Saturday 6 February 2016

Lying to Children : is this Neducation?

I visited the local Public Library recently to see what was available about Ned Kelly. My search on their Computer based catalogue for anything containing “Ned Kelly” as a subject produced exactly 50 hits. After excluding material that wasn’t really about Ned Kelly or the outbreak – for example a book about John Jarratt, the actor who played Ned in the Last Outlaw TV Miniseries of 1980 -  there were 37 books and DVDs available that were actually about Ned Kelly and the outbreak. A number of these books were about Bushrangers in general and had chapters on the Kelly Gang – one was called “A Guide to Australian Folklore”, another “Great Australian Speeches” and another “The Encyclopedia of Australian Crime”. Of books specifically devoted to the Kelly story many of ‘the usual suspects’ were there, such as  The Fatal Friendship” and 3 versions of  Ned Kelly : A Short Life” by Ian Jones , Peter Fitzsimons book, the Corfield Encyclopedia, and the books on Glenrowan by Paul Terry and by Ian Shaw. Noticeably absent were the recent important additions to the Kelly scholarship, “The Kelly Gang Unmasked” by Ian MacFarlane, “Ned Kelly a Lawless Life” by Doug Morrissey and “Ned Kelly Under the Microscope  Edited by Craig Cormick, meaning that our local community is seriously under-informed about where the Kelly story has gone to in recent years. I will be recommending this deficiency be corrected as soon as possible.

However the thing that surprised me most was to see that there were 13 books about Ned Kelly in the Junior Non Fiction section. This was one more book about Ned Kelly than was listed in general Non Fiction. The other interesting thing I noticed was that the majority of them were written by women. Men have written hundreds  of books about Ned Kelly and the Outbreak but I can think of only a handful of adult works that were written by  women – for example theres one about Ellen Kelly and another is about the Glenrowan hostages, and in the last few months two more have appeared, one being a collection of newspaper articles and the latest is the worthless conspiracy theory about Steve and Dans survival at Glenrowan.  What’s that all about? 

I went to the Junior Non-Fiction section to have a look at what youngsters are being told about Ned Kelly, and what I found was at once in many ways delightful,  but at the same time also disturbing in works that are supposed to be teaching history to eager and trusting young minds.

It was the illustrations in many of them that delighted me  – they were very colourful and often slightly whimsical portrayals of Bushrangers, trains, horses,  the bush and the Kelly Gang. Kids must find them really appealing! There was a minimum of gore and murder. In fact when you think about it, the Kelly story is packed with colourful imagery and dramatic events that lend themselves to illustration and artistic interpretation. 

But what of the Kelly story told in these books? These short colourfully illustrated books were aimed mostly at children of Primary School age and so the story  was necessarily highly simplified and condensed and inevitably required many omissions of fact, and glossing over of detail. However in one respect these books were consistent : Ned was almost universally portrayed as a victim, as hard done by, as someone who was unfairly persecuted by corrupt Police – the Kelly Myth, in other words. The other thing they had in common was to contain numerous errors of fact.

Heres an example from Anna Shepherds “Australia’s Most Notorious Bushrangers”

Name: Ned Kelly
Born: Beveridge, Vic 1855
Deeds: He led a gang of Bushrangers in North Eastern Victoria. The Kelly Gang carried out some of the boldest robberies ever seen in Australia.
Died: Melbourne Vic 1880

Unlike most of Australia’s bushrangers Ned Kelly only stole from Banks, and only from the rich. He never held up travellers or mail coaches. He believed he only killed in self-defense and that his actions were the result of Police persecution and unjust treatment by the authorities.

The books aimed at a slightly older audience included photos  and referenced particular events in the saga, and much of it was factual but again the tone was sympathetic towards Ned and Kelly mythology, and error-ridden. Some of it is such obvious  and deliberate misrepresentation of the truth that I am tempted to describe it as lies about Ned Kelly. Heres an example from Paula Hunts “Outlaw Son : the story of Ned Kelly”

“Luckily for the Police and Journalists on the train Ned allowed the local school teacher, Thomas Curnow to leave the Hotel with his family”

This inverts the brave school teachers terrifying heart-in-mouth deception of a known Police murderer and hostage-taker with a gun and armour and more killing on his mind, into some sort of generous act on the part of Ned Kelly. It completely discredits the heroic bravery of Thomas Curnow. It is dishonest history telling at best.

