Peasant Autonomy
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Story 22

A village in Victoria, Australia – 1866 (1)

Almost drowned

“My dear child, you are not yet born, I don't even know if you are a boy or a girl; but still I am writing down for you everything that has happened in my life.” Ned Kelly, a robust country man with a full head of wild hair, combs his fingers through his reddish-brown beard. Then he picks up his pencil again, and goes on writing. “People say I am a bandit, and that's true. But it was never my choice. It was my fate. I never wanted more than a piece of land to grow grain, with pasture for a few cows and horses, and a hearth to sit in front of in the evening. But it wasn't meant to be.”

for bigger picture click on this photo

(Photo: Cafuego)


“I would like to tell you about my life. Well, once, when I was about eleven years old, I was walking to school early in the morning. At the stream I saw a little boy, Dick Shelton. It was spring, and the stream had grown into a small, but wild river. Suddenly Dick’s new straw hat was blown into the water. He took a stick, and tried to fish his hat out of the swirling water. When that attempt failed, he stepped into the river. I shouted, “Come back, come back!” but it was too late. The water pulled him away.
Before I knew what I was doing, I jumped into the river, swam with a few strokes to Dick, and grabbed a hold of him. Together we were carried away by the current. At a bend in the stream, we floated next to a fallen gum tree. With one hand I held Dick, and with the other one I tried to pull myself up on the tree. That wasn't easy, because it was as slippery as ice, but finally I succeeded.
Fortunately Dick was still alive, although exhausted and unable to lift a finger. His parents had a hotel a bit further on. I hoisted the boy up on my back, and ran with my bare feet over the muddy path to the hotel. His mother screamed when she saw her son, and to me she cried, “Hurry on, go inside!”

for bigger picture click on this photo

(Photo: Watchdog)


“The hotel assistant sent me to the bathroom, and shortly after, brought me ten buckets of warm water. I had never seen before a bathtub and never experienced that you got so much water for washing. It was blissful. Dick's mother brought me some of his clothes. They were so soft and good-smelling. After the bath I got hot cocoa and was allowed to order whatever I liked. I chose lamb chops and fried kidneys. How I did eat! Dick's mother kept smiling at me. “What a great boy you are,” she whispered, “you are the bravest boy in the whole world.”


In his thrilling book True History of the Kelly Gang (2000), the Australian writer Peter Carey brings the farm hand, peasant and folk hero Ned Kelly to life.

Go to:
= part 2: Birth party - New South Wales, Australia – 1879 (2), story 25.
= the next page:
'What a miserable damn life!' - a fishing village on the coast of Sicily, Italy – 1867
, story 23.
= the Table of contents, story 22.