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
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 calico above him. From behind the partition, eight year old Mary snuffles and coughs. The rattle of the bedframe sounds as she wiggles out of bed, the patter of small footsteps edging closer to the curtain. Mary presses her face into the fabric. “Are you still in bed Joe?” Joe sits up and buttons his undershirt, “Just wait a minute while I get my shirt on.” Swinging his tweed clad legs out from under the covers, Joe retrieves his shirt from the iron bedpost and hastily pulls it over his head.
The full moon shines, luminously, through the drifting veil of cloud, as Joe and Ned ride along the sandy bank of Billabong Creek, the soft plod of hooves resounding from the summer cracked earth. Joe clasps his fingers around the buttons of his tweed jacket, the February heat pressing, mercilessly, against him. “Eff this heat!” Joe hisses, tearing the buttons open. “It’s been dark for the last hour and it’s still bloody stifling.” “Aye, it’s not pleasant weather for riding in.” Ned sighs, taking a swig from his flask before nodding to Joe. “Care for a drop?” Joe eyes the flask in Ned’s hand, moonlight glinting from its pewter cap. “What’s in it?” “Some of Steve’s brandy.” Ned replies, passing the leather bound flask to Joe. Unscrewing the cap, Joe lifts it to his lips and takes a mouthful of the liquor, scrunching his face at its sourness. “Liquid mullock is all that is.” Joe spits, wiping his sleeve across the brandy resin that clings to his strawberry blonde moustache. “You been smoking too much of that brown stuff?” Ned laughs, edging his black mare into a trot. “The taste ain’t that bad.” Joe glowers at his mate and clicks his tongue, rising out of the saddle as Music springs into a trot.
The autumn wind tugs at Joe’s tweed jacket as he stands on the ledge of rock, gazing down over the sprawling plain below, his fingers furling and unfurling around the Tranter revolver clasped in his hand. Joe paces along the rocky expanse, his eyes scanning across the yellow paddocks and distant homesteads. The unfinished letter to Aaron rustles, noisily, in his breast pocket, a weighty reminder of what he cannot ignore. Removing the paper, Joe unfolds it, his eyes drifting over the red inked copperplate, ‘Moses the game is surely up. You think yourself very brave for all your blowing about what you will do to me. This is only foolishness on your part. For you, Ward, and Mullane are now wanted men…’ Joe’s knuckles whiten as he holds the letter in his hands, which quiver with the anger of a friendship long since betrayed…
Joe tucks his fingers under the pommel of the saddle, the reins resting freely on Music’s neck, as she picks her way through the collection of saplings that dot the gap. Her large dappled ears flick, backwards and forwards, as Joe whistles the rebellious tune, The Wearing of the Green. As he edges Music along the pebbled bank of Reedy Creek, the excited shouts of Chinese miners resound, as horse and rider near the town of Sebastopol. Nearing the Chinese huts, the sweet aroma of rice greets him, as it wafts from one of the huts open windows. Like his fondness for the bliss of opium, rice had also become his weakness. Margret frowned on Joe’s taste for the sticky white grains. When he’d returned home, one afternoon, with a china bowl and a set of chopsticks she had been appalled. “You’ll turn into one of those yellow fellows if you keep eating like them”, she berated. Joe laughs at the memory, as his vision catches on several Chinese miners who splash in the creek, washing their hands in the tawny water.