Author Noelene Allen talks about her book Ellen: A Woman of Spirit

AUTHOR Noelene Allen became fascinated with Ned Kelly’s mother, Ellen Kelly, quite by accident.

Following the 2002 refurbishment of the Beechworth Historic Precinct, the manager Richard Skinner laid down a challenge to Allen, which would spark a decade of research into the women of the Kelly family. 

“There’s too many stories about blokes in here; we need some more about women,” he said at the time.

After reading the transcripts of Ellen’s trial, Allen wanted to know more about her.

“Ellen’s trial was so unjust and the sentence so severe,” she said.

“I wanted to know more but I could only find one book written about her – and it was a novel – while there was a huge amount written about Ned.

“I am grateful the relatives surrounding the story trusted me enough to share their stories.”

In 2012 Allen published Ellen: A Woman of Spirit, a portrayal of a courageous woman written from the heart.

Allen said her subject’s toughness was evident everywhere.

“When I went to Old Melbourne Gaol I found the ruins of the laundry where she worked; the gallows could be seen just under the grate in the laundry,” Allen said.

“How she ever got through that morning.”

Among other stories that stood out in the research was when Ellen lost her husband and left Avenel for Greta with seven children in tow.

“I’ve driven that route many times as part of my research and how she did that under those conditions is incredible,” Allen said.

The women in the Kelly family now feature in a new exhibition in Wodonga by artist Janet Goodchild-Cuffley, who was inspired after hearing Allen talk about her book on the radio.

Goodchild-Cuffley’s paintings form Furious Riding: The Kelly Women Narratives, which runs at Arts Space Wodonga until August 26.

Each of the paintings tells a story that vividly conveys the lives of these Victorian colonial women of the late 19th century – resourceful and resilient women who were way ahead of their time.

Allen said it was a wonderful tribute to the women of the time.

“It just jumps out at you; the colours are amazing.

“At last these women have been celebrated in a fitting way.”

Allen will discuss her book at Arts Space Wodonga on Saturday at 2pm.

She will focus on Ellen but touch on some of the other women in the Kelly family.

Other events at Arts Space Wodonga as part of the exhibition include artist talks with Janet Goodchild-Cuffley on Saturday, August 19 and 26, at 2pm.