The Haystack

Hobbling Music in the thick scrub of the gully, Joe begins untying the rope that secures the rolled up overcoat to the pommel of the saddle and unfurls it, revealing the shotgun that has been hidden within the fabric. The bitting chill of winter sends a shiver from his lips and he wraps the coat around himself, turning up the collar to hide the bushy beard that frames his face. Slinging the weapon across his shoulder, Joe unbuckles the girth and removes the saddle from Music’s back, resting it against the rotted stump of a pine tree. He strokes his hand along the glistening mark at her side, causing her to twitch and flatten her ears in response. Aware of what has made the bloody wound, Joe lifts his leg behind himself and rubs a finger against the pointed tip of his spur, the iron smeared with blood. He shakes his head and removes her bridle, the tom thumb bit falling from her mouth with a clatter. Music grinds her teeth and rubs her forehead against his shoulder, leaving a speckled patch of white on his woollen overcoat. “Enough of that,” Joe says, pushing her head away. Laying the bridle on the stump, he begins his descent down to the flat of Sebastopol in search of rest.

Maggie: The Woman who loved Joe Byrne

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…”

“...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.”