Thursday 30 October 2014

Book Review: The Kelly Hunters

According to the review of this book by Frank Clune on the greatest Kelly website in the world, the author “sets out to tell the story his way and succeeds quite well”. It would have been useful to read what exactly is meant by "his" way, and why he manages it "quite" well rather than say "very" well but thats about all you get, other than the assessment that its worth 4 out of 5 “Kellys”. It also states that a hardcover copy in mint condition “will set you back a few dollars”

I found my hardback edition in the True Crime section of a large second-hand bookstore and it set me back $10, which is a "few" dollars I suppose.  Needless to say it wasn’t in mint condition, but I was very pleased to get it, and have been enjoying reading it the last few days.

I was particularly interested to read this book because it was published sixty years ago, 1954, and as you can see above was subtitled “ The Authentic, Impartial  History of the Life and Times Of Edward Kelly, the Ironclad Outlaw” .  I was interested to find out how the story was being told long before most of the Kelly books now available were written, well before the influence of writers like Ian Jones and Peter Fitzsimons, well before the greatest Kelly website in the world, and the internet itself came into existence, well before Mick Jagger and Heath Ledger glamourized Kellys life in  movies, and well before the 2000 Sydney Olympics gave the Kelly image a huge boost in the mind of the Australian public. There had only been a handful of publications on the Kelly outbreak till then – Max Browns “Australian Son” six years earlier, JJ Kinneallys “The Complete Inner History of the Kelly gang” from 1929, Chomleys 1900  “The True Story of the Kelly Gang of Bushrangers” are all listed in the Bibliography, but he also lists in his “Kellyana” at the end of the book a huge number of  references, serials and articles from magazines and newspapers, extending right back to 1880. My hope was that this account, having been written 60 years closer to the “outbreak” and well before the “modern” era of Kelly belief, and with an intention to be “impartial” might provide a better insight into the historical truths of the story, and some hints as to how it may have been evolving.

What I discovered were of course many surprising differences, additions and omissions from Kelly stories as told in the more recent works by people like Ian Jones and Peter  Fitzsimons. For example, the person Ned Kelly rescued from a flooded creek is an adult in this book, and theres no mention of the famous sash Kelly was presented with for saving him from drowning.  The punch-up between Ned Kelly and Wild Wright isn’t mentioned and neither is the accusation often leveled at Constable Fitzpatrick that he in some way molested Kate Kelly; the wound  Fitzpatrick received in the fracas at the Kellys’ is caused by knocking his wrist against a door-catch and no bullets are fired by anyone; there’s no mention of Red Kellys alcoholism and its role in the disintegration of his families’ prospects and in his premature death, and no mention of a role for  “sympathisers” at Glenrowan, either inside Ann Jones Inn or  lurking about in the darkness outside it. 

However, the most notable difference,  in my view, is the complete absence from this book of any mention of a plan involving the founding of a “Republic of North East Victoria”, or of anything similar. This  notion is currently in favour among the believers as the ultimate objective, and the justification for the events that began with the murder of Aaron Sheritt. It was supposed to have ended not as it did with the siege at Glenrowan and the death of three of the gang and the capture of Ned Kelly, but with the carnage  of the planned train-wreck, and thereafter, somehow,  a popular rebellion and the establishment of a Republic of North East Victoria.  But even though the Republic idea had been discussed by Max Brown 6 years previously in “Australian Son”, unlike modern writers, Clune  was obviously not persuded that such a concept occupied the minds of the Kelly Gang, preferring to believe that what Ian Jones called the “madness” of the planned slaughter at Glenrowan was purely about revenge and about killing Police and the hated Black Trackers. Rather than a high Political ideal, according to Clune, the Glenrowan fiasco was prompted by the frustration of being on the run, and the fear of the massive rewards being offered causing someone to betray the Gang:

“The nervous strain of dodging invisible pursuers affected Neds morale and judgment…the Kellys had been reduced to desperation, not mainly by Nicolsons doings but by the presence of the Queensland Black Trackers, and by the bitter knowledge that some of their friends and relations, such as Pat Quinn, were willing to betray them for “blood money” The man they hated most was Aaron Sheritt….”

