Saturday, 16 September 2017

Exactly when did Ned Kelly do something heroic?

This post is about the people who claim Ned Kelly was a hero.

What I would like to know from them is what exactly was it that he did that makes him a hero in their eyes. I don’t want to know what they BELIEVE about Ned Kelly, but what they KNOW about him that gave rise to their belief. So, I don’t want to be told they BELIEVE he was a devoted son, or that they think of him as Australias Robin Hood, or that they BELIEVE he and his family were so terribly persecuted and oppressed by the Police that in the end he had to ‘take a stand’, or that they BELIEVE he was going to establish a republic of North East Victoria. No, I want them to explain what they KNOW, what are the FACTS, what is the actual historical EVIDENCE that is the foundation for their BELIEFS about Ned Kelly. What facts can they point to that support the belief he was a devoted son? What facts can they point to that support the belief he was Australias Robin Hood, what facts can they point to that support their belief that the Kellys were persecuted or that Ned Kelly had a Republic in mind at Gleenrowan?

I can think of just two things that we KNOW about Ned Kelly that are on the positive side of the Ledger, facts that could possibly be said to support his ‘hero’ status, but I have to say, to be a real hero these two examples are nowhere near enough.

The first is his rescue of Richard Shelton from Hughes Creek in Avenel. This did actually happen, though as readers of this blog will know there are some lingering doubts about exactly how heroic this deed was. The stories of this rescue mostly describe a raging torrent, but the year of the rescue was one of severe drought, and though one of the Kelly sympathisers claimed he had read many reports of rain and floods that year, 1865, when asked to provide even ONE reference to them he went silent. This is quite typical behaviour for Kelly fanatics – they make claims about Kelly history but never back them up.  But lets give the 10 year old Ned Kelly the benefit of the doubt and accept that he rescued Richard Shelton from a raging torrent. Is that enough to make him an Australian hero and Legend? Of course it isn’t – no-where near enough. If it was enough, then my own father would be a national hero and Legend, as would a school friend of mine because they both, at separate times saved ME from drowning, once when I fell into the harbour off a fishing boat, aged about 6, and later, aged 8 when a strong river current pulled me out into deeper water and I couldn’t swim properly. So, no, rescuing Dick Shelton doesn’t make Ned Kelly a national hero.

The only other positive thing that we KNOW Ned Kelly did was to build his mother a house. But even that wasn’t entirely heroic as he had been living the glamourous life of a ‘rambling gambler’ and criminal stock thief for a couple of years all around Victoria, all the while ignoring the poverty and squalor that his mother and sisters were living in. But let’s give him credit for at least eventually realising her desperate plight and taking time out to lend a hand. But again, that’s nowhere near enough to justify giving Ned Kelly hero status.

So what else do we truly KNOW about Ned Kelly that could justify the status of icon and hero?

The answer, is very little.

Some may nominate the Jerilderie and Euroa bank robberies. Kelly sympathisers see these acts as heroic because in their eyes, Ned Kelly was defying authority and thumbing his nose at his persecutors, the Judiciary, and the Victoria Police. They think it was heroic because in some versions of the story he was trying to get the money together to fund an appeal against his mother’s conviction and gaoling for the attempted murder of Constable Fitzpatrick. The huge problem with THAT narrative is that though the Gang stole a HUGE amount of money – many hundreds of thousands of dollars in todays terms -  much more than would have been needed to fund an appeal, Ned Kelly DIDN’T use the money to fund an appeal or even give it to ‘the poor’. Instead he used it to buy protection for himself. He distributed it amongst friends and supporters who he relied on for assistance and protection in his bid to remain free, and soon these people were seen paying off bills buying fancy clothes and new saddles. The robberies were about purchasing the means to continue to resist arrest and evade capture. The claim he was trying to help his mother was just talk, and it was NEVER backed up by any action.

As for the claim the Kelly’s were victims of Police persecution and oppression and harassment, and this justified his robberies and defiant stand at Glenrowan - where are the facts, where is the evidence that justifies that belief? Surely everyone knows by now that the Royal Commission made an exhaustive investigation into the causes of the Outbreak and declared there was no evidence for such a claim.

In any case not many would agree that an armed gang of four murderers needed to be especially heroic or daring to overwhelm a couple of Police in two tiny rural villages. Neither would many regard threatening old men and women as particularly brave – but that’s what Kelly did. And very few Australians believe robbing banks at gunpoint and taking hostages is an activity that should result in hero status, no matter how cleverly or cheekily executed. And a couple of horse-riding stunts would hardly be amusing to people who had just been held hostage and had their lives threatened by a raving psychopath.  

