the ’70s and ’80s, but as the opium use was not well known at that time it may have simply been that it wasn’t considered. As for the 2003 film, no doubt it was about not only time constraints, but also the connotations that come with a main character using narcotics.


In the 1970 film, Joe is never shown mingling with the opposite sex. There is no indication of any romance at all.

In The Last Outlaw and the 2003 film, his love life is portrayed rather accurately. In the former he visits his girlfriend at night at the Vine Hotel in Beechworth where she is employed as a maid. Though here her name is Helen, in all other respects she is identical to the historical Joe’s girlfriend. In the 2003 film his girlfriend is a barmaid named Maggie who he occasionally visits. In both portrayals she is the one that convinces him Aaron is betraying him. In reality, Joe’s girlfriend was indeed known as Maggie, though this was supposed to have been a pseudonym, and her supplying of information to Joe about Aaron proved important to what eventuated only a few days later in the lead up to the Glenrowan siege.

Where the 2003 film veers from known history is in Joe’s promiscuity. He is portrayed as a lothario who can pick up any woman he wants. He seduces Mrs. Scott at Euroa and Julia’s servant girl when he is in the bath. Though there are accounts of Joe’s life that state he was popular with the ladies, who gave him pet names like Sugar and Little Birdy, there were no definitive sources that claimed he went from pub to pub seducing barmaids or anything of that sort. It is reasonable to suggest he had romantic dalliances with women like Mary Jordan, a barmaid near Jerilderie, and Ellen Byron, his teenage sweetheart who was also a sympathiser, but it is only speculation.

The 2019 film it is heavily implied he is either in a romantic relationship with Ned Kelly or desires to be. Their physical intimacy in particular is on the nose in this regard.

Horse Stealing

In 1877, Ned Kelly set about getting back at the squatters who he had taken exception to, stealing their horses and selling them over the border for profit. This is usually a staple of adaptations of the story to film, but not always.

In the 1970 film, Joe and Aaron are eager participants, joining Ned and his stepfather George King in the trade. In one scene we see Ned negotiate horse prices with William Baumgarten by playing a match of hop-step-jump in the rain. Joe and Aaron eagerly act as adjudicators, measuring the distances. They also stick with Ned after King departs, helping him paint horses so they appear piebald in order to disguise them for sale.

In The Last Outlaw there are more people helping out with the horse stealing racket, including Wild Wright, Tom Lloyd, Dan Kelly and Steve Hart. This portion of the story is portrayed as if it were a great adventure with the men frequently sitting around in camp talking about how what they are doing is an affront to their enemies from high society. Eventually everyone leaves apart from Ned, Joe and George King, though King eventually does part ways with them on a river boat. Oddly, we see very little of the actual stealing and selling of horses.

The 2003 film portrays the horse stealing through a montage, where the horses are taken at night and sold discreetly. It is very similar to the sequence in the 1970 film, but instead of a jaunty, cheeky vibe there is more of a sense that this is an uplifting moment. The horse stealing is conducted by Ned, Joe, Aaron, Dan and Steve, as George King is not featured in this film.

In the 2019 film the horse stealing is conducted by George King, Dan Kelly and Steve Hart. Joe is uninvolved. Instead, while the thievery is going on Joe is mostly camping with Ned and getting stoned.

This is the part of the history where we get our confirmation of Joe and Aaron being associated with Ned. Aaron would later brag about their exploits to Superintendent Hare. At this time Joe used the alias Billy King, which was at one time misreported as George King.

Stringybark Creek

The 1970 and 2019 films don’t spend a lot of time at Stringybark Creek. The former presents it as a musical sequence, the latter reduces it to a couple of minutes rampage with dizzying camera work. Neither of these does a good job of portraying Joe’s involvement.

When one takes time to break down the Stringybark sequence of the 1970 film we see Joe portrayed as Ned’s follower, but also somewhat twitchy and uncertain. He is shown shooting Scanlan with a rifle as the constable struggles to get to his feet. This is obviously Ian Jones’ influence as it was he that championed the notion that Joe was the one that killed Scanlan. By the time Ned brings Kennedy down, we see that Joe is particularly disturbed by the turn of events and appears quite rattled. It is Joe who tries to convince Ned to leave the sergeant to die, clearly afraid to remain at the site of such a horrific crime. As far as appearances are concerned, Joe is here presented as disheveled and wearing a waistcoat and shirtsleeves, and no hat, which is a far cry from how he presented to Constable McIntyre.

The 1980 miniseries took time to build up to Stringybark, showing Joe joining Ned and following him to the police camp out of loyalty. Joe also hands tea to a visibly shaken McIntyre, which is accurate. In fact, McIntyre made a point of noting Joe’s kindness to him in order to emphasise the point that despite treating the constable with apparent empathy, when it came down to it Joe was willing to kill the man in order to demonstrate his loyalty to Ned. Once again, Joe is depicted landing the killing blow on Scanlan, this time with a pistol. This is later used to suggest that Joe continuing to stay with Ned is because he murdered one of the police, despite there being no difference in the eyes of the law at the time between one of the gang killing, or all of them. According to McIntyre’s evidence, Scanlan was shot by Ned Kelly, causing him to fall from his horse with blood pouring from under his arm. This is consistent with the wound identified as having brought about his death due to puncturing both lungs. In this case, even if Joe had fired one of the two other shots that hit Scanlan, which struck his hip and shoulder, it was still Ned Kelly that killed him. It would seem that Ian Jones preferred the idea of Joe killing one of the police in order to take some of the heat off Ned and help reinforce his own bias against Joe.

In the 2003 film, Joe follows Ned’s lead, as in the other depictions, but does not exhibit any notable compassion or kindness towards McIntyre. His head is very much in the game, and it seems that he and Ned are both calling the shots. Joe does not exhibit any remorse or fear, but rather a steely determination. He is armed with a snub-nosed revolver, which is a far cry from the old fashioned rifle with a large bore that McIntyre described him with. When Kennedy and Scanlan arrive, Joe engages in the gunfight with complete coolness, but notably doesn’t actually shoot anyone.

True History of the Kelly Gang shows Joe trying to convince Ned to go around the police, but to no effect. We also see him immediately traumatised by the violence Ned inflicts on the police, breaking down in tears and sobbing. It seems that in this incarnation, Joe was the only gang member with any empathy. The sequence is so fleeting that there is not much to pick from it.


The Euroa sequence in the 1970 film is played as a farce, with jaunty music and comedic, campy moments played up for effect. One example of this is the gang in sped up footage walking around behind a hawker’s wagon then emerging out of the other side fully dressed in new clothes. In this depiction Joe and Ned go to the bank alone and while Joe is emptying the drawers and the safe, Ned bails up the manager and his family. This is a very amusing sequence, but only resembles the history in broad brushstrokes.

The Last Outlaw remains the most accurate depiction of Euroa, with only very minor details that stray from recorded fact, including Joe’s new outfit which was almost completely different from the one depicted. Notably, we see Joe guarding the prisoners at Younghusband’s Station on his own while some of the men inside conspire to break free, which is correct. Joe remains fairly quiet throughout proceedings, which is also accurate, though we don’t see him interact with Mrs. Fitzgerald as he did in reality. Overall, there is nothing especially deserving of criticism in this depiction.

In the 2003 film, however, Joe is present at the bank during the robbery. In fact, he even manages to seduce Mrs. Scott in the process. The gang’s use of Younghusband’s Station as a headquarters is entirely omitted, and many of the moments portrayed are incorrect, but it still maintains a sense of the farcical nature of the raid that was embodied in the 1970 film.

True History of the Kelly Gang completely omits the Euroa robbery from the story. It is possible this was due to time constraints, but given the importance of the robbery in the story, its absence is important. It was during the Euroa robbery that Steve Hart was finally identified as one of the gang members, Joe having been named a short time prior after the connection to Aaron Sherritt had been established (the gang having visited him shortly after the police killings and made their presence known with gunshots). It was this event that began to change perceptions of the gang in the public eye.


In all productions Jerilderie is delivered in a truncated form. As this event took place over multiple days, it would take considerable time to portray all aspects of the affair on screen.

In the 1970 film, Jerilderie is presented as part of the musical montage, resuming after a brief narrative pause. Here we see the entire gang in police uniforms and it is Ned and Joe who rob the bank in disguise as policemen. We also see Ned and Joe take the gang’s horses to the blacksmith. Throughout the sequence Joe remains quiet except for when bailing up the bank manager in his bath.

Once again, The Last Outlaw nails this sequence. It is almost exactly as it happened, albeit in a streamlined depiction that leaves details out. We see Joe getting the gang’s horses shod by the blacksmith and charging the work to the government account, as well as assisting Ned in scoping out the town dressed in a police uniform. Joe is also the one that initiates the bank robbery after entering through a side door, which is correct given that the Jerilderie bank was connected by a corridor to the pub where the gang were holding their prisoners. In this scene, Joe is very much in command until Ned arrives to take over. As the events unfold, Joe seems to be enjoying the escapade immensely. When we see the gang taking breakfast, and Ned makes a point of emptying the bathtub, we see Joe pulling faces at the children in the background. This flash of silliness is clearly a creative choice by Bisley, and not based on anything from history, though it is amusing.

The 2003 film cuts out nearly the entire Jerilderie raid, keeping it confined to a single scene in the middle of robbing the bank. The townsfolk are being held prisoner in the bank while Joe clears out the cash. After Steve pinches Reverend Gribble’s watch, Ned makes Joe begin to transcribe the letter he wishes to send to Premier Berry in Melbourne. Thus, Joe is relegated to little more than Ned Kelly’s PA in this scene. Apart from the odd nod to moments that happened, this sequence is completely inaccurate.

In True History of the Kelly Gang, Jerilderie is a moment of absolute absurdity. Beyond it being in the snow, and the bank being attached to the printing office, we see a group of pallbearers inexplicably carrying a coffin past the scene, as Joe, dressed in hotpants and a sheepskin jacket and not much else, writhes around on the ground. To state the obvious, there is no resemblance to history in this depiction.


Aaron Sherritt’s betrayal is a mainstay of most interpretations of the story, as his murder is one of the few major crimes actually committed by the gang.

In the 1970 film, Aaron is caught out when Joe spots him spying on his mother’s house with police. It takes no further convincing to get this version of Joe to turn, and he bitterly states that it explains all his new clothes. This truncated version works for the limited runtime, but there’s something a bit empty about how overly simplified it is.

In 1980, however, the betrayal is built up more, culminating in Joe being informed by his girlfriend that Aaron was with a policeman in he pub where she works. This moment is played melodramatically with turbulent wind and intense music while Joe scowls and thrashes around in fury. He announces that the “bastard Sherritt” has got to die. Up to this stage Joe had been reluctant to believe Aaron would betray the gang and was acting as a double agent. This is much closer to the history but requires time to play out, which the mini series format luckily allowed.

The 2003 version depicts Aaron’s betrayal as a result of police brutality. Again, Joe’s girlfriend is the one to tell Joe that he’s up to something. Joe and Ned inform Aaron that they are going to rob the bank in Beechworth and then wait to see if police arrive. When they do, the outlaws know Aaron is the traitor and decide he has to die.

True History of the Kelly Gang, because it omits Aaron entirely, loses this vital part of the story. It was Aaron’s death, or at least the gang causing a scene at Aaron’s hut, that was to lure the police out on a special train. By removing Aaron and the rest of the sympathisers, the 2019 film completely changes the dynamic that drove the escalation in the gang’s activities.

In reality, Aaron had been working with both sides. Assisting the police paid his bills, but also gave him an opportunity to keep the police distracted so that the gang could move around undetected. Aaron actually had an agreement with the chief commissioner that if he could get Joe to turn himself in, and betray the other three, then Joe’s life would be spared. Joe frequently tested Aaron’s loyalty, in a manner very similar to that shown in the 2003 film, but as in the 1980 and 2003 depictions, it was Maggie telling Joe about Aaron’s betrayal that sealed the deal.

Murder of Sherritt and Glenrowan

1970’s depiction of the murder of Sherritt is abrupt, to say the least. We see Aaron in his hut with his head on his wife’s lap, the mother-in-law nearby, when there comes the knock at the door. We hear, “It’s Anton Week; I’ve lost my way,” then Aaron gets up and answers the door. Aaron jokingly asks Anton if he’s lost and then after a confused “Ja,” we see a shotgun poke out from under the German’s arm and blast Aaron in the chest. Aaron falls wordlessly and Joe sprints away into the night.

At Glenrowan, Joe arrives in the morning and informs Ned that Aaron is dead. His demeanour throughout the sequence is more boredom than grief, only perking up during the dances. He is depicted in the same costume that he has worn for most of the film, with an oilskin over the top. We barely see anything of him throughout and when it gets to the final shootout it becomes difficult to keep track of which one he is due to the darkness and the fact that his costume looks almost identical to Ned’s.

The Last Outlaw fares much better in both the murder and the Glenrowan depictions. The scene in Aaron’s hut matches the historical account almost exactly. Aaron opens the door to direct Anton home when Joe pushes the German away and blasts Aaron twice in the chest. Aaron falls silently (but dramatically) and Joe grabs his wife, Belle, and orders Dan be let in from the other door. All of this is almost to the letter. There is a brief moment of Joe trying to get the police out of the bedroom, and the scene ends with Joe firing into the ceiling and ordering the police out. The sequence has obviously been truncated for pacing reasons, but the way the scene ends is a little bizarre and very melodramatic. As far as historical accuracy goes, it remains faithful enough to the reality that it conveys an authentic, if not entirely accurate, representation of what happened.

Joe and Dan are depicted as arriving at Glenrowan some time in the middle of the day. Joe is morose and haunted, quickly downing whiskey to steady his nerves. The only thing that is wide of the mark is that we don’t really see Joe interacting with Ann Jones or engaging in the dancing. When it comes to the siege, we see a reckless and defiant Joe in action. He seems to be fuelled by liquid courage and anger. He is shot in the leg and falls against the outer wall before being transferred inside. Once inside his movement is unrestricted and he merely limps slightly to get around. In reality, Joe’s wound was severe enough that he could only crawl to get around.

The 2003 depiction of Sherritt’s murder is highly fanciful, without any clear motivation as to why. Aaron is shown losing at cards to the police in his hut before going to bed with his pregnant (thirteen year-old!) wife. A flutey voice is heard in the night calling for Aaron and the police surmise it is one of his “whores”. When Aaron goes out he is confronted by Joe on a distant hill dressed in unconvincing drag. Joe shoots Aaron in the chest with a shotgun and leaves him dead in the mud before rejoining Ned on horseback.

At Glenrowan, Joe is stern and business-like, as in the Jerilderie scene. He is dressed in a long grey overcoat, and white crocheted scarf, reminiscent of how the historical Joe was dressed while remaining distinctly unique to this interpretation. Joe discovers that Thomas Curnow has escaped and raises the alarm to Ned. Obviously this is a huge divergence from history as Curnow had been allowed to go home by Ned personally, and Joe had been with him at the time. When the siege unfolds, Joe goes from nervous to hysterical with terror, giggling when the circus monkey is shot, to absolutely traumatised. He staggers around with not an ounce of fight left in him.

True History of the Kelly Gang’s overly stylised depiction of Glenrowan has almost no resemblance to reality, least of all in the depiction of Joe. Here Joe walks around in a lacy pink dress with black and white warpaint, his long hair partly tied back and a durry hanging limp from his lips. He bosses Thomas Curnow around and acts as Ned’s enforcer. As Ned prepares for battle, it is Joe that gaffa tapes Ned’s memoirs to his bare torso and kisses him. When the gang realise that the train hasn’t crashed, they retreat to the inn and Joe vomits on the floor in terror. For some reason they never don the bulletproof armour and they all are quickly drenched in blood (though it is unclear where from).


Joe Byrne’s death is well recorded thanks to witness accounts. At around 5:30am on 28 June 1880, Joe toasted the Kelly Gang and was almost immediately after killed by a bullet to the groin. He bled out and was dead almost immediately.

In the 1970 film, Joe gets thirsty after ducking around the bullet-riddled bar room. He pops up to grab a drink and is shot by a tracker. He mumbles, “oh, shit,” and falls. What ought to be a serious moment ends with an odd comical note.

In The Last Outlaw, Joe hobbles to the bar and pours a drink. Ned appears in the doorway and Joe responds in awe, as if this was a sign they were saved. He aggressively toasts the gang and a barrage of bullets strikes him. He awkwardly slumps to the floor as Ned dramatically screams his name. Later we see Father Gibney find his corpse.