“For the Police, and especially for the Black Trackers and the secret agents they developed a burning hatred fanned by hours of talk among themselves on a topic that could never be forgotten by the hunted men – what move would the hunters make next? What cunning move?

Harassed they evolved a plan to take the initiative and strike a blow which would result in the wholesale slaughter of their foes”

I think Clune could  have also added into the mix of motivations, the gangs overblown and misplaced sense that they and the greater Kelly families were unjustly persecuted by Police. His view of the Gangs plans for Glenrowan accords more directly with the known facts, and I am sure is much closer to the truth, unpleasant as it is.  

As for being the “impartial” history of the Kelly Gang, I thought Clune gave the game away before the book had even started, in describing Ned Kelly as the “Iron Outlaw” in the subtitle – a somewhat glamorous, flattering  and partial descriptor if ever there was one. Indeed, Clunes sympathies were clearly with the Gang, and at every opportunity the Government, the Police and squatters were routinely attacked, disbelieved, lampooned and  scorned:

“The Police force was constituted, like the Laws they enforced, not to protect the diggers but to protect those who legally preyed upon the diggers. The diggers could protect themselves against bushrangers and sneak thieves on the digging sbut they could not protect themselves against the law of the land, and against predatory business men and politicians.” P25

In contrast, the Kelly Gang mostly get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to ascribing motive, interpreting their actions and assessing outcomes, so for the Kelly sympathizer this book would be an enjoyable read, as the boot goes into the Police on a regular basis, and the heroism and courage of Ned Kelly is pointed out at every opportunity. However, his attempt to be impartial is not a complete failure and he paints a vivid and convincing picture of the events at Glenrowan that I enjoyed.

Overall this book is an interesting read but  of course theres nothing new in it. What it doesn’t say is as significant as what it does. What one realises on reading it in the 21st century is that though The Kelly Hunters is one of the books that contributed to the evolution of the Mythology about Ned Kelly, when it was first published that Mythology was still not fully developed. This book is a kind of "missing link" with evidence of the original truth, like a vestigial organ still visible for example in its views about Glenrowan, but there are hints of the developing Mythology as well, in its constant positive references to Ned Kelly and the negative attitudes to Police but as yet no sign of structures still to develop like the Republic.  The Kelly story has evolved considerably since  the 1950’s because, like evolution itself  Mythology seems to require the fog of time to really flourish. However in the 21st century the evidence now indicates that this evolutionary line is heading for extinction.

Tuesday 21 October 2014

Inconvenient truths about Stringybark Creek

Constable Thomas Lonigan
One of the more intriguing of the very many puzzles and unsolved mysteries of the Kelly story is the detail of exactly what happened when Constable Lonigan was shot and killed at Stringybark Creek. The puzzle that needs to be solved is the discrepancy between what  two witnesses said happened, and the findings of the Doctor who did the Postmortem on the policemans body, because they suggest something else. 

This is what Ned Kelly said in the Jerilderie Letter about the killing of Constable Lonigan when the Kelly Gang ambushed the Police at Stringybark Creek:

‘ ..when I called on them to throw up their hands McIntyre obeyed and Lonigan ran some six or seven yards to a battery of logs instead of dropping behind the one he was sitting on, he had just got to the logs and put his head up to take aim when I shot him that instant or he would have shot me….”

“As soon as I shot Lonigan he jumped up and staggered some distance from the logs with his hands raised and then fell, he surrendered but too late….’

There are a number of problems with this account. The first is that on the following day, when the body of Lonigan underwent a postmortem examination by Dr Samuel Reynolds of Mansfield, not one but three, or possibly four bullet wounds were found. Dr Reynolds described the lethal head wound where a bullet entered the brain diagonally through the right eye, but he also found a wound from a bullet that had passed right through Lonigans left arm, and another on his left thigh from which he extracted a small conical bullet. There was also a superficial wound, a graze, on Lonigans right temple that he thought was most probably also caused by a bullet.

The second problem is that in regard to the bullet that went into Lonigans brain, Dr Reynolds wrote “ death must have been almost instantaneous”  A bullet through the eye that carries parts of the skull into the brain would have rendered him instantly unconscious so one is left wondering how Lonigan could have jumped up with his hands raised and stagger about – and according to McIntyre cry out “Christ Ive been shot” . It is much more likely that if Lonigan did indeed stagger about and cry out, it was after one of the other non-fatal shots had struck him. 

