Sunday 27 September 2015

The Last Outlaw : Part One

Described on the DVD box as “The Classic Australian Miniseries”, The Last Outlaw, is yet another Kelly creation of Ian Jones, and yet another self-proclaimed “True Story”.  Produced to celebrate the centenary of Ned Kelly’s death, this four part made-for-TV mini-series was said at the time, 1980, to be "the most ambitious and costly series yet mounted by Australian television Much was made at the time of the effort that was expended in making everything about the series as historically accurate as possible. It won awards.

I have at last found the time to watch it. The four episodes last an hour and a half each, and in this Post I will review the first episode, which covers five years of the life of Ned Kelly, from 1869 to 1874.

The first thing one notices is that it has a very 80’s TV kind of look to it. It may well have been cutting edge when produced but its now very dated – for example the action is awfully drawn out and slow, something I doubt would be acceptable to modern TV audiences. The scenes are often quite theatrical, such as those  around the Kelly kitchen table, where the camera observes from one end of the table where one chair conveniently remains unoccupied so the view of the others isn’t obscured – its as if the screenplay was designed for a stage Play.

In any event, apart from Harry Power, the characters in Part One are terribly wooden. Harry Power however is colourfully played, and is the only one who seems to have real personality. However his exploits are portrayed as a sort of game, and are accompanied by jolly music which wrongly makes highway robbery seem to be something jovial  when of course  for the victims they're frightening and traumatic. By contrast John Jarratt portrays Ned Kelly as a pale and naïve, too-well behaved dullard, devoted to his mother in a supine and sentimental way who has almost nothing to say for himself. Wild Wright on the other hand is an unbelievable caricature of a ruffian, and the fight between him and Ned Kelly drags on and on with tedious repetition of the fake punches, the aghast spectators and close ups of bloody faces with fake blood on them, and Ned and Wild alternately dragging themselves up out of the dust to then floor the other. 

In so far as historical accuracy is concerned, I got the impression that the costumes and street scenes and the external appearance of the Kelly houses were indeed true to the original. However, as poverty stricken selectors I thought the Kellys were all much too clean and too well dressed, and the interior shots of their bark hut made it look very middle class, not at all squalid as it was actually described as, at the time by Nicolson.  More importantly though, its very apparent right from the beginning that in the telling of the story, what is told is very much the view of Ian Jones, a man who is an avowed Kelly Sympathiser. Thus, Kelly is portrayed as mild mannered and polite, almost devoid of personality or passion – an overdone saccharine kind of Saint. In keeping with that image Ned is shown meekly, almost reluctantly holding the reins of horses while Power robs people on the highway, and then when they are shot at, Ned cowers in a kind of mute catatonia.  Jones sets out as true what we now know as the myth that Ned was in innocent possession of the horse borrowed by Wild Wright, and later, the naïve Ned Kelly is talked into becoming a horse thief by George King, a possibility it would seem that had never once entered the pure mind of Ned himself. Shame on George for corrupting the saintly Ned!!

However, in addition to the sins of commission, there are even greater sins of omission in this episode, things the average viewer would not realize were missing, and as a result, anyone other than a Kellyphile would unknowingly derive a highly skewed and inaccurate understanding of Ned Kellys life story. Significantly, Ian Jones begins the story AFTER Neds lucky acquittal on a charge of assaulting a Chinaman in 1869, and he only mentions the McCormick incident in passing even though it resulted in Ned serving time for assault and indecent behavior.  The prior history of growing up in an atmosphere of resentment and suspicion of the English and of authority, of Reds decline into alcoholism, of multiple episodes of family violence and trouble with the law – all this is ignored, yet these were all hugely influential in shaping the life and attitudes and behaviors of the growing Ned Kelly, and knowledge of them crucial to a proper understanding of his story. The decision to commence the story telling after these significant negative events in Ned Kellys young life can only be seen as a deliberately chosen tactic designed to bolster the myth of  Ned Kellys innocence and render less explicable the Police interest in the Kellys, and make it look more like sinister and unjustified persecution. This is unforgiveable dishonesty in my opinion, deliberate myth-making disguised and presented as historical re-enactment by Ian Jones who inserted at the beginning of the Epsiode “All Characters events names dates and places in this series are drawn directly from fact.” Indeed, but the ones that are drawn are only the ones that suit Mr Jones. The facts that don’t support Ian Jones version of the truth are conveniently ignored. But who in the general population would know?

