Saturday 27 December 2014

End of year Blog Review:

“Ned Kelly : Death of a Legend” Blog has now been on-line for just over 7 months, having started in May 2014. It started slowly, with only 426 visits in  June, but interest in the Blog has increased every month, and quite quickly, so December was the busiest, with over 2700 visits, over 700 more than November, and nearly 60 comments. I had made a dozen Posts before someone finally decided to contribute a Comment , but more recently there have been many comments on every Post, and some interesting debates conducted via the Comments pages. I hope they will continue, and become an important part of this site in 2015. To date there have been over 9800 visitors and 175 comments, and the fanatics who wrecked my earlier Forums and boasted they would do the same to this one have been outsmarted. While the Forums and Facebook Pages dedicated to Kelly fanaticism have been limping along, and looking terminal in terms of reader participation,  “Ned Kelly : Death of a Legend”  has been going from strength to strength.

I  owe  at least some thanks for our survival to Blogger, who have a more mature policy than do the hosts of  Proboards  and Forumjar regarding  losers who fabricate claims of  copyright infringement and manufactured “offense” as a tactic to have arguments they cant refute removed from the internet. This cowardly behavior, abetted by gutless administrators at those places, wrecked my first few attempts at providing a space for alternative Kelly discussions to take place on the Internet. Fortunately this same tactic has not been successful with Blogger, though numerous attempts were made early on, as well as what proved to be empty threats of more to come. If you look at the Blog Posts in June one is listed as “Unavailable”. I could delete that notice altogether, placed there by Blogger but I have left it so anyone who wants can click on the link provided to Chilling and read the pathetic  complaint that was made about this Blog, a  complaint that illustrates that its author has no idea about what constitutes copyright - anything at all that is in the "Public domain" can be quoted or commented on, subject to "fair use" and various other qualifications. Comment is not an infringement of copyright, or defamatory just because you don’t like it.

The following is a summary of the Posts, and Links to most of what has been discussed on the Blog in 2014; Clicking will take you to the Post:

Kelly Websites :
  • Iron Icon  Bill Denhelds amazing site
  • 11 Mile Creek Sharon and Brians site I described as almost perfect
  • Ned Kelly Forum has potential but paralysed by paranoia
  • Ironoutlaw vast, extremely "pro kelly" and at times nasty but can be usefully informative, now dying. 
  • Ned Kelly on You Tube A Debate about Ned with Derryn Hinch, the Human Headline.
Kelly Books

Kelly Myths and Misconceptions

Kelly Sympathiser Behaviour
  • Religious fanaticism I point out the similarities between the behaviour and attitudes of some Kelly sympathisers and Religious fanatics 
  • Dee is not Ian Kelly fanatics mad and mistaken obsession with my identity
  • “Neducation”  Their made up word for made up Kelly history
  • Stepping into the Kelly world My first experiences
  • Fake debate Pretending nobody can decide if Ned was good or bad, as a way of preventing the Myth from being buried for good
  • Fanatics in retreat Pointing out their deletions from Facebook and Web pages to cover their tracks when found out making stuff up

Ned Kelly
  • Reflections on the crown jewels Neds juvenile behaviour that he bragged about even as an adult
  • The Making of Ned Kelly and here and here too. A start on trying to understand better the influences that produced Ned Kelly             
  • Self defence I propose  Neds case ought to have been successful, because the "self defence" argument should be based on what he BELIEVED to be true, not on whether or not what he believed was ACTUALLY true ( and it wasn't ) 
  • Psychopath Discussion of the controversial but well supported opinion of a Forensic Psychiatrist, who shows Ned Kellys behaviour fits the pattern of a Psychopath.
  • Liar  Modern writers conceal their knowledge that Ned Kelly was a notorious liar.

Note that at top left of the Home page is a search engine  that will search the blog for  Posts that contain any words you care to enter.

I have heaps of ideas for Posts next year, and am looking forward to continuing the debate, and uncovering and learning more about the history of Ned Kelly and the Kelly story. I am exploring the “Forum” option again, as I think the Blog format is not particularly conducive to open and free flowing debate, and  I am also vaguely wondering about a Book at some time in the future, as suggested in a number of comments.

All in all, after some false starts and disappointments, 2014 has been a good year for the  rollback of myths and for the uncovering of the truth about Ned Kelly. Long may it continue.

