This play is centered around a well-worked story ; that of “The Kelly Gang”..But the difference is displayed in the title..I hope to have delved a little at least into what I call ; “An Arrogance of Power”…It is political and social power sometimes held by a charismatic individual , or an Authority of governance…or subordinate officials who aspire to have it.
In Ned Kelly’s case, He possessed it as a natural strength , the Colonial Authorities jealously guarded it as their perceived right , and other minor officials desired it as a personal treasure. In the story of the Kelly uprising, this “arrogance” was played out by several people.
I want to try with this portrayal of Ned Kelly, to elevate the man from what may be called in some quarters ; A “criminal” mythology, to where I think he more rightly deserves to be placed in our Nation’s short but colourful Colonial history..:
That of Heroic Mythology.
Title: An Arrogance of Power.
By Joe Carli.
Ned Kelly. leader of the bushrangers.
Joe Byrne. second in command.
“Red” Kelly, Father of Ned.
Mrs. Kelly, Mother of Ned.
Maggie, Ned’s sister.
Sir Redmond Barry. (Judge that sentences Kelly) Other assorted barristers and solicitors.
Superintendant Hare. officer in charge of siege at Glenrowan.
Priest., doctor, and troopers at the siege.
Governor of Victoria. and his Aide- de-camp.
The governor of the colony of Victoria strides slowly around the stage. A spotlight lights him up as he walks, the rest of the stage is in darkness. He is reading aloud from a letter that he holds up before him as he walks.
Gov; – “Furthermore concerning the deaths of the assassins.; Kennedy, Scanlon, Lonigan and McIntyre…These Irishmen came into the ranges with the intention of scattering pieces of me and my brother all over the bush; and yet they knew and acknowledged that I have been wronged, and my mother and five men lagged innocent! And are my brothers and sisters, and my mother, not to be pitied also, who have no alternative but to put up with the brutal and cowardly conduct of a parcel of big, ugly, fat-necked, wombat-headed, big-bellied, magpie-legged, narrow-hipped, splaw-footed sons of Irish bailiffs or English landlords, known as “officers of justice”, or “Victorian police”
These men are traitors to their country, ancestors and religion, as they were Catholics before the Saxon and Cranmore yoke held sway, when they were murdered, massacred, thrown into martyrdom and tortured beyond the ideas of the present generation.
What would England do, if America declared war on her and hoisted the green flag? It is all Irishmen who have command of England’s armies, forts and batteries. Even her very Life Guards and Beef Eaters are Irish! Would they not slew around, and fight her with her own arms, for the sake of the colour they have not dared to wear for years, to reinstate it, and raise Old Erin’s isle once more from the pressure and tyranny of the English yoke, which has kept it in poverty and starvation, and caused them to wear the enemy’s coat? What else can England expect?”
(pauses to speak to Aide de camp)
Gov: “How old do you say this bushranger is?”
A.D.C.: “Twenty three years, Governor.”
(takes two steps, pauses, continues to read from the letter.)
“Any person aiding or harbouring or assisting the police in any way whatever, or employing any person they know to be a detective or cad, or those who would be so depraved as to take blood-money, will be outlawed and declared to be unfit for human burial, their property either consumed or confiscated. and themselves and all belonging to them exterminated off the face of the earth.
(He pauses mid-stride and talks back over his shoulder to his Aide-de-camp.) The spotlight stays with the governor, we do not see the other person.
Gov : Humph! Rather young to be leading an army against the Empire, what ?”
(Ad’c chuckles in reply….gov’ moves on, continues to read from the letter).
Gov; (reads aloud last section of Kelly’s “Jerilderie Letter”..spotlight slowly dims till whole stage is in darkness,
Gov’ ( finishes reading letter in darkness.) I give fair warning to all those that have reason to fear me, to sell-out and give ten pounds out of every hundred to the Widow’s and Orphan’s fund. Neglect this and abide by the consequences! I am a widow’s son outlawed, and my orders must be obeyed!”
A room sparsely furnished with bed, side-table, wardrobe and wash- table with bowl and jug on it. The door flies open and Joe Byrne enters, obviously agitated. Ned Kelly follows close behind him. On entering the room, Ned gently closes the door ,Joe paces up and down the floor. Joe turns to challenge Ned.
Joe Byrne: “Look here, Ned, this is plain foolishness let’s roll the premises, plug a few holes in the walls and clear out!”
Ned.; (places his familiar helmet on bed , sits down himself and sighs)”Ah! Joe, Joe, it’s been two(?) years now we’ve been “pluggin’ holes in walls” and robbin’ the places and clearin’ out don’t ye have a greater ambition?”
Joe: “ Don’t go takin’ the micky out of me Mr. Kelly’….I know your ambition to lead an insurrection against the government…an’ you’ll stand by the fact that I’ve followed your every order with loyalty!!…but this is madness!”
Ned: “We’ve got ammunition, a fort (sweeps hand around room) to shoot from, hostages! if we need to barter, and I’m hopin’….hopin’ mind, (raises finger to make point)…reinforcements.”
Joe: “REINFORCEMENTS!!…and just where in the Jim-blazes are they going to spring up from?”
Ned: (jumps up from bed and turns away and talks over his shoulder, but his voice is unsure )”From the home districts”.
Joe: “PAH!,…(Grabs Ned’s shoulder and twists him to face himself)..PAH! again…those grub-farmers have just had a good season, do ye think they’ll leave a glowing hearth and a full stomach to fight a rebellion?…Has anyone in history yet!? (they stare steadily at each other for a moment)…no,…soft living and great ideals are strangers to each other..fill a man’s belly with cheap food and a shot of grog and he’ll swear undying loyalty to the hand that giveth…no matter that same hand cheats him in the morn’.”
Ned: “Joe!..do ye think me that much of a fool?..do you think I haven’t given such possibilities a thought?…Joe,..they may not come, I half expect them not to. But that being the case, would you have them see us run..like dogs?….lf there’s none but us to make a stand, then we must stand. If they come onto us like a pack of dingo’s…then we must show them how to fight!”
