When I first started writing Lament, almost nine years ago, I thought it may stay a draft in a drawer. After all, how many more stories can be written about the Kelly’s and their story of bushranging and battles?
It turned out there was room aplenty in the world for more Kelly stories—including Lament. Since that time there have been movies created and books published about Mrs Kelly, Ned, Kate Kelly, the police who tracked the Kelly’s, and the list goes on.
The enduring power of this story
The 28th June will mark 142 years since Ned Kelly was captured in Glenrowan and the beginning of the end of the Kelly Gang.
So, what has captured the imagination and curiosity of readers and writers about this quintessentially Australian story, which allows us to still be finding new angles more than 140 years later?
The passing of time has not lessened the passion of those who relate to the the story of the Kelly Gang, and also those who vehemently oppose them being seen as folk heroes, and everyone in between.
Love, loyalty and cruelty
For me, I believe the power of the Kelly’s is the humanity within the story—the love and loyalty juxtaposed with the criminality and cruelty of those young men. We see our own humanity reflected in them—because aren’t all people capable of good and bad?
Also key to the longevity of the legend is that truth really is stranger than fiction. The story of the Kelly Gang and their families is a story of such intrigue, tragedy and twists that it can’t help but still capture the imagination of readers.
The event which sent the police train heading towards Glenrowan was the killing of Aaron Sherritt at his home. The tragedy of his murder, by his childhood friend, Joe Byrne, is rendered even more wretched when we realise Sherritt had been informing to police in exchange for Joe’s life when he believed the gang was inevitably captured.
There is intrigue in the banter between Ned and Sir Redmond Barry, his sentencing judge and the man who also gaoled Ned’s mother. Ned’s discussion in the dock with Barry was full of inuendo that historians and other interested people have pored over for decades.
His exchange of ‘I will see you there when I go’ speaking of his own death sentence, followed by the judge’s swift death only days later remains captivating—was it a coincidence or a curse?
The singing and dancing in the Glenrowan Hotel, before the train arrived, added to the outlandish revelry of the night, but the fact that the most wanted men of the time were foiled by the bravery of the local school teacher, is something often overlooked in the story. Within Lament, I wanted to bring Thomas Curnow and his role in the downfall of the Kelly Gang to the forefront.
Allowing the past to meet the present
When writing Lament, I was able to bring the Kelly’s to Ballarat and stage the continuation of their story in the place and time of a town rich with goldrush history.
Being able to integrate real historical events into the story, such as a visit by the Duke of Manchester to the Ballarat Agricultural Show, and a dinner that night with the cream of Ballarat society, was exciting as a writer.
In my writing I was able to merge history with imagination to explore the question, if the siege had succeeded, what next for the Kelly’s?
Whatever side of the Kelly story you sit on, the fact that these were real people, not characters, who were driven by the same desires and fears that we are today, makes it a story to enthral and fascinate readers now, and maybe for another 142 years.