Aaron Sherritt: A Forgotten Life (Part One)

From the time of his murder on the night of June 26 1880, and indeed the months before, the man Aaron Sherritt truly was has very much been blurred, and to an extent, lost. As with the ignorance that often consumes people’s knowledge and understanding of Joe, this same cloud of half-truths, coupled with the inability of many to analyse and question long held beliefs, has meant that the truth of Aaron's life has become largely forgotten. For the most part, Aaron's memory has been separated into two ideals, ranging from those who see him as little more than a traitorous 'rat', to others who see him almost in the guise of a saint, with both parties blind to the twenty four year old standing before them. Although very regretful of it now, there was a time when I was firmly of the opinion that Aaron was a traitor and I did not care to acknowledge, or see him, as anything else. However, since beginning my journey of seeking both justice and the truth for Joe, I have been compelled to write and research in greater detail the life led by Aaron. This, as a result, has allowed me to appreciate and understand the complexities of his life, and is something that I hope may be triggered in other people’s understanding of him after reading this piece. While I appreciate I cannot forcibly change an individual’s overall view of Aaron, I wish to offer the laughing eyed larrikin from Sheepstation Creek a voice and a chance to be heard.

Fragments from an Outlaw’s Journal

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.

Ah Suey

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.

A Portrait of Joe

The Bray portrait or ‘gentleman Joe’, as it is often referred, is an image which has divided public opinion for many years, from those who believe the young, well-dressed fellow, is twenty one year-old Joe Byrne, to others who claim, quite positively, that it is not. With some individuals even asserting that the young man pictured is actually Joe’s cousin, also named Joseph Byrne. However, if the man photographed is indeed Joe’s cousin, why was the carte de visite in the hands of Antonio Wick? This underlying question is something that has never been properly looked at, and instead, for the most part, is often brushed over. For me, as someone who is constantly seeking both understanding and justice for Joe, I cannot allow broad statements such as this to go unchallenged, and it is also the reason I have decided to put forward my research and views.

The Kelly Gang From Within

I had often pictured to myself the actions of a man in the position I now occupied, and wondered what he would do or say. There was now no time to wonder. The picture had become a reality, and I was the man. Turning quickly in the direction of his voice, I saw a man had me covered with a rifle. The butt was pressed to his shoulder, the forefinger of his right hand was on the trigger, the right eye was on a level with the barrel, and the sight focussed on my head. I sprang to my feet and threw up my hands as ordered. Standing with my face towards the enemy I saw three men. The one who had covered me was tall, and appeared to possess a muscular and well-knit frame. His face was covered with a thick beard and moustache of a dark brown colour; his features were regular, and indicated an appearance of keen anxiety; his age might have been anything between 20 and 30. The young fellow by his side could not have been more than 20 years of age, of medium height, a florid tan-marked complexion; hair that would be called carroty; a slight appearance of young hair on his face of a lighter hue than that of his head. He possessed what might have been termed a bullet head.

The Trouble at Sebastopol

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.

Dear Joe

Dear Joe, For the last twelve years, you have remained a constant presence within my life, from when I first learnt of you as an eleven year old, to now writing about your life as a twenty four year old. I couldn’t, and have no desire to imagine, how different my life would be, had I not ‘met’ you, and your polished larrikin heels.