Joe: “Ahh!..Ned.(sits on bed, hangs head)I’m sick as you are of the runnin’, I’d like to stand to their face and beat them down as well as you would, but….(leaps up and sweeps arm around room) is this the place?…people everywhere to get under our feet, and that sniveling schoolmaster gone and warned the train?..Young Dan and Stevie are scared to bits holding that mob of hostages!…it’s ..it’s all too cluttered here..”
Ned: (grabs helmet and faces Joe)”It’s here or nowhere.. I’ve challenged the bastards and by the living Christ(and with his grace) I’ll give them shot for shot, and well see them skulk and bay like the dogs they are!..(places arm on Joes’ shoulder) Glenrowan’s no Agincourt, Joe, but it’s where the “Kelly Gang” makes a stand!..,. besides, we’ve been hunted long enough, Joe, time we did some of the hunting…and do you think they’ll ever let us rest? Joe our names are branded across the colony there’s no place safe for the ‘Kelly Gang” to put it’s feet up, no hearth to warm our backsides. no young bride to entice us to contentment. No, Joe, our fate is sealed, our cards are on the table here, we must up the ante’ with this battle, and make deadly serious this rebellion…We’re going to sting their backsides with shot of lead and make an example of their cruelty!”
Joe: “Damn but I’m scared. Ned, scared shit-less. I know it, Ned, we stay here and we’re done for…I can feel it in my bones. By Christ we’ve been lucky up to now, Ned, enough to make Polycrates jealous! But that could change at any moment, any time….and we’re stuck here in this trap!”
Ned: “Here or some other place, there is no cover under the sky for us now, Joe. Our deeds have shaped us as they have others we have done them to. Luck can be as much our saviour as our nemesis. Give it and do it justice we must…and by Christ with all our heart!”
Joe: (sighs)”You’ll be the death of me Mr. Kelly, but your invitations to a good shoot-up always were irresistible.(they both laugh),I’m with you…bugger it!”
They grip hands….Ned then turns and goes out the door ..Joe goes to follow him, pauses, then turns to face audience….
Joe: “He’s an idealist you know. Thinks goodness and equality can be moulded out of fierce determination. Doesn’t realise that the harder you force an object to bend to your will, the tighter you have to grip it….and the tighter your grip on a people, the more they squirm to escape..ha!..besides,you cant make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear..but no, (leans toward audience to whisper secretly) I’m like you, I know when it’s time to make myself scarce, I’ve seen the damage a bullet does (gives an exaggerated shiver), erhh!! I don’t mind a good scrap with guns- a- blazin’, …long as there’s a bit of cover to soften the blow..so to speak!….but this idealism’s got me beat. Why risk your neck for a bunch of timid butterflies? damn if I can see a point to it, nobody’s going to come to help him : These idealists…don’t they realise that everybody loves a Christ….(gives exaggerated wink toward audience) because he’s the one up on the cross!! …Nah!..I expect we’ll light out of it when the going gets too rough, besides,. what’s wrong with pluggin’ a few holes in the wall and robbin’ the till? govermints does it all the time.”
(turns to go, pauses and gazes at a ring on his finger….smiles…takes the ring off and turns to audience….holds up ring)
Joe ; “Here!..( throws ring into audience) Witness I take the advice of Amasis ; King of Egypt and, less such luck as we have enjoyed till now bode ill in the future, I cast away my most valued treasure as a sacrifice to our luck, lest it turn agin’ us in the coming fight! (gazes at ring-hand, now empty) sorry ,Maggie, thou gave me that ring, but, no gift save that of the heart has true value”.
[ A room at the Glenrowan railway station. A fireplace, side table under a window and small desk in the corner. Part of a sign with “…nrowan” appears outside window. There is a log fire burning in the fireplace, Superintendent Hare, of the Police, replete with cape and sword slung, strides impatiently but methodically about the room. He stops before a mirror centered above mantelpiece and sternly but with vanity, examines his appearance, then turns to move away, stops again and arranges small ornaments on mantelpiece into exacting spaces between each other.
There is a crash and the door flies open, smoke and wind blow fiercely into the room, a doctor enters ahead of two policemen carrying a stretcher. things are knocked over, the officer swings around, knocking an ornament off the mantelpiece, one of the men throws Kelly’s helmet spinning onto the stage floor. ]
Doc, “See here, Superintendent,.. this won’t do, the man’s near death,. this is no time for an interrogation.”
Superintendent Hare pauses, one hand clutching another ornament, he bristles noticeably and flings the ornament into the fireplace.
Sup’. “I’ll make the decision on that, doctor.” (he motions to two policemen at the doorway)”Bring the prisoner in,…put the stretcher there.”
(the men do so, Kelly lays prostrate but conscious on the stretcher he groans as the men place it roughly down).
Doc. I’ll hold you responsible if he dies from this ridiculous treatment,. Hare. I’ll swear to it!’
Sup’.- “Good, swear then like my troopers, doctor, all the more credit for me, in saving the colony the expense of a trial and hanging.”
Doc.- “You haven’t even charged the man yet, and still, I’m compelled to give assistance toward dressing his wounds..”
Sup’.: “Hold your tongue . I’ll make any decisions around here concerning the health of the prisoner, you understand.. You bloody doctors and your sanctimonious hippocritic, yes hippocritic! oath…,( mimics docs’ stance and manner)”I’m in charge of his health…!”….Bah!..he’s gallows meat if ever there was any, get that into your head my- good- doctor, g-a-l-l-o-w-s meat!….all I’m concerned with at the moment is the capture of those remaining murderers in the inn (He looks toward Kelly , sees he’s awake) ‘you,..Kelly can you understand me?”
Kelly:._As much as one can understand the gruntings of a swine.”( he coughs painfully).
Sup ; ( smiles cruelly)Well this little piggy now has the roast beef (he moves over to the stretcher) ..and this little piggy….(he sinks his boot into a wound in Kelly’s leg)..has none!!”