Later Paula Hunt writes:

“The Police had been incompetent in their efforts to capture the Kelly Gang. The shootout at the Glenrowan Hotel was no exception.  Several people including a young boy were fatally wounded by the Police”

Again we are reading a deliberately prejudiced view of events rather than simple History, and the real message is actually subliminal, unstated : Police are to blame for fatally wounding people.  I find it objectionable.

The story is sometimes mixed up, events are out of order and facts simply wrong:

“Red was eventually arrested and Gaoled for horse stealing and died before finishing his sentence”

“Ned knew that Kennedy would not live and believed that right or wrong the best thing to do was put him out of his misery. He shot him in the head” (Geoff Hocking :The Kelly Gang: The last of the Bushrangers”)

“To raise money for Mrs. Kelly’s legal defense the Kellys robbed banks in the Victorian town of Euroa and across the border in Jerilderie in New South Wales.  Then at Stringybark Creek in the Wombat Ranges they shot and killed three policemen who were tracking them. Now the Kelly Gang was wanted for murder.  (“Ned Kelly’s  Jerilderie Letter” by Carole Wilkinson)

1880 26th June Joe Byrne shoots a man named Aaron Sherritt for betraying the Gang to the Police. (The person murdered was not a random “man” but a close friend of the Gangs, and there  remains to this day enormous doubt that he betrayed them)

1880 27th June The Police hear about the murder of Aaron Sherritt. They send a special Police train carrying 200 officers to Beechworth via Glenrowan to hunt down the Kelly Gang. ( 200 officers? I hope that’s just a typo!)(Meet Ned Kelly by Janeen Brian)

Anybody with an interest in the Kelly story who read these books would see many  more mistakes – another  one is the claim that Ned was the last man hanged in Victoria!

So what are we to make of this genre? Firstly I don’t think outright errors of basic  facts are excusable. There are so many of them in every book that I looked at that I found myself becoming quite angry about this careless  disregard for basic  facts and the truth. None of these mistakes were about obscure details but, as Ive illustrated , they related to basic information and easily verified parts of the story.  Why do these writers treat children with such obvious contempt by not caring about the truth of the stories they are telling? Remember these books were all in the Non-Fiction part of the Childrens section of the Library.

Apart from a big question about the motivation of these writers, the other question that these books raise in my mind is whether or not these errors of facts are important, and whether or not its important that children are being fed a line about Ned Kelly thats not actually true, mythology as true history?

One might argue they are being taught about the value of standing up for yourself and not putting up with bullying and corruption, about bravery, about respecting your family, about caring for the poor and underprivileged, the downtrodden, the disenfranchised?  It might also be teaching kids that if you break the Law, no matter for what reason you will suffer the consequences. Nobody would dispute that these are worthwhile values, but is it acceptable to use a mangled version of history to teach them? Personally I don’t think so.

Ive been giving it a lot of thought and have realised that we have two important agendas  being mixed together in these books - one is to teach history and the other is to learn lessons from it, and I think both are being done very badly. Firstly I believe that if you’re going to teach history you have to get the facts right, no matter who your target audience is. Its disrespectful to children to write as if facts, and truthfulness are less important for them. In fact I would say that for parents there is almost nothing of greater importance than telling the truth to children and being open and honest with them. Once they catch you out trying to pull the wool over their eyes your credibility and their respect for you is on a downhill slide.

The second bit, learning lessons from history, is much more tricky. Learning them from made up stories is much easier -  in fact thats why all cultures have myths and legends, fairy stories - they are exciting made up stories that act as vehicles or frameworks for the teaching of important values and social customs and mores. Everyone knows they are not strictly “true” stories but they contain “Truth” .  But if you are going to use an actual historical event like the Kelly Outbreak to do a similar thing, your first duty is to get the story right, but if you don’t how can you expect the value lessons to be taken seriously?