In the 2003 film, Joe, as in the 1970 version, takes a break to have a drink. However, in this version Joe is clearly rattled by the carnage around him and wanders through the bar with a thousand yard stare. He pours his drink and leans back only to have the glass explode from a bullet and then cop a bullet through the gap in his armour. There is no toast. He stares in bewilderment then slides awkwardly down the bar and dies.

The 2019 film never actually shows Joe dying. We see him drenched in blood, whose is never made clear, and he abuses Ned for getting them into the situation. That is the last we see of him before the inn goes up in flames.

Grisly Display

It wasn’t until 1980 that any production attempted to recreate Joe Byrne’s body being displayed for photographers and onlookers at Benalla police station. Steve Bisley’s costume is almost 100% accurate, and his posing is as close to that visible in the photographs as we are likely to see. The recreation of the lockup is pitch perfect, and the whole scene with the onlookers and the photographer is, again, as accurate as you are ever likely to see in a recreation. Helen rushes through the crowd and stares in horror at the two-day-old corpse of her lover. The makeup accurately depicts the discolouration and scorch marks that are partly visible in the historical images. It is impossible to find a reasonable fault in the way this scene was portrayed.

Though a similar scene was planned for the 2003 film, True History of the Kelly Gang is when we next see a display of Joe’s body. However, in this version he is roped to a tree while poncho-clad police pose next to the corpse as if for a camera. If any attempt at historical accuracy had been employed in the costumes and location, no doubt this could have been a very impactful shot, but it is hampered by the fact that the only aspect of this that is accurate is that the body was strung up for photographs.


If it comes down to a matter of ranking the portrayals, the above criteria must all be factored in. Ultimately, there is yet to be a fully accurate depiction of Joe Byrne, encompassing his personality, appearance and the facts of his life with attention to complete historical accuracy, which is a shame.

Ned Kelly (1970) – 3/5

Mostly accurate on a very basic level, but the characterisation is so superficial as to miss nearly all of Joe’s personality including his sense of style, his hedonism, and gift for language. Instead we only see the boyish, larrikin aspect of Joe, which is oddly lacking in most other depictions.

The Last Outlaw (1980): 4/5

This remains the best on-screen Joe. Bisley resembles the historical Joe closely in appearance and personality. However, this Joe is played fairly safe, with his alcoholism and drug use notably absent. The decision to portray him as the murderer of Constable Scanlan is problematic, but not egregious enough to damage an otherwise fairly accurate depiction of Joe’s outlaw career.

Ned Kelly (2003): 3/5

This version of Joe goes to pains to portray him as sombre, intelligent, and a lothario. There are many notable inaccuracies in the portrayal, such as his relationship with Ned pre-dating Ned’s prison sentence, and dressing as a woman to lure Aaron Sherritt to his doom. When the odd historically accurate detail appears it almost seems accidental, yet it happens enough to give some degree of merit to the portrayal.

True History of the Kelly Gang (2019): 1/5

The only things stopping this getting a zero are the inclusion of Joe’s opium use and Sean Keenan’s engaging performance and physical resemblance to the real Joe. Everything else from the inexplicable costumes, to this version’s apparent obsession with donuts, is so far off the mark that the character could go by any other name and nobody would recognise it as an attempt to portray Joe Byrne. The fact that any resemblance to the real Joe is apparently accidental would otherwise be enough that it should not even rate a mention as a portrayal of Joe Byrne. A horribly squandered opportunity to utilise a superb casting choice to portray this historical figure accurately.

Spotlight: The Police Commission at Greta

Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), Wednesday 18 May 1881, page 1



The royal commission appointed to inquire into the working of the police department concluded their task of taking evidence at Benalla on Friday night. On the following morning an early start was made for Greta, the party being conveyed in three two-horse waggonettes. The morning being fine, the drive proved a most enjoyable one. We drove over a tolerably good bush road to the north of Winton, and did not stop until we arrived in the locality of Seven-mile Creek, in front of the land occupied by Mrs. Kelly, the mother of the deceased out-laws. It is an allotment of 68 acres, pleasantly situated on a well grassed flat, the Warby ranges rising not far off in the back-ground. Immediately fronting the road are the ruins of a slab shanty that at one time did duty us an unlicensed bush public house. Within the larger enclosure a small plot of ground is securely fenced, and is carefully cultivated as a kitchen garden. This appears to be the only cultivation going on. The house in which the Kelly family live is a slab hut of small dimensions. It is roughly built, but, like thousands of its class, it is well calculated to afford all the shelter and convenience required by its bush occupants. In front of the door a domesticated kangaroo was browsing ; a few fowls, a cow and a horse in the distance, appeared to be all the livestock on the ground.

Mrs. Kelly at home with her children: Alice, Kate, Grace, Ellen and Jack.

Mr. Graves and Mr. Anderson went to the house and knocked at the door. Their summons was answered by Mrs. Kelly, who has been liberated from gaol for some eight weeks. They told her that they had called to ask her if she or any members of her family wished to make any statement to the commission, as they were quite prepared to hear their complaints if they had any to make. They told her that it had come to their knowledge that the female members of the family had complained of the conduct of the police, and if they desired to prefer any such complaint the commission would hear it. Mrs. Kelly replied that her daughters, Grace and Kate, would tell the commission how they had been treated. After some delay Grace came forward, but owing to an awkward shyness, not unnatural to a girl of 14 in her station of life, she was unable to make any statement. Mr. Longmore and Mr. Graves went into the hut and endeavored to put the girl at her ease. Her mother asked her to relate what Ned Kelly had told her as his last request to repeat to the authorities. The girl, then, after some hesitation, said that Inspector Brook Smith had dragged her and her sister out of their beds and made them go before them (the police), while they searched the place, their object being, to protect themselves against any sudden onslaught of the bushrangers. She further stated that Inspector Brook Smith had wantonly upset dishes of milk, a bag of flour, and had torn down the wall paper without reason or provocation. Mr. Longmore then asked the mother if any of the police had made improper overtures to any of her daughters, and was answered in the negative. Grace further said that Detective Ward had threatened to shoot her if she did not tell where her brothers were. Some words passed as to the question of Mrs. Kelly selling out. She stated that she would be willing to sell out and go to another district, but there was some difficulty about the title. The interview closed, and the two commissioners retired. There are some very young children about the premises, the offspring of Mrs. Kelly. Grace Kelly is not a prepossessing girl, though her sister Kate is said to be tolerably good looking. Mrs. Kelly is a woman who might very well pass for 40, and if she were well dressed, for even less. Her hair is jet black : she has a good color, regular features and by no means a bad figure. There is, notwithstanding, a restless and furtive movement in her dark and somewhat small eyes, and a worn expression creases her face at intervals, showing that the calamities that have overtaken her have left their shadows of sorrow. Kate Kelly, who was said to be in the house, did not make her appearance.

Before leaving this part of the sketch it is advisable to say a word or two about the position of the allotment held by Mrs. Kelly. If it was not chosen for its many advantages, it has happened that good fortune gave the late outlaws a situation that was admirably suited to serve the purposes of their vocation. They had an allotment on a flat piece of land where they could watch the approach of anyone coming ; they were within a few minutes’ ride of two intricate and almost inaccessible ranges of hills; they could reach the hills after a short ride, going to almost any point of the compass ; they had all the back country on which to operate, and for a market they had New South Wales to reach, which was only a long day’s ride ; they were within easy riding distance of Mansfield, Myrtleford, Everton, Beechworth, Wangaratta, Glenrowan, Benalla, Violet Town, Euroa, Longwood, Avenel and Mangalore. These advantages were used with perhaps as much skill as could be employed by any set of uncultivated bushmen. This Alpine country, with its rugged and inaccessible hills, intricate ranges, its numerous caves and its many swamps, may at any time become the retreat of a class of criminals who either wish to escape from the officers of the law or to lead lives of open lawlessness. The commission left Mrs. Kelly’s selection and drove on through what is known as the Gap to Greta. This place can hardly be called a village. It has one public house, a store, and one or two other places of business. There are four mounted constables stationed here.

After a short stay the commission drove on towards Glenrowan, leaving the long Greta swamp on the right hand at some distance from the road. It has been settled now beyond a doubt that the outlaws spent many months of undisturbed repose in the quiet retreats afforded by the islands in this swamp. The tall reeds make it impossible to see men at any distance beyond a few yards. In some places a horse can travel without being seen until you actually come upon it. The gang acted upon the plan of never remaining twenty-four hours in the same place, and whenever they were seen by accident they put long distances between the place where they were observed and their next resting-place. They had no horses with them ; they were always left with friends or blood relations. They slept by day and travelled by night. Although they changed their quarters frequently, there can be no doubt they spent the major part of their eighteen months’ liberty within six hours’ ride of Greta. They changed from the ranges to the swamps, and vice versa. The advantages of this plan were obvious enough. They were near their faithful blood relations, without whose assistance and information they could not have lived, and they were in a country every intricate nook of which they were familiarly acquainted with. Many and many a night the members of the Kelly family turned out from the several places where they assembled, and, with their half-dozen dogs, dislodged the police who were lying in ambush under cover near their houses. Of course they never made themselves offensive to the police, but they came upon them, chaffed them, and allowed that they knew perfectly well where they were. This made further watching for the time futile. In the matter of search, again, it is well known that the gang had better opportunities for watching the police than the police had for searching after them. In addition to their being advised of every movement of the police, Ned Kelly always carried a powerful field glass. On one occasion when Mr. Hare and his party were in the Glenrowan Ranges, Ned and his men were on the opposite slopes. The police could never tell at a long distance what men they might be looking at, but the bushrangers could always make a very shrewd guess as to whether men they saw were police or not.

The party arrived at Glenrowan station at a tolerably early hour in the day. The primary object of the visit was to ascertain if Mr. O’Connor had any special qualifications entitling him to be promoted over the heads of several deserving officers in the force, who have striven hard for several years to distinguish themselves. The commission were advised that if Mr. O’Connor were promoted or appointed over the heads of other Victorian officers it would create intense jealousy and dissatisfaction, even if the effect were not the demoralisation of the force. It has been pointed out that Sergeant Steele, Sergeant Whelan, Senior-constable Kelly and other sub-officers distinguished themselves, and that the effect of placing a stranger over their heads would have a most dispiriting effect, unless the person so appointed had special qualifications of such a character that all the sub-officers would have to admit his superior claims. The immediate object of the commission was to solve this question. Though some evidence was taken, the major portion of the work done was to go over the scene of the contest, and by a series of observations and questions fight the battle over again. The more the plan of the gang is examined the more is its diabolical cunning and cruelty seen. The soundness of Kelly’s judgment in going to the station at all may be questioned. Had the gang remained in ambush at the point where they intended to wreck the train, made prisoners of all they saw, and cut the line themselves, the success of their scheme was almost certain. Just before the curved embankment, over which the train was to have been wrecked, is reached, a curved cutting has to be passed through, and even the precaution of using the pilot engine would not have saved the party. The pilot only ran about two yards ahead of the police train, and as the curve in the line would have hidden the lights of the pilot from view the rear train would have been too near to the scene of the first accident to be able to pull up when the disaster was discovered. Both engines would have shot over the bank, one after the other. The mode adopted by Mr. Curnow in warning the police of this awful trap was as clever as it was brave. To avoid being seen by the gang, he went some distance along the line, and, before displaying the light, he got down a deep cutting through which the train had to pass. According to the evidence of Reardon, a platelayer, as given on Saturday, as soon as Kelly heard the train stop in the distance, he remarked at once, “This is that —— Curnow’s work.” Mr. Hare pointed out on Saturday the exact spot on which he stood when he was shot by Ned Kelly — within a few yards of the point of the house. Mr. Hare passed through the wicket-gate on the side of the railway, and being the first on the ground, became a conspicuous object for the gang to fire at. From that moment the fight became a work of earnestness. Senior-sergeant Kelly took up the work, and carried it on with energy till Mr. Sadleir came from Benalla. The trench in which Mr. O’Connor stood was examined, and found to be quite up to the terse description of a constable on the previous day, “a safe place!” At the same time it is only fair to say that the position commanded the front of the house. The plan of attack proves, on examination, to be a gross mistake. The surrounding of the house by a cordon of police, all of whom were allowed to carry on independent file firing, was an error of judgment, as the firing to the centre involved the necessity of the police practically firing at one another. How they all escaped is a miracle. The corrugated plates of the roof of the hotel are lying about in all directions, and there is not one of them that is not riddled with shot, showing that the firing must have been “high.” The relic-mongers have cut away parts of the fence and niches out of the trees to get the bullets, while they have neglected the riddled iron plates of the roof. The evidence given on Saturday went to confirm previous evidence, and showed clearly that the men, after receiving a general order to surround the house, were left to their own devices. Sergeant Steele pointed out the tree from which he started to attack Ned Kelly alone, and before he was joined by his comrades. He also showed the place where the outlaw fell after being shot in the groin by him (Steele).

After examining the site of the fight thoroughly, the commission proceeded to examine witnesses. Mounted-constable Wm. Canny was examined, but his evidence was not of much importance. James Reardon, a railway laborer, described how he had been imprisoned on the Sunday by the outlaws, and how he was obliged to take part in breaking up the line with a man named Sullivan. At that time Kelly said he had shot a lot of police at Beechworth, and threatened to shoot witness if he did not do as he was told. He (witness) said Hart was drunk on Sunday. The others refused drinks several times, though they were under the influence of drink to some extent. Towards the evening they got more sober. There was no chance of escape from the hotel, Mrs. Jones insisted on their remaining in the hotel after Dan Kelly said they might go. He (witness), with others, made three attempts to escape, but was driven back each time by the volleys fired. It was very hot, and any one would have said so if they had been there. When he made the third attempt he went towards the railway, and was challenged by someone in the trench, who said, “Who goes there?” He answered, “A lot of women and children.” Immediately after a volley came from the trench, and he ran back towards a place occupied by Mr. Sadleir, who told him to lie down on the ground, and he did so. He did not hear the police call out to the prisoners to come out till half-past nine. Three or four hours before that the outlaws were willing that they should go out. At one time they held up a white handkerchief to the window as a sign of truce, so that the prisoners might get out. Immediately three bullet holes were made in the handkerchief. The women attempted to get out but were driven back. Sergeant Steele fired at his wife, who had a child in her care. Her dress and the dresses of several of the women were torn with shots. Constable Arthur threatened to shoot Sergeant Steele if he fired at his (witness’s) wife again. On one occasion one of the police called out, “Cease firing,” and Constable Dwyer said, “Let us polish this lot off first.” Sergeant Steele shot his son as he was attempting to escape with his little brother. He had to turn back into the hotel. He had the bullet in his breast now. On the evening before the fight Mrs. Jones led off the dance and gave her boy 6d. to sing the Wild Colonial Boy. It is only just to Sergeant Steele to say that he stated that he saw a young man coming out in the dawn of the morning on his hands and knees. He challenged him, and told him to hold up his hands. When he did not obey he (Steele) fired at him. The lad is evidently broken down in consequence of the shot. He has never worked since. The commission returned to town by the last train.

TUESDAY, 17th MAY, The sittings of the Police Commission were resumed, there being present Messrs. Longmore (in the chair), Fincham, Graves, Hall, Gibb, Anderson and Dixon. Mr. O’Connor said he wished to call the attention of the board to the great injustice which had been done him by the publication of a paragraph in The Age on the previous day. In that paragraph it was alleged that the object of the board was to inquire into his fitness for the position which the Government proposed to appoint him. Under the circumstances he felt it to be his duty to ask the commission if they had given authority for the paragraph alluded to. Mr. Graves replied that he simply answered the question out of courtesy. He knew nothing about the paragraph. Mr. Hall remarked that he had replied to the interrogations of the members of the press to the effect that so far as he knew the visit of the board was made to the country respecting the conduct of O’Connor, and the appointment it was proposed to give him. He believed that was so, as the inquiry was confined to that point. Mr. O’Connor said he still must say that he felt that a great injustice had been done him, and that the statements made in the paragraph were perfectly unjustifiable, because the evidence that had been taken showed that he left the station with Mr. Hare. No evidence had been given that he acted in a cowardly manner, and the insinuation that he was in a place of safety went for nothing. The chairman remarked that the commission were not responsible for paragraphs which appeared in the press.

