Saturday, September 3, 2011

Ned Kelly: Part 1


Ned Kelly, photographed the day before his execution by hanging on 11 November 1880
(Click on images to enlarge)

For the rest of the coming week I will be posting the story of Ned Kelly in various parts, as well as other items.  The story is fascinating and well worth the read.

Australian authorities have identified the remains of bushranger Ned Kelly, 131 years after the iconic outcast was hanged for murder and his body buried in the yard of a Melbourne gaol.  But mystery remains over the location of Kelly's skull, which was last thought to have sat on the desk of a Victorian state police detective in 1929.  Scientists have used DNA from Kelly's great great nephew to identify the bushranger's bones from others in a mass prison grave.

-        News report 2 September 2011

The identification of Ned Kelly's remains has again focused attention on him and his place in history:  cold blooded killer or folk hero?

Kelly’s escapades covered a brief 2 year period and he was aged only 25 when he was executed.  Before he was hanged, 4,000 people gathered at the Melbourne Hippodrome to plead for his life, with an equally large crowd outside.  His name has become synonymous with courage, the phrase “game as Ned Kelly” having become part of the Australian language, and he saw himself as a Robin Hood leading the poor, suffering workers against a vicious ruling class whose representatives were the police.

He and his gang killed 3 police officers and intended to slaughter an entire trainload of unsuspecting police officers, men with wives, children, parents and loved ones.

It is no wonder that opinion remains divided about him:

“There have been three major movies, a rock opera, two plays, a ballet, a jazz suite, several novels,  a ballad, innumerable songs, accounts in blank verse, reenactments on television  and he has inspired many great Australian painters and sculptors.
No Prime Minister, no explorer, no painter, artist, singer, soldier, no other Australian in history has ever merited such attention.”
-        Keith Dunstan, Writer
Saint Ned – The Story of the Near Sanctification of an Australian Outlaw

“In him we see ‘the nostalgia for the life of the free, the fearless and the bold’.”
-        Professor manning Clark, Historian
The Last of the Bushrangers

“One of the most cold-blooded, egotistical and utterly self-centred criminals who ever decorated the end of a rope in Australia.”
-       Malcom H Ellis, Historian
Royal Commission, 1881

“If a cog had slipped in time the Kelly Boys would have been on Gallipoli, one probably a VC winner.”
-       Dame Mable Brookes, Writer, activist, humanitarian and socialite
Letter to Donald Cameron, MLA, 1878

“Ned Kelly, although a murdere, fulfilled something of a national drea.  For two years he and his young comrades outwitted an entire police force, made it look ridiculous, then died with courage.  Of such stuff legends are made.”
-       Keith Dunstan

As with anyone, Kelly was not wholly good and not wholly bad, not wholly evil and not a saint.  But his life is an example of courage, striving against odds, rebellion, a will which refused to bow down or be beaten.  Above all, he is not just a folk hero, he is an Australian folk hero, as much a part of our history and culture as the wattle, the Eureka Stockade flag and Waltzing Matilda.  He is ours.

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