Saturday, 14 July 2018

Myth-busting

Make no mistake : the legend of a republic of north east Victoria is now rubble

The following is a critique of Steve Jagers response to the recent publication by Stuart Dawson of a free book that discusses the origins of the claim that the Glenrowan incident in 1880 was Ned Kellys attempt to establish a republic of north-east Victoria.  Its important to note that I am deliberately calling it a response to the ‘publication’ of Dawsons book rather than a response to the book itself – because firstly, according to Dawsons comment on my Blog, Jager had already published much of this material some years before.  Therefore it simply cannot possibly be regarded as a response or a refutation or in any way a direct challenge to the  material in Dawsons book, but is instead a re-issuing of a statement released by Steve Jager several years earlier of his reasons for believing the Republic idea has historical validity.

Secondly, Jager’s document can be seen to be a reaction to the publication of the book rather than to its content because, apart from two trivial exceptions he doesn’t directly address a single one of Dawson’s arguments. There is no attempt in Jagers article to refute Dawsons arguments – all Jager does is recycle historical claims about a republic, claims which are all directly dealt with in Dawsons book. To think Steves piece in any way undermines Dawsons claims is to reveal that you either havent read Dawsons book or else you didnt understand it, or what constitutes actual 'research'.

The two exceptions to Jagers practice of ignoring Dawsons book almost completely are found in the first couple of paragraphs, the first being a misinterpretation of what Dawson wrote.
The preface to the paper begins with, "It is a close examination of a longstanding claim, first made and promoted by influential Kelly historian Ian Jones from 1967 onwards...." Following is a collection of sources directly referencing Ned Kelly's republic from newspaper articles which predate Dawson's claims against Ian Jones by over 20 years!”
As the whole sentence and the rest of the book make clear, Dawson is NOT claiming that the Republic idea was introduced by Ian Jones from 1967 onwards. All he is saying is that 1967 was when Ian Jones began discussing it. So Jagers argument here falls flat, but for anyone who might not have read the book, it creates a bad, but entirely false and misleading impression.

A little further on, Jager wrote this:
Since the publication of Dr. Stuart Dawson's paper, he has also mentioned that Leo Kennedy who is the great grandson of Sergeant Michael Kennedy, will also be writing an article to mention that as a child he overheard a conversation in Shepparton between his father and Thomas Patrick Lloyd in which Lloyd mentioned he, "fed those nuisances a whole lot of nonsense" deliberately "to make them look stupid", in reference to Kelly researchers who had approached him for information regarding the republic.
By including this oral history as information to help try and back up his claims, Dr Stuart Dawson is effectively contradicting himself by trying to omit oral history with, oral history..”

Jagers point seems to be that you can’t dismiss one claim on the basis that its oral history and then expect to be believed if you then use oral history to make a claim of your own. In fact, oral history has a role to play in all historical research, but as Ian Jones himself said  “At times, it’s uncannily accurate. But even family tradition can come up with awful traps and inaccuracies”

As the various stories told by Thomas Lloyd illustrate, oral history can indeed be ‘problematic’. In fact, with perfect timing to illustrate my point, this very weekend a clash in oral history has been exposed with a living Lloyd descendant claiming that she sat in on the interview her father gave to Doug Morrissey, and the kelly republic was never discussed. Morrissey now asserts he has never met this woman, that her father gave him several interviews, that most definitely they discussed the republic, and Lloyd told Morissey it was a fabrication! So whose oral tradition are we going to accept? I am sure neither of these people are telling lies, and that there will be a perfectly sensible explanation as to why their two recollections seem to be incompatible, but until that has been found, who can be sure exactly what took place?

The point about oral history is that it shouldn’t be automatically rejected as  rubbish or immediately accepted as reliable history but instead claims need to be carefully scrutinised and used with caution.  On page 24 of his book Dawson discusses the place of oral tradition in the Kelly Republic story in detail, but Jager doesn’t discuss the arguments there. His point about oral tradition also falls flat : Dawson  does not contradict himself.