Ive written before about my suspicion of Kelly sympathisers who promote themselves as educators - as “Neducators” as one of them calls himself - offering themselves to schools, promoting school camps and educational tours revealing the story of the Outbreak.  I am deeply suspicious of their claims to be telling “the truth” and of telling it in some kind of balanced way so that people can make up their own minds.  And I am deeply suspicious of their tactic of targeting  children, to uncritical young minds who can easily be persuaded of just about anything by a practiced and polished adult. However having never been on one of the Tours, or received Neducation I cant claim to know exactly what they get up to but I would hazard a guess that a survey of Kelly Tour participants and recipients of Neducation would reveal a high proportion of them viewed Ned Kelly very favourably, would regard the Kelly myths as largely the truth but would never have been told about Ned Kellys lies, about the absence of evidence for a republic, about the attempts Police made to rehabilitate him, about threatening to harm women and children.

With Kids books however, I don’t have to guess that they might not be getting a balanced and reasonable account of the outbreak - I can read what theyre being told for my self - and they aren’t! They’re being feed the syrupy fairy tale of the gallant  Ned Kelly with the occasional token reference to his bad behaviour, or rhetorical question about his right to defend himself or stand up and fight for his rights. “Was he a victim of Police abuse or merely a villain?” asks Anna Purcell, placing before young minds that tedious false dichotomy and asking them to chose! The same old “Hero or Villain” nonsense. 

These books are mostly a disgrace. They treat kids as mugs and ought to be in the Junior Fiction section of the library. Or listed as Propaganda : Not suitable for Young Children.


  1. That is one shocking blog.

    Kids should be protected from this crap.

    The whole Kelly story is based on layers of lies.

  2. And this is precisely why the myth-ridden Kelly 'story' is perpetuated. When I ask older kids what they know about the Kelly story, they invariably recant the mythical mantra - persecuted, protecting his family, corrupt police/government, squatters V selectors etc. Very sad.

  3. Perhaps the Institute of Public Affairs could write a lovely kiddies' book about Judge Redmond Barry ( a hero of theirs) so the children could have somebody to model themselves on.


    Love to all

    Capt. Jack

  4. I know you say that tongue-firmly-in-cheek Capt. Jack but Redmond Barry did make very valuable contributions to the young and growing Colony, and I think is very badly treated in the Kelly myths. One of these days I might write about him to illustrate what I mean - for grown ups to read. Kids wouldn’t find it all that interesting though - no horses, hold ups, hostages or heroes!

    1. Would love to see a kid's book illustration of "Ready" Reddy in full satyr array! ;)
      No matter how many libraries or schools or hospitals he help found or other do-good civic-minded accomplishments he is credited with (and that you can list for us), it is the way he dealt with women and the Kellys that has taken on a life of its own and overshadowed absolutely everything else. No amount of "re-education" can change that as it is firmly entrenched in our minds.

    2. That sounds like a challenge Sharon! I just might take it up one of these days!

      The thing I find so addictive about the Kelly story is the sort of fractal quality that it has, such that whenever you look more closely at one small part it opens up into another vast place that has innumerable parts of its own, each of which when looked more closely at open up into another vast place that has innumerable parts of its own, each of which when looked more closely at open up into another vast place that has innumerable parts of its own, each of which when looked more closely at opens up into another vast place that has innumerable parts of its own............................................................................................................................................................................................................... its a trap I cant escape from! HELP!

  5. JUST WRITE IT ALL UP DEE. That was one hell of a blog!

  6. Totally agree with Jenny. One hell of a blog! You've gotta do the book. These are important insights you're putting up.

  7. Ian Jones fell into the trap you speak of. It is a lifetime's work that trap. But Ian ended up embellishing the tale (the Republic) because the real story was a tad barren.

    1. Rubbish Eric. The real story couldn't be more textured or rich. None of Ians work deserves this negativity. his views are as valid as yours, mine or Dees.