As for the planned atrocity at Glenrowan, sympathisers claim heroic status for this failed attempt at a police massacre by claiming it was intended to be the founding of a Republic of North East Victoria, or if that’s not enough it was a further attempt to rob banks for money to defend his mother.  We already know the latter excuse holds no water, and the massive problem for the former is that there is not one shred of evidence anywhere that Ned Kelly ever contemplated such a thing as a Republic of North East Victoria. Ned Kelly was renown, and remains famous for his mouth, but in all the hours of lecturing that he delivered to hostages and in all the thousands of words that he wrote in letters, he never once mentioned a republic. Not once. Ever. Instead he vented page after page and speech after speech against police, paranoid delusions about being persecuted, and hateful violent rhetoric about revenge. The idea of a Republic are words put into Ned Kellys mouth by fools who cant see what an appalling liar and violent killer he was, fools who want to cling to a delusional belief that supports their own hatred of Police that Ned Kelly was someone to be admired because he taught the police a lesson.

So what was heroic about the robberies and about Glenrowan if they weren’t done to help Ned Kellys mother, and they weren’t done because the Kelly’s were unjustly persecuted? Whats left is raw criminal intent.

On the negative side of the Hero Ledger, these are the known historical facts : He was gaoled for assault, he was gaoled for indecent behaviour, he was gaoled for ‘feloniously receiving’, he beat Wild Wright to a pulp, he was the mastermind of a criminal stock thieving syndicate ( he said so himself!) he participated in the assault on Fitzpatrick and lied about it, he murdered three policemen, he imprisoned and made hostage farm workers and other citizens including women and children at Euroa and Jerilderie, he robbed two banks of many hundreds of thousands of dollars, he collected a formidable arsenal of guns, ammunition and gunpowder, and planned to murder dozens of police at Glenrowan. He sanctioned the murder of Aaron Sheritt. He created the mess that ended with the death of his own brother, two other friends and two innocent hostages. He also told far too many lies to list here. He was found guilty of murder and hanged.

The Kelly sympathisers, as usual will not attempt to answer any of this. That’s because they don’t have any answers. So, for everyone else: "Ned Kelly – hero or villain?" Its an absolute no brainer! 

Saturday, 9 September 2017

The SBC 'Draft Interpretation Strategy' misses the point.

September 8th 2017

Dear Mr Lucas
Thank you for keeping me informed about the ongoing plans to develop the site at Stringybark Creek, and the invitation to respond. Having read all the material supplied and thought about it for some time I wish to provide feedback and ask some questions about what’s being proposed.

Firstly, what preliminary research was undertaken to inform the developers of the Draft Strategy about the reasons people give for visiting Stringybark creek?

I ask this question because the strategy document talks of the ‘casual, free and independent visitor’ as being a typical visitor to the site, a characterisation which I believe would apply to very few of the actual people who go there. I would predict that if research was done, the typical visitor to SBC would not be a ‘casual’ visitor but a well informed and interested arrival who has made a deliberate plan to go there.  

The reason this question is important is because the interest of the visitors to SBC must surely be the driver of what is done there. The reality I am sure is that people don’t casually find themselves at the SBC site by accident. SBC is hard to find along winding unsealed roads, its very isolation forcing  people to deliberately seek it out. As a result, visitors to SBC would be an altogether different group from the ones who might stumble on Sir Redmond Barrys statue or the Old Melbourne Gaol while wandering around the streets of Melbourne. Those people may well be uninformed and appreciate information boards and the opportunity for an ‘interpretive experience’ . However, the people arriving at SBC are a different mob altogether, something which I believe the authors of this report have failed to realise.  They are people who would mostly already know the Kelly story and not be specially in need of information but have arrived there deliberately, and for another purpose entirely : they want to see the place where one of the sentinel events of the Kelly story happened. This is a prime motivator of tourist travel the world over, the desire to be at the place where history was made, to see the actual site itself.

But this motivation is summarily dismissed by the writer of this report saying that “This issue actually distracts from the essential messages to be interpreted”.  The writers patronising view is that people couldn’t possibly be interested in the actual place, but even if they are that’s  not important – what’s important is these messages provided for them to interpret. Don’t be distracted by your misguided interest in the location! Read these clever story boards instead!

I find this an astonishing position to adopt. It requires further explanation.

