My name is Joseph Byrne and I have been a prisoner inside the granite walls of Beechworth gaol for close to three months now, my survival down to nothing but water, bread and gruel. It is far from pleasant fare, but it has given me the strength to work, so for that I feel I … Continue reading Walls of Granite
Q1 Anita Condon – I love reading your writing, research and posts. What made you start on this journey? A – Thank you Anita, I appreciate your support and I’m glad that the question you posed allows me explain how An Outlaw’s Journal came about. For a number of years, I had toyed with the … Continue reading Questions and Answers (June 2020)
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.
The early morning sun shines brightly through the chinks of Aaron’s slab hut at Sheepstaion Creek, warming his face as he lies sleeping on his bunk.
In Aaron’s dream, Kate Byrne is standing before him in the cool water of Reedy Creek, the hem of her dress pulled up around her calves. He slides his arms around her waist and pulls her close, the sweet smell of lavender radiating from her auburn hair. “I never want to be without you, Aaron,” She declares softly, her head buried in his shoulder. Aaron lifts her face to his and kisses her tenderly, “Nor me, Katie.”
Making sure the coast is clear and there are no police about, the Gang spur their horses across the Murray River, halfway between Mulwala and Tocumwal. Joe is riding a chestnut he has secured for the ride up to Jerilderie, allowing Music to have a well earned rest at Sebastopol. While the mare swims across, the murky river water laps at his calves, offering cool relief from the hot summer sun above. Once into New South Wales, the four outlaws ride north along the boundaries of Barooga and Berrigan stations, making camp in a scrubby forest where they will spend their time finalising plans for the robbery ahead.
For a long time now, I have been wanting to find out more about Maggie, this woman who had first captured Joe’s heart at an unknown time, on an unknown day. We know Joe was charmed by barmaids, or rather, women in general, but there was something special about Maggie from the Vine. In An Outlaw’s Journal, her name is Julia and she is Cornish, having travelled from Cornwall as a stowaway in a desperate bid to escape the drunken abuse of her husband, Jim Clarke. But who was she? We know from one of the Vandenberg daughters that ‘Maggie’ wasn’t her real name, which got me wondering as to what it could have been? And why the need to use a name that wasn’t her own? In my writing, the reason for the alias is so she can escape her past, but why did I decide on the name Julia? It occurred to me one day while reading the Jerilderie letter, that the line ‘Tailing turkey’s in the Tallarook Ranges for a smile from Julia’, could have been Joe’s nod to the woman who had captured his heart. Of course, this is all supposition, and I won’t go into too much detail regarding the time I was thinking about Maggie and reached into the drawer for a tea towel, only to see that the cloth I had chosen was embroidered with the word ‘Cornwall'...
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