Doc.- “I say, ..!”(the doctor leaps forward)
Sup’.- “Show the good doctor out sergeant….NOW!…”(the sergeant grabs the doctors arm and drags him out the door)…,You see, Mr. Kelly, you’re not quite safe yet…at least, as long as you’re in this room….so there’s some unfinished business concerning your “compatriots” still ‘in the inn.”
Kelly.-(grimacing painfully to the ceiling)”You won’t take them alive from there we’d made arrangements for such a moment….(coughs, spits)..count yourself lucky you got me.”
Sup ; “Trying to escape?….”
Kelly-(laughs weekly)”Escape? no…I thought I might be able to plug a few more swine outside.”
Sup ; “Don’t play the hero to me, Kelly..I know a coward when I see one.,.”
Kelly-(raises unsteadily on elbow)”Coward!?„..I tell you I could’ve rode away early in the piece. I was behind your lines when I was first knocked down….some of your men walked right past me lying in the shrubs…I could’ve plugged them as they walked away.”
Sup ; “Then why didn’t you clear out?”
Kelly- (falls back onto stretcher….stares a while at the ceiling before answering)”…I….I couldn’t just run out on them.. they are my mates.,..a man would have to be a dingo to run out on his mates”.
Policeman bursts into the room, accompanied by noise, smoke and sounds of gunfire and chaos.
Policeman: “Sup’…there, …there’s a woman demanding to see Kelly
Sup; “Damn the woman, const’, this isn’t an hotel”
Pol’: “…say’s she’s his sister..Sir”
Sup; ” Ahh!…sister….perhaps.. Show her in!”.
( the sup’ moves over to the fireplace and stands warming his behind at the log fire. seeing Kelly, the woman rushes to his side. Kelly recognises her and raises himself on one arm).
Kelly: ” Maggie! Maggie!…I could have got away but I had to see it ended they shot me in the arm..couldn’t hold my rifle,… it was no good to me,…only had a revolver..had half a mind to shoot myself, but I wanted to see an end to the thing “(he falls back onto the stretcher, enter doctor with a priest. doctor attends Kelly)
Doc- “Must have an iron constitution…how he survived this foolishness? his pulse is fair.”
Sup’: (to woman) “You’re his sister, your other brother is still inside the inn, do you think you could talk to him?”
Maggie: “Of course I will!”
(she makes to dart out of the room, she is grabbed by a sergeant of police)
Sgt; : “Wait a minute you! (to sup’)Sir, she could be shot or worse, she is a Kelly, and quite capable of taking up arms with them against us…!”
Sup : (Looks aghast at the woman)”Would you?”
Magg’: (Shakes off sergeants hand and looks defiantly at Hare’) “If it was a choice between them and you; yes!”
(Hare raises his fist to give her a backhander)
Priest: (grasps sup’s arm)”Hold your temper sir!”
Magg’: (standing firm in defiance)”Yes, that’s right superintendent, strike a woman and show your true colours.”
(Hare backs down).
Sup’: “We can deal with you later.”
Magg’: (sarcastically)”Like your men dealt with my sister Kate ?”
Sup’: “I’m not aware of any act that my men …”
Magg’: “Not aware that she was bullied and assaulted by your courageous
Priest: “Now Maggie…you can’t be sure….”
Sup’: “That is a serious charge… if you are certain of your accusations, you should take them to the proper authorities….”
Magg; (fists clenched by her sides , shouts)”AUTHORITIES! you think me a fool?…do you think we are all fools?(laughs) the authorities are the very people we have to watch out for!”(laughs again)
Sup’: “Nonsense!…(jerks around away from the woman) I can’t stand here listening to such wild accusations…next you’ll be telling me that this man here (points to Kelly) is an innocent bystander in this whole affair..”
Priest: “Please. please, let us show some civility here.”
Kelly: (raises himself painfully on one elbow)” You bastards have done
enough damage to my family, leave them alone or..or. “
Sup’: (laughs sardonically)”Or?..or?..(moves to the stretcher and attempts to strike Kelly with the flat of his sword.. Maggie grabs his arm, a scuffle ensures, the sergeant grasps Maggie and holds her firm).Hold her sergeant, hold her! …Oh damn this pestilence of a clan, can somebody, in the name of Christ put an end to this siege!?”
A voice from among the throng at the door cries out: “Why not fire the hotel?” cries of “yes, yes fire the hotel!!” ring out all around.
Sup’:( confers with his sergeant, then nods approval)” But how would you do it, Sergeant?
Sgt’; “I’ll do it from the Benalla end, Sir, if you give me some covering fire.”
Sup’: “Very well. sergeant, in the name of God….do it!”.
(the sergeant and some men depart. Hare turns to Maggie now being sheltered in the arms of the priest)
Sup’: “Do you still want to see your brother at the inn?”
Sup’: “Will you get him to surrender?”
Magg’:(backs away defiantly)”Never! I’d see him burned before I’d see him
Sup’:” Then damn the whole lot of you….(shouts out the door)BURN THE INN…BURN THE BLOODY LOT OF’ THEM…BURN THEM I SAY!!!”
intense volley of shots followed by a fiery explosion. Priest rushes out with sister, both cry “NO. NO! wait!” priest suddenly stops and addresses superintendent’
Priest: “Sup’ I implore you…the hostages let me…”
Sup’:(grasps priest by his cassock and hisses into his face)” Victoria has a parliament full of Catholics. a countryside full of Irish, and a bureaucracy full of protestants I am a protestant and a loyalist, Priest!… but I am loyal to the Crown before I am loyal to the church. The Crown has no need of Priests nor Irish. (releases Priest and cries out of the door) BURN THEM….BURN THEM I SAY !”
Pushes the priest aside and drawing sword rushes out of room.He moves over to right centre of stage. Stage darkens, noise abates, spotlight falls on Hare. He lowers his sword weakly and turns to audience ..