My second question relates to the very first sentence of the very first sign that visitors will read on the ‘Entry panel’ : “Welcome to the Stringybark Creek Historic Reserve – home to one of Australia’s most researched and analysed crime scenes” My question is why, having acknowledged that this ‘crime scene’ has been subjected to so much research and analysis, is the main focus of all that research and analysis not referred to, but actually dismissed as a distraction from the ‘essential messages to be interpreted”?

This question goes back to the earlier point, and reinforces it, that the thing  that dominates peoples interest in the SBC site itself  is the quest to discover where those murders actually happened. That has been where the main focus of all the research and analysis has been concentrated. Now, its inconceivable that the authors of this report were not aware of the continuing debate about that research and analysis into the exact place where the Police were killed. Completely and utterly inconceivable. So it’s curious that the draft interpretation strategy makes no mention of this controversy, makes no attempt to use the knowledge and the expertise of the various protagonists who have a deeper knowledge and understanding of the place than almost anyone, or makes any suggestions as to how the argument could be resolved.

I presume its because as a note in the letter recently received from DELWP says : “The project will not attempt to identify the exact site of the Police Camp on Stringybark Creek.” In other words DELWP had already made a determination that this subject was specifically excluded from the brief given to the Charles Wilson group.

My next question is therefore given that the most likely reason people go to SBC is to see the exact site of the Police Camp, why was this decision made, seemingly at the outset, to NOT attempt to identify it, who made it and on what basis was it made?  As I am sure both the DELWP managers and the writers of the draft strategy well know, amateur historians and archaeologists have narrowed the possible site of the Police camp to two places on the western bank of Stringybark Creek. Surely this was precisely the RIGHT moment to take the bull by the horns and commission professional archaeological research to investigate both these sites and confirm which site or neither of them or some other place is in fact the correct place. My reading of the amateur, but extensive and detailed research published in regard to those two sites leads me to believe the “Two Huts” site is the correct one, and if archaeological research can conform it so much the better. But if the professional research shows its somewhere else, that won’t concern me in the slightest – what’s important is that if it’s at all possible, the site be properly identified wherever it is. I think everyone involved in the discussions about the exact site would support that view.

To find it and identify it properly would also provide the visitors to SBC with the one thing they particularly want when they drive all the way out there : to see the actual site of the camp and the place where the police were murdered. They don’t drive all that way to get something as banal as information – that’s already available to them, and in far greater detail in their homes on the internet, in their schools and libraries, in museums and in the myriad other places throughout Kelly country where the Kelly story is remembered. No, people come to SBC  to see and experience and absorb the vibe and the atmosphere of the place, just as they do when they visit other sites that record history, tragedy and triumph the world over. They  come to  see the actual place, to feel, to listen to reflect and remember, to pay their respects; they are already informed – they don’t come to read about it yet again. To dismiss this interest as ‘a distraction’ is arrogant and out of touch.

I’ve visited sites of other atrocities both in Australia and overseas, and I’m thinking here of Dallas, Texas where JFK was assassinated, of the Twin towers site in New York, of Hiroshima, and of course the Broad Arrow CafĂ© at Port Arthur. These places are not crowded with information boards about the criminal history of the murderers and assassins, about their origins, motives, family connections or their ultimate destiny. Their weapons and their faces are not on display. These places have not been turned into outdoor schoolrooms crammed with maps and charts and illustrations, as if people come there to be informed, to be entertained, to be part of an outdoor education experience. No, these places  are kept bare and simple and quiet, they are maintained as places where people come to feel, to remember, to reflect, to imagine and above all to continue the memory and pay their respects to innocent murder victims. Museums and interpretive centres exist, and can be found elsewhere, but the sites themselves are more or less unadorned.

This of course is what should be happening at Stringybark Creek.

In my view, more than anything else this site should be about the murdered Police, and the tone should be reverential, respectful and aimed at one thing only: honouring the Police. This is not the place for any kind of reflection or deference to the murderers – there are already innumerable statues, museums, tourist ventures and the like to commemorate all that elsewhere. Neither should this be a place where anyone who isn’t aware of what happened at SBC should expect to have their interest in the detail satisfied. DELWP can redirect them to appropriate places such as its own web page if it would like to create one. This place should be a memorial. Anything more is the real distraction.

I therefore urge DELWP to reject this draft strategic plan. It misses the point about why people go to SBC and so its strategy is aimed at entirely the wrong population. It also fails, by focussing on education and information rather than on the sacrifices of the murdered police, and supporting respect, reflection and the honouring of their memory.