Constable Daniel Barry was called, and deposed that he was ordered to do duty in the North-eastern district when the Kelly gang was at large. He thought, at the first, Aaron Sherritt was acting faithfully to the police, but his apathy towards the last caused him to doubt him. When the cave party was in existence he heard one night some voices and reports like crackers. In consequence he asked Sherritt to go and see the cause. He replied there is nothing in it, but he at once ran into the bush and hid himself. He was of opinion that Mrs. Barry, Sherritt’s mother-in-law, knew of the existence of the cave party. The witness proceeded to describe the scene at Glenrowan. When within about twenty-five yards of the house, Mr. Hare was fired on, and the police returned the fire. The order to stop firing was given, and then Mr. Hare said “O’Connor, get your boys and surround the house.” He also said to Senior-constable Kelly, “For God’s sake surround the house, and see that none of them escape.” Mr. Hare, in passing him from the front, said, “Good gracious, I’m hit, the very first shot.” Heard him calling out to them not to let one of the outlaws escape. Saw Mrs. Jones, who walked about the house and abused the police, and saw Stainhurst, Mrs. Jones, her children, O’Neil, and McHugh come out of the house. After Mr. Hare left, and until Superintendent Sadleir arrived he looked upon Senior-contable Kelly as being in command. He received orders from him, and was told by him to remain where he was, as the position was a good one. During the whole of that day he fired about twenty-five shots out of his rifle. A number of the police did not fire at all, as they, with himself, did not think it would be advantageous to do so. The witness gave evidence with regard to the cave party, similar to that already given by Constable Faulkener. Mr. Hare said that when at Benalla, Constable Kirkham had been asked if he had seen him (Mr. Hare) firing after he had been wounded, and he replied in the negative. Mr. O’Connor insinuated at that time that he (Mr. Hare) could not load his gun with one hand, and Kirkham had agreed with him. To show that his (Mr. Hare’s) evidence that he had loaded and fired his gun was correct, he had obtained the gun he had used on the occasion and would show how he used it. Mr. Hare then loaded his gun with empty cartridges, using one hand only, and fired rapidly. Mr. O’Connor said it was because Mr. Hare was in pain that caused the opinion he formed that he could not load and fire his gun. It should be remembered that he was not now in the same condition as on that morning. Constable Barry continued his evidence. In reply to Superintendent Sadleir he said that it was generally understood that the Kelly horses were shod. He did not know why that opinion was formed, but he believed that those horses appropriated by the Kellys, and seen with them, were gazetted as shod horses. To Mr. Hare : It was after Sherritt got married that he lost faith in him. When the first attack was made on the outlaws at Glenrowan the gang fired about fifty shots. The police fired at least twice that number. Mr. Hare remained near to where he was hit for a short time giving orders. Witness heard him say, “O’Connor, get your boys and surround the house.” He did not see O’Connor. He was not on the hotel side of the railway fence. It was Mr. Hare’s order, on the pilot engine, that if any of the men were wounded to leave them and throw their whole attention into the capture of the Kellys. To the board ; Received an order during the day, but none direct from Mr. Sadleir. The order came by a constable, and he supposed it emanated from an officer. When the prisoners were escaping he heard shots fired by the police. To Mr. O’Connor : He was one of the first party which watched Mrs. Byrne’s house. Mr. O’Connor asked if the witness considered it a wise thing to turn the police horses out in Aaron Sherritt’s paddock. Mr. Fincham remarked that he would like to know what object Mr. O’Connor had in asking these questions. Mr. Hare said his object was to throw discredit on him. Mr. Nixon considered that officers should only examine witnesses with regard to matters afecting themselves, and not go out of their way to attack their brother officers. He thought every member of the board would agree that the witness had given his evidence in a straightforward and manly way. Mr. Hare had only examined him with regard to his own conduct. The officers were not there to attack one another. Mr. O’Connor desired to say that he thought he should be permitted to continue his line of cross-examination. Mr. Hall said if this sort of thing was to go on they had better adjourn and determine whether the officers should be present. Mr. Anderson said it was the desire of the board that the officers should only ask questions affecting their own conduct. Mr. O’Connor said he considered he should be allowed to elicit evidence which would throw discredit on Mr. Hare, who had made insinuations against him. Mr. Dixon said that it appeared as if Mr. O’Connor was desirous of usurping the functions of the board. Mr. Graves said it was clearly the desire of the board that one officer should not attack another. Mr. Sadleir said he concurred in the wisdom of the determination of the board, and so far as he was concerned he would assist them, but, at the same time, if the board were going to do this now they should excise some of the evidence that had been given. The board, for instance, should excise that portion of the letter from Mr. Carrington which had so unfairly been put in by Mr. Hare. Mr. Dixon said that it had already been pointed out that Mr. Carrington would be called to give evidence, and Mr. Sadleir would then have an opportunity of cross-examining as severely as he chose. Mr. Hare said he would have no objection to the letter being withdrawn. Mr. Graves thought that could not be done, because the letter was in print. Mr. Hare pointed out that the evidence was only undergoing correction. A discussion ensued, in which it was stated that the evidence was sent to witnesses for correction, but only verbal amendments were permitted. The chairman informed Mr. O’Connor that he could only cross-examine the witness with regard to his own conduct. The witness continued : He did not see Mr. O’Connor in the drain, but heard he was there. It was a good place for personal safety. Hero, the black tracker, conducted himself well, but Jacky was rendered speechless with fear when the firing commenced. At this stage the board adjourned till next day.

“There’s a lot to reflect on if we can get past the mythology.”: Ben Head discusses ‘Stringybark’ – Exclusive!

The past twelve months have been, for want of a better word, tumultuous. In amongst it all we got two films tackling the Kelly story – True History of the Kelly Gang and Stringybark. The two productions could not have been more different in every aspect, but both made it over the finish line just before the fires and the pandemic took hold. Now the smaller of the two productions, Stringybark, has made its way onto the Ozflix streaming service giving home audiences that missed its limited cinema screenings an opportunity to check it out.

There’s no doubt that Stringybark will be confronting for some viewers, but behind every story told there’s a storyteller with a message they want heard. With this in mind I reached out to the film’s director, Ben Head, to discuss the process of creating his cinematic vision of one Australia’s most controversial true crimes and his take on the incredible Kelly story.

Thank you, Ben, for taking the time to have a chat about Stringybark. I think it goes without saying that the road this far has been quite an odyssey for you.

With Stringybark now available on Ozflix, you’re about to have your work accessible to an enormous audience, perhaps far greater than the film was intended for. Given that this is your debut feature, that’s a lot of pressure. How are you feeling about it all?

First of all thank you, Aidan, for giving me this opportunity, it’s much appreciated. Actually I always intended the film to have as broad a reach as possible and this has come to some fruition. I am feeling very chuffed with the response the film has had from all over the country. I’ve had fantastic messages of support and goodwill from many, and it’s heartening to read. I am feeling very proud of the fact that a story I have brought to the screen is touching the hearts of the many people who watch it. 

This of course began life while you were still a film student. How did you settle upon the idea of doing something so ambitious as a depiction of one of Australia’s most infamous historical crimes?

Stringybark wasn’t a student film and was completely independent of my university studies. I just had to find time to squeeze it in between university commitments.  

I had always wanted to tell this story, in fact ever since the story captivated me as a 10 year old boy after a holiday stopover in Glenrowan. 

Courtesy: Ben Squared Films

It’s clear that the intention was always to portray the story as authentically as possible. When developing the screenplay, what were the main sources that you referred to in order to learn and understand the story?

We read widely and sourced as much primary evidence as we could. I always wanted the film to be tackled in a scholarly way rather than basing it on the myth. It’s a story that’s never been told with any historical accuracy in a dramatic context, so I wanted to take a step up. Just by way of example, we consulted the royal commissions, original correspondence, cables, the autopsy reports of Doctor Samuel Reynolds, who performed the post-mortem examinations, and the memoir of Thomas McIntyre. And of course there are at least half a dozen novels all claiming historical insights and we read all of these as well.

There are some moments that are lifted almost identically from McIntyre’s account of the events, while others are clearly fictional but intended to fill the gaps in the historical narrative. How did you approach the process of adapting the known history and knowing where to draw the line with the moments where you had to invent a scene in order to make a workable film narrative?

We realised that the only part of the Stringybark tale that had been documented thoroughly was the ambush itself, and the events that followed. There was very little written about the lives of the police before the incident. We needed to show these men with their families and friends in order to create an audience connection with them, and to show them as real people. In constructing the scenes such as the relationship between the Kennedys, we relied on conversations with Leo Kennedy, the great grandson of Sergeant Michael Kennedy, as well as a written statement by Bridget Kennedy made years later. 

This is a very decidedly pro-police film, or rather it has a strong anti-Kelly Gang/anti-crime stance. Was this a response to the overwhelmingly pro-Kelly stance pursued in popular culture or was the story of the police just that much more compelling for you?

I would say that this film doesn’t take sides – it just tells the story for what it was. Yes – our protagonists are the police officers, but we didn’t need to embellish the story – it’s fascinating all on its own. I’ve had a lot of correspondence from Kelly supporters agreeing with this. I also wanted to tell the story from the perspective of the victims because it hadn’t been done before, and for such a brutal crime it’s curious that it’s always glossed over in popular culture. Perhaps it’s because it’s a bit too uncomfortable. Truth is so often stranger than fiction and this story is no exception: literally 3 young men, all in their mid 30’s, respected and well known members of the communities in which they lived, two with wives and families, shot dead. 

Courtesy: Ben Squared Films

Would it be fair to say that the character that was most compelling for you in this was Sergeant Michael Kennedy?

It would be fair, yes. Michael Kennedy’s life captured my imagination. He was a devoted family man with 5 children and in a happy marriage. It would have made for an anxious and trying time for him knowing he had to carry out a military style mission – that is, commanding an armed covert operation into the bush in search of dangerous criminals who clearly had the upper hand, both in terms of their intimate familiarity with the location and the benefit of local support. On top of this, his party was underprepared, under-resourced and untrained for the task. 

Michael Kennedy is also easily aligned with the concept of what it means to be the Australian that we look up to today – working class, family man, made ends meet on a meagre salary and all in a law-abiding way under tough circumstances. 

Doing a period piece is always a daunting task for a filmmaker, let alone doing it with such limited resources. Was there ever a time during production where you felt like you had bitten off more than you could chew?

Never. It was a big bite for sure but never more than we could chew! We strictly managed our time and budget and were blessed with an incredible cast and crew. The whole production experience was a pleasure from start to finish and we have forged fantastic friendships and professional relationships in the process. 

One of the things that serves Stringybark well is that it really feels like it’s own thing. In the lead up to making the film did you study any of the other existing Kelly films?

My intention was always to focus on creating something new so I really avoided looking at previous films during my contemplation and writing of this story. The real stimulation came from unearthing a cable or some other piece of written correspondence from the time and using those fragments to underpin the feel of the film.

How did you go about getting the sets and costumes given that you weren’t really able to hire costumiers and set builders?

Wardrobe was supplied exclusively by Warwick’s Militaria in Melbourne and we avoided set building by using existing locations.

One shot that really stands out in my mind is the bodies being brought back from the shooting site. It really looks like the contemporary illustration brought to life. Did you find it at all difficult to manage strapping bodies to the side of an animal with bags over their heads?

Thank you! That shot was very important to me – I really wanted to recreate that old woodcut of the bodies strapped to the horses and bring it to life. It is such a tragic and brutal image and speaks to the finality of the event. Contemporary accounts describe the pack horses being very unsettled when the bodies of the police were roped to the harness. During shooting, our pack horse also became very unsettled when the dummy was attached to the saddle. The scene that unfolded before us that day won’t be forgotten in a hurry. 

Courtesy: Ben Squared Films

The first public premiere of the film was at the Lorne Film Festival. What was it like seeing the fruit of your labour on the big screen at such a big event?

Stringybark had been shown at an investor only event at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image in Melbourne in April 2019 so I’d seen it on the big screen already but the premiere at Lorne was a fantastic validation of the effort that had gone into the production. Having a cinema full with an interested, intrigued and supportive audience watching the film was an awesome experience and one I’ll never forget.

One of the things we’re seeing becoming increasingly a trend with Australian film is the use of crowdfunding to get things off the ground. What was the motivator to have a media and crowdfunding campaign for this film?

Film finance is a complex domain and Australia isn’t awash with support for independent film, especially for those without a track record like us. We needed a budget and crowdfunding was a straightforward way to kick it off. Crowdfunding as an approach isn’t a sure fire way of achieving a budget though – word of your project needs to reach investors other than through the crowdfunding site. We were very fortunate to have received media support early on and this really made the difference.  

Are there things that you wish you had approached differently or things that you wish you had been able to include but had to cut due to time or budget?

There were technical learnings along the way but I’m generally happy with how things came together. I would have liked to explore some of the relationships in greater depth, particularly the longstanding friendship between Michael Scanlan and Michael Kennedy. The pair had been mates for a long time and it would have helped create a stronger on-screen bond. I would also have liked to explore the Kennedy family dynamic some more. 

Courtesy: Ben Squared Films

The Kelly Gang in this depiction could be seen as quite over the top in some respects. They are far more aggressive than are usually shown and seem to enjoy bullying McIntyre in a way that even goes beyond the way McIntyre himself described. Can you explain a bit about what steered you towards that portrayal?

The gang’s portrayal is based on contemporary descriptions of the characters – even by their own words. The Jerilderie letter in particular provides an invaluable insight into the prevailing psyche. I also had them approach the camp in the way McIntyre had described – weapons drawn and intent on the business of the day. They were hard men intent on winning the day by force of arms. We know this. To portray them as some latter day gentlemen of the bush would have just perpetuated the popular story that really doesn’t align with their own personal histories. 

One of the most impressive aspects of the film is the armoury. It’s clear from your other film projects that you have a keen interest in militaria, did that play a part in helping you track down and get a hold of accurate weaponry?

I’ve always had the view that if you go down the path of making an authentic period production, then every aspect of it should be as authentic as you can reasonably make it. This goes for wardrobe, saddlery and tack, language and of course firearms. We had the services of an excellent armourer who thankfully also shared an interest in historical accuracy. 

Your dad, Tim, gets the starring role as Sergeant Kennedy – and does a sterling job too. What was it like directing him?

Fortunately no different to any of the other actors! Everyone that was a part of the project brought everything they had to it and a little more.

Naturally a film that tackles such a divisive story in a very partisan perspective is bound to get critics based purely on the side you’ve chosen. Unfortunately it’s a nasty trap that people often get stuck in where the Kelly story is concerned. What do you hope Stringybark can bring to the table to help bring some equilibrium and perspective back to how we examine these events, and what do you think that the pro-Kelly people can gain from watching your film?

I like to think that I’ve simply looked at the story through a different lens – one that nobody has previously wanted to look through. There’s a lot to reflect on if we can get past the mythology. Primarily we could focus on the impact of violence in the community that’s almost always felt first hand by our women and children. Kelly’s actions resulted in the deaths of 3 men, leaving 2 women widows and 9 children fatherless. The cost to the community of such an outcome is hard to reconcile. It’s also a situation that’s as relevant today as it was back in 1878. 

Once again, thank you so much for taking time to answer my questions and give people a bit of an insight into the process and the ideas behind Stringybark. Hopefully this is a first step into a fruitful future for Ben Squared. If people would like to keep tabs on your future projects what is the best way to do that?

Thanks, Aidan, really appreciate the time! Follow us on instagram @bensquaredfilms to keep up to date!

Stringybark is available to rent on Ozflix now HERE

A massive thanks goes out once again to Ben Head for taking the time to be interviewed and for providing production stills for this article.

Stringybark (Review)

In 2019 there was much consternation about the new Kelly Gang films that were brewing. The adaptation of Peter Carey’s novel, True History of the Kelly Gang, was set to be a big budget extravaganza with many Nedheads expecting to see a burly, bearded bushranger clad in armour with guns blazing on the big screen. The other film project that was getting good press was Stringybark, a small-scale indie production that caught the attention of some notable Kelly-critical commentators thanks to a hugely successful crowdfunding campaign.

Well, True History fell short of its lofty ambitions. As it turns out, a scrappy, post-modern interpretation of their favourite bushranger full of cross-dressing and bad haircuts wasn’t what people expected when they heard a Ned Kelly film starring Russell Crowe was being made. On the other hand, Stringybark stayed pretty low-key even after its official launch at the Lorne Film Festival. In a way that has actually served it well – a sort of “tortoise-and-hare” way – that means the home audiences won’t necessarily be going in with big expectations of sturm und drang with helmets and Hollywood glitz.

With Stringybark making its way to Ozflix, straight off the bat it must be pointed out that if you go into this expecting a Ned Kelly film you’re going to be disappointed. This is unashamedly a film about the police who were sent to arrest Ned and Dan Kelly for the attempted murder of Constable Fitzpatrick, with particular emphasis on the party’s leader Sergeant Michael Kennedy. It’s a perspective that, frankly, is refreshing after so many variations on Ned Kelly’s response to discovering the police coming after him as part of the bigger scheme of his outlawed life.