Wednesday 24 December 2014

Xmas Spirit

Ned Kelly Air Freshener (Caramel Scent)

Processing Time: 1 - 2 Days

These Air Fresheners to hang in your Car, a great Xmas Present,  can be bought from 

For a long time Ive been thinking I should write something nice about Ned Kelly. And what better time than Xmas, to write something nice, something positive and kind instead of what I usually do, which is focus on the many distortions, inaccuracies and outright falsities that make up so much of the Kelly story?

The problem with what I usually do, or at least what I have been writing till now, is that it leaves some people thinking that I am “anti-Kelly” that I hate Ned Kelly, that I am “hateful” “deeceitful” and “a troll” trying to rid the world of Ned Kelly and the devotees who venerate his memory.  Ive also been bundled up with anyone else who is not a Kelly fanatic, and who dares mention “The Kelly Gang Unmasked” in other than horror-struck condemnation as in some way an apologist for it, linked to its author and his family and therefore utterly to be condemned.

These tactics are all what is known as “ad hominem” arguments , which is to say they are entirely invalid arguments aimed at  a person rather than the arguments themselves.  The point is, whether I hate Ned Kelly or not, whether I am “dee”ceitful or not, indeed what my identity actually is,  has no impact at all on an argument about, say, what Ned Kellys intentions were at Glenrowan, or whether or not there is any evidence to support the notion that Ned Kelly was Australia’s Robin Hood. I really wish Kelly devotees would get that. I really wish they would concentrate on the arguments rather than descend to personal attack, label anyone who disagrees with them as Trolls, or worse, and set up a Forum designed to exclude such people even READING what is there!

But for the record let me state it plainly: I do not hate Ned Kelly, and never have. I could never hate such an extraordinary and singular young man. Hate is a negative and destructive emotion that springs from ignorance and fear, and the antidote to hate is knowledge and understanding.  Whats more,  I doubt very much that any of the many and various other people who have commented on this Blog in support of me, or Bill, or Mr MacFarlane or the Queensland Psychiatrist hate Ned either.  In fact, I would guess we are all fascinated by Ned Kelly, and by the history of the Kelly outbreak, by the early history of Australia and of Victoria , of colonization, Gold rushes, of Bushranging,  and Eureka. I know I certainly am, and as I warned earlier “exploring the history of Ned Kelly and the Kelly gang can become an obsession, such is the complexity and the richness of this extraordinary story”. We are all fascinated and curious and want to understand as much as we can about this historically significant time in the history of Australia, and its central towering figure, the complex and commanding , and ultimately deeply tragic figure of Ned Kelly.

We are all asking the same question : who was he?

There is of course, a group who think they already have the answers to that question, and they defend their answers with a ferocious zeal that takes no prisoners. They see him as Max Brown did, a persecuted messianic figure ultimately losing his gallant fight against corruption in high places. Others of us disagree – in fact we know for certain, as I have been pointing out on this Blog, that much of the story, as it is popularly understood, is in fact misunderstood. Much of the story, as we are seeing , is mythology rather than historical truth, and its historical truth that’s important to most of us. In fact, in my view  it is disrespectful and dishonoring to Ned Kellys memory to promote and venerate a sanitized and  inaccurate myth rather than the truth about him. So, I am not trying to make Ned Kelly go away, or even to make those who idolize him go away. Instead what I am trying to do is engage with people who are interested, curious, fascinated, horrified, adore or despise Ned Kelly in a debate about him and his times, to maintain some sort of contact with what he truly was rather than see him smothered  and buried under layer upon layer of idolatrous myth.

As far as saying something nice about Ned Kelly is concerned, I am reminded of Politicians who are often asked at election time by journalists, to say something nice about their opponent, and if they do, they only manage it through gritted teeth. However, theres no doubt Ned Kelly was handsome and physically strong, theres no doubt he had a way with words, and no doubt at times, he could be very charming. 

I wish every one of my readers a very Merry Xmas, and all the Best for a prosperous New Year.

Saturday 20 December 2014

Ned Kelly : Australian Son

"Ned Kelly: Australian Son" can be purchased from the worlds greatest Kelly website, where its described  as a “masterpiece”  and “that perfect gift”.  They’ve recently reduced the price from $34.95 to $29.95, with free Australia wide postage ,  but on the Angus and Robertson web page its RRP is $27.45.  I saw an old copy for sale in a second hand bookshop recently for $18 so I snapped it up, and was looking forward to reading it, and reviewing it for the Blog. Given the above, I had high hopes for it.