Sup: (soliloquy) “Women, priests, supporters!….What is this man?….What manner of individual warrants such devotion?.. I was sent to arrest an outlaw, and I find a hero?…at least in their eyes….I myself ..I… would that I had half a dozen of such men under my command, This would not be a colony …rather an empire!…He spoke the truth about clearing out. I feel sure of that..but then..’Why didn’t he?.. I would’ve…(addresses audience) Wouldn’t you?…but, after all, cowardice and prudence share the same mask…likewise bravery and foolhardyness.(turns head cunningly to one side..) This is no robbery that I’ve been sent to quell, this is no outlaw, no thieves these rather, I suspect, a rebellion!….
Why do I feel I am betraying some destiny?…is this my appointed fate?….the go-between for somebody else’s destiny’?….Why do I feel I am being played for a fool in this.. this sedition? (clenches fist angrily)….curse the hand of destiny that would relegate me, me, who would give an arm for this chieftans power of command, that loyalty would follow ME like shadow and deeds bend toward such a courageous conclusion..,(looks toward heaven and raises fist likewise)
Damn ! you have given me a peacocks plumage but the heart of a mouse!..damn, damn, damn!” (stage comes alive, noise, yells, fire!)
Sergent: (rushes onstage,fiery torch in hand) It is done Sir’….they’re all dead!….all dead I say!”
Maggie, ash-stained and weary, stumbles sadly through the ruins of the inn. Sees troopers dragging a body from the wreckage, rushes over and pushes and hits their arms, forcing them to let go of the body. She leans over the corpse,…she is crying.
Maggie : “Joe ! Oh Joe! What horror has laid for you…(wipes his face with the hem of her skirt) It is you :Joe?, it must be you! though your face is hardly the same that I once kissed, I hardly recognise you!..(grasps his hand and raises it to her cheek)..but wait! …the ring I gave you….where is it now? though your hand be burnt and scar’d there is no sign of it!…you men..; would you stoop so low as to loot a body just dead? Thieves robbers!”
Trooper 1: ” Twas not us, woman, not us….for we just found the body over there….we’ve not had time even to identify who it may be”.
Magg’ :” Fools!..it be Joe Byrne…Joe Byrne….O’ Joe..Joe!”(falls over the body weeping)…. Joe, (lifts head and grasps Joe Byrne’s hand in hers) I gave thee the ring that lady luck might protect thee in adverse times and now it has gone from thy finger…was thou so foolish as to loose it?..so clumsy as to misplace it’?….O Joe!..luck has truly deserted us now…(falls back on the body) .
Trooper 2: Looks to other trooper, reaches into pocket and pulls out a ring.(whispers to fellow trooper)”Could this be what she wails for?….Chance would have me find it in the road out front of the inn as we lay up to attack!”
Trooper I: “Surely not!..but what does it matter, secret it or for sure she will accuse us before the superintendent”
Trooper 2:” I’ll not wear a dead man’s token. Better I cast it away lest his luck follows me…but ,then, if it means that much to the woman ?…”
(nudges Maggie, holds out ring).
Maggie: (looks up, snatches ring)” So!..it was….”
Trooper2: “Hold your temper, I didn’t take it from his finger,…but found it on the road before the inn….you can believe me or no..but that is the truth and it must stand as such. I wouldn’t rob no corpse..”
(Magg’ opens mouth to accuse but then after a moments silence turns head back to Joe B’)
Magg : “It is our ring….I find it such…but if it was found in the dirt ?…then it was you , Joe. that cast it aside….be it an act of despair or an act of rejection toward me it was indeed a bad omen for thee. I mind now how you laughed when I gave it to thee..”with this ring are we married lass?”..I mind you said that…but no. I did not mean it such…not everything a woman does is directed toward men…I needed no lover, no husband. rather I would bond thee to myself as a kindred spirit…for we were both servants to a stronger master.. thee to Ned… me to my family…and all of us to fate, oh! that cruel seamstress; fate…,the servants must form alliances. in this there is strength, for the masterful can be tyrannical! ..duties weigh like millstones on our necks…but if we don’t do the work..who shall?..There are dreamers enough in this world….and they don’t grow potatoes!…But why did you cast this ring aside, does that mean you also shrugged off your yoke to Ned? did you deny to yourself your servitude?..(silence while she gazes into Joe’s face)..Yes..I can imagine it done, for there is only so far that they can be followed…For with all leaders there is an arrogance of power….Ned is on his own now… and I?..I too am alone.(she stands up, wipes a tear from her eye) take him . We are finished”.
A group of barristers in regalia stand in chambers in circle drinking a toast to Sir Redmond Barry,
1st barr’; ” To you, Sir Redmond Barry!…a historic judgment,….a correct judgment,…a just..yes sir, a just judgment!”
2nd barr’, “Hear, hear!….correct,yes, just,yes”
All. “Hear, hear.”
They raise then drink their glasses.
Sir Red’ Barry; ” Friends, friends you do me honour I little deserve” (mock cries of protest, Sir R. holds hands up for attn’) for I was but doing my duty to Queen and country”
All ; “Th’ Queen!” (they raise glasses)
Sir R’.; “It was the least I could do….(he flings the glass into the fireplace with a theatrical gesture)…to keep those bloody bog Irish in check!”
1st barr;”And for that we salute you…SIR!”
(they all drain their glasses and throw them into the fireplace. The group make their departure through side door, all but 1st barr and Sir R’ leave the stage.)
Sir R..; “Well George, we struck a blow for the crown this day,„eh what?”
I st barr .” Let us hope the crown remembers us kindly for the favour”
( Sir R. removes his cape and gown and moves over to hang them on the wall book…he holds them suspended just above the hook)
Sir R’.; “If you mean bestowing the colony’s capital on to Victoria ahead of the other colonies? (he smiles cunningly, then jams the cape down harshly onto the hook!) then Kelly can swing for us and Kelly can swing for the Irish!”
lst barr; ” Two calvings from the one cow!” (he nods respectfully while smiling cruelly)
Sir R’.; “This, my friend George, is an historical moment! (he moves over to the table and fills up two new glasses, they take one each )
Sir R,’.; “To an historical moment!”