So, other than these two minor comments which miss their mark, Jager completely ignores the content of Dawsons book, and instead goes on to list and quote extensively from documents that he regards as supportive of the republic, but there is no attempt at any kind of analysis of any of them. In relation to the first two articles  that he lists he comments : As a Kelly researcher, the direct mention of papers and documents citing Kelly's plans cannot be overlooked on this subject.”  Indeed, but then Jager does overlook them, offering no further analysis of the origins or the reliability of these claims, something which Dawson most certainly does do.   

These two articles, from 1945 and 1947 are not just mentioned but discussed carefully by Dawson, who traces the origins of the claims in them, such as that ‘papers and documents citing Kellys plans’ were taken from Ned Kellys pocket when he was captured. He showed they are both linked to an article in the 1900 Bulletin which was what Dawson describes as a spoof. To illustrate : imagine someone wrote an article that was published in Spectator magazine proposing as a joke, that Chopper Read could have been Australia’s first president under the proposed republic. And suppose that years later someone saw that article but failed to recognise that it was satire, and then wrote a piece on the plan to install Chopper read as Australia’s first president. And then someone else quoted that article, took it a little more seriously…and so on, till eventually children were being told at school that Chopper Read was nearly Asutralias first president. THAT is exactly how the Republic story began and those two articles Jager mentions from 1945 and 1947 are examples of how later writers had started to lose sight of the fact that the original article was a joke. They started to write about the Republic as if it was true. Going forward, Brown picked up on the speculation and then Jones, McQuilton and Molony went to town on the idea and turned it into fully developed explanation which became accepted as fact.   To refute Dawsons claims Jager needed to address those arguments, not just point to those articles and pretend Dawson hadn’t already taken them into account in his book.

Next, Jager mentions an article from 1995 by Phil Maguire that talks about the fabled ‘Declaration’ supposed to have been taken from Ned Kellys pocket at Glenrowan and seen by Len Radic in 1962 in London. As a Kelly researcher, Jager ought to already have known that the original claim about documents taken from Neds pocket at capture, was a report of a ‘rumour’ – about letters and a notebook. It was nothing more than a rumour and yet from this ‘rumour’ all manner of totally baseless speculation has emerged about what the letters were, including speculation that one of them was a republican declaration. But here are the facts : that claim is speculation about a rumour! – there is absolutely zero evidence to support that claim. Its quite possible this rumour was baseless and nothing at all was taken from Ned Kellys pocket. But if something was taken, nobody has any idea what it was. This article by Maguire, and the role of Len Radic in the Kelly republic is extensively detailed in Dawsons book.  Jagers response to the book should have been a response to the arguments Dawson made in it about the article and about Radic. Simply reposting the Maguire article and not addressing Dawsons remarks about it is pointless. Recycling speculation about a rumour is not ‘research’.

Jager  next provides a link to a speech about the Kelly republic given by John Phillips former Chief Justice of Victoria. Again, there is no commentary, and certainly no mention of the fact that in his book, Dawson examines all Phillips’ claims, and answers them in great detail.

Lastly, Jager lists a number of phrases plucked out of the Jerilderie letter and from a couple of letters written by an anonymous ‘Lady’ and speculates that these are clues to the existence of Kelly's Republic/Rebellion”. It is of course a long bow to draw, given that none of them actually mention a republic, and neither did Ned Kelly. In fact  nobody then or for many decades afterwards saw what Jager sees in those same words, and Jim Kelly, Thomas Lloyd, James Ryan and J J Kenneally all believed that the Kelly story without a Republic chapter was the  ‘complete’ story.

To the people who praised Steve Jagers research, and to Steve Jager himself, I say it  was a commendable effort, but there’s a lot more to research than just posting a list of other peoples claims and opinions. Real research requires tracking down of every one of those claims, not just a section of them, and careful analysis of them; it requires tracing claims back to their sources, looking for every possible relevant piece of evidence, and it requires a rational and logical discussion and conclusions. And when it comes to the Kelly republic myth, that’s exactly what Stuart Dawson has done.