    2. Of course Ian's 'views' are valid in any discussion on the Kelly outbreak. The problem is that some of his unsupported 'views' have become set-in-concrete facts to the myth-followers.

    3. Fair point Spuddy. But let's turn the spotlight on the myth followers rather than encourage the endless snide remarks against Mr Jones. Even Ian would agree debate is essential - but let's use our manners. I thou roughly enjoy all points of view (and very much this blog) but the negativity here is getting too much for me. No better than NKF & IO in some instances. PLEASE everybody let's not go down that sad little path.

    4. Mark, maybe you have evidence of Ned's republic - because no-one else has - least of all Ian Jones, the main proponent of the idea. How can it be negative to point out this obvious fact?

      Get real.

  8. I’ve coined the term ‘Jones-Kelly’ mythology quite deliberately because its undeniable that much of what is promoted over recent decades as the Kelly story are ideas and narratives that Ian Jones, more than any other person, has popularised and promoted. He has been a dominant presence in the Kelly story for nearly 40 years, is regarded Australia-wide if not internationally as the go-to person on Kelly history, he has become famous and probably well off as a result of his advocacy of the Kelly legends and so therefore he must inevitably be part of many of the discussions we are having about the veracity of it all. I have often expressed my admiration for his amazing work in fitting so many of the pieces together, and A Short Life, his major work is a brilliant resource and wonderful book to read and re-read. However, I am convinced that in a number of important ways Ian Jones is wrong, I don’t see him as a protected species, as some seem to, and who object to his ideas being challenged, but whenever I DO challenge them I try to be clear that its his ideas and advocacy that I am challenging, not his character. I think its a great pity that his ideas weren’t more robustly scrutinised and challenged when he was more capable of answering his critics than I gather he is these days. But I have noted that a decade or so ago when he WAS capable, he was pretty uncompromising in his condemnations of people who didnt agree with him and in his defence of his beliefs about Ned Kelly. So I would refute the idea that on this Blog there have been ‘endless snide remarks about Ian Jones” - one or two perhaps but they should not be confused with disagreement, challenge, refutation or even sarcasm directed at some of his proposals.

  9. Despite his lifelong contribution to this subject,towering research and brilliant books, Ian Jones is also the instigator of the biggest myths about dear old Ned. The Ned republic. The leather police body straps.

    It's actually quite a long list of bloopers.

    I hope nobody thinks this is negativity!

    1. And of course Peter, don't forget perhaps the biggest myth of the whole tale - the notorious 'Fitzpatrick Incident'. This is perhaps the principal excuse thrown up by the myth-followers to excuse Kelly's later murderous activities. As has been already pointed out here, the 'incident' has been thoroughly and professionally dissected by Dr Stuart Dawson who found that the much vaunted legend doesn't actually fit the facts. However, the keepers of the kelly flame seem to have made no mention of Dawson's findings at all.

  10. I agree with Mark and Anonymous.

    Dee, John, Eric and Pete,
    We all know the Kelly outbreak and Eureka grew out of inequitable laws enforced by autocratic governments, primarily Protestant religion of the [Orange Order] that in 1688, William of Orange seized the thrones of the Catholic King James that ruled England, Scotland and Ireland.

    Out of this defeat rose Fenian movements generally seen as the Green order.
    *Definition - Fenian Brotherhood and Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB),

    Dee, because no written proclamation of a republic can be found does not mean none existed. There were deep under-currents and clues that seem to support Republican causes in NE Vic. It remains a complex discussion and is not really suitable for a Blog like this as to rant on would seem a tad obsessional being blogged down with reims of texts.

    But when Ned Kelly saved the Shelton boy from drowning, he was given that green sash.

    That sash meant a lot to Ned, I think not only for saving the boy's life, but for what it stood for.

    According to Bob James, author 'They call each other Brother' , the sash was a symbol of Fenianism in Australia. The eternal fight for equity.

    " the sash, almost certainly of the HACBS, heightens the likelihood that local rivalries had crystallised into opposed lodges."