1 st barr; “To Kelly! may he rest in peace” (both men laugh ).”But tell me, what do you say to his accusation?’
Sir R.;(looks askance) His….accusation?”
I st barr’; Yes (laughs mockingly)! that there will be a greater court that will judge him and you both and the findings would be different!”.
The stage fades, Sir R’ moves to one side, a spotlight shines on him only, the rest of the stage is in darkness.
Sir R’; (a soliloquy) “The impertinence of the man to say such a thing in my court!- MY COURT!- An arrogance of power..(swills drink in glass, looks deeply into it, muses) to wax on with his rambling soliloquy as if he owned the place (aside in a doubting voice) why did let him have the floor? It was as if I could not stop him. How well he spoke for an uneducated ruffian he took control of the moment so easily, so completely like some power was talking through him, using him as medium. That was no murderer I tried, no common highwayman, no thief…. I don’t know what fatalistic connection he has with the government of the colony, but I wish he was on our side Well, regardless…he’ll swing on the end of a rope!…But…why is it I feel I have betrayed some horoscope? Some force, I feel, has me dancing to its tune The military?..The governor? The Crown!? Bah!!.: Kings, Queens, Governors, Generals! Bah! Stuffed shirts and poltroons! No! ( he looks aside )it was the insult to me,… he would dare to presume, with such a casual manner. that I should be judged alongside his actions. I who have sent many a criminal to the gallows with the hand of justice so righteously balancing the scales! I was not the one who challenged the Crown! I was not the one that robbed and havoc’d the whole colony to a point of derision! I do not have such arrogance of power!….(turns smilingly toward the audience, pauses, stares at the audience for a moment) But, Oh! that I did have !…(resumes previous posture) That was enough to earn Kelly the rope. Yes! that and to insult me personally in MY court. THAT was his death warrant, that was enough for me, let him swing at dawn.”
Stage lights up again., Sir R’ turns swiftly back to the barrister and smiles cruelly.
Sir R’: ” I say to that . sir, As God is my witness, a greater court has judged him, and he has received its sentence…let him say as he wishes, its will be done! (a slight wave of his hand, a softer voice) besides, a few years, a few more highwaymen, Kelly’s name and nature will soon be forgotten….after all, he..he is but an outlaw .”
Act 4 .
Empty stage, save for a single chair on the left. An old lady sits on this chair reading a newspaper. she lets it hang down for a moment and stares ahead as if in a trance. she then carefully folds it and places it on the floor next to the chair. she rises, still staring ahead, her hands crossed over her breasts.
Mrs. Kelly: ” One son dead, one son captured, soon to be hung. Joe Byrne…Stevie Hart….dead.. all is finished. .What I created,. pap-fed and worried over all those years,…(turns head side on toward audience but downcast a little) would I have it come to this? (suddenly looks toward the heavens with hands extended up in front, pleading) Husband!..husband!..dead lover, see our work now, what thoughts did we weave strategically into their youth?…is it for’ love they die?..for duty to a lost homeland?..,loyalty to their farmily?….what frame of idea led our children on such a tragic voyage?..tell me husband!.. tell me someone!
(sudden light at right side of stage illuminates a man…the spirit of “Red” Kelly. Mrs Kelly throws hand to mouth in shock)
Red: “What shocks you so woman? ( then laughs gently) you gasped not in fear on other nights when I came to you with the promise of our children!”(laughs).
Mrs K’: “Do I really see you, or is this a part of my hearts tragedy.”
Red: (moves to touch her, but she feels nothing..he sighs) “Ahh.. you cannot feel me you are indeed a lifetime from me now..like a dull marriage (snorts humouresly, then speaks angrily) Yes!..you see me! what do you think I am ..a ghost!?”
Mrs K ; “Ahh yes….it is you…(drops arms to side wearily) to be sure. your humour hasn’t improved for your passing over..,though I have to say; you look in the pink of condition.”
(she laughs out loud he grimaces).
Red K’: But what ails you, mother? To lament the fate of your children? Did .you expect less from our offspring?…Did you expect they would live and die as a piece of furniture that serves its owner till no longer useful?”
Mrs K: “I….I did not expect to outlive them! and their youth! too young to die.”
Red K ; “Life has an expectation, not a duty! See how many seeds the dandelion throws to the luck of the wind”
Mrs K” (shouts defiantly)”What would you know of my children. ,.,.I BLED FOR THOSE BOYS!!!..”
Red K’: “And now they bleed for you in payment, every one of our own people’s death secures the levee for all of us. What are we but sandbags against a rising torrent….would you have us men as footstools in the parlor7….lapdogs to caress in a moment of indolence? (thrusts fists against forehead in exasperation) I weep, I weep too!…Oh! that it was I who took up arms against such blackguards! That it was I that shamed and mocked and challenged those usurpers of government! Weep not for those boys,….such audacity of spirit and endurance of flesh strengthens a thousand fold the progeny and secures the breed to the future….(stands and points a finger to Mrs K) You wail and lament their fates, but they are builders of civilisations…,only the slothful call them criminals, sloths too lazy to risk their own comforts!”
Mrs K’: ” Damn to civilisation! I would rather have my children!!”
Red K’: “Well and good, my dearest, for you cannot have both….and are not women the civilisers of mankind? what persuasions were used to make a man throw away his spear and take up the plough? What reward for such tedious labour?….To see his sons and daughters grow to be slaves to a despotic class of liars and thieves?.„to be safe?..(turns and strolls in a circular pattern whilst expounding).Didn’t the Empress Livia spend sleepless nights poisoning the figs still hanging on the favourite tree of Caesar Augustus ; her husband and emperor, so as to implement her own designs on the purple? Subtle hand indeed, where a man would clumsily use the thrust of a sword and in turn be slain and so gain nothing for his enterprise…ah, no, more enduring are the civilisings of women,..So weep not for them, rather give Ned the courage to face his death with dignity,”
Mrs K.: “Well for you to give advice! you who fed his youthful heart with all the grievances of our race and inculcated vengeance into his spirit!”