One of the ways that Kelly sympathisers  have attempted to reconcile these apparent contradictions – one shot and three or four bullet wounds – is to propose that Lonigans thigh wound was self-inflicted . It has been suggested that in attempting to get his powerful Webley revolver out of its holster, in a panic he accidentally  discharged it into his left thigh. This would presuppose Lonigan was left handed, and able, while running for cover, in a few seconds to open the heavy holster that contained the gun , remove it and fire it from a position lateral to the thigh. However, as Ian MacFarlane points out in the Kelly Gang Unmasked, if that had indeed happened  there would have been a huge wound in Lonigans thigh and skin burn from the large muzzle-flash. Instead there was a track that crossed under the skin from outside to inside the thigh and the bullet remained lodged there. The suggestion the wound was self-inflicted makes no sense.

Another more popular attempt to explain the 4 wounds and Ned Kellys claim that Lonigan was only shot once was to suggest that Ned Kellys gun was loaded with a “quartered bullet”, which is to say, a bullet that had been cut with a knife into four separate pieces. Apparently such a practice was not unheard of. One shot, four bullet wounds!

The problem with that suggestion though is that its impossible to create trajectories for those four quarters emerging simultaneously from the barrel of a gun, on very similar but diverging  pathways such that  one of these quarters could enter Lonigans brain from in front of his head and off to the right, another could pass through his left arm, another enter his left thigh from the left and slightly behind, and the fourth graze his right temple. Not only that, they had to explain how the thigh injury could occur while Lonigan was behind a log pile. Ned Kelly reportedly said his gun could shoot around corners but even Ned Kellys bullets would not have been able to defy the laws of physics.

On my now sabotaged Ned Kelly Truth Forum earlier this year I tried to extract from sympathisers who supported this theory a precise description of the trajectory of those four “quarters”, but they didn’t even attempt it. What they would have had to do is explain how Lonigan would have been positioned for the parts of his body that were injured to all be facing Kellys gun at the same time.  Even a skilled contortionist couldn’t twist his body into such a shape that those four wounds could be created simultaneously by a quartered bullet. The reality is that the quartered bullets theory is nonsense –  it sounds superficially plausible but when examined closely it simply cannot account for the known wounds.

So we are left with the inescapable conclusion that at least three bullets hit Lonigan, and that Ned Kelly lied about it. There is another problem though : the only police survivor of the killings, Sergeant McIntyre also only reported a single shot!

Now I can understand why Ned Kelly might want to claim he fired only once and killed Lonigan outright – for one thing it enhances his reputation as a crack shot - but why would McIntyre only report one shot if there were more? The  best possible explanation of what happened that I can think  of is that there was a series of shots, perhaps quite close together with the last one being the fatal one, and McIntyre’s recollection of exactly what happened was faulty.

The reality was that McIntyre was caught up in a horrifying chaotic and frenzied attack on the Police party. Two of his work mates were murdered in front of him and he believed he was about to be murdered as well. Modern research has revealed clearly that eye-witness testimony and recall by people involved in car crashes, hold ups, violent crimes and murders is so unreliable as to be almost usleless. Memory is not laid down in the brain like a video recording of what happened but is a very fluid and changeable phenomenon that can be influenced, and almost always is, by many external and internal cues and suggestions.

Minor discrepancies in McIntyres various accounts of what happened at SBC have been highlighted by Kelly sympathisers as evidence that McIntyre was a liar and cannot be believed.  Ian Jones describes McIntyres testimony as “confused”. In fact, these discrepancies are the very human errors,  inconsistencies and contradictions that  demonstrate that his recollection was not at all contrived and manufactured, but a genuine testimony that demonstrates  McIntyres authenticity.  McIntyres motivation would be under greater suspicion if he only ever presented a perfectly coherent and consistent version of what happened.

For some reason the Kelly fanatics don’t apply the same reasoning to discrepancies in the various accounts of Ned Kelly, and call him a liar but he was reported to have told one of the hostages at the Euroa bank Robbery that he had fired twice at Lonigan, the second time while Lonigan was “in the act of throwing up his arms”. This actually sounds more truthful than the Jerilderie Letter version, and is a much better fit with the facts.