    " Neither Ned nor his mates could expect to be invited to join St John's Masonic Lodge in Beechworth. And yet, the iconic 'cummerbund' presented to Ned as a boy and apparently worn by him at Glenrowan is actually a sash denoting fraternal society membership, a fact apparently unrealised by anyone in the 'Kelly industry'. While one usually has to read the fine print to discover that Aaron Sherritt's family had Orange connections and while the neglect of records makes it very difficult to pin-point specific memberships, the sash, almost certainly of the HACBS, heightens the likelihood that local rivalries had crystallised into opposed lodges."

    If people are interested I will post a few more paragraphs to highlight his views, and on Ian Jones's book as well.


    Sorry Dee but this republic discussion is all over the place on your Blog


    and a few more

    I wonder Dee if you should make a special page for copy and paste Republic postings in some chronological order as this subject is not going away?

  11. Ive commented on this problem before Bill,and agree a Blog format is not perfect for discussions on topics that don’t go away. As you know the Forums that I started before were a better way for that sort of thing to progress and remain accessible at one place, but as you also know the prominent Ned Kelly Forum member who singlehandedly is wrecking the NKF by driving its members like Brian McDonald and many others away , ‘Fitzy’ also twice lied sufficiently to the Forum Hosts that they were wrecked also and deleted from the Internet. He has repeatedly boasted about having done this, so I am not accusing him of something he hasn’t already admitted to doing, and without shame or embarrasment censored free discussion in an open democratic public space.

    The other problem is that these topics that don’t go way come up in quite random ways, such as in this thread which was actually about children’s books about Ned Kelly but somehow has meandered off into a discussion about the republic and Ian Jones.

    I think the best solution is to use the search function top left of the page, and enjoy the challenge of finding the discussions and insights and varied contributions from all readers scattered throughout the entire Blog.

  12. I'm very glad Bill and Mark have nothing to do with the Australian school History curriculum for our kids. Bill IS the great SBC guru, but his historical generalisations are often a bit painful, political or peculiar. Mark seems a nice enough guy, although he keeps wanting to believe in the republic for which no evidence at all exists. I don't know if Mark is a historian or even a Kelly expert. Despite cues to do so, he has offered no evidence for a Ned republic. None. zilch. Zero.


    1. Dear Louis. Hello. I have studied the Kelly Outbreak since I was a kid. I do not profess to be an expert. And no, I am not an historian. Just a lowly sales rep with an inquisitive mind into our history. Has the idea of a Republic been disproved though? Look forward to hearing more of your thoughts on this.

    2. Mark you’ve demonstrated something thats rife in the Kelly world - I darresay its rife generally, but its a misconception and a logical fallacy to believe that an idea has currency or validity unless someone can DISPROVE it. Its not the responsibility of ‘non-believers’ to disprove an assertion but for the believers to PROVE their cain and unless and until they do the claim remains speculation only. The point is that even if I could disprove beyond a shadow of a doubt every single piece of evidence that anyone ever provided to support the view that The Republic ever existed, that still is not PROOF that it didnt exist. Youve probably heard it said that ’the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence’. All we can do is assemble the evidence that supports the contending views abad see which one is best supported by the evidence. This is how all science works, how logic works, and how this debate should work - the assembled evidence is overwhelmingly in support of the idea that Ned Kellys motivations were personal not political.

      If ONLY people understood these basic principles of Logic we wouldn’t be going over the same old stuff time and again - the latest iteration of 'Dan and Steve survived the fires' is a case in point.

      Which reminds me - I have a brilliant new Post to go up from Peter Newman, but I’ll delay putting it up as long as this debate seems to be of interest.

  13. Bill quotes author Bob James, 'They call each other Brother' , the sash was a symbol of Fenianism in Australia. The eternal fight for equity.

    What a load of baloney. A cummerbund is simply "a sash worn around the waist, especially as part of a man's formal evening suit".

    The Fenians were good at stealing other people's innovations.

    They were bog Irish after all!