Red K: “Ha! Ha!…yes, guilty I plead! A hundred times guilty! But what would you ; rather perhaps I left such injustices fester unchecked over a dozen generations? Such crimes agin’ a nation must be answered or that nation forfeit its right to statehood….but look not for the splinter in mine eye fair maiden, (sarcastically), what sweet serenading did fall like sugar-drops into the children’s ears whilst thou cradled them to thy bosom? Quoth I: ” Ah there mother’s little man, hmm? are you mother’s little man?…yes we are, oh yes we are!” (mimics tickling action and tone of voice) Gently doth she finger his brow and fixes the gaze of adoration into innocent eye that so enhances the words and impress deeply the insinuation!……Quoth I: (after a fall or scrap’d knee):”There’s mother’s brave little man, You’ll show your mother how brave you are. ” or words to the effect, so does subtlety shape the spirit of the child, quiet whispe’d while with labour’d hand, the cradle is rock’d so does the wilyness of a woman succeed. where crude aggression of a man fall short…(suddenly stops the mimicry).but I am telling you nothing you do not already know with your own intuition….enough! I have no more business with you, go and give heart to the living, your voice is still heeded, mine (turns sadly away); dead!”
(He slips away).
Mrs K’: ” Wait!..Don’t go (clenches fist) just like a man to clear out when needed! and he talks of progeny!….my poor Ned left none save a few bastards scattered over the district, and none of those mothers would claim blood relation to his name now..but wait!..regardless of denial, they are still of the blood’ hark to Moira O’Callaghan there, big now with child and Ned’s as sure as there is a dawn! I must go to her and help yes! (speaks softly) You are right on one account husband, the progeny is there and it will endure and grow as long as women rock the cradle . (pauses to reflect) Take courage my Ned, I will stand by you till the end and then…. forever.”
….A jail cell Kelly sits on wooden bench…hands clasped, head down, he is musing on his fate a cock crows, Kelly starts!
Kelly- “Hark, the dawn, sweet Christ! dawn.(he places his head in his hands, then raises it to gaze straight toward audience).Dear Lord, give my distress reason, this last moment before sunrise….this last moment of my life on this earth What dire fate carried me to this end? Where my brothers now…my friends?..Must I face this darkness alone amongst my enemies?..Ah, damn. damn, damn! What humour of the gods threw me to such beasts…is it for the meanest pun that I am cast so? a murderer they call me, yet they have killed more than I. A thief they call me and still they rob the poor and ignorant ( He stands and paces the cell) Yet, there are many who see such injustices done.. but why was it to me that fell the responsibility to try to correct such injustices?….I who wanted no more than a farm, and a quiet life. What trick of circumstance brought me to these gallows?…No!.. settle your mind, Ned…hark now while there is still time.. go steadily over the facts, for there.is the secret of the rebellion”.
( He sits down, hands apart in front and reflects)
[ Here the stage is divided into two, Ned in his cell on the right,(from the audience’s viewpoint) the Governor, Judge Redmond Barry, superintendent Hare sitting in comfortable chairs. on the left. They are surrounded by all the trappings of their class, they pour themselves glasses of wine from time to time whilst they talk. Their conversation is calm, well constructed and carefully considered. Kelly’s soliloquy is questioning, his answers full of self-doubt till the end where he finally gains the upper- hand., then he becomes calm, self-assured, certain of his conclusion, whilst the others shift about in their chairs, squirming sort of as they become evasive. doubtful….
As each question is put up by Kelly, his side of the stage darkens, the other lights up and his question is answered by one of the three as if they were talking to him and vice-versa.
Judge Redmond Barry holds out his glass, superintendent Hare starts, quickly but clumsily reaches out and fills the glass from a carafe on the table..as he fills, they hear a cock crow..they all turn to a window on the set wall.]
Governor: “Dawn..it won’t be long now!”
Sir Red. Barry: “If it were done, best it were done quickly”.
Gov; “No passing regrets, Redmond?”
Sir R.: ‘With each mans’ death I too am diminished.. ha ha! But no, not this time…for Kelly’s crimes shaped his own end eh, Hare’?”
Hare: “Certainly, we had all the evidence..(snorts humourously) if such were needed, for he convicted himself by his intent…and that was clear enough”.
Gov’: “what then the talk of his mother?”
[stage darkens, return to Kelly.]
Kelly:”When the troopers harrassed and arrested my mother,…. did I act too hastily and with too much temper’?”
Sup. Hare.:”Well, to be accurate, the evidence against his mother was a little…thin on the ground (a soft guffaw from the others) to warrant her arrest…but!..we had to create a catalyst to follow through with the suppression of the district radicals.”
Gov’.:” Hear! hear!”( the judge snorts approval)
Kelly:” Did I act in too much haste to avenge the treatment given to my family , and friends?..perhaps I was bold beyond reason?”
Sup’. H.:” Likewise his father and assorted relatives and friends…, we had to make an example of the clan lest their outspoken behaviour be seen as a quality of leadership and so spark rebellion amongst the larger Irish community there in the district. Amongst such clannish people we had little evidence,…but we had power and arms enough to divide and accuse regardless of guilt…it is our right to rule…and the prisons , ours to fill!”
Judge Barry:: “ Tis a pity Kennedy, and his patrol didn’t rid us of the problem early in the piece.”
Gov’..”Being their own kind..you’d have thought they would have been more cunning….set a thief to catch a thief..”
Sup’. H.:” Ahl..they were ambushed…’twas bad luck for them…armed to the teeth they were too….’twas bad luck for us. that!”
(Lights up his pipe).
Kelly.:”Kennedy and his lot…that was an evil day!..for Kennedy was a brave man, the wrath of God be upon me for his death. I’m sure. But then…what were they to expect? Irishmen hunting Irishmen, they could expect nothing but trouble! Those canny bastards always set us against ourselves…divide and rule is the order of the day. “
Sup’ H.:( he draws on his pipe, expels a long breath)” ‘Twas very important to have their own countrymen hunting them, sets the train of doubt and mistrust amongst their community..They have a long memory: the Irish. And a long memory gives rise to a shorter temper!.
