On Tuesday morning, to the disgust of some of the onlookers, the body was taken outside and slung up against a door to be photographed. The features were composed in a natural way and easily recognised. The face had full, fine forehead, blue eyes, downy moustache and a bushy beard covering a full chin, whilst the curly hair had recently been cut. The figure was of a well built, lithe young fellow and the face beautiful, nevertheless the spectacle was repulsive. The hands were clenched in the agony of death and covered with blood. Blood stained the blue sack coat and strapped tweed trousers, which, even in death, Joe wore with loose grace.
Max Brown: Australian Son. Quote and picture lifted from Iron Outlaw
So you just keep on drinking
And you try to forget
How they strung up Joe Byrne
To the jail house door
Like a marionette
His face in my dreams, seizing my guts
He floods me with dread
Soaked to the soul
He swims in my eyes by the bed
Pour myself over him
Moon spilling in
And I wake up alone
I couldn’t look at that bloody photograph fer months, I had just it folded under the clothes in the bottom of the drawer, ripped it out of the newspaper I did and buried it under as many layers as I could. I’d had to straighten me back to go in and buy it in the first place- Old Ryan in the store he looks at me like he just seen a wombat dancing with a kangaroo “Brenna O’Leary, since when did you learn to read?” Thought it was funny so he did, but he knew exactly why I was buying it, I’d just about dried me eyes long enough to get in and out of the shop. Fuck him, what did I care? Joe was me lover, and I was having that paper, even if I never wanted to look at it again.
When I did get around to it I stared and stared. It looked like a different place to that in my memory not that I had seen much at all that day, too many tears fer that. But in black and white it looked like some strange meeting with people standing there, chatting about the unseasonable weather or the price of eggs or some such thing. And all the while my Joe is in the middle of it saying nothing, though I thought he might be whispering “I got the last laugh yer fuckers!”
Mind if he could have said a word he’d have sworn at the fire too, the one that razed the Glenrowan Inn to the ground, for burning off the moustache that covered his lip. He was quite particular about that moustache.
His mouth was just fine to my way of thinking, could have kissed me into next week and I’d not have cared to stop, but he said “It’s just not perfect’ when, after me chiding and him trying to change the subject, I made him say anything about it at all. Blushed a bit he did, as if it were not the sort of thing that a man, never mind a Bushranger, should be concerned with. Maybe it wasn’t but then Joe did what he wanted anyway.
Makes me smile to think of how he was- him in his neat clothes and his heels- Harry Powers he certainly weren’t! He could ride alright, that horse of his seemed to defy the laws of nature if he told it to and it was almost like they were one beast together, Joe up there with all that grace he had. Later on, folks talked about how he frightened the life out of those coppers, something about the hardness in his eyes. But for all that, truth be told Joe were just as happy lying in a soft stuffed bed as being out in the Bush, preferably with a woman underneath him to make it softer still, or standing at the bar looking all dapper as if butter wouldn’t melt and winking at a girl all the same. The coppers and the papers might have called him a murderer, round here it was something sweeter
But anyway, after all that trouble he went to in the end there he was on the Benalla lock up door, with his hair all singed and the blood caked on his trousers- and a photographer having the gall to take his picture for all to see ‘how the brave coppers killed the mighty Joe Byrne’. Bastards.
Maybe he did get the last laugh though eh? You can see the man even then can’t you, in that picture? Though his soul had long since departed that fly infested shit hole he still looks more real than any of those other fellas. He looks solid and strong, defiant and like as if nothing will ever stop the Kelly gang.
And it didn’t neither did it? They might have buried him and hung Ned, sent the bodies of Steve and Dan back home in rags, but the Ranges still sing their song as loud as the drunks in the bars of a Saturday night. It might just be a flash of a horse’s flank, the strength of the flood, or the kerloo calling dawn but they are here still. Maybe it’s just something about the world being a bigger place than the narrow tale the coppers and the settlers would have us read.
And I still have Joe. Ah sure I can’t feel his heat inside me, I can’t touch his face, nor see him with me eyes open. But my body recalls clearly where he touched me and my dreams bring him back to me, waiting with open arms. The history books will tell a story of the Kelly gang, of that I am sure. Me, I just hold him safe in my heart.