Sidney Nolan, Kelly
[imagined detail],1955,
ripolin enamel on hardboard
 Sidney Nolan, a painting
[remembered detail],
ripolin enamel on hardboard

Sidney Nolan's image of Ned Kelly, the helmeted outlawis a well known Australian icon. In the painting, though, Kelly's black helmet(imagined above) is empty. The outlaw's body is present but the visor is filledwith an image of the sky with which the helmet is also surrounded. In thisessay Kelly's helmet is mobilised as a metaphor for various spaces. It isimagined as signifying:

  • a site of displacement from human body
  • computer screen
  • "readerly" virtual space
  • and other (inter)textual spaces.2
In "Unhelmeted", a poem which explores incest survival, thehelmet becomes both a pun for the "hell met" of incest and a symbol of thesingle bed where children often lay at night, in fear. This poem is written bya fictive child.

Throughout this essay, which will exist as both anentity to be printed and as a web-site, various (inter)texts and images willenmesh and part company; clash while entwining both on and off-screen, bothinside and outside readerly spaces.3 The web site versionexplores the capacity of that medium to avail to its readers a greater degreeof intertextual potential than that possible in a book, but the printed versionwill be constructed in an imaginative way as well (preferably with colourimages).

The poem "Unhelmeted" will form part of this essay/web-site, as willexcerpts from "Imaginative Reading,V", a web-site in 15 paragraphs co-assembled by Diane Caney and RobinPetterd. These fictive spaces will collide with the more theoretical aspects ofthe essay/web-site enabling readers to experience the process of intertextualauthoring as they assemble their own reading from the fragments of thiscollage-style (inter)text.

"Unhelmeted" began as an exploration of the artistic spaces in which theAustralian bushranger Ned Kelly is seen outside his helmet in Sidney Nolan'soeuvre. Four images were found and each image intertexts to some degree withPatrick White's writing. The faces began to signify freedom from the textualconstraints of academic reading practices. Outside the helmet (hell met) thefaces became, ironically, not the representation of the exterior of a person,but that which was inside the black box of the helmet: the vast intertextualassemblages that fluctuate inside every person: and then, especially, the painfelt by the child: that which had been locked away.

                                                                              With her mind
                                                  I dreamed the blue sky
                                          through an empty visor.
                       And without disguise
                                       I saw the shining face of childhood
                       and my tiny self,
             down the end of a gun-barrel ...
or was it an oval frame
        on a forgotten mantelpiece?
                       yes, I think it was ...
and I saw a child, older now, staring
           out of afading family album,
with crazy blue-green eyes,
                      looking like she wanted to kill someone.
          And even after that,
                       I discovered an anonymous girl, on drugs,
              a wild bush-teenager slapping ripolin onto some old
                       of masonite,
            her gun hovering
      like a ghost ...

           Ithink she died,
or went to sleep,
     perhaps, ona small pale pillow of hope
       setagainst a back-drop of despair ...
          but there's a burntsienna head floating,
                 in pools of jacaranda blue,
visible only to those who read,
     across and through
  and around ...
in the spaces where
   paint can merge
with thoughts
    and words
and something else ...
         but she's there, still
  as a Nolan Shakespeare
     or some other
                        utterly brilliant
                     that sings, sometimes
                                                 after dark.
      a child, onceupon a time
     © allrights reserved

"Unhelmeted" is intertextual in its construction, then, visiting four Sidney Nolan images (the only four I have found in his "Kelly" oeuvre) which display Kelly's head exposed outside his helmet; Patrick White's writing; my exploration of intertextuality; the poetry of Rimbaud; and my experience with incest survivors who are seeking to give voice to both pain and victory.4

The unhelmeted Nolan Kelly heads represent (for me) exposure, vulnerability and fragility. I suppose I have found that I am often trying to conceal the personal in creating my own external text-assemblages, but I find the process of reading is usually an attempt to unmask the text, to see with the mind of another (to borrow a line from Rimbaud): to see with HIS mind, to see with HER mind and mostly to see with MY mind.




Diane Caney, 1998
© all rights reserved



  • Barthes, Roland. "The Death of the Author." Twentieth Century Literary Theory. Ed. K. M. Newton. London: MacMillan, 1988.
  • Clark, Jane, ed. Nolan: Myths, Landscapes and Portraits, 1942 - 1964. Melbourne: Lauraine Diggins Gallery, 1987.
  • Dickinson, Emily. Final Harvest: Emily Dickinson's Poems. Ed. Thomas H. Johnson. Boston: Little, Brown, 1961.
  • Frame, Janet [Dr Janet Clutha]. Faces in the Water. London: The Women's Press, 1980.
  • Kristeva, Julia. Desire in Language. Ed. Leon S. Roudiez. Trans. Thomas Gora, Alice Jardine, & Leon S. Roudiez. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1984.
  • Johnson, Barbara. A World of Difference. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins U Press, 1987.


  • 1. Sidney Nolan, Kelly [as centaur] [imagined detail], 1955, ripolin enamel on hardboard, 81.5 x 100 cm, page 118 of Nolan: Myths, Landscapes and Portraits.
  • 2. By "readerly" I am not referring to Roland Barthes's description of the word. "Readerly" is used in this paper to infer those "private" spaces inhabited by readers. "Authorly" is used to describe the author as intertextual reader of her/his own work.
  • 3. These will include paintings by Sidney Nolan, Janet Frame's fiction, Patrick White's fiction, my own thesis on "reading intertextually", my own poetry, the poetry of Rimbaud and a co-assemblage made by Robin Petterd and Diane Caney: "Imaginative Reading, V: a web-site in 15 paragraphs" (http://www.otheredge.com.au/prj/imaginative/).
  • 4. These images will be posted on my web-site and copyright clearance can be sought if the group wishes to publish the images in the book.
  • 5. I term (inter)textuality that exists outside readers' bodies, material textuality and material intertextuality. I call (inter)textuality that takes place inside readerly space, virtual textuality and virtual intertextuality (as opposed to computer-generated virtual textualities, to which I refer as electronic textuality and electronic intertextuality). For the purposes of this paper I also mobilise the terms "inside" and "outside" to play with the notion of personal and extra-personal space, while always remaining aware that there are many philosophical problems associated with carrying these distinctions too far.
  • 6. I have chosen the semiotic graphic TM to designate transient meanings or transient moments in readerly interaction with texts and their intertexts because of its official meaning, 'Trademark,' which conveniently alludes to the uniqueness of each of these sets, and the personal ownership of the sets. Because meanings, perceptions, contents and surfaces are in continual flux, I prefer to use this symbol to mean transient moments (rather than transient meanings) so as not to delimit what sort of readerly interaction is taking place.