Actually my first thought after watching this first episode was to remember what Mark Twain called the Book of Mormon : “Chloroform in Print”  I was amazed to watch the incredible richness and complexity of the life and times and personality of  Ned Kelly reduced to this boring and sanctimonious misrepresentation. Quite apart from being seriously misinformed about the real Ned Kelly, I  think modern audiences would find this episode quite dull: “Chloroform in film” .

Thursday 24 September 2015

NKF Members 100 Day Epic Fail

The prominent Ned Kelly Forum member and Kelly sympathiser who decided in June to attack the Death of the Legend Blog Post and Comments about the killing of Constable Lonigan must be cursing himself for rushing away and shooting his mouth off on his Facebook Page. I bet he wishes he had never committed to print his half baked theories and silly diagrams about what happened, and then attacked and rubbished me for pointing out the huge fatal flaws in his theory. I bet he wishes he hadn’t tried to wriggle out of the mess he made by going back and re-naming his comment “Part One : McIntyres Version ”,  because by doing that he obligated himself to produce Part Two, which he implied would be HIS explanation. 

He must be regretting all this because as the days weeks and now months have gone by, and he has failed to come up with the promised Part Two, his credibility as some sort of Kelly “Expert” is eroding to zero, and his original Comment and his abusive responses to my demands for him to make good on his promise are being seen more and more clearly as bluster and bullying and a smoke screen that hides......nothing! He hasn’t got a clue about how to get out of the mess he made for himself and so he is staying mute. 

I am not surprised that he hasn’t responded to my latest Post on his Page, and I am not surprised that he has posted nothing at all about anything since July. 

Its now 100 days since he made these remarks, but I am not going to forget or forgive his abuse of me and this Blog, of his boasting about how he destroyed my earlier Forums, of his ignorant attacks on anything and anyone who disagrees with him - and I am not going to stop demanding he make good on his promise to come up with Part Two. As long as he continues to fail to  keep his word, I will continue to remind him and everyone else.

Wednesday 16 September 2015

Ned Kellys Skull : Science rebuts Kelly “Experts"

The Baxter Skull and Tooth
Its been more than a month since the annual Ned Kelly Weekend at Beechworth. On the Kelly websites and Facebook pages only a scattering of comments can be found, all declaring it a great success, but I had hoped by now to have read someone’s report of the  events that were staged. In particular I was hoping to hear something about the lecture given by Dr Craig Cormick , because it was the only original and credible event  on the programme – I read that it was sold out – but nothing else. Maybe someone who reads this Blog went to it, and can send in a Report. 

I have previously written that the behavior of some Kelly Sympathizers resembles that of Religious fanatics. One such similarity is the often curious relationship that believers have to rational argument and Scientific truth preferring their mythology when it clashes with what science has revealed. An amazing example is the Mormon rejection of  the entire well established prehistory of North America in favour of what their religious texts say. 
The Baxter Skull long ago labelled on the side as “E Kelly"
In a similar way, Bradley Webb the creator of the largest and oldest Kelly resource on the internet, Iron Outlaw, apparently still clings to his view that the skull of Ned Kelly was on public display in the old Melbourne Gaol until it was replaced in the early 1960’s by a skull from India. This replacement skull, the skull of a person Webb says was “some poor Indians” was the one famously stolen by Tom Baxter, believing it to be Ned Kellys in 1979. It was finally returned and analysed by the Victoria Institute of Forensic Medicine, as reported by Craig Cormick in his book, and found with absolute certainty to NOT be the skull of “some poor Indians” as claimed by Brad Webb. Sadly it was not Ned Kellys skull either!

