Creating Kate Kelly: Sister of an Outlaw Travelling Exhibition and Book

1974 – 2019 All my life I have had a relationship with the small regional town of Forbes in New South Wales .  I grew up there, my mum and my dad before me, extended family remain there and many ancestors are buried there.

1919 – 2008 My grandfather grew up in nearby Canowindra before moving to Forbes and I didn’t realise until recent years, through my Kate Kelly research, that in fact my ancestor James Collits was one of the first settlers along the Lachlan River (aka Kalari) near what would become Forbes, establishing Cadow Station in 1835 as a squatter. Cadow is the same station that Kate Kelly arrived at in 1885 under the alias Ada Hennessey. I have many relatives and ancestors who lived their lives across this region and many are buried in Forbes cemetery.

James Collits_IMG_20190818_151202_714

James Collits died at Carowobitty Station near Forbes

1823 Pierce Collits who is my six times great grandfather, established the Collits Inn at Hartley Vale at the foot of the first track across the Blue Mountains and that family continued to grow vegetables on the banks of the Nepean and sell their fresh produce and meat to the government. All the while the Collits Inn accommodated every passenger, coach and horse heading east or west on their intrepid journey between Bathurst and Sydney or vice versa and they extended the family business interests and land acquisition across the region.


Collits Inn, Hartleyvale

1986 An uncle told me stories about Kate Kelly when I was young.  He told me his family in Forbes had known her and that she was a kind and generous person. She was apparently, the kind of neighbour who would lend you a cup of flour and do what she could for you. I wish that I had known to ask him many more questions at that time but I had no idea that I would one day be researching, painting and writing about her!

In 2007 my Australianism exhibition displayed at Mary Place Gallery Paddington, was an investigation into Australian society and our icons. Part of that examination led to two works that would influence a future direction in my work; ‘Ned and Skippy’ and the Blake Finalist piece, ‘Ned’s Burqa’. (Pictured below.)

Ned & Skippy              neds-burqa1

After moving to Hill End in 2009, my interest in the Kelly mythology continued to grow by the following Christmas (2010) when a chance meeting at a xmas lunch with Tom Thompson led to a conversation about Kate Kelly.   Tom started to tell me stories about Kate Kelly when he found out I was from Forbes.  Kate had lived the last third of her life in Forbes and he knew a lot about her.  He had a website dedicated to her and he had been involved in a lot of research over the years. I was so excited about this great story and interesting female icon of bravery and tragedy that I declared immediately that I wanted to paint her story.

2011 I began my research living in my small makeshift hut with just a generator to charge my computer and phone at night with an old car phone antenna hanging off my roof to connect my mobile phone so I could get internet access! That year was spent trawling through Tom’s website, discovering TROVE (a great resource for online research) and looking at the history of Forbes.  I was quietly finding out more about who this Kate Kelly really was, thinking about how I would paint her  and the key events of her tumultuous life, while learning about her relationship to Forbes. It was during that year that I discovered that Hill End was once in fact called Forbes for a while between 1860-1861, which gave me goosebumps!

What I was also discovering, which I hadn’t realised before, was that this kind of research takes a very long time. To try to fully understand another person’s life requires a broad view and a lot of different perspectives and I was committed to doing Kate and her story justice.

Some students of mine at TAFE knew I was working on this project and they suggested I contact Tracey Sorenson who they knew was making a Kate Kelly themed film at the time but I chose to continue on my own path and did not make contact, however, I would later find out that she was making a film with Merrill Findlay, who I was put in touch with by Tracey Callinan from Arts OutWest in 2013.

By 2012 I had started playing with drafts and ideas of paintings along with developing story notes that I would stick along the studio walls. I was building piles of notes, books, articles and images, maps and documents. My research was growing and I was finding out more details and new stories about her life, while connecting with my own family history at the same time as extending my knowledge of the Kelly story and Kate’s time in Forbes. I realised that I needed to understand the story of Ned Kelly on a deeper level to be able to understand the ramifications on Kate and her family’s lives. I had started to talk with other artists and writers about my Kate project. I visited Glenrowan, Beechworth and that region of Victoria remembered as ‘Kelly Country’ and of course I revisited Forbes many times. Walking around the lagoon site, places where Kate and the Fosters had lived and South Circle oval in Forbes, I took photographs and notes while imagining how Kate might have been feeling and it all helped me to see my hometown in another way which surprised me. I had many memories of riding my bike as a kid past the lagoon where Kate’s body was found and although I was unaware of the story then, I was conscious of a creepy energy in the area and I didn’t like it.

07 April 2012 I got married at Kissing Point in Hill End to a fifth generation Hill End man, Dave Thompson, aka Thommo, aka Charlie!

15-08-2012 Email to an artist friend, refers to my ongoing Kate Kelly project.


16-09-2012 Tom and I had remained in communication and he had assisted me at different times with my research. I shared little break throughs here and there through emails or if I saw him in Hill End.


25-09-2012 Part of my family history research was leading me closer to an amazing connection between my story and Kate’s.  I had tracked a link to the Collits family but had not joined the dots to Cadow Station at that point.  Here’s an email to my family about family history research regarding the Collits family that was about to link me in to Kate’s story.