Saturday, 7 July 2018

Life After the Republic


I wrote on Facebook that last week was going to be a massive week for the Kelly World, and it turned out to be even bigger than I was expecting, with the release of the second of Doug Morrissey’s works about the Kelly outbreak a few days ago. My copy hasn’t arrived yet but once it does and I’ve had  time to read it I will post my review of it here. If anyone else reads it and wants to write a review for posting here that would be most welcome.

The least momentous of the events on the Kelly Calendar in the last week was the Siege Dinner last Saturday night, which came and went without a murmur.  I was amazed to learn afterwards that Grantlee Kieza spoke at the dinner but this hadn’t been mentioned anywhere beforehand which makes no sense at all. Why  a fund-raiser and NK Centre promotor Joanne Griffiths wouldn’t  advertise her star attraction is weird – more people would have come, more funds would have  been raised…. A week later, there are still no reports on the NK Center Facebook page about what happened, and the Ned Kelly Center website is still a blank page “Under Construction. In fact, I think its pretty obvious she realises her only hope is to extract funding from the public purse. These ‘fund raisers’ and the ‘petition’ are just stunts aimed at local and state governments in the hope they will be persuaded to hand over millions of  public dollars to her NK Center. God forbid!


This massive Kelly week  actually got under way a couple of days before the siege dinner, last Thursday, June 28th with an announcement that Matthew Holmes the movie director was launching a project to make a movie called “Glenrowan”. About a year before he had attempted to crowd-fund a movie they were going to call “The Legend of Ned Kelly”, but were unsuccessful. Now they are saying that there is so much in the Kelly story that it would be almost impossible to have done justice to it in one film so instead he and Aidan Phelan have written a script that focusses just on the siege at Glenrowan. Aidan Phelan invited readers to submit questions about the movie on his Bushranger Facebook page – about the only place I am not banned from – so I submitted four. Phelan answered them all very intelligently and I was most especially interested to learn that the Glenrowan movie will NOT mention the Kelly Republic of North east Victoria. Phelan says HERE “There is no tangible evidence that we can point to as proof of the concept, only anecdotal evidence that can’t be verified at this stage, and oral histories. No doubt this will upset a lot of ‘kelly-ites’ and will cause a lot of anti-kelly commentators to pat themselves on the back but it all comes down to our dedication to providing the facts of the story”  Well said Aidan.

I also asked if they would depict the bullying and humiliation that I wrote about on the Blog a couple of weeks ago, of eighteen-year-old John Delaney. Disappointingly, Phelan says that after initially including it, they later dropped that scene due to time constraints, but remarked that it was “a really fantastic moment narratively and historically because it really will cause the audience to question their opinions of Ned, and that’s what the whole film is about, Its about questioning the accepted version of things” So, wouldn't it be better to leave it in?

But you could have knocked me over with a feather! This is a dramatic turnaround from a year ago when I was blocked from their website for asking questions. This year they are not only accepting questions from me but answering them. And the answers are very encouraging. However I would urge them to put the Delaney scene back in and not waste too much time on things like hop-skip-jump competitions and more scenes than are necessary showing wood splintering under police fire, and bottles shattering on shelves as the hostages scream and cower on the floor, as in The Last Outlaw. The indications are that if they stick to the facts as they say they will, this could be a very violent film. Phelan was most emphatic that Aaron Sherrits murder will be part of the movie, and I have no doubt they will show in great detail every death at the Inn, Neds every wound, Hare collapsing from blood lost from his shattered wrist, Joe Byrnes body strung up, the burned corpses of Steve and Dan…. And will it end with a hanging? It will be a couple of years before we find out.