(all three laugh).
Gov’.:” He’ll be but a memory in a few short moments!…ha! ha!”
(the gov’ throws his head back to laugh at his own joke…the other two look at eachother and roll their eyes)
Judge B.:(taps tips of his finders together)” Though in the eyes of the Crown…we have achieved the desired effect of suppressing a sedition and or a potential uprising of the rebellious contingent in the community.. there is a mild..miid I reiterate, moral question that begs discussion. eye-eee (ie.) the deliberate setting-up of these people and incidents and subsequent loss of life to achieve the objective…vis-a-vis : the rooting out and extinguishing of seditious elements within the community”
Gov’.:” Deliberate setting- up?”(Gov looks to Sup.Hare).
Sup’.H.:(clears throat)”Well, Sir…er, to be honest….(clears throat again).
Gov’:” Out with it man!”
Kelly; (pacing the cell, stops, turns head to side,ponders) All the circumstances, all the petty infringements of law, the paltry nit-picking and harassment of our clan….(paces floor as he reasons) the Irish agin’ Irish, relative against relative it seems as if there was a more deliberate force at work than mere chance, it seems as if everything fell too, too smoothly into place, as if all the trivial accusations were deliberately set up to “strike at” our family but…no!,no!..surely it couldn’t be so ….. ?
Sup’. H.:” I did have a report from Superintendant Nicholson that, among other people, most strongly recommended the (gazes quickly to Judge Barry) “rooting out” of the Kelly family from the district and to (if I may quote)”send them to Pentridge even on a paltry charge” to take them away from the community and to reduce their influence in the area so, .yes, Sir, in some ways it was a deliberate “set-up” as Judge Barry mentioned, though I must admit that it did not go always as planned and I think it was our good fortune that there was not a general uprising at the siege of the Glenrowan Inn!..and if they had succeeded in the derailment of the troop train…?(he finishes with a nervous swig of wine)…thank heaven for the schoolmaster”..
Gov’.:”Ah, yes…the spoiler..”
Sup’ H ;”Spoiler, Sir?”
Judge B; “We have our own “spoilers”, Hare…every Jesus has his Judas…” He gulps his wine.
Gov’;” Quite so, quite so….That close, eh?…(Sup Hare nods in silence)Hmm, is this report common know ledge?”
Sup’.H.:” Only to the higher echelons of the department, Sir”.
Gov’.:(stands and begins to pace the floor with hands clasped behind back)”Then keep it such and Nicholson?…good man that, sees deeply into a problem….(pauses, reflects on his statement)..reward him with a promotion(suddenly raises finger) no, wait!..not promotion, money! give him a supplement to his pay..heh!heh!..money is the most subtle gag!…besides, we don’t want a too competent man near the “top” (stops pacing, looks to the others meaningfully)do we?” (no word from the other two, so he smiles). You know I have received a petition of plea for clemency for Kelly….thirty thousand signatures…(he looks from one to the other, reading their reactions).Yes..(he sighs and sits back down)that is an awful lot of support in the community…, of course there is no chance of it happening, as if the Crown can relinquish so firm a grasp on law and order! No, he shall hang as ordained in the courts of justice.” (Gov raises his glass toward Judge Barry).
Kelly.:” But if it was such, if there was a deliberate conspiracy to victimise our family and friends, ….let me think..(counts out on fingers) Me. Mother, Dan, Jim, Joe Byrne, Aaron Sherrit, Jack Lloyd, Bill Skillion, James Quinn. Pat Quinn (stops counting and looks toward audience in a state of shock) all sentenced, all served time…there can be little doubt but that we were hounded into the courts for some covert reason . Damn their eyes that they have played us into an insidious trap! That the authorised government would sink to such depths to isolate and oppress a group of people as an example to the general mass. What twisted frame of mind would seek such notorious security? That it would selectively sacrifice individuals for its own greater comfort. No, it was not I who was the criminal in this escapade. Let the filth of their cunning permeate into the furtherest reaches of their administration, for they will reap just reward for the evil they sow this day (clenches fist in anger).
Judge B.:(swills wine in glass whilst gazing down reflectively)”I fear we have set a precedent with this action that can lead us down a treacherous path,”
Gov.:”How so. Redmond?”
Judge B,:””Tis a fateful pity we picked on such courageous an individual as Edward Kelly, on the surface he would appear “easy- meat” ; poor, uneducated country-bumkin! But there is a natural leader under that impoverished hide that may yet become a beacon to others.”
Gov.:” Come, come,Redmond. You colour us as tyrants and that..that(waves fingers) dirt as a new Brian Boru !”
Judge B.:”You heard him in my courtroom?…You read his “Jerrilderi Letter”?
Gov.:” Ravings! my dear man, ravings!”
Judge B.:”To us, yes, for we deem them as such….We dismiss the crude rhetoric as a maniacs rave….but I tell you there was a power in both those “ravings”, a power that came from a deep belief in the injustice of his jailing…of his family’s convictions….of the oppression of his peoples..MY peoples still!..Such a power has its own silent brooding strength within!….we are indeed fortunate if there is not an uprising after dawn today!”
(a silence prevails)
Gov.:(stands and thinks)” Then we must “colour” the man’s last moments.”
Sup’ Hare;.:”How so Your Excellency?”
Gov.:”Why, we shall apply that time-honoured system when dealing with the “honest ” opposition we shall LIE!..lie and dishonour their memory! (pounds fist into palm of other hand)Let the sentence follow its rubric script, only we, (pauses, wags finger) shall darken the language to the pitch of blood! What is left untarnished… let them adore! But I beg you, fellow corpsmen, let it be little or best still…nothing of respectable substance! We hang Kelly as a murderer; let us paint him as more than such! You; Hare, make sure you report his “cowardice” at the hanging, use any language at your command to make an unfavourable impression with our friends of the Press of his last moments….we must start now to nip any sympathy in the bud and we shall use all means available to do it!….”