15-02-2013 I was excited when I discovered that my ancestors had hired Kate Kelly when she arrived at Cadow Station in 1885 under the alias Ada Hennessey. Here’s a brief email to Tom and Elizabeth.


13-03-2013 Email from and to a writer friend about Kate and my desire to put a book together in addition to my plans for a travelling exhibition of paintings with story cards.


Between May – August 2013 I had attended workshops run by Arts OutWest, (a regional arts development organisation).  I sought further advice about how to move forward with my project and Tracey Callinan suggested I reach out to writer Merrill Findlay in Forbes who had done a lot of Kate Kelly research. I had been looking at the biennial River Arts Festival as a possible venue for my project for the 2015 event and Merrill was on the committee.


July 2013 Local artists started preparing for our Hill End open studio day and exhibition. I had to send through a photo to use in our promo material.  Pictured below you can see my Kate Kelly story cards written and taped to the wall and an early version of what ended up being the image ‘Til Death Do Us Part, also pictured. The photo of me with the final version was taken by journalist Diana Plater when she came out to interview me for the Sydney Morning Herald in 2016, having met her in China while doing a Red Gate Gallery Residency in Beijing, January 2016.

Towards the end of July a few of the women Hill End artists got together and I was freely discussing my Kate Kelly project with Genevieve Carroll, Raquel Mezzina and others at Julie Williams holiday house here in Hill End. I felt I was heading towards the home stretch of my project and felt comfortable in sharing my project ideas, research findings and excitement with fellow artists.

bex studio 2013      Studio Diana Plater shot 2016

1 August 2013 I had started to seek out funding opportunities and made contact with two curators and arts writers plus a senior artist, people I knew and trusted with great credentials, who agreed to come on board with my project for a funding application.


6-08-2013 I contacted Merrill Findlay about my Kate Kelly Project and sent a proposal to her and Adam Quinn, both were on the committee for the RAF in Forbes. From this I arranged to show my Kate Kelly works at the 2015 River Arts Festival, which did eventually happen despite venues being sold at the last minute!


2013 Local artist Luke Sciberas lent me the book by Peter Carey True History of The Kelly Gang, knowing I was working on my Kate Kelly project.


By 2014  I had dedicated three years to researching, painting and writing for my Kate Kelly exhibition and book, trying to do a thorough job for the memory of Kate and offer something that had not been done before. I continued with my project and went on to achieve all the things I set out to do; to paint Kate Kelly’s life, uncover new information and stories about her, put a book together and travel the exhibition.

At many of the exhibition venues I have presented talks on my research and paintings about Kate’s life, most recently in London at Kensington Library, 2018 and I continue to research her and produce artwork about her (most recently exhibited in London 2018).  Many people continue to contact me with stories about Kate and the Kelly and Foster families and that has added to the richness of Kate’s story and my work.  I am very grateful to those people for contacting me. My book Kate Kelly:  Sister of an Outlaw continues to sell and is available through good book stores and distributors as well as at the Forbes Museum and Forbes Tourist Centre.

2015 – 2018 Itinerary for Kate Kelly: Sister of an Outlaw –  travelling exhibition, artist talks and book.

April 2015 –  Virgin Walls Gallery, Blackheath. Pictured with Tracey Callinan (Arts OutWest CEO) and Margot Jolly (Director River Arts Festival) who opened the show.

invitationrwilson    11121795_1624134081149817_6047705302540688133_o

June 2015 – Jean Bellette Gallery, Hill End. Pictured with BRC Mayor Gary Rush and Curator Sarah Gurich Bathurst Regional Art Gallery

BRAG Front    KK Invite back large                                                                              mayor-me-sarah.jpg

July 2015 –  Leichhardt Library, Leichhardt, Sydney, Exhibition and talk.  Pictured with Margot Jolly and Councillor Jamie Parker previous Mayor of Leichhardt.

leichhardt_library_almanac_FINAL copy  L1

September 2015 –  B Block Gallery, Orange TAFE, Exhibition and talk

Orange Final Invitation

October 2015 –  Rosie Johnston Gallery, as part of the River Arts Festival, Forbes. Pictured with Margot Jolly (RAF), Elizabeth Rogers (Regional Arts NSW), Forbes Mayor Graeme Miller, Richard Morgan Forbes Council, Lisa Loader Orange Regional Gallery, Tracey Callinan (CEO Arts OutWest)

KK Forbes INvite  Forbes invite screenshot group shot

November 2015 – Bainz Gallery, Wangaratta Library, Victoria

Wangaratta Invite

June – July 2016 –  Grenfell Art Gallery, Grenfell Picture: Appearance on Studio 10, Channel Ten’s National Morning Show

Kate Invitation Grenfell    Studio Ten shot small final

November 2017 – Parkes Library, Parkes Exhibition and talk

KK Exhibition Parkes Invite       KK Talk Invite Parke1m

July 2018 –  Parallax Art Fair, London, Talk at Kensington Library, London