So what were the facts regarding the murder of Constable Thomas Lonigan? This is what I think happened : when he was ordered to bail up, he made a run for it. He didn’t have time to get his gun out and he never made it to the log pile but was shot at least once by Ned  - perhaps in the thigh. He cried out  and threw his hands up to surrender but was shot again, this time in the head,  and died shortly after. McIntyre didn’t see any of this – he was facing Kelly. Later, McIntyre could only remember the last fatal shot.
This is the image referred to by Bill in his comment below - I hope he won't mind me using it but if he does I will remove it. Its the best drawing of the site that Ive ever seen.
Later still, McIntyres recollections were published in the newspapers, and included his mistaken belief that Kelly had killed Lonigan with a single shot. We know Ned Kelly would have read this but, being unaware of the post mortem findings, decided it would be convenient and would enhance his reputation to let that mistaken recollection of a single shot become part of his story of what happened – who would be able to contradict him? And so, when he wrote the Jerilderie Letter, that’s what he wrote, forgetting that he had already told one of the hostages at the Euroa hold up that he had fired twice at Lonigan.

The confusion about how Lonigan died has  come about because everyone decided to believe Ned Kellys boast that he had killed Lonigan with a single shot, and then were obliged to perform whatever mental and logical gymnastics were necessary to defend it, and explain away inconvenient facts as they became known, even to the point of absurdity. To believe that Kelly didn’t lie and that he was a crack shot who killed Lonigan with a single shot, Kelly sympathisers are forced to believe in crazy theories that defy logic and physics, like the self inflicted wound,  the quartered bullet and the vision of a man with a lethal head injury walking and talking before collapsing. Even Peter Fitzsimons fell for it all and maintains the lie in his 2013 book on Ned Kelly.

However the forensic evidence, Ned Kellys own words at Euroa, and simple logic demonstrate unequivocally that Kellys boast was a lie. All it takes to realize this is a little bit of thought.

Tuesday 14 October 2014

Site Review : Eleven Mile Creek

There seems to be a diminishing number of web sites related to Ned Kelly, and the ones that are still accessible are seeing less and less activity –  theres a limit to what anyone can say and write about one historical figure, though of course arguments can go on for ever!

One site that has certainly seen reduced activity in the last year or two is at a site that I hope will continue to be available because it has an extensive archive of really interesting Posts from Sharon Hollingsworth and Dr Brian Stevenson, the two Kellyphiles that run it. I think they have written something about almost everything possible in the Kelly story, and they have commented on and provided links to many if not all of the media discussions over the last four years that were in any way related to the Kelly story. Unfortunately some of the Links are now dead – eg to old Weeklytimes articles – but the latest innovation, of having a Guest Contributor  will hopefully  revitalize the Blog  a little. Brian MacDonald’s contribution was excellent.

As you might imagine, the creators of such an interesting site,Brian and Sharon are two very interesting people. 

Firstly, I am not sure that they have ever met, as Brian lives in Queensland and Sharon, who lives in the US has never been to Australia – maybe Brian has visited her there – I am not sure - but their collaboration has been more or less entirely  “Virtual”. Secondly, though Sharon is an avowed Ned Kelly fan, and Brian is a declared “Skeptic”, they have managed to successfully collaborate and produce a wonderful blog for four years – an example of tolerance and the respect for different points of view that is sadly rare in the Kelly world. Thirdly, to my surprise they are both continuing members of the Ned Kelly Forum – though its clear prominent NKF members entertain deep suspicions  and jealousies about both of them. In fact Brian and Sharon are not “Members” of the NKF – after the most recent purge of members because of a “Security” scare – their status was downgraded to “Contributor” and they were excluded from the secret “Members” Forum. I would imagine that they think very carefully about what they post on NKF these days as the NKF leadership has proven itself in the past to be very intolerant of contrary opinions.

Brians intense interest and vast knowledge of Ned Kelly got him to the finals of the TV Quiz show The Einstein Factor in 2005, his topic being the Life and Times of Ned Kelly. He came  second – the winners topic was Dr Who. His most recent contribution was about a Sexologist! But he has written a great 3 part dissection of the book the NKF refuse to allow discussion of, the Kelly Gang Unmasked, and a review of a PhD thesis on the “Social History of Kelly Country” among many other serious and not so serious contributions.