Kelly ; “And still it was I who took up the challenge to right their criminal intent but Why?…why was it left to me?….many a time gladly would I have given over the reins to another…(softly).Christ too begged release, yet there was none to take it. Likewise my own position….Joe Byrne?…too cavalier….Dan? too young, likewise Steve Hart but of the rest?….like the disciples of Christ: no vision, it would have all frittered away till there was only the cruel oppression left and us rotting in Pentridge goal….No, there was no other to take the initiative….only I (slumps down on bunk, arms limp on lap…slowly looks up to audience, stands, points to audience accusingly) ..and you! you stand by and let me and the likes of us carry the burden of responsibility and pay the price!….what is your part in this history?..(stands transfixed, mouth slightly open, pointing finger lowers slowly softly speaks)..But what am I saying…they are invisible: the silent majority, they do not figure in history, till the suffering attains a greater magnitude, then and only then does the collective whinge become a moan of anguish!..aaaahhh ! (flings arm wide).bugger the lot of them!…it is too late to lament my lot now , I am condemmed to die dishonourably to give cold honour to a cowardly population….well, I’ll give them one thing to think about: at least I’ll die game!…(shouts)I AM NED KELLY…S0N OF RED KELLY!…”
Gov.:” I t is nearly time now, superintendant, go and witness Kelly’s “cowardess” and give it favourable report in the daily press”. ( sup’ Hare stands to attn, salutes and departs.)”Good man that (nods after Hare), I must recommend a suitable reward for his services” .
Judge B: “More money, Your Excellency? (Gov is about to sit, stops mid action and gazes questioningly at the judge)….since I’m sure we don’t want too competent a man near the top ” (sips wine innocently)
Gov.: (sits down slowly but comfortably)”I’m sure I can manage my …subordinates….Redmond..yes, more money, never fails (sips wine, sighs) I’ll have to order in another crate of this most enjoyable red, it sits most delightfully on my digestion!”
Judge B.: “It disturbs mine.”
Gov.:” That is because you gulp it down too fast my dear Redmond…I’ve watched you. no! ..don’t deny it, but listen, good wine is money to the blood..as the coins feel reassuring when they jingle in your pocket and you “embrace” them with your fingers before you spend them….So it is with wine, you let it lay a little on the tongue then press it gently against the palate to feel the richness of it’s fruit before you consume..BEFORE you consume, my dear Redmond….then it will not sour your gut!…(looks to the judge and laughs)ha! ha! ha!”
Kelly.:(returns to bench and sits, hands on knees) “Ah well, they destroy me….but I will take some of them with me…for I will be the nemisis of their hatred!…they have “roped ” themselves to me. Now, as I die…so must they..mine is not the only neck that will be gracing the rope !”(places head in hands and sobs gently he then stops, looks up) Mother… please give me strength to die like a Kelly.”
Judge B.:(taps fingertips together as he speaks) “Of course all this damn drama has risen out of the selectors’ poverty. There is such a thing as too much poverty, Gov’, I see it before my bench continually…”
Gov.:”….and where there is poverty there is crime…”
Judge B.: “And where there is wealth, I contritely add : Is there not greater crime ?”
Gov.: “Ahh! but that “crime” is affiliated, my dear Redmond , affiliated ”
Judge B.: “And we, I take it, are all shareholders?”
Gov.:(stands up abruptly, looks to the judge) “Yes, by God!, that or poverty!…I leave you choose the more favourable….(lowers voice)but come , Redmond, I didn’t make the rules, I am only a caretaker and I too must answer to a greater power….well aware am I that the substance of the poor always goes to enrich the wealthy (hunches shoulders appealingly)but what would you?…Those of us who pull the strings of Authority know only too well the tenuous hold we have on that power..and we know only too well that we rule not on our own strength..for what really are you Redmond , or I, if challenged to arms…but through the obedient strength of those we command..those we own…and if they but knew what we know…So, dear Redmond..Let us be thankful we are only hanging one man, not a whole class!”
Judge B.:”(drains glass with a wince)Pray we are not , in the long run, hanging ourselves!”
( stands to leave.) stage darkens.
[A column of prison guards, six, three in front, Kelly, then three behind. Kelly is bound with arms behind back, a sombre shuffle against a sombre background…They are all dressed in black, the set is also dark and dingy….There is music heard faintly in the background….suddenly, a small spotlight picks out a brightly coloured bed of flowers downstage, a sharp contrast to the sombre scene. Kelly notices them, they all stop.]
Kellv.:(with amazement in his voice)”What beautiful flowers! “
(stage darkens except for Kelly…he steps forward, his bindings fall away, his hands are free, he looks at the flowers, then raises his gaze toward audience and begins an aria .
Ned Kelly’s Lament: (Sung to the music of the Symphonic Intermezzo of Pietro Mascagni’s “Cavalleria Rusticana”).
[ I would like to suggest as a “stage direction” here to download the above music on You Tube , perhaps on a separate tab, and listen to it in synchronicity to reading the words of the Lament. I wrote the words to be in sync’ with the tempo of the music.]
He turns to address the audience head on..
(words commence with the music; ..slowly, softly)
“Upon this dawn I come to ask you of me.
I come to ask you but one thing,
Will you hear me?
Will you grant this to me?
Shun this last desire to me
And I will accept your silence.
Why is this fate of mine,
That I should come to this?
Was such wild and unruly nature born but for a thief?
Come; here is my heart.
See what a man has done for thee!
Fierce were the battles of these wild and bold young years!
Was it for nought though ?
Hate: I’ve worn enough.
Love: I could give them no more,
They would not follow me to freedom.
What. could I do? what more could I do
But to pursue my dream.
What could I do?
Oh, you left me here
To pursue a lonely dream.
If such are dreams,
And such thy love….
Such is life!
(Kelly puts hands behind back as if bound once more, moves back into column, they start to shuffle off again, stage darkens, silence)
Kelly.:”Ah well, I suppose it must come to this..Such is life”.
(there is a “clang” as the trapdoor opens!)