“I was quite young when I first heard the story. It was around the time in primary school when we first learned about the Kelly Gang. I remember telling my grandfather on our next school break about all this cool Kelly stuff we’d been learning, and he basically said “Well, have I got a story for you then!” He was always quite chuffed when people asked him to tell the tale”

By popular demand,  Joe Journal is no more, it has become a section of interviews, like the one below with Allison O'Sullivan; the great great Granddaughter of Anton Wicks. Anton Wicks was the man who Joe and Dan used to lure Aaron Sherritt to his death. Allison, despite a busy schedule, kindly consented to briefly answering several questions in relation to the Anton Wicks story via E mail for this site. I am pleased to display the results.

How does being related to Anton Wick affect your family, is it spoken about often?

It was something my Grandfather used to love telling stories about when we got together at Christmas, but I don’t think it has impacted greatly on anyone’s lives. Anton wasn’t a very pivotal figure in the story of Byrne or the Kelly Gang, he was just a neighbour and friend of Margret Byrne who accidentally got caught up in the action. It certainly had far more impact on my Grandfather and his brothers and sisters, growing up in the area in the 1890’s-1920’s. There was apparently still some animosity between Sherritt and Wicks kids, with a little stone throwing occasionally! No one from my branch of the family has lived in The Woolshed/Beechworth area since the 1920’s though, so with the passing of time it has simply become a great family story.
What can you tell me about Jane Batchelor? The Hut bought off of her by William Wicks, Jane was the person whom lent Joe and Aaron the knife to cut up the cow, and get their first stint gaol. What can you tell me about that?
Unfortunately not much more than that – they were a well respected family in the area, but my own family history is silent on whether they had more than a nodding acquaintance at the time. Ian Jones tells this story in much better detail than I could in “The Friendship That Destroyed Ned Kelly”.

William Wicks was Anton's son, was he the first toWillaim Wicks; Anton's Son hear of the death of Aaron Sherritt?

As I understand it, William was the first person unrelated to the incident to hear about it  (If I’m wrong in my assumption, or if anyone has any more accurate info on this, I’d love to hear from them). Anton managed to slip away from Dan and Joe and reached home sometime before midnight, where William was sitting up worrying about him. As the police, Ellen and Mrs Barry were trapped in the hut until the next day; the only other people who knew were Dan, Joe, and a number of sympathisers (family and friends) who helped with the plan. When the shots rang out through the valley from Aaron’s house however, I’m sure a lot of local residents had some idea of what was happening.
When you first learnt of your connection, what was your first thought?

I was quite young when I first heard the story. It was around the time in primary school when we first learned about the Kelly Gang. I remember telling my grandfather on our next school break about all this cool Kelly stuff we’d been learning, and he basically said “Well, have I got a story for you then!” He was always quite chuffed when people asked him to tell the tale. I don’t think the story really affected me until I grew up a little, and started to understand the impact of the Kellys within the context of Australian social history.

Did you grow up in or around the Woolshed?

No, I’m a city kid. The last of my line to be raised in The Woolshed was my Grandfather Ron Wicks (the family changed their name from Wick to Wicks because of European tensions that made German names unpopular in British colonies). He left in the early 1920’s to become an Engine Driver in Junee, NSW.

Have you been to the Woolshed, to Anton's house site?

Unfortunately not since I was a kid. I can’t wait to get back there and really get a feel for the place, now that I have a better grasp of it’s history. The place has always had a sort of mythical quality for me - that period of time in Australian history feels almost like another world altogether.

There is not too many books out there, besides 'The Friendship', have you come across any other books that relate to Anton in a big way?

Not really. Most authors focus on Ned, as the leader of the Gang, and Anton is more a part of Joe’s story. Unless someone were to write a book on the Byrne family and their lives in The Woolshed, I don’t think Anton and his family will ever figure very prominently. The unfortunate consequence of his being a minor player is that his name is rarely spelled correctly, which used to send my Grandfather around the bend! I think Ian Jones and the recent exhibition at OMG (which was fantastic, by the way) are the only people I’ve found so far who have gotten it right. Even Beechworth Museum gives it as “Antonio Wicks”, as does his own gravestone. I’ve seen a lot worse, too. When I try to (politely) correct people, they honestly don’t believe me. The recent revival in interest in the story is helping though, and a lot more people are digging around for the facts.

Do you know what happened to Anton after th
e incident When Joe shot Aaron? Where did he go, what did he do?
The story as told to me by my grandfather was that at some point after Aaron was shot, Joe and Dan’s attention was diverted to the problem of getting the police out of the bedroom in the hut. At the first opportunity Anton ducked into the trees surrounding the hut and took the long way home through the bush, afraid that the other two (Ned and Steve) were close by. When he got home he was apparently in quite a state, covered in dirt and bits of twigs etc from creeping through the bush. William was waiting for him when he got home, worried that he’d been gone for so long (I don’t know whether or not William heard the gunshots). When he’d sat his father down in the kitchen, Anton blurted the story out to William, who didn’t know what to do. He wisely decided to do nothing, and sat with his father until daybreak. Anton was terribly worried that the Gang would come after him as a witness and “do him in”.

Overall, what do you think of Joe, and the gang, Heroes or simple outlaws? I am interested to know your thoughts after everything your relative Anton Wicks went through, he was close to the Byrne family?

That’s a very difficult question to answer. I don’t think there will ever be a simple answer to this. Obviously to some people they will always be heroes, to others criminals. They certainly achieved much in their attempts to highlight the plight of poor selectors and to force the Government of Victoria to account for the (already somewhat infamous) brutality of the Victorian Colonial Police. On the flipside, they none of them made life easy for most of their neighbours, most of whom lost livestock or personal possessions at one point or another. I don’t think anyone in this story comes out a saint, but I’m leaning towards the Gang and their families – I think what they were trying to achieve and the odds against them outweighs their earlier transgressions.-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

As to Joe specifically, it’s very hard to judge a person’s true character after such a length of time – I’ll never be able to ask anyone who knew Joe what he was really like, so I prefer to reserve judgement on him personally. I know that Anton was never fond of him – as boys Joe and Aaron used to steal the fruit from Anton’s market garden, though from what I know of Anton he was a very serious man, and not one to forgive irresponsible behaviour like this, so it’s possible he was overreacting. It seemed apparent at one point that Anton would ask Margret Byrne to marry him, so Joe put a stop to it by stealing one of Anton’s horses and riding it into the ground – relations were definitely cool between the two. Annie Wicks was probably the one person in my family who knew Joe best, and she seems to have forgiven him a lot of his wild behaviour – he obviously had a lot of charisma.

Anton was very close to Margret Byrne, and as a widower and widow raising children alone they had a lot in common. I like to think that our greatest connection with the Byrne family is the support that Anton and his children would have been able to give Mrs Byrne through all her worries. I actually find myself sympathising with Margret more than anyone else in this story – she loved Joe very much, but you can also see that she was disappointed in him. He was obviously very bright, literate, and possessed a natural charm – a mother would have had high hopes for a son like that. Who knows, given different circumstances, what he might have achieved?
Thanks for joining me Allison it's been fantastic!

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