Additionally I urge DELWP to reconsider its inexplicable decision not to attempt to identify the exact site of the  police camp on Stringybark Creek. This is precisely the right time to do exactly that and resolve the issue once and for all. It was unfortunate that signage for years directed visitors to the wrong place, but its hardly any better to direct them to no place at all when they come to SBC to see it, to pay their respects to fallen Police. I urge DELWP to acknowledge the extensive work and insights gained by the amateur archaeologists, and pay  due respect to the memory of the murdered Police by  commissioning a proper archaeological study of the two proposed sites, and any other site they may think warrants investigation.

Once the results of the investigations are known, and hopefully the camp site properly identified, then that place, wherever it is will become the proper focus of any Heritage values at SBC. The visitor experience will then be truly authentic, and the police sacrifice finally and respectfully acknowledged at long last.

I look forward to your responses in due course

Sunday, 3 September 2017

The Madness of the CSI Case

This is the actual place everyone is arguing about. This image was captured less than a week after Ned Kelly murdered Police right there, in that very place, by those logs. There are many things about this photo and its twin photo that have been debated at length over the years, and the debate goes on.

But lets discuss two things about this photo this week, two things that are absolutely crucial to the CSI teams argument about exactly where this photo was taken. They are two arguments that you MUST accept if you are going to give any credence what-so-ever to the CSI site near the modern day ‘Kelly tree’. If you cant accept these two arguments of theirs, its game over. If the boat wont float theres no point in arguing over how many propellers it had or what colour the Funnel was!

High up on the trunk of the large tree on the right is a black blob thats been called a 'burl' by the CSI team. It looks a bit like a map of Tasmania - no vulgarity intended - and the CSI team say its the same blob they noticed on a tree in a photo taken many years later at the so-called Kelly Tree. This one looks like a map of Japan – several bits in close proximity -  but they argue they are the same blob. So, having identified the same blob in two different photos, they say they’ve identified the same tree and therefore the two photos were taken in the same place. That’s their argument, in a ‘nut’-shell.

But if someone tried to convince you the map of Tasmania and the map of Japan were the same would you think they were dreamin’?   I think this is one of those ‘Emperor has no clothes’ moments – someone needs to pipe up and loudly say, well no, they are most emphatically NOT the same shape. Stop trying to convince us the Emperor is splendidly dressed – he’s not. Those two shapes are not the same. Stop it! Drop it. Move on. Linking these two photos in that way is absurd.

But that’s one argument you will have to swallow if you want to go with the CSI proposal.

The second one relates to the people in the photo. As everyone knows, after Lonigan was killed, the Gang waited with McIntyre for Scanlan and Kennedy to return, and when they were heard approaching the camp, Ned Kelly concealed himself behind a log and told McIntyre to sit on the log across to his left. Soon enough Kennedy appeared in the clearing, approaching from the North.

Now, Burman, the photographer who took this photo was taken to the spot by Monk, a man who a few days earlier was a member of the party that went looking for Kennedys body. McIntyre himself had returned to SBC with the search party and he showed Monk exactly what happened. This was within 48 hours of it all happening, so McIntyres memory would have been crystal clear. So, a day or two later when Monk took Burman back to the same place, he explained to him what McIntyre had shown him and Burman recreated the scene for his photo.

So look at the photo and what do you see: someone pretending to be Ned Kelly, crouched down with his rifle behind the log, to his left, seated, someone pretending to be McIntyre and both of them looking ahead at an approaching figure, his arm raised in salute – Kennedy, approaching from the north.

Now, thinking about how recently all this had happened, and who gave the information to Burman about where people were seated and so on, and given the presence of all these other people, the ‘actors’ in the photo who were probably as well informed as Monk was about what had happened there, ask yourself whats the chance that Burman got it all wrong? Not just a little bit wrong but completely arse-about face, with people facing south, sitting on and hiding behind the wrong side of the logs, and Kennedy approaching from the south? Somewhere between ‘Buckleys’ and none I would say.

But if you are going to accept the CSI argument about where the Police camp was, the CSI argument requires you to believe that Burman got it all wrong! It’s a crucial part of their argument but if you can’t accept their highly improbable proposition that Burman got it all wrong then you can’t back their case. Simple as that.

So if you know  anyone who lends support to the CSI teams site, ask them to explain explain why Burman got it all wrong, and if they think  the map of Tasmania and the map of Japan are the same. Don’t waste your time arguing with them about spear grass and seasonal soaks and if a creek can be a spring – these are all red herrings – the crucial argument is contained within Burman’s photograph. And we haven’t even needed to talk about the slope!