The most important announcement last week for the Kelly world, by a country mile, was of course the release of Stuart Dawsons book, Ned Kelly and the Myth of a Republic of North east Victoria. Morrissey’s book will set you back about forty bucks but Dawson, in an act of incredible generosity is giving away the results of several years of intense research for absolutely nothing. The free PDF can be downloaded from HERE and so nobody who claims to be interested in Kelly history has any excuse for not printing it off and reading it. Its an absolute landmark Kelly publication.  Predictably, the Kelly FB sites are almost completely silent about it - they’re all more interested in the movie that’s two years away - but no-body seems to have noticed the fact that their movie is going to back up Dawson’s conclusion, that their beloved Kelly Republic is a myth – that’s why it won’t be in the movie.

An article about Dawson’s free book appeared in the Border Mail. They say all publicity is good publicity so at least readers will know that Dawson’s book is out there, but I thought the article was typical tabloid trash, the lowest quality of journalism. The fact the book is available on the internet for free wasn’t mentioned and yet that is surely a major point of difference between that Kelly work and every other one that’s ever been created? I suppose the  writer was concerned that if he mentioned Dawsons book was available for free people might read it. Instead the lazy journalist tried to turn the debate into an attack on Ian Jones, a beloved figure in the north-east. Dawson rightly declined an interview, trying to avoid the journalists attempt to focus on personalities rather than the actual arguments and evidence presented in the book.  But that wasn’t good enough for the hack who then gave Ian Jones and Matt Shore most of the column inches to attack Dawson’s book even though both of these people hadn’t ever read it.  What a ridiculous joke! How on earth can the opinions of people who have never even seen a work be relevant in an article about it?

Imagine a reviewer saying I’ve never seen this movie, this Art exhibition, this play, I’ve never driven this new car, eaten at this new restaurant, heard this new album – but I’ll  speak from a position of complete ignorance and tell you what I think of it!

So what did these commentators have to say? Ian Jones went for Dawsons throat, as he has done in the past when other authors have published stuff he doesn’t agree with, questioning his motives, and resorting to patronising sarcasm “…they have to say it doesn’t exist because obviously they are so bright if it did exist they would know about it” He also mentioned arguments for the republic that are directly and fully addressed in the book. If Jones  had read them he may well have been speechless.

Matt Shore said he had spoken to a man who claims to have seen the Republic Declaration but he wouldn’t go public because “he would be treated akin to somebody that believes in UFOs”. Exactly! People who make claims without evidence can be dismissed without evidence. No credibility needs to be attached to it. Read the book Matt and you will see what I mean. As a Kelly history custodian your view of the book is worth hearing.

What SHOULD have happened is that once the journalist discovered both his sources hadn’t read the book, if they weren’t prepared to say “let me read it first”, he should have said “get back to me when you have”. Then you might have seen a quality piece of journalism. Instead we got rubbish.


Modern Kelly supporters are having a big struggle even imagining a Kelly story without a Republic – but here’s the interesting thing: for the majority of its life, there was no Republic myth in the Kelly story. Jim Kelly and Tom Lloyd and James Ryan supported Kelly but didn’t know anything about a Republic. JJ Kenneally had no trouble hailing Kelly as a hero without a republic myth. Same with Clune and Brown, Osbourne, Graham Jones and other Kelly writers down the years. None of them believed in a Republic. The important fact that Dawson has proven in his book, is that the Kelly republic idea has only  been a serious part of the Kelly story for maybe 40 of the last 140 years,  a very recent ‘add-on’ to the Kelly story, an attractive and clever embellishment that enhances the story and redeems the horrors of Glenrowan – but it’s an unhistorical artefact, a motivation and a plan that was never real, it wasn’t ever a part of the outbreak.


So Kelly followers, the good news is that history shows that you can safely accept the facts, the logic and the arguments of Dawson’s book that the Kelly republic is a Kelly Myth, not believe in the Republic and yet still be a sympathiser -  just like most of the sympathisers who have gone before you. There are still plenty of reasons for you to continue to be fascinated by the Kelly story, but now you can safely dump the Republic and be more like the original, old-time Kelly sympathiser! Clinging to the republic myth, from now on, will be seen as akin to believing in UFO’s. Wacky!