The heels of Joe’s polished bluchers clip over the cobblestones as he walks up along Camp Street toward Bray’s Photographic Studio. His pipe hangs lazily from the corner of his lips, swirls of tobacco smoke drifting into the crisp autumn air. Feeling proud in his appearance, in tweed jacket and trousers, waistcoat and a crisp white shirt, Joe holds his head high, his blue eyes focused firmly ahead at the bustling cross roads.
Hobbling Music in the thick scrub of the gully, Joe begins untying the rope that secures the rolled up overcoat to the pommel of the saddle and unfurls it, revealing the shotgun that has been hidden within the fabric. The bitting chill of winter sends a shiver from his lips and he wraps the coat around himself, turning up the collar to hide the bushy beard that frames his face. Slinging the weapon across his shoulder, Joe unbuckles the girth and removes the saddle from Music’s back, resting it against the rotted stump of a pine tree. He strokes his hand along the glistening mark at her side, causing her to twitch and flatten her ears in response. Aware of what has made the bloody wound, Joe lifts his leg behind himself and rubs a finger against the pointed tip of his spur, the iron smeared with blood. He shakes his head and removes her bridle, the tom thumb bit falling from her mouth with a clatter. Music grinds her teeth and rubs her forehead against his shoulder, leaving a speckled patch of white on his woollen overcoat. “Enough of that,” Joe says, pushing her head away. Laying the bridle on the stump, he begins his descent down to the flat of Sebastopol in search of rest.
After a morning of herding his mother's milking cows with Paddy, Joe, dressed in his town clothes, begins his journey up to Beechworth along the rain corrugated Woolshed road. As usual, Joe had made sure to slip away while Margret was in the dairy, he found it easier to leave quietly than to explain himself. Aaron would mock that this was because Joe was frightened of his mother, but the reality was far less simple. He sought to be understood by her, he wished for her to see him as he was and not merely as the son she wanted him to be. Joe had no desire to be chained to life on the farm, he wanted to savour all that was around him, but that came at a cost. Looking up at the overhanging clouds, which again threaten rain, Joe hastens his pace passed Thomas Lloyd’s Eagle Hotel, where the Chinese cook, his queue braid wrapped around his head, kneels beneath the veranda scrubbing a cast iron pot.
Dear Sir, You think yourself to be very high and mighty for the work you are doing in hunting for the Kelly Gang. But I must inform you that your days are truly numbered unless you stop bothering yourself about Beechworth and the surrounding districts. The Kellys are informed of your every move and you cannot visit Sebastopol without someone watching. You are a brave cove, I’ll grant you that, for it is only foolishness to believe your life will continue to be spared. The great boasting you have done at the Hibernian Hotel about being the only cove to ever gaol Joe Byrne has made it to the ears of the outlaws and as you can well imagine, they are itching to get their hands on you. I must warn you Detective, you and your great chum Mullane are now wanted men. A reward of £8000 has been issued for your apprehension and delivery up into the ranges. I trust you fully consider the peril you gentlemen now find yourselves in. There is great mischief to come, so prepare yourself for your latter end.
The honking of geese ring in Joe’s ears as he rubs, tiredly, at his sleep crusted eyes. Turning onto his back, Joe ties his fingers behind his head and stares up at the sheet of calico above him. From behind the partition, Mary snuffles and coughs. The rattle of the bedframe sounding as she wiggles out of bed, the patter of small footsteps edging closer to the curtain.
For Elizabeth Sherritt Sheepstation Creek, Reid's Creek P.O Near Beechworth. (H.R.M. Gaol. Beechworth) My dear Bessie, I write the following lines to you to let you know how I am at present. You must be careful with these few bits of paper, for I have written them on the sly and had them posted out … Continue reading A Letter to Bessie
Darkness folds around Joe, memories flickering, painfully, to the surface, while he waits for the train that Ned promises will come… I pour another glass full of whiskey and reach into my pocket, the small packet of opium powder ruffles beneath my fingers. I think this is my third dose, but I cannot be sure. Nothing will be strong enough to blur the vision of Aaron, lying dead at my feet. I have long been haunted by the blood that was spilled at Stringybark Creek, but nothing could have prepared me for the blood that leeched out of Aaron. Christ. The way it spurted between his fingers in a wild arc of crimson, as he clutched at his throat and staggered backwards. But I aimed again and pulled the trigger, the shot shredded through his shirt and skin, instantly shattering his ribs, which exploded out from underneath his favourite cotton shirt. Aaron gargled and spluttered, falling backwards, he smashed his head against an old potato box. Then came the screaming and wailing of Belle, piercing my ears worse than the blast of the bloody shotgun. I looked down at what I had caused, my eyesight blurred, the bashing of Dan’s fist on the door seemed a hundred miles away.
April of 1872 saw Joe working for Ah Lim; a cloth merchant in the Chinese Camp of Sebastopol. Since he and Aaron had started spending more time within the camp, Joe had begun to be employed by a few of the local Chinese traders, who found him to be polite and hardworking. It was only ever temporary employment, but employment nonetheless and Joe enjoyed being amongst their company. Under the instruction of Ah Lim, his tasks had been sorting stock, delivering messages to other shopkeepers around the camp and unloading the cart when a carrier arrived from Melbourne.
In the grip of a bitter and isolated June winter, the gang had taken refuge in an abandoned miner’s hut, positioned above the snowline on Mount Buffalo. They had spent many weeks living within the concealed safety of the hut, relying on Tom Lloyd, Wild Wright and other closely trusted sympathisers to bring them fresh … Continue reading Stolen Lines
The wind battered limbs of Eucalyptus trees roar loudly in Joe’s ears as he makes his way down the moonlit slope of Byrnes Gully. Ahead of him, Aaron leads his chestnut mare, Chloe, through the scrub. Hessian bags, bulging with freshly slaughtered meat, swing from the saddle as his mare negotiates the loose ground. Clasped … Continue reading Severed Ties