Hill End-based artist Rebecca Wilson has spent over a decade working towards uncovering the true story behind an influential member of Australia's most famous family of outlaws.
Kate Kelly, the younger sister of bushranger and divisive Australian icon Ned Kelly, played a significant role as a messenger and decoy for The Kelly Gang and after Ned's execution in 1880, appeared at public gatherings around Australia to share the gang's story.
In her recently released book, Kate Kelly: The True Story of Ned Kelly's Little Sister, Ms Wilson has attempted to put a concise account of Kate's fascinating story to print for the first time, a story also expressed in her art exhibition: The Kate Kelly Collection.
"It was printed in the press of the day that they accredited the longevity of The Kelly Gang to Kate's efforts in fooling the police time and time again," she said.
"Once Ned was captured, she went down to Melbourne to campaign against his execution; she lead marches and pushing a petition that attracted 34,000 signatures, and her fame only escalated after Ned's death."
At the age of 22, Kate abandoned the notoriety of the Kelly name for a new life in Forbes, where she resided until her death in 1898 at only 35 years of age.
Ms Wilson, who grew up in Forbes, said the stories she heard of Kate's life while growing up in the small town, along with a desire to put her experiences into artworks, served as inspiration to piece together a more thorough narrative.
"I'd travelled pieces from The Kate Kelly Collection nationally and internationally to the point where I had compiled enough research to document in a book," she said.
"It's a story filled with adventure, torture and action, which I felt was my duty to tell as accurately as possible."
A key aspect of the book focuses on the mysterious circumstances surrounding Kate's death, which was reported as suicide after she was found dead in a lagoon outside Forbes.
"She was missing for eight days prior to her death, and while it was reported as a suicide in the press, the man who found her body turned up at the inquest the next day, gave no evidence and fled town, which you wouldn't get away with these days," Ms Wilson said.
"Kate's husband, William 'Bricky' Foster, was charged with abusive language towards her five months before her death and was, by all accounts, an undesirable character who consistently abused Kate."
'"Bricky' was one of the last people to see Kate alive and claimed she constantly spoke of suicide, which contradicts the account of a neighbour, not to mention she often went under her middle name, Ada, which complicates the matter further."
"The other point of note is she had given birth four weeks prior to her death, so I interviewed women's health experts about the nature of postnatal depression and how women who have experienced significant trauma throughout their lives are more susceptible to it, which fits Kate's profile."
Kate Kelly: The True Story of Ned Kelly's Little Sister has been selected as The Great Festival Read for the 2021 Bathurst Writers' and Readers Festival, and The Kate Kelly Collection is currently on display at Lithgow's Gang Gang Gallery.
Ms Wilson also has a current exhibition at Bathurst Regional Art Gallery, Myth Making, Heroes and Villains, and will appear at a Q&A session with director Sarah Gurich this Saturday from 11am.
"Though both art and literature, I always aim to paint a clearer picture of my subject and unearth as much truth as I can from their story," she said.
"The notion of truth is an interesting one, because it always gives way to several different interpretations, which heightens the importance of referring to multiple sources."
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can access our trusted content: