Tuesday 26 July 2016

Why Ned Kelly hated the Police

On Facebook I have been accused by Bob of failing to mention the truth about why Ned Kelly hated the Police. Bob lists three examples of incidents that he regards as reasons for Neds hatred of police : his arrest when Hall tried to shoot Ned, the fracas when he refused to be handcuffed and was subdued by Lonigan using the ‘squirrel grip’ – a handful of nuts – and the death of his sister Annie giving birth to the child fathered by Constable Flood. Bob, like many Kelly sympathisers  believes these and other incidents justified Neds hatred of Police, that it was the Polices fault that Ned Kelly hated them.

Contrary to Bobs claim, I have not ‘hidden away’ from the bad behavior of Police, and in the post “Hall arrests Ned Kelly”– which everyone should re-read to refresh their memories of exactly what happened – I wrote of Halls behavior that 'it was appalling – not only had he tried to kill Ned and used excessive force once the tables had been turned, Hall later lied in Court about seeing documents that hadn’t been issued when he said he had seen them’ .  I also wrote about the incident involving the squirrel grip in a post in August 2014 ‘Reflections around the crown Jewels’ and I recommend that Post also be read again to refresh everyones memory of the entire incident.

I admit however that I haven’t ever discussed the relationship between Annie and Flood, though a really indepth analysis would probably not be something Kelly symapthisers would want to read, because undoubtedly it will expose the ambiguous relationship that existed between the Kellys and the Police. Kelly sympathisers like to think of this relationship as a cartoon style ‘goodies vs baddies’, Kellys on one side, Police on the other, but as Morrissey and others have shown, it was much more fluid than this, there were friendships across this imaginary divide that resulted in such things as the young Ned running to the Police station for protection from an uncle, the Kellys using the Courts to pursue personal disputes, uncles co-operating with the Police to dob in Harry Power and collect  massive financial reward, the friendship between Ned and Fitzpatrick, and of course a sexual liaison between Flood and Neds sister. But  its quite ridiculous to blame Flood for Annies tragic death in giving birth to the child that resulted from the relationship. The relationship was consensual, as far as we know, and Annie would have been well aware of the possibility of pregnancy resulting from it. Its not usual anywhere, except perhaps in the Kelly world to blame the man for the  tragic death of his partner in childbirth, but death in childbirth was not such an uncommon feature of life in the bush in the 19th century. No doubt it was a tragedy and a terrible loss, but to blame Flood for it is ridiculous.

Never-the-less Bob may well be right that the three incidents he lists, and others, were reasons Ned Kelly might have given for his hatred of the Police. But having reasons for hating the Police doesn’t have to mean the hate is justified or  that the Police deserved to be hated. So was it justified, and did the Police deserve to be hated?

Certainly, if Ned hated Flood for what happened to his sister, his hatred was irrational and unjustified. And exactly how reasonable or rational was Neds hatred of Police for responding in kind to the violence of Neds resistance to being arrested or to being handcuffed? If he had gone quietly and still been bashed and beaten, then hating them might be reasonable but thats not what happened - Ned Kelly created a massive violent brawl and no doubt inflicted some pretty painful injuries on several of the Police trying to  subdue him.  I doubt very few of us would have much sympathy for a fellow who abused and attacked Police trying to do their duty, and who in the melee he started, came off second best. We might be tempted to say “ you asked for it mate, be a man and suck it up” But thats not what Ned Kelly ever did - right to the end he refused to accept responsibility for the consequences of his own actions, and was forever looking for someone else to blame for how things turned out. The reality of Neds hatred for the police, when you examine its possible causes closely is that it was out of all proportion to the actual events that may have given rise to it, it was extreme, irrational and unreasonable. Nothing the Police ever did to the Kellys justified in any possible way his murder of three innocent Police at SBC, or his plan to kill many more at Glenrowan - his reactions were way beyond reasonable, proportional or justifiable. Thats why Ian Jones said Neds plan for Glenrowan was madness - completely out of touch with any kind of reality, reason or logic, based on absurd overreactions to incidents largely originating in the behaviour, not of the Police but of the Kellys themselves. And you see this madness when you read the crazed hysterical outburst known as the Jerilderie Letter.

I agree with Bob that Neds motivation was hate rather than some higher noble political ambition about the poor and the rights of selectors, as Ian Jones would prefer.  Rather, for Ned it was an intensely personal thing, and hatred is an intensely distorting and blinding emotion, a prism that Ned looked though and could only see a need for horrendous ‘suicide bomber style’ revenge.

But there is another more important, often overlooked source of Neds hatred for Police : his parents. I am not referring to what happened to his parents but to the values they instilled in him, the things they taught him from the youngest age, and the attitudes prejudices and resentments that he absorbed from them and the wider community of Kellys and Quinns that he grew up in.  Ned was taught to hate, to disrespect and have contempt for the British authorities, for Irish who co-operated with them, for squatters and the wealthy. Being taught to hate, when your brain is wired for psychopathy is playing with fire. Sadly though, being taught to hate wasn’t unusual then, and its not unusual now. Its a common and horrible fault of many parents all over the world to this day, where children grow up being taught to respect only their own, to believe utterly in the rightness of thier own cause and to hate and perpetuate hatred war and resentments against the rest, against Jews, Palestinians, Blacks, Muslims, Aborigines, Catholics, Asians, gays, Communists, asylum seekers ….and in Neds case the British and the Police. This is where Ned learned not to take responsibility for his own behavior but to blame his misfortune on the British, on the Police, on the Courts, the squatters, the wealthy…this is where Ned learned such an arrogant regard for his own righteousness that he was later able to write in the Jerilderie letter : “I would have scattered their blood and brains like rain, I would manure the eleven mile with their bloated carcasses and yet remember there is  not one drop of murderous blood in my veins”

As Peter Fitzsimons put it of the young Ned Kelly: “Ned takes hatred of the English with his mothers milk and his fathers every rant”

And the end result of this hatred? -  his brother and three friends dead, three Police dead, three hostages dead and Ned Kelly on death row. These are the poisonous fruits of intergenerational hate, and therein lies the one lesson that Ned Kellys life could teach all of us in these troubled times : here was a fine strong good looking intelligent witty and hard working young man brought down and destroyed by all consuming hate. For Gods sake stop encouraging people, and especially your kids to hate one another. It always ends badly. 

Be like Captain Jack and love everybody.

Tuesday 19 July 2016

Peter Careys Ned Kelly Fantasy

This book has become part of the modern Kelly story for many people, not just in Australia but throughout the world. Additionally, it also has an important place in the annals of Australian literature, its special qualities earning its author a  rare second Booker Prize, and elevating Peter Carey to the status of truly great Australian writer. It is therefore a novel that should appeal to everyone interested in writing and literature, but to Australians especially as its about one of our own, written by one of our own.

Despite this , I had never made reading this book a priority, because it’s a novel, and my interest is in Kelly history not fantasy. However quite recently I saw an aged and  sun-browned copy in a second hand bookshop that was a mere $8, so I bought it and now  that I have finally finished reading it, I realize it was money well spent.

Peter Carey says it took him three years to research and write this novel, and says in the Acknowledgements, among other things “..it is Ian Jones I am most particularly obliged to. It was to his works I turned to, almost daily when I was lost or bewildered or simply forgetful of the facts”  Therefore it is  no surprise that Careys vision of Ned Kelly is much the same as Ian Jones : an honest poor and persecuted selector, a devoted son becomes a ‘Police made’ criminal because of the corrupt Police and Judiciary,  and at the end, the leader of some sort of failed rebellion.

The title is doubly misleading because the story told is neither especially true nor much about the Kelly Gang, which only comes into existence in the final quarter, when the Police ambush at Stringybark Creek is described. The novel is a mock autobiography, in which Ned Kelly relates his life story for the benefit of a daughter that he never knew. Its chapters are called Parcels, each ‘parcel’ an invention of Careys clever mind purporting to be one of a bunch of  ‘13 parcels of stained and dog eared papers, every one of them in Ned Kellys distinctive hand’ that Ned gave Thomas Curnow  at the Ann Jones Inn, close to the end of the siege. Needless to say no such parcels exist, Ned Kelly has no known descendants and the girls mother, Mary Hearn never existed.

Carey cited the Jerilderie letter as his inspiration for a style which gives the novel its special charm - its comparative lack of punctuation, its long sentences and colourful  at times hilariously witty language, written in the first person as a stream of consciousness from Neds mind onto the paper. The Ned Kelly that emerges has an even greater wit than the Ned of the Jerilderie letter, and in other repects is quite different  - this new Ned Kelly has a much greater sense of humour and of fun, he is open hearted and lacks the arrogance, the intense blood thirsty hatred and anger so apparent in the Ned Kelly of the Jerilderie letter, he is long-suffering and polite and tries not to give offence, by referring to things as ‘adjectival’  and by writing swear words as “b…d” and “b…..r”. This Ned Kelly is likeable and accessible as a human being. 

“I seen Fitzpatrick pull my sister roughly onto his knee that were the last adjectival straw as far as I were concerned I showed myself plainly at the door”

“I seen Cons Hall descend from the Pub like a glistening old spider gliding down from the centre of its web’

Readers who are really familiar with the Kelly story will get a lot more out of it than most, because historical names places and events  appear at unexpected places, language we are familiar with from the Jerilderie letter and elsewhere appears in a different context, and events people and developments we know are invented  appear, but they are mostly believable and certainly interesting - the idea that Neds father and Steve Hart were cross dressers is a wild one, but Ned having a permanent girlfriend and becoming a father is believable and humanising, as is the suggestion Ellen had an affair with Harry Power and the place where the inspiration to wear armour came from is cleverly introduced. Mary Hearns relationship to Neds step father is a shock!  Anyone unfamiliar with the Kelly story would not notice these clever inventions or smile at the artful way Peter Carey has inserted them into the story.

The overall result for me was a fascinating and enjoyable read that I would commend to everyone who lkes reading and especially to Kelly fans.

Oddly enough though, ‘The True History of the Kelly Gang’ seems to have had little appeal to the sad individuals with a peculiar obsession with Ned Kelly like readers of this Blog and I have. This is suggested by the almost complete absence of any serious discussions about it on Kelly related websites, Blogs and Facebook pages - I fully expected to find a review at the Eleven Mile Creek site, but the search drew a blank. However this book was the original catalyst for Sharons interest in Ned Kelly – and I would imagine that could be true for many people - but apart from a cursory mention on the Iron Outlaw book reviews pages, there was nothing about it on Iron Outlaw or in the Ned Kelly Forum.

However I was pleased to find on the web archive of Bail Up something that I had decided I wasn’t going to do, a catalogue of the ‘fictions’ presented in the book along with the relevant ‘facts’. Heres a couple of  examples:

Fact - Ellen did have an intimate relationship with Bill Frost, and later had an illegitimate daughter to him. He abandoned her, and she sued him for child support and won (having established in court that he was her only lover).
Fiction - There is no evidence that Ned threatened to shoot Bill.

Fact - The Kelly gang did use the majority of the stolen bank money paying debts and sympathizers. 
Fiction - None of it was stolen from the gang (by M.H.), however they did use up the sum quite quickly

I thought about  doing something similar myself but decided that such a catalogue, at one level made no sense, because the book, despite its title is NOT a “true” account but an imagining, a fantasy, an emotional creation only loosely attached to the cold facts. The spirit of the novel is only appreciated by a willingness to momentarily suspend disbelief and live in the fantasy, to ignore the places where reality clashed with the narrative, where history contradicted the story and known facts were dismissed. Never-the-less, knowing that Ned Kelly was real and many of the other people and the places mentioned were actually real, I knew there would be people who would wonder exactly where the truth ended and the fantasy  began, and how much of what was told was historical and what wasn’t. So at Bail Up, an attempt was made to define the borders between the two (HERE

This is the perennial problem of the historical novel, a form which simultaneously invites you to accept what you’re reading as true but refuses to take responsibility for any of it as being historical reality. The reader can neither dismiss it all as make-believe, because the historical setting is real, nor can the reader catalogue all of it in their memory as fact because the book identifies itself as a Novel. The truth though is that this book is a novel and it was never meant to be a text about historical truth but rather a story about emotional truth, about the experience of being Ned Kelly as Carey imagined it could have been. But the Bail Up writer has produced a means by which certain fictions and the truths in the story can be separated, and the books true fiction and true history identified for anyone who wanted to know.

The Bail Up analysis however fails to identify the biggest fiction of them all - the likeable witty and friendly character created in this clever novel is called Ned Kelly but he is its greatest fiction. Sadly such a Ned Kelly never existed. 

Sunday 17 July 2016

Why are we waiting?

Whose eyes are these?
I am amazed at how little response there has been to the excellent interview Matt Shore gave to NKCentral. Announcing that nobody will be able to be 100% sure its Ned seems to have stunned the fans who were obviously hoping for something better than that. From whats been made available publicly so far, my feeling is still that it probably IS Ned, but as I keep saying, I am going to be guided by the forensics. 
As this Photo is not going to be on Public display for at least a couple more MONTHS according to the Interview, the only place where there will be anything interesting happening in the Kelly world until then will be on my Blog.Ive been very busy with work and school holiday stuff this week and haven’t had enough time to complete my latest Post - but its on its way. Its a book review. I have several other posts in the pipeline actually, but the BIG one is going to be about SBC, which is still a couple of weeks away.And I am still waiting for Mark Perrys promised review of the life of Sir Redmond Barry, a man whose memory is ignorantly maligned as a rogue on the Iron Outlaw site. This is another Kelly myth that has to be corrected.

Saturday 9 July 2016

The Ned Kelly Photo Gallery

Ned Kelly aged 16 : Harry Power, Ah Fook and McCormick incidents already behind him
Like everyone interested in the Kelly story, I am looking forward to seeing the photo that is being prepared for public display at the Ned Kelly Vault in Beechworth. The Vault have been talking up this photo for several months now, beginning in April with an invitation to Facebook readers to guess what it was they had just been offered for exclusive display at the Vault, something they were claiming was the most important Kelly find in the last 50 years.  People whose interest was aroused, including me made various suggestions but in the end the Vault didn’t reveal anything; instead they removed that entire thread from their Facebook page and left everyone in suspenseful ignorance. Next they released a short tantalizing Video suggesting they had acquired a previously unseen image of Ned Kelly. Eventually after more teasing and frustrating provocation they gradually let it be known that yes indeed the mystery object was a previously unseen photo of two people, one of whom they believe to be Ned Kelly. This long  marketing campaign has successfully raised the profile of the Vault, generating several newspaper and radio articles that are now describing this photo as the Kelly find of the century, and created a level of excitement about the photo that’s approaching hysteria among the Vaults Facebook followers. There’s no consideration given amongst all this hype and hoopla that the photo, if of  Ned Kelly, is a picture of a psychopath and police multiple murderer – instead the overwhelming mood is of celebration of a hero, and the image of the Vault on Facebook is being subtly transformed into less of a museum about the ‘hero-or-villain’ and more of a shrine to the memory of a hero. Its unbalanced and nauseating, and I would suggest offensive to the families and descendants of Ned Kellys victims. I cant imagine Victoria Police or Leo Kennedy sharing in the excitement.

If this image is indeed of Ned Kelly, as the Vault is hoping to prove, then it will be only the sixth known photo of him. The other ones are the two taken in 1880 at Neds request in Melbourne Gaol the day before he was hanged, the “Boxing Ned” photo taken in 1874, and two mugshots, one from 1874 when he was at Pentridge and the earliest photo of him, taken at Beechworth gaol in 1871, shown at the top of this post.

Surely the most famous photo of Ned Kelly

The other 1880 prison photo

Ned in 1874, Pentridge Mugshot
Boxing Ned, August 1874

There are other photos that are said to be of Ned Kelly, one of which sold at Auction earlier this year for $16000. This one has Steve Hart and Dan Kelly in it as well but theres great skepticism in the Kelly community about its authenticity:

Sold for $16,000 in 2016 as Steve, Ned and Dan but who believes it apart from the buyer?
Theres also the photo of three men on horseback, a commercially produced Postcard labeled as the Kelly Gang, but again there is doubt about its authenticity. In any case, the detail is so poor, the riders could be any three men:

Lastly there is the infamous “Gentleman Ned” photo, sold at Auction in 2002 for $19,000 with the backing of no less a Kelly expert than Ian Jones himself with the support of Keith McMenomy. The photo apparently was passed down from Tom Lloyd, who had kept it in his wallet with photos of Joe Byrne and Steve Hart.  Jones was reported at the time to have said that he was unimpressed by people "...jumping up and down saying it is not Ned Kelly". He was convinced saying, "Everything checks...even in amazing detail like the belt he is wearing." Eventually Christies gave the buyer his money back because it was proven not to be Ned Kelly at all. This ought to be a cautionary tale for the Ned Kelly Vault and the photo it is so vigorously promoting, but so far theres little sign of that on the Facebook page at least.

“Gentleman Ned”
- the buyer at Christies in 2002 got a refund of $19,000
According to the detail so far released, the Vaults photo has been in the possession of ‘the Kelly family’ for generations and they say it once belonged to Neds mother. The Vault aren’t saying exactly which ‘Kelly family’ it was who had possession of this photo, but they have refused permission for the image to be made widely available, and according to Matt Shore steps are going to be taken to make it impossible for the public to take pictures of it themselves when it finally goes on public display. These restrictions are hard to understand except perhaps in the context of the commercial value of the photo, which if proven to be genuine could be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. It would be interesting to know what value was placed on it for insurance purposes.

The photo is said to be an image of Ned Kelly and another person taken in 1874 when Ned was supposed to have been ‘going straight’ working in the bush. He had only recently been released from Beechworth gaol where he had served time for feloniously receiving a horse, a fact pointed out in the ABC interview about the photo  by Mr John Suta, the ‘kelly tragic’ who owns the Sydney Nolan painting of Ned that’s already on display in the Vault.  Unsurprisingly for a Kelly ‘tragic’ Suta repeated the usual Kelly lies about Ned being unfairly persecuted by the Police and being given twice the sentence for receiving the horse than the horse thief himself got. Mr Suta, like most of the Kelly sycophants, needs to update his knowledge of Kelly history by reading Morrisseys recent book “Ned Kelly A Lawless Life” because in that book Morrissey points out that Ned knew the horse was not stolen but ‘borrowed’ and that he tried to sell it:

“Wright had borrowed the Postmasters horse on previous occasions and returned it, knocked up and the worse for wear. The Postmaster, knowing Wrights character did not report it, but after several weeks without a horse he did report the latest “borrowing” to the Police”

and later

“The crucial distinction to be made here is between Borrowing without permission – “Illegally Using” -  and “receiving" which legally implied theft. It’s the difference in modern terms between joy riding for fun and car stealing for profit”

A few months after his release from Gaol, the “Boxing Ned’ photo was taken as Kelly engaged in a famous fist-fight with Wild Wright, apparently settling scores related to the stolen horse. Going by the state of his facial hair, the Vault are guessing their photo was taken a few months before this.

I hope when they eventually reveal the image at the Vault – or perhaps we should be referring to it as the Kelly Shrine now - there will be more than just veneration of the image, and homage to Ned Kelly. It would be a perfect opportunity to make an interesting display of the history of pictures of Ned Kelly and the Gang, to recount their chequered history, the methods used to verify the provenance and the identity of photographic records, and the salutary lessons that can be learned.

It will of course be the second object on display at the vault which they have claimed to be the greatest Kelly discovery in 50 years, the other being a piece of iron plate about which they deceptively state “...beyond doubt this piece of unremarkable metal is in fact an offcut from Joe Byrnes breastplate  In fact  scientific tests have proven that it is NOT an offcut from Joe Byrnes armour but just a rusty old piece of scrap metal. I warned the Vault months ago that by continuing to make these claims about disproven  ‘kellyana’ their credibility as a museum will be undermined, (read my post on this here ) but it has remained in the exhibition, and as far as I am aware the claims about it remain the same.  Now, with this latest Kelly photo about to go on display, the chickens are going to come home to roost – the first object they claimed to be the greatest Kelly find in 50 years is a fake, so why would anyone believe the second one isn’t a fake too? If they’re going to stake their claim that the Photo is Ned on the results of scientific assessments, why have they rejected the scientific asessments on the rusty iron? They need to commit to believing the Science whatever it does to their fond hopes, because if they just pick out the opinions that suit their narrative their credibility as a Museum is shredded and they will be recognised as the shrine they are trying not to be.

But lets not forget that if  the photo is accepted as genuine, it’s not a photo of  Australias greatest hero, a person anyone should look up to or want to emulate, but of a young criminal psychopath, a notorious liar who became a multiple police murderer and the mastermind of a terror plot as brutal and as merciless as any that we read about in the daily press. The photo, if its Ned, is a photo of a villain. Try not to get overexcited about it people!