Ellen: a woman of spirit
Noelene, when did you first get interested in the life of Ellen Kelly? I was asked by Richard Skinner then Beechworth Historic Precinct Manager around 2002 to research a woman who had links to the courthouse to organise story boards, displays, tours etc and after a lot of research one woman’s story touched my heart and mind. The transcripts of her trial etc made me want to know more about her. That woman was Ellen.
There have been a couple of books written about Ellen\’s life, what influenced you to write another book, and what do you think sets this book apart from the others? When I was researching and deciding which woman to focus on in the Courthouse I found there were a lot of books about her son Ned and the Kelly Gang but very few about her and the other women of the Kelly family. I hope my book is accepted as having been written from the heart and portrays the real Ellen Kelly and her family.
You\’ve been giving presentations on the life of Ellen Kelly for a number of years, in many areas of Victoria and New South Wales, and especially Beechworth. How did these presentations come about? The presentations began following my research when again Richard asked me to write a tour based on Ellen’s visits to the Courthouse and they have snowballed from there and now include her life and the lives of her daughters. I will be returning to Echuca on St. Patrick’s Day for their Celtic Festival and I have met some wonderful people during my visits to many areas of Victoria.
I’ve been to some of these presentations, and it’s quite obvious you deliver it with a lot of passion. Will this same passion come across when reading your book? I really hope so – I want readers to experience Ellen’s story as it unfolded throughout her life. I guess being a woman, mother and grandmother I have felt many of her emotions during my own life. Experienced the pain of loss and also the joy and happiness that family brings with it. I found my visits to Forbes during my research on Kate very emotional. I saw her story very differently when I was able to walk where she would have walked along the banks of the Lachlan River.
While doing your research did you get the opportunity to speak to many of the Kelly family and their relations, and if so, how were you received? I was very fortunate in my research to meet some of the Kelly family and also members of the families close to the story. I do think I “served as an apprentice” to begin with and needed to show I was committed to the truth of the story not sensationalism. The oral history I have been told over the years has given me so much more insight into the family life of the Kellys.
Just how long has this book been in the making? On and off close to 10 years but work and family commitments often intervened and I was not able to give my time totally to the book as I have since retired from the Beechworth Precinct. I have just spent 3 months in Tasmania travelling throughout the state and that was where I was able to take advantage of the peace and tranquillity of many of the places we visited and complete the book. I actually posted the manuscript to Brad from Hobart.
Can we expect to see any never before seen material in your book? I think so – I was able to source material and visit and walk in Red Kelly’s shoes in Tasmania so there are some new things there. The many conversations I have had with many people has gleaned what I think is new material.
On the front cover we see a pregnant Ellen Kelly. Do you have any thoughts on which child Ellen is carrying? I don’t think anyone is sure which child Ellen is carrying but looking closely at the photo she has gone to a lot of trouble to look beautiful. Her hair has been specially done; she has what looks to me like a cameo brooch on the dress. Maybe Dan or as a long shot little Ellen Kelly/Frost but I really don’t know, it is difficult to guess her age which if we knew would give us a clue.
How do you think Ellen coped with such turmoil and loss in her life? I think Ellen’s Irish spirit and her religious faith helped her cope with the turmoil and loss in her life.
Has the strength of our pioneer women always meant something special to you? Yes, I admire the pioneer women of Australia, their stories are very special and not honoured as our early pioneer men are.
When you were the Co-ordinator for the Beechworth Historic Precinct, you were involved in a production titled The Quilting of the Armour. It premiered for the 125th anniversary of the Siege in Glenrowan. Can you explain what this play was all about and where the idea for it came from? Quilting the Armour was a play written by 3 women about Ellen and the women of the Kelly family. They spent a lot of time in the Beechworth Precinct and I had many cups of coffee talking with them about Ellen and her life. The play was about Ellen’s life and to be part of the community chorus and watch Debra Lawrence play Ellen was one of the best experiences I have had in my years of research. The title came from the skull cap that Maggie made for Ned to wear under his helmet and was the focus of the set decoration etc. It was a great experience for me; I had never been involved in anything like it before.
Can you give me three words that you believe would describe Ellen Kelly’s character? Strength, Courage and Love. Not sure what order to put them in.
What does Ellen Kelly mean to you? She has been part of my life for so long I guess she is almost like a friend now. I have found myself getting very protective when I hear her story, or her girls stories, being denigrated in any way. The hackles come up and I find I am defending them as I would part of my family.
When and where will the book be available for purchase by the public, and will you be available for book signings? The book will be launched in Melbourne at the end of July and I will personally sign each copy. I suggest readers watch IronOutlaw where Brad will certainly let everyone know it\’s progress. I hope everyone liked the cover Brad designed almost overnight – I love it!
I must admit Noelene, the front cover looks a cracker, and I’m sure your book will be a great success. Thank you so much for your time, and from all of us at IronOutlaw … well done!