A Despicable Article
by Lourdes Mackey
Kate Kelly to her youngest sister Alice, October 4th, 1898
You asked how it began Alice. Well God and His Mother knows that from the very minute Ned Kelly opened his eyes as a babe in Beveridge till the day they were closed by the hangman in the Melbourne Gaol the traps were dead nuts down on him and all the Kellys, never once letting up on the stain of Da’s bondage in Van Diemen’s Land and dragging it through the family like a black river of contagion. They failed to snare Ned and so concocted a warrant agin’ Dan for duffing Whitty’s horses and sent that liardy trap Constable Fitzpatrick out with it. Fitzpatrick a despicable article that never seen a sober day in all his life and sold his sister to a Chinaman. After boozing bedding was his big speciality promised to one in Mansfield with another big bellied below in Beechwort and at the same caper everywhere he went. When Ma refused him a pannikin of her sly grog he turned nasty as a cut snake and tho’ Maggie was always the one to turn heads he put his eye on me enticing me into the skillion and shoving his hand under me pinny.
Even if it was a miscalculation Ma done it very comical the canny way she crep’ up behind Fitzpatrick and poleaxed him with the fire shovel. It beat all the clowning at the Benalla Show to see him levelled on the ground his face in the upturned gallon of milk specially souring for the soda bread, the commotion bringing Dan and Ned from their bolthole beyond the coolabah and them upping him to his feet and him a sight to behold his face waxy white as a church candle his hair that was before all straighted out with pomade now sprung back to a gorse bush and him bellowing blue murder. Next day that mongrelly cur conjured some story to say that Ned shot him when a blindman could see that was false. They couldn’t find neither Dan nor Ned and so the traps brave bogans that they are got great glory in the newspapers for arresting Ma the mother of twelve and suckling you Alice and before she could draw a comb through her hair landed her in front of that shoneen of a hanging Judge Barry.
Poor Ma stood in the court deflating like a bladder while Barry with the lock jaw of the new gentry hammered words into a sentence like he was for all the world banging on a door. The consequence of his high falutin’ hammering was Ma’s short-order dispatch to the Melbourne Gaol and our transformation into orphans and Dan and Ned compelled into wholesale horse duffing and though they were only larrikins the traps wholeheartedly spread the slur that they were dangerous murderous bushrangers, each and every word of it absolute bunkum Alice as God is my witness.
Lourdes Mackey is a regular contributor to RTE radio’s Sunday Miscellany. Her work has been published in The Irish Times, The Irish Examiner and Cork Words 2. Her story on Charlotte Despard is included in the UEA’s Sufragette Stories. Her short fiction has been listed in the Penguin Ireland Short Story Competition, the From the Well Short Story Award and the Colm Toibín International Short Story Competition. She lives in Cork.
Photograph believed to be of Kate Kelly ca. 1873-1878 by E. G. Tims, Australian Photographic Co., courtesy of Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales (call number P1/873, identifier npAdEa61).