This piece was published in Narrator Magazine Summer 2011 edition. Below is the original which echoed the style of Kelly and Byrnes' Jerilderie letter in minimal punctuation, once the narration moved from third person to first person.
Ned Kelly sat in his cell singing softly, a condemned man, beaten by pride and circumstance, in body and spirit. He could have escaped the Glenrowan siege; indeed he had been tempted during the night while resting on the mountain, his Gethsemane. But Ned Kelly was a man of honour and reputation, poor Byrne dropped and the two boys was trapped in the pub.
At the end though, he’d staggered shooting through the rising mist, bravado and brandy yelling “come on boys we’ll whip the lot of them” when the return fire was a cacophony of hail in his headpiece and Byrne’s mare Music had skittered past in some mad dream of smoke and mist rearing her frightened head pleading “climb up, climb up”, then he might have bolted, mounted and away like the phantom Bunyip. But his limbs were buggered by shot, besides, he’d had enough.
Well he was cooked now. The boys in peace God rest them. Just him alive. The trial had not gone his way. He’d thought justice would prevail, but the traps had cooked the books, larded the witnesses and the judge had no bone of mercy, understanding or justice in his body, fry him forever with those puffed up adders who ponced and preened in high places wanting him and his kind eradicated from this English colony. He represented rebellion, uprising, disrespect. An outlaw. His own plan for an Irish Republic had gone awry, skewed and skewered by treachery. That bastard school teacher warning the train. I trusted him. Snakes in the skullery. When all seems well and the glow of trust is upon you be wary. Too much grog. The train late. Too many jigs. The Innkeeper Ann was a possum in the pantry very generous. I won’t see her again. What could have been.
We had a grand life me and the lads the freedom to roam our land our land our beautiful land in all its seasons its glorious colours aromas of earth and rain on grass and eucalypt such majestic moods and holy power to cleanse and heal. We was kings bold fearless and free what did Joe say? Lords of our Dominion. I liked that. Poor Byrne trusted friend many’s the sprightly conversation we had around the camp fire night belly full of roo or possum stew pass the pipe of Chinese midnight wisdom and he yabbering the pigtail tongue. Kings in our warmth and certainty. Remember the time we ran the horses to Melbourne Joe for old times sake with Tom then with a bag of booty out to the Palace of Plenty and the twins from Siam Yin and Yang with their treats and tricks and monkey nuts such soft welcome splendour and comfort and full feathered dreams of far off Siam. Kings. And the food from the heavenly orient to conclude. Sure my eyes and palate never dreamed such wonders.
This place now the cold blue sour stones of English justice I could walk through if I tries hard inviolate to their repression but for the figure crouched there I don’t know his demeanour whether friend or foe. The priest gave small comfort my absolution withheld subject to my contrite heart which can never be when I would do the same now. My mother locked in the same gaol my precious guiltless mother on stewed up testimony from a crooked loafing scoundrel of a traps arse which the judge never questioned. My God says I and the priest wanting me to be contrite never I replied you’d better leave father before I say more than I should before the fire in my breast bursts upon your eyes. He went out praying for my soul he could be praying for some time yet but I pray that Our Lady will intercede she has helped in the past though I could not find comfort anywhere after shooting Kennedy but what choice had I. I wonder if St Peter at Heaven’s gate will look at my sins of murder theft and pride and see my circumstance. I wonder will he quote the commandments my second judge don the black cap and send me down again or say Ned my son you was pushed beyond your limits step inside and rest now.
I could have let Kennedy go as he run but I thought he was aiming didn’t I, not surrendering. I’m sure that was it. I think that was it. I swore that was it. I may have been mistaken and my impulse my command of aim my mantle of retribution before my men may have interceded. God forgive you said he. Dying words. No, I’m sure I gave him justice. Took his watch yes old habits just business. And shot him. So the creatures of the bush wouldn’t eat him alive. Merciful. More than the fat sow faced beak who sent me down himself Irish like traps Scanlon Kennedy and bastard Lonigan who I beat to the draw with a hole smack through his skull for the time he grabbed my privates in Benalla. Your own kind the scimitar of English justice what hope is there. He is me and I him. Like the figure in my cell. Let’s hope to Christ St Peter is Christian says I.
This recipe was handed down somehow through the years on yellowed piece of paper to family on my wife’s side. It was entitled ‘Yin’s Heavenly Salad for Ned Kelly, Tom Lloyd and Joe Byrne 18 August 1878’. Some venerable great aunts way back in Wangaratta may have been friendly with Ned or his family or henchmen and a Byrne was also on my wife’s side and so through my interest in Kelly it somehow materialised, to my great delight, here in Canberra. The paper went up with our house and belongings and 500 others in the bushfire of 2003. The Siamese recipe surprisingly or perhaps not, matches pretty well some modern Thai salad dressings and the cooking of the seafood would not have changed, apart from the medium. The ancient straight from the sea to the wooden fire method would undoubtedly add flavour.
So here it is (adapted to my taste -refer the note below) and when you eat it give a nod to Ned, fire a prayer for his redemption perhaps, and imagine if you wish the Palace of Plenty, and the bounty of Yin and Yang, tricks treats and monkey nuts, the scimitar of justice, the meaning of truth and the absolution of inhumanity, and humanity as a whole, and the redemption of souls. On the other hand just enjoy it.
4 baby calamari
4 large prawns
2 Tasmanian scallops
baby spinach/rocket mix
6 thin slices tomato
1 small cucumber sliced thinly lengthwise
herbs – any combination coriander, dill, mint, Vietnamese mint, tarragon, parsley
pea sprouts, a few
red capsicum, a few thin slices
2 coriander roots scraped
2 pinches sea salt
5 garlic cloves peeled
5 scud chillies
3 tablespoons white sugar
6 tablespoons lime juice
3 tablespoons lemon juice
4 tablespoons Thai fish sauce (Nam Pla)
Calamari. Slice through the outer skin vertically/lengthwise and peel off.
Extract the quill/backbone. Extract the innards by gently pulling the head. Slice the tentacles below the eyes. Slice the tube in rings. Place in bowl with 2 tablespoons of coconut milk and 2 tablespoons fish sauce (nam pla) for 30 minutes.
Prawns. Peel if you wish or leave the shell on for the colour. You can eat the shell.
Sauté the seafood for approximately 4 minutes on medium heat – drizzle with lemon juice while cooking, grind a little black pepper.Salad: in layers of ingredients with the seafood on top
Dressing Using the mortar and pestle pound the coriander, sea salt then garlic and then chillies and add the remaining ingredients and stir to mix; it should be tart, sweet and hot. Tweak to your tastebuds by adding small portions, if you think it necessary.
Yin notes that the fish and shellfish (I suggest prawns and calamari, maybe mussels and/or scallop) can be substituted with freshwater yabbies or thin sliced roo. Seafood may not have been so readily available in North East Victorian bush, particularly on some wallaby trail in the Strathbogies where the gang sought to avoid the traps. She writes, or someone for her, ‘chinaman garden for heb’ [herbs]. Of Chinamen and Chinese gardens there were plenty, in fact Beechworth had a huge Chinese population which has it’s own cemetery.