Craig Cormick, editor of “Ned Kelly Under the Microscope” which was published this year (2014) asked himself at the beginning if there was any point in publishing yet another work about Ned Kelly, and  - self evidently -  decided there was. It surprised me then, that even in 1948, when this book was published, its author was also asking himself the same question : 

“Why, otherwise should I add to the packed shelf of Kellyana?

The author, Max Brown was born in Invercargill, (a place in New Zealand brought to our attention by Sir Anthony Hopkins when he played another man born in Invercargill, Bert Hopkins, in the movie “The worlds fastest Indian” a personal favourite). But Max Brown was educated in Melbourne and lived in Australia from a young age. Ian Jones calls him “Kellys first biographer”, perhaps because he felt Australian Son was the first truly comprehensive retelling of the already frequently told story. Of his own work, “A Short Life” Ian Jones says he wrote it because Kenneallys  1929“Complete Inner History” was not “complete”,  and Chomleys 1900 “True story” was not “true”. The reason Max Brown decided to write his biography of Ned Kelly is explained somewhat obliquely in the Foreword: 

“People are not remembered for nothing; and Kelly, over seventy years dead, his own defence long denied a hearing, will not lie down. Why otherwise would I add to the packed shelf of Kellyana?”

In other words “Australian Son” was intended to be the “long denied” defence of Ned Kelly and the Kelly gangs exploits.What follows is a highly romanticised account that perhaps in 1948 was not so well known, but nowadays is the familiar chronology of  the main events of the Kelly saga. Browns style seems heavily influenced by an attempt at Creative Writing that descends into somewhat purple prose:

“But, dream as I can in the shadow of the Alps where these four young bushmen rode, I shall never savour the tang of their voices, hear them laugh or curse, feel with my hand against their hearts, the impact of the first great disaster – of their summer of triumphs when the telegraph flung their deeds across the world, of the days of waiting and boredom towards the end, and of their final ill-starred attempt to come to terms with the police and officials they never ceased to contend had harried them without just cause”

And in another place:
“But the poor from the Bluff to Cape York talked constantly of Kelly. The barefoot kids ran down to the corner or out to the butter box beside the road to get the paper. And by word of mouth and from Pub to Pub along a thousand roads and rough bush tracks, yellow at noon and purple in the twilight spread and grew the legend of four bush lads who could imagine nothing better than to live and love light-heartedly and die in non-entity along the green plains between their stony hills”

Whew! This is heady stuff!

But the account is  not just romanticized, it is also very partisan, as advertised in the Foreword, with almost nothing in the way of analysis or reflection or a critique of anything the Kellys did, and almost unrelentingly negative portrayal of Police, Squatters and Authority in general. For example, throughout the book, Brown quotes bush ballads of the time – these universally idolize the  Kellys and make fun of the police

           “The Kellys are having a very fine time
             In the ranges not far away
             And we on their tracks think it mighty fine fun
             To be doing nothing all day”

And this is typical of Browns assessment of the Police:

“So the battle drifted as spinelessly as any before or since – Dan and Steve relishing neither escape or surrender, fearing that Ned as well as Joe had been killed and the Police still awed by the fabulous name of Kelly, waiting for daylight, the arrival of new reinforcements or some plan from their leaders”

and later

"If a full dress finale were needed to illustrate the slovenliness of two years of police pursuit perhaps Glenrowan might claim some distinction. The only moment  of the whole sprawling Kelly drama in which the Police could claim achievement ,had been made suspect by the very callousness the outlaws contended had driven them into opposition - the wanton killing of Johnny Jones George Metcalf and Martin Cherry and the wounding of several women and children by the very force which should have been their protectors.”

Of Detective Ward
“…well known in the district where his affairs with servant girls were common gossip and whose waxed moustache gave the lie to his many disguises”

Of Judge Redmond Barry
“Barrys family in fact had been oppressors of the welsh and the irish since the time of William the Conqueror”

In relation to selector crimes, on the other hand, Max  Brown provides  more than excuses – he elevates their activities almost to the level of a patriots duty :

“It was little wonder that he (the selector ) sometimes entered the rich mans fence at night and killed a ewe for meat”

“…their (selector) “lawlessness” was a necessary part in the development of Australia from a giant sheep paddock into a nation…” 

