Cookson, 27 08 1911 4

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27 August 1911

(full text transcription)


The old women's hard, drawn face took on a puzzled expression. "Why, I thought you knew," she said slowly, and with something of apologetic sadness in her expression. "I'm Dan Kelly's mother! Dan was my son, and Ned was my son, and Jim is my son - dear, good kind Jim. And I have only him left."

Tears welled into the weary old eyes and tricked down the parchment like cheeks. "You didn't know Dan," she went on slowly. "If you'd known Dan you'd never come here to find out if he was alive. You'd know, as I know, that he'd have come to me if he wasn't dead. God rest him!" And the grief worn, broken hearted mother wept aloud.

This, then, was the key of the mystery that lay behind that frozen expression of hopeless sorrow! No need to speculate further upon the cause of the woe with which this life has been haunted. Idle now to wonder how any human face could express in such direful delineament a despair that could scarcely be imagined out of Hades. For the woman wore that piteous aspect of irredeemable grief had endured more than most women could suffer of long sustained anguish of mind and body. She had seen her own and her children's lives blasted. She had seen those children, the pride and delight of her mother's heart, hunted like wild animals by men with weapons, intent upon their destruction. She had shared in their dangers, risked life and liberty to help them, had come to live, like them, for weary years, in daily terror of retributive disaster. And she had outlived the fate of one son, done to death by bullet and flame, and that of another - the idol of them all - perishing miserably at the hands of the common hangman!

Small wonder that such a mother should spend the closing years of her life in deep and settled melancholy. Leaving out of the question the squalor and discomfort of her lonely surroundings, there was anguish enough in the grim memories of her extrardinary sufferings to bear a less brave and hardy woman to the grave.


It were impossible to regard with any but feelings of the liveliest interest the mother of those desperate men, the fame of whose exploits has rung throughout the world, and whose name will be remembered in Australia long after all recollection of much better men has passed. Here was the who had suckled and caressed, as an innocent baby, the chieftain of that gang of desperadoes that for a long time held all Law and Administration at bold defiance and laughed so long and successfully at Authority that people at length began to wonder whether or not the whole social system were not at serious fault. These withered arms and talon like hands had drawn to a mother's bosom men whose names afterwards became a terror throughout two States! This shrivelled face, with its petrified aspect of grim despair, had been proudly pressed, in the fresh bloom of youthful motherhood, against the baby faces of men who had since outraged almost all the laws of the community, and who had long ago perished miserably, like beasts, in expiation of their crimes.

They are dead. But she who brought them into the world and who for long dreadful years, suffered and wept for them and their grave misdeeds, she has been spared - spared to a life that is but a living death, bowed down in agonising memories, and quite devoid of hope. It is all very strange - and very, very sad, as well.

But the old woman remembers what is required of her as hostess. So she begs her visitors draw near the fire and enjoy the warmth of the blazing logs. It is the ordinary bush fireplace, occupying one end of the living room. Some food is in process of preparation in kerosene tin that swings over the blaze. The children come around the fire, too. But the conversation is not brisk. It begins with the weather - and threatens to end there because the aged woman whose identity has just been so surprisingly revealed is not at her ease. She cannot forget the dismal associations that have darkened her life and made wretched its closing hours; and she does not know, it appears, what attitude her visitors may take towards one who had had such a big part in colouring crimson a whole chapter in Australian history. She seems to expect coldness, If not contumely, and to be in no way surprised in the expectation. So she sits silently on a crazy chair at the far corner of the big, broad hearth, fondling the youngest of the children, and gazing with unseeing eyes into the blaze of the big fire, what time the visitors warm themselves pleasantly and discuss many uninteresting topics in a dull and preoccupied fashion.

But it is not long before the outlaws' mother is able to realize that the intruders at her hearth wish to show her nothing but kindness. And presently her reserve gradually melts, and her tongue begins to get used to the unwonted exercise of narrative. She has much to tell - much more than there is space for the telling. And her hearers encourage her as they find occasion or opportunity. Naturally, for she was very old, the story of her life, as she tells it, is fragmentary and incomplete. There is such a very great deal that she could not remember, she explained.

In a life so full of big happenings, naturally a vast number of small ones would be overlooked or forgotten.

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the previous / next day . . . BW Cookson in the Sydney Sun index