2020, what a year it was. Like good Irish whiskey mixed with coke, there has been a bubbly mixture of good and bad, and as I reflect on it all, I realise that despite all that was poured in my glass this year, I was offered more Connemara than coke. Obviously there have been hardships. … Continue reading 2020 – A Reflection
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 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.”
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'...
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.
'We have received from an anonymous correspondent who is evidently a sympathiser with, and a near associate of the Kellys and their companions, a long but rambling statement of the case as it is put by the outlaws. The document, which contains sixteen pages, came by post simply addressed to "The editor of the Herald newspaper, Melbourne." It is evidently written by an illiterate person, the orthography being defective, the calligraphy in some portions almost undecipherable, and the composition rambling and sometimes unintelligible. Sufficient can be gathered, however, to show that there is a very bitter feeling of animosity among the sympathisers of the outlaws against the police, and reasons are stated why they should exist. An inquiry is anxiously demanded, and as the statements made are of a serious character, and the demand for an inquiry apparently a justifiable one, we give some particulars from the citation of our anonymous correspondent, who, for aught we know, may be one of the gang.
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.
“...I never quite liked Joe...He had a lousy temper. He was very violent. He injured his sister quite badly one time. He was yarding some horses and she let some of the horses go, so he belted her across the face with a bridle. He didn’t treat his mum well either. His mum was a real battler with seven kids and fourteen cows, trying to live with some dignity and yet Joe was swanning about town, dressing up to the nines, looking like a young squatter. This was very different from Ned. But Ned brought the absolute best out in him. Ned said “he’s my best man” who was “straight and true as steel”. That was true for when Joe was with Ned, but I would trust Aaron before I’d trust Joe. I like Aaron much more than I like Joe.”
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.