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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & General Editor
Volume 9, Number 1, March 2015

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Jonathan McKeown
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


Wild Rosemary

The angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness. . . . And he said to her, "Hagar, slave-girl of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?"

—Genesis 16: 7, 8

On the 14th instant the deceased, Catherine Foster, was found drowned in the lagoon on the Condobolin Road, but there was no evidence to show how deceased got into the water.* That was the verdict the Magistrate returned. The 14th instant? I check the dates in the pamphlet I'm reading and deduce that this strange, precise expression must be an old-fashioned official way of saying the 14th day of the said month, namely, October 1898. I look over at my daughter—about to tell her how Kate Kelly died—and see she's engrossed in a pamphlet about Ben Hall.

Kate Foster [nee Kelly]
a sprig of wild rosemary
on her headstone

We're lying in the shade of a large Casuarina. The grass is cool and green here. There's a tap dripping nearby. I look out across the sections of grave stones. It's hard to believe this morning we were standing among thriving wild rosemary and black cypress pine gazing out across the western plains from a rugged granite ridge somewhere in the Goobang National Park.

Burrabadine Peak
the sound of the stones
we add to the pile

It is claimed, the pamphlet says, that Kate went under the name of Kate Hennessey or Ada because she did not want it known generally that she was a sister of the Kelly boys. When she came to Forbes she worked as a "domestic" for a number of local families. People described her as "a nice looking girl, with long dark hair" and as "a good servant." Five months before Kate's body was found, her husband, William Henry Foster, or "Bricky" as he was known, was charged in the Forbes Magistrate's Court with using abusive language "in his own house to his wife, within the hearing of the public." Between 25th November 1888 when she married Bricky, and October 1898 when she died, Kate bore 6 children. The first of which, the pamphlet tactfully states, was born in March of the year following their wedding. Apparently Bricky had regular employment on the Burrawang Station some 50km west of Forbes township but had visited Kate the night before her disappearance and "remonstrated" with her for being under the influence of drink. The last person known to have seen Kate was her neighbour, Susan Hurley, whom she asked to take care of her baby, Catherine, and also to write a note for her, but no records of the contents of this note have survived.

beyond the epitaph
spotted doves
frotting in the dust

The brochure contains a number of pictures including an illustration of Kate being congratulated by her father after winning the Wagga Cup. But there is one that fascinates me: an old photograph of Kate with Ellen Kelly (her mother) and her family taken at Greta in Victoria following Ellen's release from prison in 1881, 7 years before Kate married Bricky, 17 years before she was found dead. Kate is wearing a black dress and hat and a small girl appears to be clinging to her knee; Kate is looking directly at the camera as if encouraging the little girl to look too. The sun's light is falling obliquely, casting shadows from right to left. Her skeletal resemblance to Ned is accentuated by the contrast of light and shade. Between Ellen and Kate is an open doorway revealing a dark interior. I gaze into that darkness but my eyes won't adjust; the grainy flecks in the sepia look like stars in the night sky.

dirt road the length of sheep shadows in the late afternoon


Author's Note: *This extract and subsequent extracts are from the pamphlet Kate Kelly produced by the Forbes Shire Council with the assistance of the Forbes & District Historical Society, The Kate Kelly Project, and The Kate Kelly Trail.

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