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The woman who got me into Ned Kelly’s funeral

  • 02 July 2018



I shall remember you this way:

In a drought that made the sky empty as a bell,

We arranged to meet in the city.

Black clouds ballooned up from the west,

Drenching drops cascaded down,

The glassy footpaths shattered.

Off the tram, you get with a walking stick,

Nearly 90 years of age,

Smile like the stable door's been flung open

And you're the horse that's bolted,

Rivulets tugging at your feet

Hair dripping, shirt like wet blotting paper,

Lurching towards me with that eager smile,

The woman who got me into Ned Kelly's funeral.


Ursula Gilbert, Sister of Mercy,

believes Dan Kelly and Steve Hart got away.

believes in the resurrection of Australia's greatest outlaw,

believes in me much more than I do.

We share a love of poetry,

Having come to Gerard Manley Hopkins from opposite directions,

Her from religious ecstasy, me from the dark sonnets.

In the 1980s we met,

In a shelter for Aboriginal women in Collingwood.

My next memory?

Ursula introducing me to the granddaughter of Ned Kelly's sweetheart,

An old woman dying in a Melbourne hospital.

I say I'm going next day to the Wombat Ranges

Where the gang declared war on the police.

The old woman, not far from spent,

asks me to say a prayer for her 'up there',

I say I will,

Me who doesn't pray.


When I told the dying woman I was going to the Kelly homestead at Greta,

She said Ellen Kelly, Ned's mum, had a baby that died,

Was buried beside the creek that ran twenty paces from their door.

Next day, passing where the baby lay,

my senses left me for something stronger, wilder, not clear.

I didn't go too near the old house.

I wasn't invited, I wasn't one of the Kellys,

Not one of their wild warlike lot.

I'm from a passive, observing type.

Beside an old fruit tree

About 50 paces from the ruins of the house.

I bump into my grandfather.

He's been dead 70 years,

but his eyes are my eyes looking upon this scene.

Thirteen when Ned Kelly was hanged,

The great adventure of his boyhood, Dad said.



Ursula and I talk religion.

She says I'm a Catholic who won't admit it.

Most of the writing she sends me I don't get:

It pre-supposes a faith I don't possess.

Then one day she says, God doesn't protect you from anything,

But accompanies you all the way

And I think of a jazz pianist,

The way they can accompany you.

I get that sense of God. Sometimes.

Less often when I'm sober.



An Aboriginal man told me stories are stronger

when you hear them in the place they're from.

In Israel, I went to the synagogue in Nazareth

Where Jesus, having gone