In relation to the terror of being held hostage at Euroa, he relates this conversation without reflection :
“Oh mother are we all to be shot?” he said
“Don’t be silly George, we are all right”
But then a thought flashed through her mind and she looked wildly at her husband who put his hand on her arm and said
“Don’t get nervous now Susy; it will be alright in the end”

and at the end of the chapter quotes Mrs Scott

“ There was a great deal of personality about Ned Kelly and he knew how to control men and circumstances. His management of the Euroa affair was good, he seemed to consider everything and knew exactly what to do for the best. He would have made a magnificent general…”

The impression is created that the entire Euroa event was a campaign characterized by  gallantry and military style precision, whereas , as recent events in Sydney remind us, and is hinted at perhaps in the conversation with the frightened child, hostage taking and violent threats at gunpoint terrify and traumatise its victims and often leave lifelong scars. But there is no hint of this in “Australian Son” It is completely lacking in self criticism and honest reflection.

At the end of the book for some reason that’s not explained, the full text of the Cameron and Jerilderie letters are appended, and like the book  itself there is no attempt at analysis or reflection or commentary on what it all means.  There is also an Index but no bibliography, so none of Browns sources can be checked independently, which is something modern readers have come to expect from writers of history and biography, a deficiency which in my view significantly reduces the value of this book as a resource.

I can well understand why modern day sympathisers would enjoy “Australian Son” as its dominant themes are the veneration of Ned and the Gang, and a denigration of authority, and of the Police. One should not be surprised at this, given that the author makes his intentions plain at the outset, but I tired of being forced to look at things from such a skewed perspective, and having to wonder if I am really reading history, or historical romance.  I still think the best biography by far is Ian Jones “A Short Life”. Ian Jones is at least as much a sympathiser as Max Brown, but a Short Life is a much better read. “Australian Son” I am afraid is not a masterpiece but hagiography, and only true believers would really enjoy it.

As Margaret and David would say "I'm giving it two stars."

Saturday 29 November 2014

Body Straps: What is the evidence?

13th December : Please read UPDATED COMMENTS

A central claim in the Kelly mythology is that when the Police headed into the Wombat ranges in search of Ned and Dan Kelly, their intention was not to capture them but to kill them. Ned Kelly submitted what he believed were two proofs of this, the first being the reported statement of Senior Constable Strahan: 

“I’ll shoot him down like a dog. I’ll carry two revolvers and one I’ll place by his side and swear that he had it on him when I shot him” 

The problem with this quote is that it was provided by Neds Uncle, Patrick Quinn.

Kellys second proof that the Police intention was to kill rather than capture was the type and the quantity of arms and ammunition the Police brought with them. Such an armamentarium, in Ned Kellys eyes at least, could only mean one thing : they were planning to kill him. In fact, it means nothing of the sort – there are many sound reasons why Police would want to take with  them more than just the standard issue when heading into the Bush on a campaign that may have taken weeks, against an armed foe wanted for attempted murder of a Policeman.

And why, if their intention was to kill the Kellys did the Police take handcuffs? They provide much better physical proof of intent than do the possession of guns or the claims of family members because handcuffs only have one use – the apprehension of living suspects.

Later claims about the Police being in disguise, and that they didn’t have the correct warrants  with them are not relevant to the question of what the Police intended to do once they found the Kellys.

However, something that might have been relevant in the discussion about Police intent, but was never mentioned at the time, is something claimed in more recent tellings of the Kelly story, that the search party took “body straps” with them. These are long custom made leather straps designed to assist in the transport of a corpse on horseback.  More than anything else body straps could be seen as the “smoking gun” in the Police parties kit, though , given they were tracking a suspect accused of attempted murder of a Policeman, their presence could also suggest they feared Kellys next attempts might be successful - as indeed they were.

Latter day retellings of the events at Stringybark Creek almost never fail to mention the body straps, and to label their presence as proof of the murderous intent of the searching Police, and thereby justification of Neds actions. You can hear Mr Trevor Monti a self proclaimed Kelly historian and Victorian Barrister list them as one of the “facts” about SBC that he wanted to pass on to Derryn Hinch in a  video that I mentioned in my post in July  “Ned Kelly on You Tube”.

Whats curious about this claim though, is that there is no evidence that it was ever made at the time, either before during or after Neds trial or by Ned or McIntyre in any of their recorded statements about everything that happened there, yet nowdays its almost the centerpiece of the argument about Police intent. Body straps are not mentioned in the 1948 publication “Ned Kelly ; Australian son” by Max Brown, or in  1954 in “The Kelly Hunters”, two highly sympathetic retellings of the Kelly story. However, Peter Fitzsimons, author of the most recent of the Kelly biographies (2013) not only mentions the body straps as being central to the self defence argument in Court, he names the Mansfield saddler who made them : Charles Boles.

