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.

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.

I Have a Heart, but it’s as Hard as Stone

“Dear Aaron I write these few stolen lines to you to let you know that I am still living…” On the 26th of June 1879, a desperate Joe Byrne pens a letter to his lifelong friend, Aaron Sherritt, asking him to join the gang, “a short life and a jolly one” Joe asserted. However, within the span of a year, on the night of June 26th 1880, Joe, accompanied by Dan Kelly, would shoot and kill Aaron at his hut in the Woolshed. “You will not blow now what you do with us anymore”, Joe declared, looking down on the blood soaked face of his once most trusted friend….

Under London Rock

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.

Bound by Granite

The iron handcuffs bite against Joe’s sunburnt wrists as he is led along the track toward the granite lockup. Behind him, swaggers Aaron, flanked either side by policemen. He kicks at the dry earth beneath his well-oiled boots, dirtying the hems of Joe’s tweed trousers with a layer of dust. Joe attempts to turn on Aaron with a scowl, but is prodded in the back by one of the battened officers, his voice stern, “Keep up the pace Byrne!”