It’s Tough To Be a Kelly


Born County Antrim, Erin, in eighteen thirty-two,
the colour of my hair was black, my eyes were greyish blue.
My mother’s name was Mary while my father was James Quinn
and Ellen was my name in life, one of eleven kin.
We sailed on board the ‘England’ as dad planned to immigrate
down under to Port Phillip, where he planned to relocate.
Those childhood days at Moonee Ponds among the woods and hills
were precious times to sing and roam, naive to life’s cruel ills.
Our move to Wallan further north would make life bittersweet,
for there I met an Irishman, who swept me off my feet.
‘Round eighteen years of age I was when I would marry Red
and when my parents disapproved; we then eloped instead.
It’s tough to be a Kelly, but a Kelly, that I am.

My first child was sweet Mary Jane we baptised at Kilmore.
We had her, then we lost her; we had our child no more.
Red joined the Kilmore diggings then in eighteen fifty-three
and made enough by Christmas time to come on home to me.
The month before my man returned I’d bore our daughter Anne,
then Red bought land at Beveridge, a whole new life began.
December eighteen fifty-four brought joy into our life,
for our son Edward joined the world and I was one proud wife.
Poor Red he had his ups and downs, as times were rather tough,
but always had a home for us and that was love enough.
Our Margaret born in fifty-six, they say to some degree,
showed such a certain will to live she was so much like me.
It’s tough to be a Kelly, but a Kelly, that I am.

In eighteen fifty-nine Red built a home that was brand new
and there young James and Daniel, along with Cath’rine too,
would join the growing Kelly clan of which I was so proud
and here we’d build our future dreams for which I prayed aloud.
But soon the simple life we lived was threatened by police
as charges laid against our clans were now on the increase.
Red shaken by the goings on moved us to Avenel,
but hard times and the alcohol would take its toll as well.
In August then of sixty-five our Grace was to arrive,
though in that year I Iost my Red; he was but forty-five.
Some said my Red had failed in life, but that is just not true.
He was my husband whom I loved, his children loved him too.
It’s tough to be a Kelly, but a Kelly, that I am.

I know my temper boiled at times, which made me volatile,
but widowhood and poverty were hard to reconcile.
Red’s sister Anne and I then clashed and what was the result?
The Magistrate at Avenel would fine me for assault.
That was the last straw so to speak, I’d make a move henceforth
to join my two grass-widow aunts in Greta further north.
A heavy load then fell on Ned to play a manly role
and so he did from that time on; God bless the poor child’s soul.
We shared the shanty with my aunts, till in a drunken state
James Kelly burnt the darn thing down, ’cause he’d become irate.
I moved to Wangaratta where I worked from my abode,
then found a home near Greta on Eleven Mile Creek Road.
It’s tough to be a Kelly, but a Kelly, that I am.

My residence was simple fare, though housed my kids and I
and board from thirsty travellers would help us all get by.
My Annie married Alex Gunn in eighteen sixty-nine,
then two months later gained my lease and things were looking fine.
Sad News then came from Glenmore that my dad had passed away,
another blow which hit me hard and left me in dismay.
Young Ned he went off bushranging with Harry Pow’r himself,
but came home dirty, poor and lean devoid of any wealth.
They took my Ned before the courts, though never proved a thing
and some felt he betrayed old Pow’r, but Ned would never sing.
Persistence though was on their minds, they’d nab him anyhow
and sent my Ned to Beechworth goal on two occasions now.
It’s tough to be a Kelly, but a Kelly, that I am.

Bill Frost had come into my life and slept oft’ by my side,
though never kept his promises and his child Ellen died.
My Annie’s Alex went to jail and while he was away
one Earnest Flood, the Constable, found Annie easy prey.
The joy of Anna’s birth late spring would sadly end in grief,
as Annie’s unexpected death left us in disbelief.
Then poor Jim not yet fourteen years went up for cattle theft,
while Ned was sent to Pentridge Jail to serve the term still left.
Around that time a stranger came, who’d share part of my life,
George King from California and I’d become his wife.
We named our first child Ellen and our second child was John
and all the joy now in my life I had not counted on.
It’s tough to be a Kelly, but a Kelly, that I am.

In Feb’uary of sev’nty-four my Ned had gained release
and had come home a diff’rent lad and planned to keep the peace.
Life was as good as it would get and though times still were tough
both George and I we paid our way and got by well enough.
The Squatters ’round the district though and law enforcers too
were quite intent to bring us down and that we Kelly’s knew.
Their constant goading forced Ned’s hand and he and George as well,
would take the bait, retaliate and give them merry hell.
My Jim came home with two new friends; young Sherritt and Joe Byrne.
Two boys who would befriend my Ned as I was soon to learn.
Then Dan was sent to jail once more, which left Ned rather wild,
and George would walk out of my life and leave me there with child.
It’s tough to be a Kelly, but a Kelly, that I am.

Ned built the home he promised me while Dan served out his time,
then once again Jim was in jail, horse theft they say the crime.
My Alice came into the world, but little did I know
what lay ahead would change our lives; Fitzpatrick’s little show.
That incident then lit the fuse to one almighty fray,
which caused my Ned and Dan to flee and I to jail that day.
Sir Redmond Barry was the judge, who satisfied his scorn,
by handing down a three year term on that October morn.
Both Ned and Dan said they’d exchange themselves instead of me,
but now the law saw sweet revenge and just ignored their plea.
I sat there in my Beechworth cell with sweat upon my brow
and sensed my boys they would play up, there would be murder now.
It’s tough to be a Kelly, but a Kelly, that I am.

The next time I set eyes on Ned some twenty months had passed
and sensed his time left here on earth was dwindling rather fast.
We spoke in Pentridge hospital and then before he died,
but once back in my dreary cell I cried and cried and cried.
My Dan was dead, poor Steve Hart too, and young Joe Byrne as well;
I can’t condone the things they did, but life for them was hell.
My fam’ly were no angels pray and we paid for our crimes,
though justice was denied to us so many, many times.
In Febru’ry of eighty-one I found myself released,
though things at home were volatile and hatreds had not ceased.
The constable young Robert Graham called in one day for tea
and in good time I came to see the past was history.
It’s tough to be a Kelly, but a Kelly, that I am.

They held a Royal Commission and Traps lost the ranks they prized,
as treatment t’ward the Kelly clan was strongly criticised.
My Jim he had his one last fling, which saw him back in goal,
though came on home a better man, God bless his weary soul.
My dear, dear Kate would marry too and raise a family.
Poor Maggie died in ninety-six, my Jim looked after me.
In tragic circumstances I would lose my dear Kate too,
though Jim and I would raise her kids; the least that we could do.
Sweet Grace wed young Ned Griffiths, and in my failing years
my mind goes back to bygone days, which ends up bringing tears.
I sit here now at ninety-one beside a cosy fire
to let the poet tell my tale … my wish and last desire.
‘Twas tough to be a Kelly, but a Kelly, that I was.

Being of Irish descent, I have always felt for the plight of the battler and though many stories have highlighted the struggle of Ned’s life, I felt it was time to let his mum have a word. My tribute to a pioneering lady, who found not only the physical and economic nature of the colony a struggle, but also the social, justice and class structures as well.

Ellen Kelly


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