It is abundantly clear from the outset that the angle this film takes is that the cops are the good guys and the Kellys are the bad guys. It is a perfectly valid viewpoint to take, of course, given that the police were there to capture men wanted for attempted murder and were shot dead by said fugitives in response. It is a perspective that has its fair share of strident champions – many of whom got involved with the film at the crowdfunding stage and were pushing Stringybark as a game-changer. Given that the filmmakers were not industry professionals, that was a lot of pressure to put upon them and, honestly, they did a valiant job of living up to the expectations of those who were pushing them to be the definitive anti-Kelly portrayal of the police killings.

On a technical level this film isn’t quite where it needs to be, unfortunately. It suffers at times from audio issues as well as camera work that struggles to maintain proper framing. Some of the action sequences are difficult to follow because there’s a lot of movement that obscures the action (this was rife with True History as well, so seems to be more of a stylistic trend in modern films than a fault per se.) That said, given that this is a film made by students on a tiny budget with limited resources it’s an admirable effort and they still manage some excellent work in spite of the rough edges. There are some very inspired shots that demonstrate that there was an aesthetic vision before the thing was put together rather than just a sort of on the fly attempt to craft interesting shots around what was happening on the day. In fact, I would go so far as to say that some of the shots that appear in this film are some of the best that we have seen in an on-screen depiction of this story thus far.

The score by Simon Rigoni is also a real strength as it is atmospheric and melodic without being overpowering. There is a trend in film scores now to have the music merely tie a scene together so that there’s something interesting to hear when people aren’t talking. Apart from one scene, where the police chat around a campfire, one never gets the sense that the music is ever just there because it has to plug a gap in the soundtrack, and that one exception is really only a result of the way the music is edited in the scene.

Hair and makeup was fantastic with some minor prosthetic work on the murdered police looking convincing without being too gruesome, though given the contemporary descriptions of Kennedy’s body upon its discovery the gore could have been amplified by ten and still been pulling punches. Likewise, the costumes felt authentic even if some of the details may have been off. There was a definite attempt to be as true to the descriptions of what the gang wore, as well as historical knowledge of how police dressed for bush work. It was good to see a film where the police were not shown in their uniforms while hunting the fugitives in the bush. It was also nice to see the correct firearms being used.

The cast were an interesting ensemble. Some performances were definitely stronger than others, Tim Head as Kennedy, Joshua Charles Dawe and Ned Kelly, and Ben Watts as McIntyre being absolutely the strongest in the ensemble. Given the nature of the project you were never going to see A-listers popping up, and everyone who appears does a solid job with their material. The characterisations were one of the weaker aspects of the film as while some characters were en pointe – specifically Kennedy, who feels like the most fleshed out – some others bore no resemblance to their historical counterpart – Joe Byrne being the worst offender in this regard. Those who side with the gang more than the police are going to struggle with this one because the Kelly Gang are outright villains. In fact, I would go so far as to describe them as cartoonishly villainous. They are vulgar and enjoy bullying the police who are powerless against them. While critics of the bushrangers and their supporters would suggest this is accurate, witness accounts do not exactly bear this out (but that’s a discussion for another article, and one well worth having.) Much of Ned Kelly’s more aggressive behaviours, such as driving the barrel of a pistol into someone’s cheek to intimidate them, are given to the other gang members in order to amplify their intimidation factor while Ned seems positively civil by comparison. In fact, Joshua Charles Dawe is probably one of the best on screen Ned Kellys to date, despite the lack of physical resemblance. There’s a nuance to the performance that makes the viewer feel like there’s something bubbling underneath the cruel and bullying exterior and subsequently it’s a shame he gets such limited screen time.

The police on the other hand are much more rounded and sympathetic characters, McIntyre being shown as something of a cheeky jack-the-lad figure that is quite at odds with the bookish and determined McIntyre we see depicted in the ex-policeman’s memoirs and contemporary accounts. An early scene has Kennedy, McIntyre and Scanlan pulling a nasty prank on Lonigan, which is obviously intended to show a sort of “locker room” mentality in the police station. Lonigan here comes across as somewhat oafish and paranoid, which is not an accurate depiction of a man who was known as a very capable officer who had a very justified wariness of their mission, though we do get a great character moment from him in recounting his clash with Ned in Benalla. It would have been nice to get more of Scanlan’s story as he is often forgotten owing to the fact that he neither survived the encounter to tell the story nor did he leave a widow or children to mourn him, but Jim Lavranos makes for a memorable performance all the same.

Some of the more heightened aspects of the ambush sequence are only disappointing because they weren’t necessary. Having the Kelly Gang dropping c-bombs may portray them as uncouth and therefore create a roughness that makes them seem dangerous, but it’s not necessary for making them intimidating. Case in point, Dawe’s Ned Kelly manages to be intimidating while speaking in a mostly civil manner with McIntyre just after Lonigan’s death simply by virtue of the body language employed. Another example of where the heightened drama didn’t quite work was in the death of Kennedy, which is written so as to show Ned Kelly as a cold blooded murderer. Kennedy appears to be in good health despite a cut on his forehead, so it isn’t clear why he would feel like he would need to write a letter for Ned to give to his wife if he dies, let alone for Ned to agree. Ned’s decision to allow Kennedy to write the letter is immediately undercut by his execution of the sergeant without any indication of why. What perhaps worked on paper lost a little something in translation to screen.

While the idea of having the gang appear at the end is actually a really clever one, the lack of motivation for their crimes can be hard to stomach, which is one of the reasons why most interpretations focus on their perspective rather than on the police. It feels like violence for the sake of violence, even though from the perspective of the victims that’s exactly how it would have seemed. This aspect is both one of the biggest strengths of the film and one of its notable weaknesses. It is a strength because it really drives home exactly why the story is being told the way it is, but it is also a weakness because by dehumanising the bushrangers it creates a disconnect that is very jarring. Without any indication of why the gang attack they are no more than soulless monsters that emerge from the wilderness to cause mayhem. To “unperson” the bushrangers makes them no different to the shark from Jaws or the Raptors from Jurassic Park. Perhaps having Ned talk to his gang and explain their plan could have changed that and given some sense of understanding to both sides rather than opting to cut one side out in favour of the other.

Overall Stringybark has notable flaws, but it also has significant strengths. It has enough respect for the history to stick closely to it throughout the majority of the film and weave in details that even the most lauded of Kelly films and miniseries have gotten wrong or omitted. It has a clarity of vision that means that nobody watching can possibly doubt what angle the film is taking. There are plenty of great visuals and performances in the mix as well as a great, understated score. It’s a Kelly film that dares to tell the other side of the story, which in itself is noteworthy. These are not aspects to be taken lightly, especially considering that this is not the work of some Hollywood veteran with tens of millions of dollars to play with. As a debut feature, tackling a historical piece, let alone one as turbulent and divisive as the Kelly story, is jumping into the deep end with lead weights on your ankles so it takes a certain amount of guts to even attempt it. Say what you want about whether or not you agree with the portrayal, or of the directorial choices, one thing that can’t be disputed is that when it comes to taking on as big a task as dramatising one of Australian history’s most controversial events Ben Head is as game as Ned Kelly.

Stringybark is available to rent online via Ozflix HERE

Aaron Sherritt: Persona non Grata

Much conjecture has been made around whether Aaron Sherritt was a sympathiser or a traitor; a matyr or a double agent. All of it relies on the same broad brushstrokes and oversimplification that has plagued understanding of the Kelly story for over a century. The truth is far more complex and the more one delves into the events of the Kelly outbreak, the murkier it becomes. Aaron Sherritt made friends everywhere but in the end was surrounded by enemies. How did he go from everyone’s mate to persona non grata?

[Source: Illustrated Australian news. July 3, 1880.]

Sherritt was born into an Irish protestant family in 1854, growing up in the Woolshed Valley – a notoriously rough area of the north east of Victoria right in the heart of the goldfields of that region. He met Joe Byrne as a young boy and the pair were inseparable. Naturally, the Catholic Byrnes were wary of Aaron, and the Protestant Sherritts equally wary of the Byrnes, but the friendship continued to flourish.

As teens, Aaron and Joe began to spend most of their downtime around Sebastopol, a mining town between El Dorado and Beechworth. Here they would spend considerable amounts of time in the Chinese camp, even earning the nicknames Ah Joe and Ah Jim (because Ah Aaron proved too difficult to pronounce). Much has been made of Joe’s bilingualism, speaking Cantonese proficiently, but it is probable that Aaron was also proficient to some degree as he spent time with the Chinese almost as much as Joe, though history doesn’t record how robust his linguistic skills were.

In his early twenties, Aaron worked on a gold claim with two Chinese men named Ah Loy and Ah Fook. This Ah Fook was very probably the same man that had been robbed by Harry Power and assaulted by a young Ned Kelly several years earlier, and would suffer a horrific murder not long afterwards. Aaron fancied himself as something of a butcher and tried to obtain a butcher’s licence under Ah Loy’s name when his own licence was revoked. The ploy was not as clever as Aaron thought, so when his cover was blown he was fined.

Chinese Sluicing, Near Beechworth [Source: The Australian news for home readers. August 25, 1864.]

Aaron and Joe frequently caught the attention of the police through their various schemes, with Detective Ward and Senior Constable Mullane being frequent visitors to the Byrne and Sherritt farms. In 1876 the pair were tried for assault against Ah On, a Chinese man who lived on the outskirts of Sebastopol. The pair had been skinny dipping in a waterhole near Ah On’s house and a dispute arose. It seems that there was an argument and while Ah On chased the boys away, waving a bamboo staff, Aaron threw a rock at Ah On. The rock hit him, fracturing his skull. Joe and Aaron narrowly avoided gaol time but it was only a matter of time before their luck ran out. It is possible that this was when they first met Dan Kelly, who was in Beechworth awaiting his own hearing over an allegedly stolen saddle at the same time. His big brother Ned was also in attendance to provide a statement. There is no definitive account of how they met the Kellys, but as they tended to move in different circles, owing to Beechworth’s distance from the Kelly stomping ground in Greta, it is unlikely that they had made significant contact before this time.

The pair took up stealing horses and cattle for easy money. Aaron had been coached in the world of “stock trading” by a man named John Phelan and likely put the lessons to good use, selling duffed livestock. This soon escalated into an unfortunate incident where a stolen cow was inexpertly butchered by the pair and saw them locked up in Beechworth Gaol in May 1876 for six months. The El Dorado school’s pet cow had been stolen from the common, then taken to a place of slaughter. They borrowed a knife and steel from Joe’s neighbours and as they were slaughtering the cow were spotted by a local sticky-beak named Sandy Doig. Joe and Aaron were arrested by Ward and Mullane after dividing the carcass among their families. Unable to beat the charges, this was to be their first time going to prison.

The El Dorado Museum is housed in the former school from where Aaron Sherritt and Joe Byrne stole the cow they later went to gaol for.

Aaron was a larrikin and something of an adrenaline junkie. For him, few things gave him more of a thrill than stock theft. When the opportunity arose to take the flashness out of some local squatters by stealing their horses he didn’t stop to think twice, and joined Ned Kelly, along with Joe, in a horse stealing racket. A rotating roster of larrikins from the Greta Mob helped the thieves shift the stolen animals. Aaron would later brag of his love of horse stealing to Superintendent Hare. The operation saw the gang moving stock throughout Victoria and parts of southern New South Wales. No doubt Aaron was able to use some of the tricks he had learned from John Phelan to help disguise the stock. Likely, the horse thieves had made good money from their dodgy trade. When Aaron would reflect on the time he would only mention himself, Joe and Ned. It is impossible to know if Ned’s stepfather George King had been left out of the reminiscences due to Aaron trying to protect his identity or something else having happened. George King seemingly vanished from history straight after the campaign of larceny and the only tangible evidence he was involved comes from Ned’s allusions to him as a duffer in his letters.

It was around this time that Aaron became unofficially engaged to Joe’s sister Kate. In kind Joe was in a serious relationship with Aaron’s sister Bessie, though both boys had a reputation as skirt chasers. Aaron seems to have maintained this relationship admirably long considering his roving eye. Aaron was a frequent visitor to the Byrne homestead where he would do chores for Margret Byrne. Meanwhile, Aaron had gained a lease on a selection that Joe Byrne was helping him fix up per the lease agreement. Unfortunately the domestic bliss was doomed to be short lived.

In October 1878 Joe Byrne was implicated in the police killings at Stringybark Creek. While Aaron wasn’t there he was keen to provide support for his greatest friend. Just after the event Aaron took the gang into the bush and guarded while they slept in a cave. For a time he acted as a spy for the gang, keeping tabs on police movements to allow the gang to move freely. Shortly after the killings a large party of police raided the Sherritt and Byrne homes, during which time Aaron became acquainted with Captain Standish, the Chief Commissioner of police. Aaron and Standish reached an agreement by which Joe Byrne would be taken alive and spared the noose if Aaron gave information leading to the capture of the rest of the gang. Subsequently Aaron began making himself known in the police offices in Benalla, providing useless information in a thinly veiled attempt to throw police off the scent of the gang. A few days before the gang headed to Jerilderie, Aaron misdirected the police by informing Superintendent Hare the outlaws were headed for Goulburn. Despite this, Hare took a liking to Sherritt and maintained his services. Aaron now found himself in the position of stringing the police along and making money out of it in the process, allowing his mates to go unmolested while keeping the police under the impression they were getting insider information to help catch them. This would not last.

Night after night, Aaron would accompany a party of police to caves that looked down onto the Byrne property. He maintained that this was the place the gang were most likely to visit after their activities. Hare claimed in his memoirs that on one occasion Sherritt had secretly convinced one of the constables to help him steal the booty from the bushrangers, which they would then split between them. Hare was convinced that Sherritt was doing his best to help the police nab the outlaws, but despite months of camping in the caves they were no closer to catching the Kellys.

Things began to fray at the seams for Aaron when the police party was discovered by Margret Byrne. Alerted by the sun glinting off a discarded sardine tin, Mrs. Byrne crawled up into the rocks and saw Sherritt asleep with several police. When the police announced that they’d been spotted, Aaron went white as a sheet and declared he was a dead man. Soon after, the engagement between Aaron and Kate Byrne was called off and this threw Aaron into a downward spiral. This is where Aaron’s motives become unclear and his actions began to raise red flags amongst the sympathisers.

The dust had barely settled after the engagement was broken before Aaron was making moves on Kate Kelly. This coincided with controversy over a horse named Charlie. Aaron had gifted a filly to Kate Byrne but had told her that if she didn’t intend on keeping it he would take it back to sell. Whether on Kate’s or Margret Byrne’s instructions, Paddy Byrne sold the filly to a Chinese man and received a gelding in the exchange. Aaron, fuming over the disregard for his stipulation, stole Charlie the gelding as compensation for the filly. Aaron then sold the horse to Kate Kelly’s sister Maggie, who was unaware it was stolen. Margret Byrne filed charges and Aaron was dragged into court. It was alleged that Margret had offered to drop the charges if Aaron would leave the colony. The case against Aaron was complicated but not compelling enough to secure a conviction. Aaron walked free but the damage was done and he had lost the trust of the Byrnes. People began to suggest that his involvement with the police saw strings being pulled to get him off.

By this time Aaron had become so entrenched in the police activities that Detective Ward had expense accounts all over Beechworth to cover his purchases. Aaron was not earning a wage otherwise and this began to put stress on him financially. When he started courting Ellen Barry, better known as Belle, things started looking up for Aaron – or so he thought.

Belle was a fifteen year-old whose mother was well known in the district due to her work as a midwife and her husband was infamous for his involvement with stock theft. The Barrys were Catholics and when Aaron proposed to Belle this caused friction between him and his own family. His mother in particular was so incensed by the suggestion that Aaron would not only marry outside of the family faith, but convert to Catholicism to facilitate it, that she essentially disowned him and started a period of direct antagonism towards Aaron from his family members.

Despite the union causing a fracture in his family, Aaron married Belle in Beechworth on Boxing Day, 1879. They stayed in the Hibernian Hotel for the honeymoon, all expenses paid by the police, naturally. Detective Ward even gifted the newlyweds a set of silverware.

