I read a story once about how ideas come to us. That they pick particular people who are susceptible, almost like the ideas themselves have sentience. They pick the people susceptible and infect them, as a parasite would, until they are born into the world. In 2017, 70 years to the day after Sidney Nolan completed his infamous first Kelly Series, a selection of 26 works on board that documented the trials and tribulations of Australia’s most revered bush ranger, I had an idea; or rather the idea took over me. I had a burning drive to knit the entire Kelly series as a series of jumpers. Of wearable homages to the paintings which changed western representations of the Australian landscape forever. This idea has refused to leave me, and like a compulsion I am determined to complete the project.
I grew up on the stories and escapades of a boy named Kelly nicknamed Ned. My ancestors were Kellys, a proud Irish history tempered by the bitter reality of lower class living in South West Australia. My grandmother, one of the last of her line, so attached to the name, named her second son Kelly as a preservation of her own legacy. Stories of this boy and the Ned Kelly of Australian bushranging legend became a swirl of intertwined and mingled narratives in the retelling of my father’s youth.
Combining family histories and inherited narratives from my father’s family and the knitting and handicraft skills passed down through my mother’s matriarchal line, this work is a meditation on shared lived experiences, constructed legend and the implications of legacy, myth and folklore in the telling of personal tales set against the tapestry of colonial Australian histories. This project is an ongoing project where I have given myself a series of parameters towards its ultimate completion. Like Kelly’s original series, I too will have two years to complete the body of work (calculated by combining the weeks each work takes to finish). Once completed each jumper is “gifted” to an Australian artist to wear until the completion of the entire project. The works exist in the world, and adapt to the bodies who facilitate their exposure.