In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Republic of Love
  • Delia Falconer (bio)

I, Mary the Larrikin, tart of Jerilderie, have loved for roast beef and I have loved for the feather on a well-trimmed hat. In my room above the hotel bar I have felt a squatter's spurs and sucked once on a bishop's fingers. The perfumes of my thighs have greased many a stockman's saddle and kept him company through lonely nights. Men can nose out my room from thirty miles away, their saddlebags tight and heavy with desire. But of all the men I have ever loved, Ned Kelly, dead three years before they put him in the ground, stole my heart away.

It is hard work loving a dead man: your pillow a gravestone, your arms a confessional. Dead men crawl into your bed at night and evaporate like steam with the rising of the sun. I never saw Kelly in the even light of day. Instead I saw the shadows of candle smoke drift across the smoothness of his hips. I dug my fingertips into the silver squares of window cast upon the muscles of his arms. But I saw enough and felt the rest with my famous mouth and hands. I can tell you that the insides of his thighs had been smoothed by the saddle. He was covered with scars paler than moonlight. He had a foreskin as soft as a horse's inner lip.

Mostly we fucked like greedy children trying to hold on to an Indian summer. Our love had ripened out of season, and each full moon hung heavy on the frailest stem of night. But sometimes, in the quiet hour, when his beard rested on my breasts, Kelly told me about the Republic of Love.

* * *

In the Republic of Love, said Kelly, there will be no police to eavesdrop on our sleep. We will dream no more in timid whispers but laugh as loud as kookaburras in the dark. Our desires will dive through the hills like flocks of night birds. The dawn will echo with the yapping of our hopes.

* * *

In the springtime, when the snows melted, the ground was so damp it rotted beneath a horse's feet. In the morning, clouds clung to the roads like sullen cobwebs. By midday they peeled off the mountainsides and stacked themselves like sodden hay in tiered bales that reached towards a hidden sun. It was a time for wet and stumbling love. [End Page 100]

I am an indoor girl myself, but I could read Kelly's body like a map and feel what it was like gullying and ungullying through the deep-scored seams that marked those brilliant hills. After three days' ride, his stirrups had stained the tops of his feet with orange. His wideawake was filled with melted hail up to the edges of its brim. When he hung his trousers by the fireplace, the clouds that had caught in his pockets unfurled and rose up to the corners of the room. His whiskers had been brushed backwards by the stormy winds and stood out from his face. Scratch my beard for me, Mary my love, he said, for it is crawling with lightning. I felt blue sparks crackle beneath my fingertips.

I stood naked before him. He wrapped his cool green sash around my waist and came in close to tie the bow. He said he held all the softness of Ireland wrapped up as a Christmas gift. When we lay on his jacket before the fire to make our clumsy love, I felt mud slide across the surface of my skin. For weeks it bore the purple scent of Salvation Jane.

* * *

In the Republic of Love, Kelly said, we will soak beds thick with emerald sheets and curtains. There will be so much bread to go around that we will scoop out the hearts of loaves and use them for our babies' cradles. They will nestle in the warmth of the fresh-baked centres and rock sideways on the curving crusts.

* * *

Shortly before we met, Kelly had begun to rustle horses. He would come to me from the hills at night, his belly full of parrot. I...