In early 1880 tensions were high. The police were suspicious of Aaron, the Byrnes had distanced themselves from him and the Lloyds and Quinns were putting pressure on the Kelly Gang to have Aaron taken out. And now on top of that, as Aaron began his married life, his own family had disowned him and were blatantly stirring up trouble. Aaron’s brother Jack, on one occasion, had broken into Aaron’s in-laws’ home and stolen items belonging to the newlyweds, including Belle’s new saddle and watch. The stolen items were planted at the Byrne farm to throw suspicion but Jack was not as clever as he liked to imagine, having left a tie that was gifted to him by Detective Ward at the scene of the crime. Once Aaron had uncovered the deed he engaged his brother in a horseback chase before the pair came to blows. In his rage, Aaron ripped a sapling out of the ground and walloped Jack across the head with it. The blow rendered the younger Sherritt unconscious and bleeding heavily from the head. Suddenly terrified at the thought that he may have killed Jack, Aaron headed to the pub to steady his nerves before turning himself in to the police. As this was transpiring, Jack appeared in the pub behind him covered in blood. The pair got drunk and briefly patched things up but it would not last long.

Soon Aaron took possession of an abandoned hut near Sebastopol. This caused problems when the owner turned up and started threatening Aaron. The police who were working with Sherritt at the time pitched in and bought the old hut in order to cool the situation down. This two-roomed miner’s hut was flimsy and the furnishings were rudimentary, but it suited the newlyweds better than bunking down at Aaron’s in-laws’ place where they were heavily scrutinised.

Aaron was now struggling to cope with the lifestyle. He threw himself wholeheartedly into working with the police, knowing it would put the final nail in the coffin, but perhaps Aaron figured it couldn’t get any worse. In response to threats from the sympathisers, Superintendent Hare and Detective Ward arranged to have police constables stationed with Sherritt around the clock. A team of four would work in shifts; during the day police were to stay in the hut to avoid detection and at night they would accompany Aaron to his watch at the police caves. Of course things did not go to plan, with constables seen outside during the day performing chores and relaxing. This was, naturally, noticed by Kelly sympathisers, particularly the Byrne brothers, and word inevitably reached the gang.

In June, the Kelly Gang came back into the open with a grand plan to lure a train full of police and trackers to be derailed at Glenrowan. Unlike in their previous missions, Aaron was not made privy to the plan and for a very good reason: he was a key part of it. There is conjecture about the gang’s true intentions, but the plan was most likely one of two options. The first is that Aaron Sherritt would be murdered in order to lure the train from Benalla based on the four constables raising the alarm. The second is that the police were the targets with the alarm to either be raised by Aaron or by a surviving policeman. Ned Kelly’s comments made after his capture to Constable Armstrong, one of the police stationed in the hut, implied that he believed Aaron was being tortured for information by police and that his plan was to target the police, not the informant. According to multiple reports, Ned was unaware during the gang’s time in Glenrowan that Aaron was the one that had been killed and asserted it must have been the others that came up with the idea of killing him.

Only days before the plan was put into action, Aaron was taken on a pub crawl by one of the police assigned to his hut, Constable Alexander. During this they went to the Vine Hotel in Beechworth where Aaron spotted Joe Byrne’s girlfriend. Alexander immediately began questioning her unsuccessfully. Word promptly found its way back to Joe Byrne what Aaron had done. Perhaps it was this final straw that made Joe decide to put Aaron to death.

[Source: The Australasian Sketcher. July 17, 1880.]

On the night of 26 June, the gang split up with Ned Kelly and Steve Hart heading to Glenrowan while Joe Byrne and Dan Kelly headed to the Devil’s Elbow, where Aaron lived. Joe and Dan rode with a pack horse in tow, likely carrying their weapons and possibly their iron armour. On the way to Aaron’s hut, the pair passed Anton Wick, Aaron’s neighbour, doubled back and bailed him up. They led Wick at gunpoint to Aaron’s homestead. Dan waited at the front door while Joe went around the rear with Wick and ordered him to call out to Aaron. When Aaron answered the door, Joe shot him twice with a shotgun. With gaping wounds in his stomach and throat, Aaron hit the floor and died without a word. So extreme were the wounds that when the post mortem was conducted it was found that his heart had been completely emptied of blood.

The police that had been assigned to protect the Sherritts cowered in the bedroom, unable to leave without being shot, and forced Belle and her mother to hide under the bed until morning. The police did not leave until midday on the following day, throwing Ned Kelly’s plan out the window and resulting in the disastrous siege of Glenrowan, wherein all of the Kelly Gang but Ned were killed.

Aaron’s inquest was held in The Vine Hotel, and on 29 June Aaron was buried in Beechworth cemetery in an unmarked grave. Over the next few years, Belle would seek reparations from the police for their culpability in Aaron’s death. The stress of what happened on 26 June contributed to her having a miscarriage and subsequently suffering poor health. She received no support, financial or otherwise, from Aaron’s family.

Aaron’s brothers Jack and Willie Sherritt would use the connections they made as police informants during Kelly hunt to become constables. Unfortunately the nepotism only went so far and they were deemed a poor fit for the force, subsequently being kicked out by the Assistant Commissioner. Unemployed and unable to return to live with their parents for fear of being killed by Kelly sympathisers, Willie went to Queensland and Jack begged, unsuccessfully, to be let back into the police force. When Jack testified during the Royal Commission into the Kelly outbreak in 1881 he used it as a platform to try and defame Assistant Commissioner Nicolson.

Many years after the outbreak, Jack Sherritt and Paddy Byrne had a public reconciliation in Beechworth in an effort to bury the hatchet between the two families that had been so terribly affected by their roles in the Kelly outbreak.

Over time, the myths of the Kelly story resulted in Aaron Sherritt being unfairly vilified as an outright traitor; a self-serving fizzgig. Such a negative association with Aaron’s name blackened his character, despite him being a victim of the politics of the Kelly story rather than an antagonist. Sadly, not only did the police’s carelessness make Aaron a target, but their terrible decisions helped the outlaws decide to murder him and meant that his death was not reported for more than twelve hours. That the police in question were demoted or sacked afterwards was little comfort to Belle, who was constantly denied assistance from the police, despite her husband being, to the best of her knowledge, one of them. Were it not for a push by the press to get Belle compensation the poor girl would have had nothing.

Aaron Sherritt has suffered a tremendous injustice due to the inaccuracies in the telling of the Kelly story through the years. Whereas he was traditionally portrayed as some kind of Beechworth Judas, his story highlights, more than any other, the true nature of the network of Kelly Sympathisers. While many were sincere in supporting the cause and the gang, the majority were bandwagon riders that hoped for reflected glory and a share of the loot whenever a bank was robbed. The truth is that the sympathisers are directly responsible for Aaron’s murder and the chain of events that followed, resulting in no less than six untimely deaths. If misinformation about Aaron being a traitor had not been spread as gospel truth, quite contrary to the reality, the gang would have had a different path roll out for them.

Source: The Herald (Melbourne) 5 July 1880: 3.

Spotlight: Mother of the Kellys

The following article from 1923 begins with the death of Ellen Kelly then recaps the story of the Kelly Gang as it was understood at the time. Mrs. Kelly (she had returned to using her first husband’s surname) was a remarkable woman who lived almost a century, outliving nearly all of her own children. She had been cared for by her only surviving son Jim but lived in desperate poverty. The hardships of colonial life, and of the drama that unfolded around her family, must have taken a severe toll on her. It wasn’t until authors like Max Brown began researching and writing about the Kelly story that public opinion began to soften toward them, but right up until Ellen’s death there remained a strong sentiment of condemnation that was only exacerbated by the half-remembered and outright fabricated stories that were circulating at the turn of the century. The following article demonstrates this point remarkably well. Statements about how bloody their record ~AP

Daily Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1903 – 1926), Sunday 8 April 1923, page 11



Stories of Blood and Terror. Outlaws’ Last Stand at Glenrowan.

The death of Mrs. Ellen King. formerly Kelly, which took place at Greta West, near Wangaratta (Victoria), last week, recalls memories of her sons, Ned and Dan Kelly, leaders of the most notorious gang of law-breakers that ever infested the Australian bush. From 1878 to 1880 the Kelly gang terrorised a considerable area of Victoria and New South Wales. They were practically the last of the bushrangers, as they were undoubtedly the worst, their record being the most daring and bloody in all the list. Several histories of their career have been written, and the story has been dramatised for stage and film. They serve to illustrate a period in the development of the country that has happily passed, and which, with increased settlement, and improved means of rapid communication, will never come again.

The mother of the Kellys was 95 years of age at the time of her death, and for the past 40 years she has lived in the wild hills of Greta West, the scene of many daring exploits by her sons. She was a native of Antrim (Ireland), and came to Australia with her parents in 1841. Her maiden name was Quinn. In 1851, at Ballarat, then in its heyday as a goldfield, Ellen Quinn married John Kelly, who had been transported from Ireland some time previously. Their son, Edward, was born in 1854 at Wallan Wallan ; James was born in 1856, and Daniel in 1861. There were, besides, four daughters. At the time of the brothers’ exploits one of these was married to a man named Gunn, another to a man named Skillian, and two others, Kate and Grace, were single.


The Kellys, like the Kenniffs in later years in Queensland, appear to have started on the downward path by stealing horses. F. A. Hare, P.M., who, as Superintendent of the Victorian police, was personally concerned in the hunt for the Kellys, declares in his book, “The Last of the Bushrangers,” that “Ned Kelly was regarded as a horse and cattle thief from earliest boyhood. He was known to steal carriers’ horses at night, ‘plant’ them in the bush until a reward was offered for them. and then in the most innocent manner produce them and claim the reward. When he was 16 years of age he joined the bushranger, Power, taking charge of the outlaw’s horses whilst he committed his depredations. In 1870 he was arrested and charged with having assisted Power, but no one could identify him, and so he was discharged. In 1870 Jim Kelly, then only 15 years of age, was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment on two charges of horse-stealing. On his discharge in 1876 he went to New South Wales and stuck up a number of people, but was captured immediately and was sent to gaol for 10 years, so that he was out of the way when his brothers were outlawed. In 1871 Ned Kelly was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for horse-stealing. Many stories are told of the manner in which the Kellys and their associates used to run mobs of horses into the Warby and Strathbogie Ranges, fake the brands with iodine, keep them until the marks had healed, and then drive them to Melbourne, Ballarat, Geelong, and even as far as Sydney, where they would be sold openly in the auction yards.


The plunge to crime of the most violent character was taken in 1878. Warrants had issued for the arrest of Dan Kelly on no less than six charges of horse stealing. Constable Alexr, Fitzpatrick, on April 15, 1878, went to the Kellys’ hut at Greta, with the object of effecting an arrest. As he rode up he saw Dan standing at the door, and he said, “You’re my prisoner.” Dan replied. “All right; but wait until I get something to eat. I’ve been riding all day.” The constable agreed. After Dan sat down, his mother said, “You won’t take Dan from here this night.” Dan told her to shut up. The woman continued to grumble, and presently asked, “Have you got a warrant?” Fitzpatrick replied, “I have a telegram, which is just as good.” The constable then accepted Dan’s invitation to have some food, and as he sat down Mrs. Kelly said, “If my son Ned was here, he’d throw you out of the window.” Dan looked out of the window and said, “Why, here he is!” As Fitzpatrick turned to look, Dan sprang on him, and at the same moment, Mrs. Kelly struck him on the head with a heavy spade that had been used as a fire shovel. As Fitzpatrick fell several persons rushed into the room, including Ned Kelly, who held a revolver in his hand. Evidently he had fired, for Fitzpatrick was wounded in the arm. Ned Kelly said, “I’m sorry I fired. You are the civilest — — trap I’ve seen.” He offered to cut out the bullet and bind the wound, but Fitzpatrick refused to let him touch it. Ned said the constable could not be allowed to go until he had promised not to tell how he got wounded, and Mrs. Kelly cried, ” Tell him if he does tell he won’t live long after.” Fitzpatrick promised not to tell, and after himself extracting the bullet he bound up the wound with his handkerchief and was allowed to depart. On the following day a party of troopers arrested Mrs. Kelly, who was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for her part in the affair. William Skillian and William Williams were each sentenced to six years.


A party of 25 troopers with black trackers were sent out to capture Ned and Dan Kelly. On October 25 one party of searchers went into camp at Stringy Bark Creek, about eight miles from the Wombat Ranges. Sergeant Kennedy, who was in charge, had information of the movements of the wanted men, but it appears that his informant had also told the Kellys of the approach of the police. Sergeant Kennedy and Constable Scanlan went into the scrub seeking track of their quarry, whilst Constables Lonergan and McIntyre were left in charge of the camp. Lonergan was making tea when four men rode up on horseback and cried, “Bail up ; put up your hands.” Lonergan made a jump to get behind a tree at the same time reaching to his belt for his pistol. As he did so he was shot dead, his last words as he fell being, “Oh, Christ, I’m shot.” McIntyre, who was unarmed, surrendered. Ned Kelly, after examining Lonergan’s body, said, “What a pity ; why didn’t the —— fool surrender.” The bushrangers then hid themselves until Kennedy and Scanlan returned. As they came close, McIntyre said, “Sergeant we’re surrounded; you’d better surrender.” Scanlan put his hand to his belt, and Ned Kelly fired at him, but missed. Scanlan jumped from his horse and made for a gum tree, but was shot dead before he reached it. Kennedy wheeled his horse and started to gallop off, but was brought down by a bullet from the rifle of one of the terribly accurate marksmen. As the frightened horse dashed through the camp McIntyre threw himself upon it, but it had not galloped far before the animal was shot through the heart. McIntyre fell clear, and crawling into a patch of scrub, he secreted himself in a wombat hole, where he lay hidden whilst the bushrangers searched all around, swearing what they would do to him when they found him. After dark he got clear, and walked 20 miles to Mansfield, where he made known the facts of the murder of his three comrades.


Rewards of £100 each had been offered for the capture of Ned and Dan Kelly, and these were increased to £500. As time went on the rewards offered by the New South Wales and Victorian Governments, and the associated banks were increased until they totalled £8000 for the capture of the gang, which now included Steve Hart (aged 20 years), and Joe Byrnes (aged 19 years); who had been identified as having been with the Kellys in the fatal encounter just described. The next exploit of the bushrangers was the sticking up of Younghusbands station on Faithfull Creek on December 8. This was a carefully planned coup, the statlon hands, manager, and several callers being locked up in a store room. The outlaws helped themselves to arms and clothes, they took it in turns to sleep, two reposing whilst two watched, and an itinerant hawker who called during their stay had his stock ransacked for new clothes, etc. Some quaint fancy led the outlaws to smother their clothes with the contents of bottles of perfume from the cart. On December 11 Joe Byrnes was left in charge of the prisoners, whilst the others rode to Euroa, where they robbed the National Bank, taking possession of just on £2000 in notes, gold, and silver, besides 31oz of smelted gold. Everything was carried out in the boldest possible manner. The telegraph lines had been cut on each side of Younghusband’s station, so that no alarm could be given, and Mr. Robert Scott, the manager of the bank at Euroa, was forced to put his wife and child in a buggy and drive the whole party back to Younghusband’s after the robbery. That night the robbers left the station with the booty, after first threatening that the manager, Mr. Macauley, would be ‘shot like a b—— dingo,’ if anyone stirred for three hours after they had gone.


At midnight on February 8, 1879, Constables Devine and Richards were at the station and lock-up, just outside the town of Jerilderie (N.S.W.), when they were advised that a row had taken place at Davidson’s Hotel, and a man killed. When the police reached the scene they were confronted by Ned Kelly who, with revolver in hand, ordered them to bail up. As they were unarmed there was nothing for it but to comply and the two officers were locked up in their own cells. The next day was Sunday, and the outlaws, donning the uniforms of the police, spent the day at the police station. On the Monday they took possession of the Royal Hotel, the largest in the town, they locked up everyone likely to interfere with their plans, and proceeding to the Bank of New South Wales, which adjoined the hotel, they surprised the officials, overpowered them, and obtained possession of sums which again totalled over £2000 in notes and gold. At the hotel Ned Kelly had drinks served to everyone. In a speech, he blamed Constable Fitzpatrick for all that had happened. He said he had not been within 100 miles of Greta when Fitzpatrick was shot; he blamed Lonergan for having threatened his mother and sister ; and said he was going to shoot Devine and Richards. He added “The police are worse than the —— black trackers.” The robbers remained masters of the whole town, consisting of about 300 inhabitants, from Saturday night. until the afternoon of the following Wednesday, when they rode off, flourishing their revolvers, and shouting “Hurrah for the good old times of Morgan and Ben Hall.”