Sharon is also an expert on Ned Kelly. Peter Fitzsimons called her the “world expert on Ned Kelly “  last year when he asked her to look at the final draft of his Kelly book, and she apparently found 25 mistakes  not identified by  the 6 Kelly experts who had already  checked it ! Recently she has written a review of the re-issue in book form of a newspaper cartoon serial, and before that of a novel in which Ned Kelly is  a Zombie Hunter. Its fun to read her review as she clearly has a great sense of humour  and enjoys writing.

So, these two unlikely collaborators have created a Blog with many very interesting Posts, all of which are out there waiting to be read and re-read. There are posts which are both “pro” and “anti” Ned Kelly and there is no vitriol or  name calling, there seems to be respect for all sides and for the Police and authority – all in all it’s a great place to browse, an almost perfect Kelly web site.

Saturday 4 October 2014

No Debate

A Gallup Poll conducted in the USA in May this year revealed that 42% of US Citizens believe the Earth is less than 10,000 years old and that evolution  didn’t happen, so-called “young-earth creationism” How is it possible that so many Americans cling to the beliefs that were orthodox 150 years ago but which have since  been overturned by mountains of research evidence to the contrary?

One of the tactics used by proponents of fringe and often discredited viewpoints – I am thinking of  the 9/11 conspiracy theorists, and climate skeptics as well as creationists  – is to claim that there is an ongoing unresolved debate about the truth of the matter, and therefore nobody can rule out either argument. This clever device has the effect of giving undeserved status to discredited arguments and maintains a tolerance to those views in the minds of the general public, most of whom are not familiar with the intricacies of the arguments. This is borne out by another finding of the Poll, that creationist belief was most common among the least well educated: 57% of people who hadn’t completed high school were young earth creationists, whereas of those who completed College, only 27% were.

What on earth has that  got to do with Ned Kelly you might be wondering!

Well, I have been trying to understand how it is that despite the mountains of evidence to the contrary, Ned Kelly is still regarded not just favourably but in some cases reverentially by a sizable proportion of the Australian populace. Seven years ago an Australian survey reported that when asked to pick a word that  best described Ned Kelly, 22% chose “Icon”.

There are of course many reasons why people cling to beliefs that are not supported or are even contradicted by evidence – I have already suggested some Kelly sympathizers are like religious fundamentalists – but like the creationist tactic mentioned above, one contributing reason for the persistence of the “Icon” view of Ned Kelly is the promotion by Kelly sympathizers that there is still an ongoing debate about whether or not Ned Kelly was a good man or a bad man. 

Peter Fitzsimons adopted this strategy to promote sales of his Kelly book when he was on the road and the radio last year. Time and again he told the story of how two kids responded when he asked them if Ned Kelly a good man or a bad man; one said “Good man” at the same time as the other said “Bad man” This of course is exactly what Peter wants, and so do Kelly sympathizers: they want to maintain the idea in the mind of the public that its almost impossible to decide. This is the only way in which their view, that he was an Icon can hold any currency. If they were to say OK lets work it out, what they know, and fear, is that their precious Icon would be found to be a false God.

I discussed this idea briefly in the Forum of mine that was sabotaged by a Ned Kelly Forum member. I pointed out another instance of the use of this “fence sitting” tactic  by Fitzsimons when asked what his final conclusions were about Kelly after all the research he did . He would then defer to someone else, a Kelly hagiographer  who apparently first described Kelly as “somewhere between a villainous hero and a heroic villain” , a cute phrase that says absolutely nothing. It is not an answer. It is a sidestep: everyone is somewhere between some sort of hero and some sort of villain!

The reality is that we CAN answer the question about what kind of person Ned Kelly was. There is mountains of evidence in the reported and recorded words of Ned Kelly and in his deeds that testify to the sort of person he was. However Kelly sympathisers don’t want to have to answer that question, and be forced to defend their answer because there is almost nothing to back up their view that he was an icon. Instead, if asked that question they resort to a sidestepping tactic designed to create the impression that the answer is still a matter of debate. It isn’t. Ned Kelly was not an Icon.