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'...
“...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.
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.
“Joseph Byrne deposed that on the night in question he was passing the Chinese camp at Sebastopol, and saw the prisoners and others searching a jumper and other clothing; this was after sundown. Ah Suey was tied up to a post, to a hook on it. His hands were tied with a cord in front. There was a chain like that produced round him, his whole feet were on the ground, took no notice of the people who were present. If he had trousers on they were very short. Ah Seong untied deceased, who then went away to another house. Deceased was crying out “pretty” loud, did not hear him say anything. Was there about five minutes, saw deceased between six and seven on Wednesday night. He was then tied up again with the rope and with the chain; the two prisoners were present, but did nothing. Ah Seong untied him. Asked prisoners why they tied him up, and someone, whom he did not know, said that Ah Suey meant to kill himself.”
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.