For some time after this the gang remained in hiding, and little was heard of them until on June 27, 1880, they shot and killed Aaron Sherritt for giving information of their whereabouts to the police. Sherritt, it appears, had been engaged to a sister of Joe Byrnes, but he was suspected of playing traitor, and the engagement was broken off, Sherritt then marrying a daughter of a settler on Woolshed Creek. On the date mentioned, a party of four policemen were secreted in Sherritt’s house, watching the home of Byrnes’s mother. Dan Kelly and Joe Byrnes held up a German named Weeks, who was walking along the road, and they compelled him to call out to Sherritt. When Sherritt came to his door to see who had called, he was shot dead by the outlaws, who called to Mrs. Sherritt: “Send out some of the — traps to bury your husband. We’ve shot him for being a traitor.” The outlaws were hidden in the outside darkness, and there was a bright wood fire burning in the house, which would have made the police easy marks for the rifles of the murderous pair had the officers moved. Finding the police would not come out, the bushrangers fired their rifles several times through the windows and doors. At about 2 o’clock in the morning they rode off without doing further mischief.


The news of this fresh outrage led to the despatch of a strong party from Melbourne by special train. These included Sub-inspector O’Connor of Queensland, with six black trackers, Superintendent Hare, Inspector Pewtress, several other Victorian police officers and Press representatives. Amongst these latter was Mr. J. Melvin, a veteran who, many years later, worked in the Parliamentary Press Gallery at Brisbane. As the police train drew near to the scene of the trouble, it was pointed out that the brightly lighted carriages provided a fine mark for the rifles of the outlaws. Mr. Melvin thereupon climbed on to the roof, as the train sped through the darkness, and he put out all the lights. Approaching Glenrowan the party learned that the bushrangers had torn up the railway line a short distance ahead, and had taken possession of the Glenrowan Inn, about 100 yards distant. The inn, which was fated to be the scene of the bushrangers’ last stand, was a long, low weather-board building, with a wide veranda on the front. Into this building the gang had collected a total of 62 of the townspeople, including Constable Bracken.


The police besieged the building, and in the exchange of rifle fire between them and the outlaws a number of innocent people were wounded. Supt. Hare’s wrist was shattered. Mrs. Jones, the landlady of the hotel at one stage rushed on to the veranda calling the police “murderers,” and declaring that her son had been killed and her daughter wounded. The police ceased firing, and the boy was removed and taken to Wangaratta Hospital, where he died. An old man named Martin Cherry was also killed. During a short truce the whole of the non-combatants were removed from the hotel. Shortly after day-break police reinforcements from Benalla were being placed in position, when they were fired at from behind a tree, which stood some distance behind the hotel, and a tall, stout figure, with what looked like a nail can over his head, was soon to appear. Several of the besieging force fired at this, but the bullets seemed to rebound. Sergeant Steel then fired at the legs, and at the second shot the figure toppled, crying : “I’m done for.” It proved to be Ned Kelly. As the police rushed forward he raised himself on his elbow, and commenced shooting wildly, shouting: “You shall never take me alive.” However he was soon overpowered and handcuffed. In the meantime a successful attempt had been made by the police to fire the building. Whilst this was being done Mrs. Skilllan. a sister of the Kellys, attempted to ride up to the building to persuade her brother Dan to surrender, but was stopped by the police, who pointed out that she would be in great danger. As the flames began to envelope the building the Rev. Father M. Gibney walked to the front door, crucifix in hand, and followed by a number of police. On entering the front bar they found the body of Joe Byrne, who was said to have been shot dead as he drank a glass of brandy. The bodies of Dan Kelly and Steve Hart were found dead in a small parlour off the bar. It was surmised that they had either suicided or had shot each other simultaneously. Ned Kelly was convicted and hanged in Melbourne gaol on November 11, 1880. And so at last the law was vindicated, as it must ever be, and the whole gang of desperadoes perished as violently as their victims had done. It was officially estimated that the cost of capturing the gang was not less than £40,000, exclusive of the salaries and wages of those engaged.

Max Kreitmayer and the missing Joe Byrne death mask

One of the most famous relics of the heyday of bushranging is the death mask of Ned Kelly made by Max Kreitmayer just after the execution of the Victorian outlaw. It is a sombre reminder of a young life snuffed out prematurely, but also of the trail of chaos and destruction he left in his wake. What many don’t know is that Kreitmayer also had a death mask of another member of the Kelly Gang: 23 year old Joe Byrne.

A rare image of Joe Byrne strung up on the door of a lock-up cell in Benalla.

For decades the Bourke Street Waxworks was one of the most significant locations in Melbourne. Not only was it a waxworks museum, it was often used to host dances, live music and lectures among other events. Established in 1853 by the Sohiers, it was a sister location to the famous Sohiers waxworks in Sydney. However in 1871 the rights to the museum were bought by Maximilian Ludwig Kreitmayer, a Hungarian anatomist who specialised in wax models for medical students; specifically models of organs afflicted with venereal diseases. His enormous collection of wax reproductive organs exhibiting everything from warts to syphilis was initially added to the Sohier collection but public backlash against the “pornographic” display saw it replaced with something far more exciting.

Madame Tussaud’s wax museum was world class. It featured life-like statues of some of the most renowned people in history. Kings, Queens, poets and painters – the collection spanned a huge denomination of people throughout history. However the most popular part of the museum was a special room which you could enter for an additional fee called The Chamber of Horrors. Within was a pantheon of criminals, despots and monsters along with an assortment of torture methods on display with wax statues demonstrating the operation of the stomach-churning activities. There was also a collection of severed heads on pikes that were cast from molds Marie Tussaud herself had made of aristocrats beheaded in the French revolution including the likes of Marie Antoinette. The enterprising Sohier museum had emulated this and Kreitmayer followed suit. The most infamous crimes and criminals were replicated in wax for people to see for an additional fee on top of their general admission. Chief among the exhibits of criminals in the chamber were the bushrangers. So renowned was Sohier’s waxwork of Morgan, for example, that Dan Morgan himself bragged about sneaking into town to see himself immortalised in wax (though the situation is very unlikely). Duplicates were made for Kreitmayer’s branch in Melbourne but gradually Kreitmayer added his own statues to The Chamber of Horrors. At the turn of the century the Melbourne waxworks had statues of Gardiner, Morgan, Robert Burke, Jimmy Governor, Paddy Kenniff and the Kelly Gang on display.

In June 1880 the colony of Victoria was suddenly abuzz with the unfolding news of the infamous Kelly Gang battling police in a tiny railway town called Glenrowan. At the conclusion of the siege, gang leader Ned Kelly was captured alive but his companions Joe Byrne, Dan Kelly and Steve Hart all perished. A fire destroyed the bodies of Dan and Steve but Joe was retrieved with minor scorching to extremities. He had been killed by a bullet to the groin causing him to bleed to death that morning. Not one to miss an opportunity, Kreitmayer sought permission from the Chief Commissioner of police to get special access to the body. Access was granted and only two days after the siege, molds were being made of Byrne’s head, hands and feet. Kreitmayer even managed to snag Byrne’s boots, still crusty with mud and blood.

Within weeks the molds had been used to generate a statue that was exhibited in The Chamber of Horrors. Advertisements boasted of a full body cast of Byrne the bushranger and contemporary accounts described the scene in detail.

In the 1890s the prison ship Success was purchased by a private owner to be converted into a floating museum. A set of waxworks figures were sold to the floating museum by Kreitmayer including a set of the popular Kelly Gang display figures. The five statues (the gang plus Kate Kelly) were displayed behind bars with a backdrop made to resemble the Australian bush. Only one photograph is known to exist of this set of statues and the most curious is that of Byrne. Seated next to the statue of Ned Kelly, it has a far more life-like face and hands compared to the majority of the set. The hands are oddly splayed against the thighs and seemingly disconnected at the elbow. It’s easy to imagine this splayed-finger look being the result of finding an effective way to mold a dead man’s hands.

When compared to a photograph of Byrne’s corpse taken on an almost identical angle the truth becomes apparent. This is the wax statue made from Kreitmayer’s molds of the corpse.

If this is a duplicate, which is undoubtedly the case as Kreitmayer kept his Kelly Gang display intact and it remained thus until the museum was converted into a cinema in 1910, then naturally other versions exist or existed. A mysterious image taken around the same time shows a disembodied wax head with the handwritten label “Ned Kelly”. The first thing one noticed is that it doesn’t resemble Ned Kelly at all despite the long hair and beard. The next thing that’s noticeable is how realistic this head looks.

If this is, as it seems to be, made from a cast of a real face, but it isn’t Ned Kelly’s face, could it be from a different member of the Kelly Gang? A comparison between this face and two known photos of Joe, one as a 21 year old and the other post mortem, may show if this is so.

The dimensions match overall but notably there’s a tremendous resemblance in the eyebrows, nose, cheeks and lips that seems far more than a mere coincidence. Such a strong resemblance would normally be fairly conclusive, but unfortunately without knowing the providence of the image it is impossible to prove conclusively that this is Joe or that it is a Kreitmayer waxwork. It seems unlikely that the museum would have been in operation for half a century, during which time we went from photography being limited to rare tintypes to having motion pictures, and the collection to have not been photographed in part or entirely. At the least one might expect photos to be taken for insurance purposes if not for posterity or promotion. If this head is part of a defunct collection from 1910 then surely other photos exist in that collection too. For now we can merely speculate on this image.

Postscript: The image of the disembodied wax head is one I have been examining ever since I came across it on Pinterest in December 2018, while doing research for my novel, ‘Glenrowan’. I still do not know the provenance of it and due to the way Pinterest is designed I cannot contact the person who originally posted it to enquire as to where it came from. If you are that person, or know who they are please contact me at

A Guide to Australian Bushranging on tour, 2019 [Blog]

With November 2019 seeing the 140th anniversary of the Wantabadgery Siege, the decision was made to make a pilgrimage to Wantabadgery. As no formal acknowledgement of the anniversary or notification of any organised commemoration thereof had been announced, I decided that somebody ought to fill the void — and who better than the chap that does all the bushranger stuff online? It should be pointed out before we continue that this recap is not all about bushrangers, but rather a recounting of the things that happened during the trip. Hopefully it will give you some travel ideas. That said, let us continue…

With Georgina Stones from An Outlaw’s Journal in tow, I headed up northeast of Melbourne. On the way we passed through Benalla, where Georgina added some fake flowers to Joe Byrne’s grave. Previously she had left real flowers, but this time wanted to leave something a little more enduring. Every time we go up I see if I can spot the little bust I placed on the grave. The tiny polymer clay portrait has been there through searing heat, bucketing rain and everything in between but is still looking pretty good despite being put through the ringer.

Giving Joe Byrne’s grave some TLC

Our first night was spent in The Empire in Beechworth. This heritage hotel was around in the days of the Kelly Gang and has an interesting anecdote connecting it to the Kelly story. Following the murder of Aaron Sherritt, his widow Belle and her mother Ellen were lodging in The Empire. Aaron’s inquest had been held in The Vine (no longer in existence, and definitely not the one in Wangaratta) and the pair had stayed on in Beechworth long enough to see Ned Kelly arrive for his committal. Having been convalescing in the hospital in Melbourne Gaol, he had been deemed fit enough for transportation to Beechworth via train. When being taken from the station to the gaol by buggy, he was taken past The Empire where he saw two women watching him from the balcony. He tipped his hat to them in a conspicuous show of gentlemanly behaviour, perhaps unaware that it was his machinations that had led to the brutal slaying of the husband and son-in-law of the two women he was saluting.

Upstairs in The Empire

Dining at The Empire was exquisite. Food and drink were top notch, and the service equally as commendable. That night we were the only ones in the building, which should have meant a nice, quiet stay. However, there were other occupants that were not keen on staying quiet — occupants who were not of the physical world. Disembodied footsteps and the sound of objects being shifted or dropped was pervasive throughout the night, though we did get some shut-eye. It should be added that the rooms at The Empire are nice and cosy with very comfortable beds, so if you’re looking for a place to stay, give them a look-in (the ghosts don’t cost extra).

The next morning after an obligatory visit to the Beechworth Bakery, we headed to the Beechworth Cemetery so that Georgina could pay her respects to Aaron Sherritt. While there I tracked down the grave of John Watt. Watt was the proprietor of the Wooragee Hotel on the outskirts of Beechworth. One night he answered the door of the pub to reveal three bushrangers who ordered him to bail up. Rather than comply, Watt turned to head back inside. One of the bandits shot him in the back, then they fled. It took Watt over a week to die from his wound. Subsequently, two of the bushrangers, James Smith and Thomas Brady, were hanged in Beechworth Gaol for the murder.

John Watt’s grave in Beechworth Cemetery

Upon leaving the cemetery, we began the journey into New South Wales. Our prior search for accommodation had led us to a motel in Gumly Gumly, just outside the city of Wagga Wagga. The accommodation was nice enough for the price, however our neighbours weren’t exactly the quiet type. One couldn’t help find some amusement in their loud interrogation as to whether their companions were “giving wristies” while blaring Spotify over a Bluetooth speaker right in front of our door. In fairness, they did apologise when they realised that it was actually people they had seen park and enter the room they were in front of and not a very potent hallucination.
For the next few days we were right in the heart of the territory connected to Dan Morgan and Captain Moonlite. After so many visits to Kelly Country, it was great to finally be immersing myself in other bushranger stories. The only major drawback was the threat of fire. Following prolonged drought, much of New South Wales was suffering from their worst bushfires in living memory. Though the region we were exploring was safe, one couldn’t help but think about the beleaguered fireys battling the blazes further north on the other side of the Blue Mountains. Driving through the lower portion of the state and seeing how bone dry it was and how wispy the vegetation looked, it did not take much imagination to picture it going up like a celluloid girdle on bonfire night. With the anniversary of the Wantabadgery Siege, there are no prizes for guessing where was first on the list of locations.

Wantabadgery is a small town between Wagga Wagga and Gundagai that is mostly farmland and built on a mix of steep hills and flat pasture. It was here in November 1879 that Andrew George Scott would seal his name in infamy. Having been the target of police harassment since his release from prison earlier in the year, Scott had decided to seek his fortune in New South Wales. Venturing out on foot from the Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy with his companion James Nesbitt, Scott soon added Frank Johns, August Wernicke and Thomas Rogan to the mix. A few miles outside of Wantabadgery they convinced a swaggie named Graham Bennett to join them and from there they continued on to Wantabadgery station, which Scott had been told would provide them food, shelter and possibly work. When they got there they were made to wait outside for two hours to see the superintendent, who simply told them to go away. On that day 140 years ago it was cloudy and raining, but when we were there the heat was unrelenting, as were the flies. Despite the difference in climate, the immersion was easy. The terrain doesn’t appear to have altered much all these decades after the fact. It is very easy to picture the bushrangers huddled among the boulders on the outskirts of Wantabadgery station, trying to get some sleep after being turned away.

The Webb-Bowen memorial

The first stop for us was the Webb-Bowen memorial (“The hero of Wantabadgery”), which is the only real public acknowledgement of the bushranging event in Wantabadgery. The result of a wonderful community effort to honour the fallen officer, it features a metal sculpture by Max Burmeister and artworks by locals that portray Webb-Bowen as something of a pop culture figure (I personally really love the Warhol inspired piece on display there and would like to see that become a poster of some description). A simplified map is on display to indicate the significant spots in the area related to the events, which gives a decent indication of where to go and came in handy. It would have been nice to see some signage at the relevant sites akin to those placed at locations pertaining to the Ned Kelly story, but it is understandable that more of an effort hadn’t been made to draw attention to these places in that manner, especially as these are still working farms. Regardless of where you go that is connected to the Moonlite story, there is almost no acknowledgment of it or only a vague understanding of it. Captain Moonlite does not bring tourists into towns like Ned Kelly does, unfortunately.

The sweeping hills on the edge of Wantabadgery Station

Wantabadgery Station is currently a working cattle farm, concerned with raising black Angus, and by all accounts they do a very good job of it. No doubt they occasionally get visitors asking to see the homestead the Moonliters bailed up in 1879, but on this occasion I decided it was better to be more respectful than simply rocking up and asking to have a sticky beak. It must be remembered that a great many of the sites associated with bushranger stories are on private property, especially in the Riverina where bushrangers preferred to raid farms rather than rob mail coaches. One day, perhaps, I’ll pluck up the courage to get a look at the farm, but until then I must be satisfied with having stood at the gate, much as Moonlite and his boys did while waiting to see Percy Baynes.