Bradly Webb made his claims about these skulls on his personal website in 2011, and in February this year, after reading Cormicks book I posted a comment on Webbs article about the skull pointing out that he was wrong. This was his reply: 

NCS Publishing27 February 2015 at 14:48
To dear old crusty Bill Denheld - - (or his semi-literate daughter who posts on his behalf), I know you like to hide behind the 'Dee' facade but maybe it's time you pulled your head out of your arse and realised what you actually know about the Ned Kelly story can be written down on the back of a postage stamp...

I’m pleased I kept a copy of this because if you go there now, these vile and misinformed comments have been deleted,  but still there is no acknowledgement that the content of the Post is misleading and wrong.  Science has proved Bradley Webb wrong but he clings to his belief like a willfully blind religious fanatic.  I do note however that last month on Iron Outlaw a link was posted to a talk about the skull by  Craig Cormick on the ABC , which could perhaps mean that Webb has finally admitted his error, though is too embarrassed to openly admit it, or  decent enough to apologise to me or Bill and his family for such an outrageous reaction. Such is the caliber of some of the leading lights of the Kelly world!

In any case Cormicks story is a fascinating example of the power of science and forensic medicine to uncover the truth, and would have made his lecture a fascinating one I expect, quite apart from the opportunity to meet the author and to gather additional snippets of information about the case.

Its worth recounting it here, for anyone who hasn’t read Cormicks book :

In brief, a skeleton – minus the skull -  was exhumed from the grounds of Pentridge prison and identified as belonging to Ned Kelly by using DNA analysis. The DNA extracted from the bones was mitochondrial DNA and it was compared with mitochondrial DNA from a man called Leigh Olver, a direct maternal descendant of Ned Kelly’s sister Ellen. It was believed that the skull wasn’t with the rest of the skeleton because it had been souvenired when all the skeletons buried at the Melbourne Gaol, including Neds, were dug up and reburied at Pentridge in 1929.

The skull stolen from the Gaol in 1979 and still in the possession of Tom Baxter was thought to be Neds but no DNA could be extracted from it, so other methods had to be used to try to identify it. Old photographs taken of the skull before it was stolen, and an even earlier plaster cast of the skull confirmed Baxter’s skull was indeed the one that had been on display in the Gaol, and held earlier in the Australian Institute of Anatomy in Canberra. There had been no switching of skulls as claimed by Bradley Webb.

The next thing that needed to be done was prove that this was indeed the skull taken from the Kelly grave when it was dug up in 1929, so public appeals were made asking for any family knowledge, traditions, photos or artefacts of any kind that could possibly help. Remarkably, a descendant of  someone who was at the exhumation turned up with a 1929 photograph of his grandfather actually holding the skull, and he also brought with him a single tooth that his grandfather had allegedly taken from the skull before handing it on! The tooth had remained in the family who understood it to have been one of Ned Kellys!

It must have been an electric kind of “eureka” moment when the scientists took the tooth and found it was a perfect fit for one of the empty sockets in the Baxter skull, thus establishing with absolute certainty that the Baxter skull was indeed the one exhumed at the old Melbourne Gaol in 1929. It certainly wasn’t “some poor Indians” as asserted by Bradley Webb in 2011. It would also have been pretty exciting when the scientists managed to extract DNA from the tooth, but sadly it proved the skull had never been Ned Kellys! So where is it?

