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.
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.
In the grip of a bitter and isolated June winter, the gang had taken refuge in an abandoned miner’s hut, positioned above the snowline on Mount Buffalo. They had spent many weeks living within the concealed safety of the hut, relying on Tom Lloyd, Wild Wright and other closely trusted sympathisers to bring them fresh … Continue reading Stolen Lines
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 full moon shines, luminously, through the drifting veil of cloud, as Joe and Ned ride along the sandy bank of Billabong Creek, the soft plod of hooves resounding from the summer cracked earth. Joe clasps his fingers around the buttons of his tweed jacket, the February heat pressing, mercilessly, against him. “Eff this heat!” Joe hisses, tearing the buttons open. “It’s been dark for the last hour and it’s still bloody stifling.” “Aye, it’s not pleasant weather for riding in.” Ned sighs, taking a swig from his flask before nodding to Joe. “Care for a drop?” Joe eyes the flask in Ned’s hand, moonlight glinting from its pewter cap. “What’s in it?” “Some of Steve’s brandy.” Ned replies, passing the leather bound flask to Joe. Unscrewing the cap, Joe lifts it to his lips and takes a mouthful of the liquor, scrunching his face at its sourness. “Liquid mullock is all that is.” Joe spits, wiping his sleeve across the brandy resin that clings to his strawberry blonde moustache. “You been smoking too much of that brown stuff?” Ned laughs, edging his black mare into a trot. “The taste ain’t that bad.” Joe glowers at his mate and clicks his tongue, rising out of the saddle as Music springs into a trot.
“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….
Music whinnies as Joe approaches the police paddock, where she has been tethered since his arrival to the courthouse yesterday morning. A trooper sits beside the post and rail yards, his helmet low over his eyes, cutting the glare from the afternoon sun. He looks up as Joe nears, scrunching the Ovens and Murray Advertiser under his arm and rises from the wooden crate. “It’s the big grey isn’t it?” The policeman nods towards Music, “And your flash young mate has the chestnut, if I recall?” “Aye” Joe responds, “but just bring out the grey, my mate will be out soon to collect his mare.” Waiting as the trooper removes the top rail, Joe’s eyes flick toward the holding cell, where he had met that young fellow with the bright smile and raggedy clothing. He turns his head back to the horse yards, as Music is led out, her shoes clipping the rail as she steps over it. Joe tips his head and takes Music’s reins, as she shakes her bridled head from the flies that buzz around her large black eyes. Joe tightens the girth and lets his stirrups down, the leather snapping against the saddle flaps.
The armour had weighed heavily on Joe's mind, the clouded uncertainty it brought made him feel uneasy. “This bloody armour” Joe had warned, “it'll bring us nothing but grief and nuisance.” Ned's armour had been the forerunner for the other three suits, and the long days of bone jarring work that followed, had left Joe deep with bitterness and aching limbs. He had sworn that if he was going to be made, make, and wear, this “God forsaken thing”, then it'd be undertaken properly. For this, Joe had entrusted blacksmith Tom Straughair, who was a close friend of both he and Patsy, to construct his suit and had guided Tom, meticulously, on its design. After watching Dan struggle into the saddle while wearing his apron plate, Joe had instructed Tom to shape his so it slanted slightly. However, this chiselled slant did nothing to aid in his mounting, and instead, Music had become flighty at the resounding scrape of iron, as the armoured weight constricted his movement into the saddle. To counter this, Joe had Tom place two bolts, where a leather cord could be wound around the bolts, and, through the slits in the apron, for easier detachment. The helmet had also been an issue, as it cut, uncomfortably, into his shoulders. In angry haste, Joe had removed it, and flared the bottom of it with a hammer, so it would rest softer on his shoulders. For Ned's suit, shin plates had been constructed, but given their weight, they kept sliding down his legs. This left both Joe and Dan smirking, “Ned ain’t as clever as he thinks” Dan had whispered....
The dull rattle of chains catch on the spring breeze, as the hobbled horses pick at what grass they can find amongst the formation of rock that lines the ridge. Joe rests his back against the trunk of a gumtree, sucking on his pipe. He lets the sweet tobacco fill his mouth, before exhaling, his eyes following the curls of smoke as they drift upwards. Joe looks over to Dan and Steve, who doze next to him, their heads resting on rolled up oilskins, catching what sleep they can.
The chill of night bites against Joe’s limbs as he lies on the rough bunk, yearning for sleep that does not come. The wood creaks nosily beneath his restless frame as he tries to find warmth under the green woollen blanket that covers him. On the makeshift bed next to him, Dan curses and sits up. Milky streaks of moonlight seep through the chinks of the hut’s timbered walls, illuminating his weary countenance. “You’ll wake Hare with all your bloody noise”, Dan whispers sharply. “I can’t sleep.” Joe sighs, “I’m near freezing.”