Wantabadgery Station has much better security now than it did in 1879

McGlede’s farm was the location of the final shootout between the gang and police. While a gunfight had occurred at Wantabadgery station, there were no casualties. When a combined troop of police from Wagga Wagga and Gundagai intercepted the gang at the McGlede selection, however, a deadly battle ensued. It was here that James Nesbitt and Gus Wernicke were killed, and Constable Webb-Bowen was mortally wounded. There is nothing left of the selection now apart from the land. There are no signs pointing to it or seemingly anything at all to indicate the site. I stopped to ask some locals if they knew where to find it and they merely stared at me with the vaguely confused look cows usually give humans (Georgina did not find my bovine interrogation a-moo-sing). Having to be satisfied with having gone to the approximate location, the decision was made to head for Gundagai, where hopefully at least one of us might get enough phone reception to plot our return trip. I annoyed Georgina greatly by cranking up Slim Dusty’s version of “The Road to Gundagai” as we approached the town. It was a place that I had wanted to visit ever since I was a little boy. Some of my family members had visited back in the ’90s and brought us back souvenirs related to the statue of Dad and Dave, Mum and Mabel. It became something of an ambition of mine to see the real deal myself. It wasn’t hard to find exactly what I had sought for so long. The statue is right next to the visitor centre. The familiar shapes of the popular Steele Rudd characters immediately caught my eye. We parked and walked down to the statue. It was incredible to see these strange, almost malformed figures looming over me with hollow eyes. The statue was far bigger than I had imagined, and far more detailed. It’s original location when unveiled in the 1970s was opposite the statue of The Dog on the Tuckerbox (more on that later), but in 2005 it was relocated to the reserve next to the info centre. The connection to Gundagai comes from the old radio series of Dad and Dave of Snake Gully that used the song “The Road to Gundagai” at the beginning of each episode. To get a sense of Australian culture from the turn of the century, I recommend getting your hands on some form of media pertaining to Dad and Dave. I think Dad and Dave: On Our Selection, starring Leo McKern and Geoffrey Rush in the title roles, is a great way to get an introduction to the quirky world of the Rudd family.

Dad and Dave, Mum and Mabel

One of the best and newest attractions in Gundagai is the statue of Yarri and Jacky Jacky. These two courageous men are hugely important in the history of the town and more than deserving of such a beautiful sculpture to commemorate them. In the 1850s Gundagai was first founded on the flood plains of the Murrumbidgee river. Of course, the local Wiradjuri people had warned the whites about the risk of flooding; after all, the name of the place came from a word in the local dialect meaning “big water”. In 1852 the area was subjected to a catastrophic flood, destroying homes and leaving many people stranded amongst the gurgling floodwaters. Seeing that the people needed assistance, Jacky Jacky and Yarri led a rescue mission, riding out in bark canoes with other Wiradjuri men into the torrent to rescue survivors, saving 69 people. 89 of the 250 settlers perished in the flood, which left only three buildings intact when things settled. It is hard to say anything to adequately emphasise or exaggerate what is already an incredible turn of events. Happily, the statue stands in front of a series of information panels that describe Gundagai’s history. More effort needs to be made to highlight these stories of unity from our history, but this is a good start.

Yarri and Jacky Jacky statue by Darien Pullen

Antique shops have always been attractive to me, most likely because of my Dad’s hobby of looking for a bargain in any obscure place he came across. A collector of items ranging from ceramic horses to Inuit soapstone carvings, he played a big part in my fascination with collecting. Naturally, the moment I saw what appeared to be a decent collection of vintage knick-knacks I had to poke my head in. Beyond the rows of vintage clothing and antiques in Junque and Disorderly, a creaky staircase led up to the Gabriel Gallery, a collection of photography from the turn of the century by Dr. Charles Gabriel. The images were a fascinating look at the history of Gundagai and portrayed a vibrant community at the dawn of Federation. Of course, as is the way with basically every museum, big or small, there was one very unique part of the collection. In this case it was a walking stick and letters belonging to Henry Lawson, the great bush poet. If you have an interest in photography or early federal Australian history, the Gabriel Gallery is a great attraction to visit in Gundagai.

The Henry Lawson exhibit

After a brief rest to have a cool drink, we decided it was time we headed for the gaol. Gundagai Gaol is located on a steep incline behind the courthouse and is only accessible on a tour, which you can book in the information centre. The blistering heat proved not to be very conducive to getting up the hill without becoming out of breath, but it was good to tick off the list, even though we didn’t go in. The gaol consists of two small buildings around the size of camp dormitories, and was the location where the Moonliters were held after their capture. The courthouse being so close to the gaol meant that it was no effort to have a quick walk around the outside on the way back down the hill from the gaol. The courthouse is a handsomely designed and built structure that operates very rarely, but is still a functional courthouse. It was the place where the Moonliters were committed for trial, which would take place in the Supreme Court in Sydney.

Gundagai Gaol

We geared ourselves up for a visit to the local museum but a makeshift sign informed us that the opening hours had changed and we would not be getting in this particular day. Unfortunate, but not unexpected. The itinerary was subsequently shifted around and we made way for the cemetery. By this stage I was glad to be taking advantage of the air conditioning in the car. Throughout the trip the temperature rarely dipped below 30°C.

Gundagai Courthouse

The Gundagai Cemetery was a little way out of town but worth the visit. It is the one location that makes an effort to signpost anything connected to Captain Moonlite. The cemetery is surprisingly vast and open and the ground rock hard from the rigorous drought that has plagued the region. The monument marking the resting place of Senior Constable Webb-Bowen is hardly inconspicuous and juts out of the smattering of squat and crumbling grave markers, gleaming white. Next to it is the far more humble headstone belonging to Sergeant Edmund Parry who was killed by Johnny Gilbert in 1864. To see two officers of high esteem next to each other in such a way is just brilliant for the die-hard bushranger buffs.

The graves of Sgt. Parry (left) and Snr Const. Webb-Bowen (right)

To find Moonlite’s grave one must trek further uphill to the back of the cemetery. Here you will find a large rock with a plaque on it marking the resting place of the notorious preacher. Were it not for the seating heat and the incessant flies, the moment would have been quite profound – after all, this was my first time visiting the resting place of one of my favourite historical figures. I left a copy of my article about Wantabadgery on the grave, both as a sign of respect to Scott and his mates as well as the police, but also so that people that visited after us could learn something about the reason why the grave was significant enough to earn signage. I should point out that Scott would be fairly chuffed at being in such a prime location in the cemetery, looking down on the rest of the graves from beneath the shade. It was very rewarding to have finally connected with these historical figures.

Moonlite’s grave has the benefit of being the best shaded of the marked graves in Gundagai

The Dog on the Tuckerbox statue is a must-see if you are in Gundagai. This humble canine has become an icon ever since its unveiling in 1939. Inspired by a poem about a bullocky who is having a bad day, the statue depicts a cattle dog perched on a tuckerbox and is mounted on a plinth in a little pool. Recently the statue was vandalised but was quickly repaired and put back on his pride of place. There are some ruins adjoining the courtyard that used to be hotels for travellers going through the region, and there is a cafe where you can get a bite to eat and a Dog on the Tuckerbox souvenir. One of the more unexpected sights in this location is a cubist statue of folk musician Lazy Harry. Long time Kelly buffs will be well acquainted with Lazy Harry from his album about Ned Kelly, which has been on loop in Glenrowan for several decades.

The Dog on the Tuckerbox

After our jaunt through Moonlite country, we headed into Junee for a day without the focus being on bushrangers. Though Junee was on Ben Hall’s beat and was the location of a store his gang robbed multiple times, we had something else in mind.
Junee itself is quiet and pleasant, with easy to navigate streets. It wasn’t difficult to find the Licorice and Chocolate Factory, a huge brick building surrounded by gardens and gravel car parks. We were greeted by the sound of live music wafting as we walked into the premises. There were statues of sheep and dogs, the meaning of which were somewhat lost on us, and we made our way inside. Crossing through the cafe, we reached the factory where many warm and tasty smells lingered in the air – the rich aroma of chocolate mingling with the tang of licorice. There was not much to see through the big windows that kept the onlookers separated from the equipment on this day, but it would be interesting enough if we were on a guided tour, which the television display was obviously a part of. We went upstairs and looked at the homewares and knick-knacks, noting the beautiful writing sets and kitchenware. There was a lot of cast iron pieces as well, which were quite nice. We went back to the cafe and had hot chocolates, which were delicious and creamy. Georgina bought Orange Whiskey Marmalade, and although we didn’t buy any chocolate for fear it would simply melt in the heat, there was a lot of items we would have snapped up (though the chocolate boobs – yes, that’s a thing – were not on that list).

Despite my initial suspicions, this car is not, in fact, made of chocolate

Monte Cristo is one of the most spooky and well-known attractions in New South Wales and probably the best known thing in Junee. Billed as Australia’s most haunted homestead, it dates back to the mid-1870s and has many spooky stories attached to it. Restored from essentially ruins by Reg and Olive Ryan, the homestead is an impressive example of late-Victorian/early-Edwardian architecture. Though the buildings are starting to look a little shabbier than in the glory days after the restoration, one can appreciate the degree of work that went into essentially rebuilding the place. While I had believed that the property must have been remote, it turns out that Monte Cristo is right in the heart of Junee, making it super easy to find.

Monte Cristo Homestead

Though the place dates from later than the height of bushranging in the area, one can still imagine how the Crawleys who owned the property might have responded to news that the Kelly Gang and the Moonliters were close by in the late 1870s. Of course, the one thing everyone wants to experience at Monte Cristo is the paranormal, and if you’re open to it you won’t be disappointed. I personally witnessed a man’s shadow moving in “the boy’s room” when nobody was in there, and there were plenty of weird vibes in certain rooms. The Dairy Room is the most disturbing part of the property. Both Georgina and I entered thinking it looked nice and cozy, but that quickly changed. For me it struck when I realised the chain looped through a hole in the wall was not for locking the door. See, it was in this room that an intellectually disabled boy was restrained by a chain in that same spot, resulting in the extreme wear and tear on the bricks. In fact he had been in there, restrained, when his mother died of heart failure right in front of him and left there for days before someone went to investigate. It was in this building also that a caretaker was murdered by a local youth who allegedly was inspired to kill after watching the movie Psycho.

The Dairy

One must be careful not to let the spooky reputation get the better of you, as we almost gave a visitor a heart attack when he came past the original homestead and saw Georgina and I taking the weight off our feet on a bench. Certainly the place could have done without all the Halloween decorations everywhere, most of which appeared to have been left partly taken down. In the courtyard between the servants’ quarters and the ballroom were two old hearses filled with plastic skeletons. It cheapened the vibe of the place considerably. A recent addition to the site is the Doll Museum, which I knew we had to do as soon as I saw it. Though only a small building, the collection is huge and very impressive. The horror section should appeal to many visitors with replicas of Annabelle and Chucky in glass cabinets. There’s even a Ned Kelly doll in the mix. Seriously, Ned is everywhere!

The original 1876 Monte Cristo homestead (later, servants lodgings)

When our time in Wagga Wagga was at an end, it was time to head back towards the border. Of course, the Riverina was the home to many notorious bushrangers – Dan Morgan, Blue Cap, Harry Power – but our next stop put us in a key location in the Kelly story.
Jerilderie is not far from the border, but it isn’t exactly the kind of place you would go to unless you had a specific reason to, and you would be able to see the attractions in an afternoon. While trucks rumble through it at all hours, there is hardly any other traffic, and the place is so small that it really isn’t hard to understand how easy it was for the Kelly Gang to keep essentially the whole town prisoner in the pub. Alas, such is life where many of these old country towns are concerned, as infrastructure has frequently bypassed many of them, leading to isolation and a reduction in the strength of the local economy. A town like Jerilderie could definitely use the cash injection that tourism would bring, but the lack of tourism has led to many of the tourist attractions becoming little more than dots on a map. It’s a “catch 22”.

By the time we arrived, the heat was fairly intolerable. We stayed in Ned’s Studio Apartment, which was a really lovely spot. With its close proximity to everything the town offers as well as its own amenities enabling us to cook and clean our clothes, it was a perfect base during our stay. There was only one downside. At first we didn’t make much of the fact that the water tasted strange but when we washed our clothes and they smelled like they had been washed in a swimming pool we knew something was up. Sure enough, a bit of Googling revealed that Jerilderie has an issue with chlorine in the water supply. While easy to get around, it’s the kind of thing that is helpful to be aware of in advance and the sort of thing you don’t find out about unless you specifically look for information about it.

Ned Kelly dummy in the Royal Mail Hotel, Jerilderie

After our arrival in town, we stopped in at the Royal Mail Hotel, where the Kelly Gang had kept their prisoners while they robbed the bank. In 1879, this building was attached to the bank, which is now the location of a motor mechanic shop, and this feature proved useful to the Kellys. While Dan Kelly kept the prisoners guarded in what is now a dining room, Joe Byrne walked next door to the bank via a rear passage and began the work of robbing it. Where once Ned Kelly gave a speech about the circumstances of his life that led him to become an outlaw, now stand inactive arcade machines and dining tables. The walls are decorated with a mix of historical photos and framed photocopies of images from Ned Kelly: A Short Life. As Georgina had a whiskey and I unwound from driving through kilometres of parched New South Welsh farmland, the other patrons comprised entirely of a man of around his late thirties and his friend who was a “little person”. The pair added a bit of life to the bar. Perhaps we just went in at the wrong time, seeing as that night when we went there for dinner the bar room was full of men knocking back beers after a hard day’s work.

At the time of the Kelly Gang’s visit, the Jerilderie Motors shop was the bank and was joined to the Royal Mail Hotel (far right)

After settling in at the accommodation, we decided to take a quick look around town. It soon became apparent that when reports described Ned Kelly and Constable Richards going through the streets so Ned could make a mental map of the town, it wasn’t quite as much effort as one might imagine. Where the gang’s plot unfolded was in a small section in the heart of the town.

The old printing shop that was run by Gill, the newspaper editor, was only a short distance away from the hotel. Gill was the man Ned Kelly wanted to publish his letter. At some stage the place had been turned into a museum but there was no way in as the place was locked up and left alone, though a peek in the windows showed there were displays set up inside still.  No doubt there would have been interesting things to see in the museum had it ever opened, but alas it was another closed door to add to the list.

The Jerilderie Printing Shop

The Traveller’s Rest is situated in the street behind the council building, right by a giant windmill. This was the location of the infamous incident wherein Steve Hart took a watch from Reverend Gribble. Gribble complained to Ned Kelly, who in turn made Steve return the watch. It was also here that Ned had his last drinks before heading home after the bank robbery. It is said that he placed his pistol on the bar and said in his typical braggadocio fashion, “There is my gun. Anyone can take it and shoot me; but if you do, Jerilderie will drown in its own blood.”

The Traveller’s Rest

The telegraph office is probably the most iconic building in Jerilderie, owing to its very conspicuous signage stating its connection to the Kelly story. In the past it was open for visitors but now remains closed. A peek through the windows reveals not only the huge cracks in the walls, but also the few exhibits that have been left out to gather dust, the plaque on the wall in the main room and a bunch of boxes and crates that were evidently used for packing up items in the building. There is also a plastic box out front that presumably used to contain maps or pamphlets of some kind, but is now empty. I left a printout of my article on Jerilderie in the box for a visitor to collect with the intention that it could help set the scene as they explored the town.

Post and Telegraph Office

The old blacksmith shop was where Joe Byrne took the gang’s horses to be shod. No longer publicly accessible, in previous years it was able to be explored for $2, and a radio interview with Andrew Nixon, one of the smithies that worked there when the gang visited, would play in the background to set the scene. Now, apart from the Kelly trail signage there is nothing to indicate the historical significance of the building.

The Blacksmith Shop

Jerilderie’s information centre doubles as a lolly shop, appropriately dubbed Sticky Fingers. In a back room you can get information about the town and surrounding areas, while in the main entrance you can buy souvenirs and lollies. As well as getting maps and useful tips, I procured some sweet treats to enjoy. The souvenirs are the usual Kelly fare with Jerilderie slapped on where otherwise it would say “Glenrowan” or “Beechworth” or whatever town the things were to represent. It would be great to have something to purchase that reflected Jerilderie specifically, but sometimes you have to be satisfied with what you have on offer.

Display of antique items in the Jerilderie Bakery

A little further out is the site of the old police complex, where once stood the barracks, stables and lock-up. All that remains is the stables, and what I took to be the adjoining lock-up cell, but the printed sheet that explained the building was long rotted by the elements so it wasn’t exactly easy to find the info. Road works were being undertaken at the site so we had to dodge earth moving vehicles as we headed up to the stables. There is something strangely poetic about the dilapidated state of the building, excepting the recently installed guttering. It was here that the Kelly Gang had their base of operations in the town after locking the police up in the cell. The original police station is long gone, now a big empty patch of dirt marks where the police station used to be.