Theres a thread on the Ned Kelly Forum from 2012 about the Skull.  
The NKF Member who rubbished Cormick on Facebook earlier this year but then later deleted his comments, asserted in 2012 that he and Mr Webb knew “without a doubt who has Neds head” He wrote that he has “no doubt that the Melbourne University are knowingly in possession of Neds skull” As is typical with these self appointed experts who dismiss actual scientists, Jager felt no need to back up his  assertions with anything as trivial as “evidence”, or “ facts" or even his reasoning for claiming he knew where the skull was, and the thread ended limply. These are of course sensational allegations and would if true be headline news on every TV channel and News report. But there has been no further NKF interest in the topic for three years! So here we have another loud mouth claim, like the one about explaining Lonigans wounds  that turned out to be nothing but hot air and self promotion. 

So we are left with the ongoing mystery of what happened to Ned Kellys skull. It would seem that it was never buried, but kept as a ghoulish souvenir, and may still be “out there” somewhere, but perhaps no longer identified as Neds, because since 1929 his was believed to be the one at the old Melbourne Gaol, the one known now as the Baxter skull.

Tuesday 8 September 2015

Ned Kelly's Devotion To His Mother: Another Myth

Ned Kelly, according to the Mythology, was devoted to his family and particularly his mother. He is reported to have said of his father “Red” Kelly that, “a finer man never put his feet in two shoes” a commendably loyal, but wildly inaccurate sentiment from a son who lost his father to alcoholism at the age of 11. Ned was said to have then become the dominant male in the household, forced into assuming responsibilities beyond his years, a not too uncommon arrangement in families even today. But his mother seemed to have no trouble forming new relationships with adult males, such as the Englishman Bill Frost (when Ned was 13 or 14) and then with the mysterious American George King. So one wonders just how much truth there is in this image of Ned being a de facto head of the house. In any event, though modern sympathisers like to gush and sentimentalise Ned’s role in the household, there was nothing especially remarkable about it.

I was prompted to think a little more about Ned Kelly’s devotion to his mother and his family after my last post, wherein I quoted Nicolson’s famous line about endeavouring to convict “whenever they commit any paltry crime”.

Immediately before this statement, Nicolson describes visiting the Kelly household as:
“... an old wooden hut with a large bark roof. The dwelling was divided into five apartments by partitions of blanketing, rugs etc. There were no men in the house, only children and two girls of about 14 years of age said to be her daughters. They all appeared to be existing in poverty and squalor.”

Now this was in 1877, when Ned was 22 and at the end of several years in which he was supposed to have been going straight, working at a sawmill (among other places). But now he was engaged in what was evidently a very lucrative trade his self-declared “wholesale and retail horse and cattle dealing”.

He had been part of the so called “Greta Mob”, who were known for their “flashness”, their fine horses, their larrikin behaviour and their trendy clothing. Indeed, Ned Kelly was always reported to be wearing tailor made boots and fine clothes. In A New View of Ned Kelly, Ian Jones wrote, “He dressed well – he was proud of his personal appearance”.

Contrast Ned Kelly's glamorous well-dressed life in 1877 with that of his mother and sisters he was living it up, not at home doing the much needed hard yards on his mother's  selection. But rather travelling the countryside with mates, stealing horses and cattle and dressing (and no doubt eating and drinking) well, while his mother and sisters were living in squalor in an old hut on a selection that only Ellen was working on.

In fact, because insufficient work was being done to improve the selection, according to Dr. Doug Morrissey, Ellen Kelly came close to losing it that year, prompting Ned to finally do something by building a better place for her in the summer of 1877-78. But this act was not performed out of devotion to his mother, rather her desperation. Ian Jones wrote that in early 1878, after the house was built, “With Ned indulging his habit for gambling, he and Joe enjoyed a few footloose months of vagabonding – across the Riverina, up to the Murrumbidgee Valley and Wagga Wagga, where one of Joe's uncles had settled, and then on to the Darling”.

With a mother and sisters living in poverty and squalor, this is hardly the behaviour of a devoted elder son. So whilst Ned Kelly may have claimed to be dedicated to his mother and family, as with many of his claims, his actions provide little evidence of these intentions. Actions speak much louder than words another myth bites the dust!