© Tom McIlveen

Winner, 2014 Gulgong Henry Lawson Society of NSW Literary Awards, Gulgong NSW.

I rode alongside of the Kellys,
on a colt that could gallop all day;
a strawberry roan, who was bad to the bone
and as tough as a bullocky’s dray.
He ran like the wind and I swear that he grinned
every time I had called him a cur,
and seemed to delight in the wonder of flight,
when I tickled his rib with a spur.

The gelding that Ned had been riding
was as flash as I’d seen in a while;
a thoroughbred cross, with a velvety gloss
that depicted his breeding and style.
He seemed to have wings integrated with springs
as he soared over timber and scrub,
and landed inbound on the sanctified ground
alongside of the Everton pub.

The bar was a tad overcrowded
as we pulled up a seat in the rear,
and tried to ignore the old tuppeny whore
whose intentions were blatantly clear.
She’d recognised Ned from the papers that said,
we’d been hounded for nearly a week,
and hiding in holes like marsupial moles,
since the carnage at Stringybark Creek.

She said they were calling us butchers
for the slaughter of innocent men,
who’s only concern was to safely return
to their wives and their children again.
The headlines proclaimed that we should be ashamed
of the manner in which they had died;
bespattered with blood and submerged in the mud,
without dignity, honour or pride.

They said we were merciless cowards,
and the scourge of colonial times,
who’d tried to disclaim allegations of blame
for atrocious despicable crimes.
What God-given right did they have to indict
such a charge without probable cause?
Condoning their lies, in the flimsy disguise
of primeval draconian laws.

Perhaps there’s a law for the masses,
and another for those in control,
to govern and bribe every newspaper scribe
who has squandered his conscience and soul?
The squatters and swells and their mademoiselles
had endorsed every journal and rag,
and tried to subdue every rebel who flew
the Eureka republican flag.

The papers neglected to mention,
that those troopers came hunting for us,
to apprehend Dan and the rest of the clan,
who’d been causing a hell of a fuss.
So why did they come with their guns and their rum
with munitions concealed in their swags…
to shoot us like dogs and then gut us like hogs,
to be flaunted on calico bags?

Condemned by the righteous and holy,
for atrocities deemed inhumane,
we yearned for respite, in the shadows of night,
from the spirits of those we had slain.
When Father O’Hea had come over to pray,
he absolved us of damnable sins
and tried to erase every secular trace
from the Kellys, the Lloyds and the Quinns.

I ride through the Warbys alone now,
as a phantom devoid of physique;
immersed in the shroud of a lingering cloud
that descends over Stringybark Creek.
My spirit remains in the timeless terrains
of the ranges that tower on high,
still riding on wings, integrated with springs
on a pony that thinks he can fly!

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