Remains of the police stables

As was becoming a recurring theme in our travels, we started our days in town at the bakery. The food is good, the prices reasonable and the service friendly. The mural of notable figures from the town’s history was certainly… unique. Now, at the risk of sounding perhaps a smidge insensitive, I am used to seeing wall murals that adhere to artistic conventions like balance in the layout and verisimilitude in the portraits. Evidently some degree of effort went into the portraits, but there’s something odd about  seeing a depiction of Joe Byrne with what looks like an advanced case of Proteus syndrome. Fortunately around the corner is a nice little exhibit of items found on the site, including a shortened Martini Henry rifle that may have been dropped by one of the trooopers that went to the town from Victoria in search of the gang. Out the back there is also a big statue of Ned Kelly made from bread tins, which I quite liked. It gave me a few little flashbacks to my short-lived baker apprenticeship seeing all those tins.

Mural painted on the interior wall of the bakery

After a short stay in Jerilderie, it was time to hit the road again. I made the executive decision to pass through Culcairn so that I could get a chance to see some key sites related to Dan Morgan. We stopped for brunch at the Culcairn Bakery and had some of the best, freshest food we had had the entire trip. Honestly, it was tempting to linger in town a bit longer, but we had places to be and things to see.
Just outside of town is the grave of John McLean, the stockman who has the dubious honour of being the first man murdered by Dan Morgan. After Morgan had drunkenly fired his pistol into a crowd of captives at Round Hill Station, a local squatter named John Heriot had been badly wounded when a bullet struck his leg. McLean had gotten Morgan’s permission to fetch a doctor, but Morgan’s accomplices convinced him that McLean was going for the police instead. When Morgan ordered McLean to stop and the man continued riding, Morgan shot him. He took McLean back to the station and stayed with him all night. McLean died soon after and even though the grave by the side of the road has a big sign next to it to tell the story, it is in fact a fake grave. The real grave is actually several hundred metres away by Round Hill Station.

John McLean’s Grave

Round Hill Station is another example of a bushranger site that has continued to thrive beyond its infamous past. Now billed as Round Hill Homestead, it is both a farm and a perfect place for functions such as weddings. As with Wantabadgery Station, I elected not to go wandering in uninvited, satisfied with knowing I had been to the spot, more or less, where Morgan went from just another highwayman to Morgan the Murderer.
The brief spell outside the car saw me swarmed with flies and seriously wishing I had one of those hats with the corks hanging off the brim. I happily shooed the last of them out of the car before we headed off towards Walla Walla.

Morgan’s Lookout

Morgan’s Lookout was one of the few things on the list that I had positioned as a must. Located on the outskirts of Culcairn, northwest of Walla Walla, the lookout is essentially a collection of huge boulders where Dan Morgan is believed to have made a camp so he could monitor the movements of police and potential victims from afar. There is no admission fee and it opens from sunrise to sunset. By the time we arrived the heat was blistering and the moment we stood outside it hit like opening a preheated oven. It appeared that some effort had been made to create a set of signs detailing the history and ecology of the location. Walking through the huge boulders was incredible. You could easily imagine Morgan sleeping inside the overhangs or lurking between the rocks, ready to pounce. A steel staircase allowed access to the top of the largest boulder. On the way around we met another visitor that was taking photographs – the only other living soul at the spot at the time. The hike up the stairs was almost as breathtaking as the view from the top of the lookout; once up on the platform you realise just how far Morgan would have been able to see. For what seemed thousands of miles around, everything was dry, mostly flat and yellow. It was easy to see how an enterprising bushranger would find the viewpoint useful. Unfortunately the weather proved intolerable and we headed back to the car quicker than originally intended. Once inside our conveyance we spent five or more minutes trying to get the flies out before resuming the trip.

Taking in the view from the top of Morgan’s Lookout (speaking of tops, you can get one of these Dan Morgan t-shirts from here)

We returned over the border much earlier than originally planned due to a decision to power through to Beechworth. This decision may have proved to have been wise given that only an hour or so after passing back through Wodonga we heard news of fires breaking out in Albury. Once we were back in Victoria we were relieved to once again see hills and the colour green. The trip was slowed considerably by road works, but hopefully soon there will be nice new road surfaces for drivers in the area. When we finally made it to Beechworth we checked in at the George Kerferd Hotel. This lavish accommodation, especially in comparison to our previous lodgings, is situated within the grounds of the former lunatic asylum (somewhat appropriate, some may say, for someone such as I). That night we indulged in Chinese food from the Chinese Village Restaurant. Georgina probably wouldn’t have felt the trip was complete without having done so at least once.

Old Beechworth Post Office

One of the best things to do in Beechworth is to explore the darker side by going on a ghost tour of the old lunatic asylum. As an enthusiast of all things paranormal, this came highly recommended and did not disappoint. Our original plan to walk from the accommodation was vetoed by our disinclination to walk after our dinner. This proved a wise decision as the asylum grounds are deceptively huge. The winding road to where the tours operate was suitably eerie as night closed in and a light drizzle began. The Asylum Ghost Tours signs, with their ominous bloody handprints, led us to the Bijou Theatre from where the tour would begin. The theatre is decked out with a mix of historical medical paraphernalia and ghostly themed decorations of questionable taste, but you can buy merchandise from there either before or after the tour. I bought a copy of the book Palace of Broken Dreams, which is an interesting read and details the history of the site. Our guide Bronwen was excellent, leading us through the buildings and recounting the history, both earthly and otherworldly, clearly and without any forced theatricality. It should be noted that this is not one of those tacky tours where you’re led into darkened rooms where some git in a Halloween costume will jump out and scare people. No, this tour lets the history and the location do all the work. As for paranormal experiences, both Georgina and I experienced things on the tour. For myself, I saw what appeared to be a young boy with a shaved head trying to hide behind some cars parked outside of what was at one stage an arts room, as well as hearing the voice of an older male in an empty room as we entered the complex where the nursery was housed. Throughout the tour, our guide was gracious in answering questions. My inclination during such tours is always to dig deeper where possible and Bronwen demonstrated that she was intimately acquainted with the place and the entities therein, as much as the history side of things, which was very impressive. Ultimately I would rate this tour extremely highly and recommend it for anyone with an interest in the paranormal or even just in the history of medicine in Australia.

Nursery display in the asylum

One of the important things we had to do while in the region was visit the El Dorado Museum for a meeting. Georgina’s work on An Outlaw’s Journal has led to a very close relationship with the museum as they are in the process of updating their collections and displays. As small local museums go, El Dorado is a beauty. Their collection ranges through all sorts of history from the colonial era to militaria and even geology. Our work with the museum at present is super secret, but Georgina took the opportunity to give the museum a beta copy of the book she has been working on about the El Dorado cow that Joe Byrne and Aaron Sherritt stole. As usual, it was a fruitful meeting and an absolute pleasure to meet the committee with whom we look forward to working with in future.

Meeting the committee at El Dorado Museum [Photographer: Sue Phillips]

As in previous visits, we went to the Beechworth Courthouse, where many infamous faces had their day in court. Recently restoration works were performed in parts of the building and the historical books in the library were treated to prevent any creepy crawlies from making a meal out of them. The courtroom is basically unchanged from the era that saw members of the Kelly gang and their families on trial there and there are some very interesting exhibits. The staff are friendly and happy to have a chat about the building and its history, and even though I’ve heard the spiel a half dozen times it never gets dull.

Georgina taking up the judge’s spot in the courtroom

We also made a trip to the Burke Museum, where they are doing refurbishment to a portion of the interior where the Chinese collection is housed. The Chinese artifacts are one of the most important collections in the museum, owing to the cultural significance both to the Beechworth community and the Chinese in equal measure, many of whom travel to Beechworth specifically to connect with their heritage. In light of this, I purchased a set of postcards with illustrations depicting frontier life for the Chinese featuring artwork by Andrew Swift. We were privileged enough to get a look through some of the historical photographs in their archives in search of sites connected to Joe Byrne and Aaron Sherritt. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to go back and get copies as intended. The team at the museum are friendly, enthusiastic and very helpful if you are looking for assistance in your research.

Georgina examines a photograph of The Vine Hotel

We also went to the Ned Kelly Vault, one of Beechworth’s best attractions. The small building houses the best singular collection of Kelly related relics in the world, spanning the whole story and it’s cultural influences. As a big enthusiast of film, it is always a hoot to see armour worn by Mick Jagger, John Jarratt and Heath Ledger on display, among the various other exciting items such as Ann Jones’ table, helmets and weapons used by Victoria Police, and a range of photos of people involved in the story, including an image purporting to show Ned and Dan Kelly prior to their outlawry (which can only be viewed in a specially constructed box). The volunteer-run museum has thousands of people going through its doors every year and hopefully things will continue to grow.

Replicas of Dan and Ned Kelly’s armour

Another spot we visited in Beechworth was the remnants of the old hospital. Essentially, all that remains of the busy frontier hospital is the stonework from the front wall. As impressive as it is, there is something rather melancholy in the absence of the rest of the building, but that’s progress for you. Once upon a time, this would have been bustling with nurses and doctors going about their duties, attending to patients from the town and the goldfields. Now, it’s just a bunch of carved stone leading onto an empty lot.

The dramatic remnants of the old Beechworth Hospital facade

The following day we started with a trip to the El Dorado Pottery, a favourite of mine. After making a few purchases, we headed through the Woolshed Valley. Although the speed limit along the trail is 100km p/h, the road is covered in fine dust and gravel – not exactly prime conditions in case of a need to stop suddenly at top speed. We briefly stopped at Reedy Creek so Georgina could dip her toes in the water. As we were leaving there were already locals coming down in their swimmers to cool off. It’s a beautiful spot to have a swim and no doubt Joe Byrne and Aaron Sherritt did as much back in the day. As we continued, we stopped at the site of the Sebastopol Flats, where Joe Byrne used to work and socialise with the Chinese. Georgina made a series of videos for her Facebook page covering aspects of the story related to the locations we were visiting, the last of which was The Devil’s Elbow, where Aaron Sherritt lived at the time of his murder. The trail is conveniently signposted throughout and you can read up on the history as you go. Unfortunately there is not a lot of structures left to see, so the signs do a fantastic job of explaining what things were there and their significance.

Reedy Creek

We then made our way back to Beechworth where we managed to get in on a tour through the Beechworth Gaol. Despite some factual inaccuracies on this occasion that only big nerds like myself would pick up on, the tour was lively and engaging. The gaol itself is in excellent condition, owing to the fact that it was only fifteen years ago that it was decommissioned. If you are in Beechworth, try and get on the tour, which operates twice daily. There are many links to not only the Kelly Gang (all of whom had served time there), but also more recent high-profile criminals such as Squizzy Taylor and Carl Williams. To drive home the Kelly connection, a set of dummies dressed in replica armour stands between the corridors of cells. For some reason Joe Byrne’s helmet had been swapped with a second Dan Kelly helmet, but not everyone is as pedantic enough to notice as I am. Hopefully there will be more attractions at the gaol soon to encourage visitors beyond the tour, but as in all things it requires money and time, which is often in short supply these days.

Dummies representing the Kelly Gang in armour

That night we returned to the Beechworth Gaol for an evening hunting for ghosts. The Beechworth Gaol is the location of the four hour long paranormal investigations hosted by Danni from Paranormal Prospectors. Entering the gaol with the lights off, after dark, was a confronting experience itself, but this was heightened by the fact that the electronic temperature gauge that had been set up in the aisle of the male cell block appeared to be floating when we entered, though it may have been an optical illusion caused by the dramatic change in lighting. Regardless of whether or not it was, this has to be hands down the single most paranormally active place I’ve ever been. We got EVPs, Georgina was poked in the back by a disembodied finger (with an EVP capturing a voice describing exactly that), the laser grid was manipulated to go brighter and duller, there were intelligent responses where whistling patterns were being repeated by a disembodied voice in various points in the prison, there were disembodied footsteps, and intelligent responses on the spirit box. One of the most incredible things was the table tipping, where the group lightly rested their fingertips on the edge of a small table and it began to tilt and spin. It spun so fast we were all running in a circle and it tipped so intensely it fell over several times, and yet nobody was gripping the table at all – I have no conventional explanation for it. Overall, it was absolutely exhilarating to experience and as a ghost buff I feel like I definitely got my money’s worth.

Interior of the gaol at the conclusion of the investigation (that’s not a ghost standing at the end of the corridor)

On the return trip we popped into the Beechworth Galleries, where we examined the bric-a-brac and marvelled at the welded sculptures. The statues, of which a considerable number depicted Ned Kelly in armour, are made by a South African artist and range from the whimsical to the absolutely astounding. Any garden or deck would be immediately improved by having one of these amazing artworks on display there – just don’t ask me how you’ll get a life-size elk made of steel home. A keen observer might recognise the artist’s work on display outside of the Billy Tea Rooms in Glenrowan.

A trio of welded Neds

We also made sure to visit Glenrowan. For me, this is where it all began in 1998 during a stop on the way to Beechworth for my grade six school camp. Of course, in some ways it was a very different place back then. For one, back then Bob Hempel was still fit enough to charge out of the animated theatre ringing a bell to attract visitors whenever a session was due to begin. Nowadays, he’s far more subdued but you still hear the crack of the “gunfire” echoing through the main strip to remind you of the attraction’s presence. Kate’s Cottage hasn’t really changed, though the pet birds are dead now and the re-created Kelly house is starting to sag like an under-baked cake, but they still play Lazy Harry on loop, and you can still get your Ned Kelly tea towels and ciggie lighters from there. The site of the siege has recently had the stolen wooden replica of the inn sign replaced with a metal one that is hopefully harder to pinch, though the metal sculpture approximating Ned’s armour at the capture site has already had the helmet stolen, having been there for only around a month.

Site of the Glenrowan siege

We had our brunch at the Vintage Hall Cafe, which is both a cafe and a shop that sells a mix of souvenirs and second hand items. It was here in 1970 that the Mick Jagger film had it’s Victorian premiere, and some local brainboxes decided to set off explosives around the building in protest (surprisingly this act did not somehow stop the film from existing). I managed to pick up a copy of the Monty Wedd Ned Kelly comic strip in a hardcover book, which was something I had been wanting for a long time. Then Georgina and I did our usual trip to Kate’s Cottage to browse the books. If you’ve got a decent wad of cash on you, you can pick up some really great titles from the range of second-hand books. I was very tempted by a number of the titles but decided to save up. Then it was a quick sojourn at the Billy Tea Rooms, which provide a lovely spot to have a bite to eat. We walked to the site of the siege where we had a moment of contemplating. It probably would have been longer than a moment if it wasn’t so hot that we could feel our skin baking.

A token of affection for an infamous pioneer family

After this we made our way to Greta to visit the cemetery, but ended up going to Moyhu and buying a fake plant centrepiece because we couldn’t find anywhere nearby that we could get flowers from. The volunteers that have been working to maintain and upgrade the facilities in the cemetery have done exemplary work and it is a pity that more of the smaller country cemeteries don’t get as much TLC. The Kelly graves are not marked, though with some research you can find out where the plots are. While many people complain that the graves are unmarked, it is very unlikely that it would make much of a difference. The marker at the gate is a tasteful memorial to the whole family, unified in the afterlife. Of course, having visited three quarters of the gang, we had to visit Joe Byrne one more time as we returned via Benalla (I doubt Georgina would have forgiven me if we hadn’t). From that point it was just a straight ride into the sunset on our way home where I hoped the cat hadn’t baked to death in my heat-trap of a house. Fortunately my mum had been an angel, as always, and made sure that the cat was looked after in my absence. By the time we got home we were both exhausted and decided that it was time to order a pizza now that we were somewhere that it would actually get delivered to.

It was indeed a very eventful trip. To experience the places where these incredible stories unfolded is always wonderful and exciting. It was good to see so much of the history preserved, but at the same time the amount of attractions that were poorly maintained or not maintained at all was disappointing. Australia’s heritage may not be full of Roman hippodromes or Greek amphitheatres, but what we do have is valuable and it is disheartening to see so much being lost because people either can’t afford to restore and maintain, or just can’t be bothered. Ideally, a town like Jerilderie could be thriving with frequent visitors coming through to visit the Kelly sites, if it wasn’t for the fact that they are so small and off the beaten track. Towns like Beechworth, in comparison, embrace their history and perhaps it could even be said that they take it for granted along with their accessibility due to proximity to the highway. It’s sad to see, but the reality is that it’s getting harder and harder to keep these things up and running in Australia, and these attractions will exist only as long as the people owning them are physically able to be there. Some young entrepreneur with a bit of cash behind them could revolutionise the tourism industry in bushranger country, but it would require real passion for the history as much as a fat bank account. These sites are our history and our culture and deserve to be maintained and cared for. Perhaps in the not too distant future, they will get the attention they need. Only time will tell.