To me, it seemed peculiar that this significant piece of evidence, something that is now regarded as vital to the case , was completely overlooked at the time. The Kelly Gang ransacked the Police camp after the killing had stopped, stealing weapns, ammunition, money and personal posessions  but never mentioned the presence of this “smoking gun”  Surely they would have if they had found it?

Peter Fitzsimons provides no reference for the source of his claims about the body straps, so  I started with “Ned Kelly : A Short Life” my favourite Kelly Biography.   In the chapter on SBC Jones writes “The Mansfield Saddler Boles revealed that the party carried two long straps, specially made to sling a pair of bodies on either side of their pack-horse” and in the notes to this chapter, he references this statement to his earlier work “The Fatal Friendship”

This is what is written in the Fatal Friendship on the topic :
“The party’s equipment included unusually long straps, designed to be looped around a pair of bodies so they could be slung, straight on either side of a pack horse. Bodies draped over a horse in the time honored way of Westerns, stiffened into impractical shapes”(pp63)
In the footnotes to this chapter he writes
Straps for carrying bodies,Kinnear Papers, transcribed by the author, 1952. "Two long straps 10 feet by 3 inches wide to strap bodies on the pack horse. These were made by Boles the Mansfield saddler and are now in 1934 in the possession of J.Egan farmers of Mansfield"

Ian MacFarlane in The Kelly Gang Unmasked regards this story as “far fetched” because the search party was so seriously under-funded that they had to borrow tents and the additional arms they acquired.  Under those strained financial circumstances it makes no sense that they would have gone to the expense of paying for customized body straps when they knew how to make them for free by buckling together stirrups and reins – and indeed used this very method to bring  back the bodies of their dead comrades.

Nevertheless I decided to track down the Kinnear papers, Ian Jones source for this information, to read for myself the original material. Unfortunately neither of those two publications of his includes a proper Bibliography, a regrettable absence from these otherwise excellent resources. In his Notes  Jones says that he “transcribed” them in 1952 but unfortunately doesn’t provide any further information as to what precisely he is referring to as the Kinnear papers. However I found a reference to an 1880 publication “History of the Kelly Gang of Bushrangers” published by D Kinnear Brown and Co. and kept in the reference section of the Mitchell Library of NSW.  I visited the Library recently and read the “History of the  Kelly Gang” – even photo-copies are not permitted – but there is no mention within it anywhere of body straps.

I also came across an entry about one Edward Hoare Kinnear, in the  Australian  Dictionary of Biography. Listed in the “Select Bibliography” attached to this entry is a reference to the “family and business papers held by Kinnears Ltd Melbourne”  The Biographical details refer to the business empire of the Kinnear Family of Moonee Ponds and Footscray, but nothing to suggest any assosciation between them and Kelly Country or the Kelly Outbreak…..

So what  is to be made of  Jones claim that Police took body-straps into the Wombat Ranges? Essentially it is presently an unverifiable,  inherently unlikely story, and one which is not included in any of the earliest accounts of the events at Stringybark Creek.  The failure of early accounts to mention them requires an explanation : the ominous presence of body straps would almost certainly have been noted and commented on at length if indeed they were there. However the claims about them only appear publically generations after the events in question, at a time when nobody  would be able to either verify or contradict them. The inclusion of a specific year, 1934, in Jones’ reference suggests that may have been where the story first began to take shape, perhaps as an oral tradition attached to the straps that came into the possession of the Egan family of Mansfield, a story whose origins were not in historical fact but in the vague and wishful mists of time.  If the descendants of the 1934 "Egan farmers of Mansfield" are still in the area it would be interesting to find out from them what they know of this story and if indeed those straps are still in their possession. The straps would be a fascinating and valuable piece of Kelly memorabilia and there would be great public interest in them - but the fact they are presently unknown suggests to me they are lost to history if they ever did exist. Ian Jones also has reported being told about the existence of a document prepared by Ned Kelly that declared North East Victoria a Republic, but in more than 50 years of searching it hasn't been located - one is forced to the inevitable conclusion that the reports of its existence were mistaken. I am inclined to think the reports of body straps are also mistaken.

There is certainly no current evidence or compelling reason to believe that the body straps story is anything other than yet one more of the baseless Kelly Myths. However if anyone has information about what the Kinnear Papers are and where they can be consulted, or where those straps might be, I would be delighted to hear about it.