Bibliophile | ‘Kate Kelly: The True Story of Ned Kelly’s Little Sister’

Kate Kelly: The True Story of Ned Kelly’s Little Sister
by Rebecca Wilson
Allen & Unwin

Ned Kelly and his gang are probably Australia’s best known bush rangers and the legend of Ned Kelly lives on 140 years after his execution. But what do you know about Ned’s younger sister Kate? Rebecca Wilson grew up in Forbes, a small town in the central west of New South Wales, where Kate Kelly spent the last 14 years of her life and died at the age of 35.

As a teenager, Wilson’s uncle told her stories about Kate, passed on to him by relatives who had lived near her. Then she found out that it was one of her relatives who hired Kate when she came to the area under the assumed name of Ada Hennessey in 1885 to work as a domestic servant. This inspired Wilson to spend a decade researching fact and folklore about Kate Kelly.

Wilson believes that Kate Kelly’s story is important to Australian history and her research gives insight into the lives of pioneering women. Kate was ‘Kardashian’ famous in her day and her name appeared in the press as much as the short-lived Kelly Gang. Her gender and her class meant that life was never going to be easy but some injustices Kate suffered are still issues today.

Born in 1863, Kate was one of seven children and she was three when her father died. Her mother was to have three more children (two survived) and Kate gave birth to a daughter at the age of 14 – after an incident that rallied her brothers to challenge the police. By the time she was 15, her brothers and their friends were wanted men who would all be dead by the time she reached 17 years of age in 1880.

Using an extensive list of well-documented records as well as trying to fill in the gaps, Wilson pieces together the successes and failures of an extraordinary life. The True Story of Ned Kelly’s Little Sister shows a courageous and talented woman who struggled to overcome enormous adversity during her tragically short life as well as the horrendous difficulties pioneering women had to endure.

Lezly Herbert

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