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.

The Day Ned Kelly Wrote to the Herald

'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.

Love and Threats

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.

“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.”

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 Whispers of Beechworth

The autumn wind tugs at Joe’s tweed jacket as he stands on the ledge of rock, gazing down over the sprawling plain below, his fingers furling and unfurling around the Tranter revolver clasped in his hand. Joe paces along the rocky expanse, his eyes scanning across the yellow paddocks and distant homesteads. The unfinished letter to Aaron rustles, noisily, in his breast pocket, a weighty reminder of what he cannot ignore. Removing the paper, Joe unfolds it, his eyes drifting over the red inked copperplate, ‘Moses the game is surely up. You think yourself very brave for all your blowing about what you will do to me. This is only foolishness on your part. For you, Ward, and Mullane are now wanted men…’ Joe’s knuckles whiten as he holds the letter in his hands, which quiver with the anger of a friendship long since betrayed…