  14. No worries, I can take it all on the chin.

    Ned wore the sash knowing if he was defeated the true meaning of that sash would make a statement.
    A cummerbund as Bob James described Ned's sash is not what it was. It was quite long and worn across one shoulder diagonally across and tied off.. For Bob James to loosely describe the sash as a cummerbund may have provided some to discount the sash and its meaning. Are we just playing with words?

    Here is another paragraph from Bob James -
    Page 120, The sash:
    "Considered important enough to wear at what Kelly knew was likely to be his last, certainly a climactic shoot out, the sash was so naturally an element of the overall 1870's context neither he nor his opponents thought it required any explanation. Today, it languishes in Benalla Museum, unacknowledged as a key link in the chain running from Ireland's Vinegar Hill battle of 1798 to Australia's republican dilemmas of 2009."

    Dee, by all means put up Peters next posting.
    I will add more later on this.

  15. Bob James continues-
    Page 120, The Orange and the green-

    'The new view' of the episode set out by [Ian] Jones approaches the reality, involving as it does,:
    Irish Catholic land-hunger, harassment by Protestant Irish police and masculine vanities.
    His 1968 version included:

    The Irishman in (the police) uniform was a hated figure. Police affiance with the squatters: alienated them from selectors, as a class. But the antagonism of Irish selectors to Irish policemen reached a level that might best be described as religious war.

    In 2003, his focus was on Joe Byrne, gang member, and the mate he murdered, Aaron Sherritt, believing him to be a police spy:

    The roots of this story lie in Ireland..(where) two families had their beginnings. The Byrnes sprang from Catholic, nationalistic stock..The Sherrits, descended from French Huguenots who had fled Catholic persecution, were Anglo-Irish farmers, four square for the Crown and the established Church, strongly anti-Catholic.

    'At the most simplistic level', Jones has argued, 'Ned and Joe had to offer their supporters..something more than the proceeds of a bank robbery.' "They offered them some hope of relief from the black list, from the hated confederacy election between squatter and trooper, from police retribution for loyalty to the Gang. They offered rebellion, and with it the lodestar of those who rebelled against the British Crown. The evergreen rebel dream. A republic.

  16. Bob James continues-

    Again, one can only wonder what Jones might have done with the story if he'd known all of the truth. He seems not to have known that Sergeant Steele, the most assiduous of the police hunting the gang, was a Freemason (#.611 Penzig) Nor that the 484 entries in Shennan's Biographical Dictionary of the Ovens and Townsmen of Beechworth, the title taken from 'a collection of portraits compiled by photographer Henry Hansen in 1899', imply that only around 4% of the area's notables were Catholic. (#612 Shennan). His frustration is clear:

    In fact, the militantly opposed Orange and Green allegiances of the two families create a new mystery. The mystery he was referring to is the two-faced nature of 'mateship', exploited So brilliantly yet so cynically by PR flacks in such later 'entertainments' as the 'hate-against-hate, mate against-mate' chants of the State of Origin Rugby League matches and the 'Anzac-against-Anzac Bledisloe Cup. But that's in the future. Here, Jones is struggling with the mateship-gone-bad between the two youths who grew up in a despised 'poor white trash' community.

    [David] Syme's 'liberal credentials' also struggled with these, 'the Kellys, Quinns, Wrights Baumgartens and numbers of others who pollute the surrounding country ,#613 (The Age 2 Nov 1878) and the apparently more upright version of Irish intransigence. Sir John O'Shanassy, insisting that State-run schools 'persecuted' Catholics, must be a liar and an unprincipled political strategist intent only on making 'quite sure of (an) undivided Catholic vote' at the forthcoming election:

  17. Bill would you consider assembling all these comments of yours into a single essay that I can put up as an entire Post? Then we can all focus on it and have a discussion on the issues you’re raising.


1. Moderation is back on. I haven’t got time to be constantly monitoring what comments are made and deleting the mindless rubbish that Kelly sympathisers have been posting lately. Please post polite sensible comments, avoid personal abuse and please use the same name whenever you Post, even if its a made-up name.