Saturday 29 April 2017

The 1993 Kelly Symposium.

To celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the 1967 Kelly Symposium at Wangaratta, a second Kelly Symposium took place at Beechworth, on November 13th and 14th, 1993, but unfortunately no official publication resulted from this second Kelly symposium. However the Lectures were transcribed by a now vanished Kelly enthusiast, Marian Matta, into a document which seems to have circulated within the Kelly world, but which thanks to Bill Denheld, is now available to read and download for free on his terrific website. ( CLICK HERE - its about 70 pages)

The title of the lectures that have been transcribed from the 1993 Symposium were

Keith McMenomy
The Chief Justice of Victoria, His Honour John H. Phillips
Ian Jones
Dr. John McQuilton
Jane Clark

As I said in one of my comments about the original Symposium at Wangaratta, it was the catalyst to a great flourishing of interest in the Kelly story, and in the years that followed, after a 10 year gestation period  there was a proliferation of publications of one kind or another about the Kelly saga: John Molonys “I am Ned Kelly” and “Ned Kelly – After a Century of Acrimony” by John Meredith and Bill Scott, were both published in 1980, the anniversary year of Ned Kelly’s execution. 1980 was also the year that the influential and hugely popular, award winning TV Miniseries “The Last Outlaw” went to air. In 1984 there was Keith McMenomy’s amazing “Ned Kelly : the authentic Illustrated history” in  1987 Doug Morrissey wrote his PhD thesis “A Social History of Kelly Country” , John Phillips published  “The Trial of Ned Kelly”, and John McQuilton published “The Kelly Outbreak”. Ian Jones’ “The Friendship that destroyed Ned Kelly” was first published in 1992.  

The following year, 1993 when the Symposium was convened, Marian Matta made this extraordinary claim : “The past quarter century has seen Ned and the Kelly Outbreak recognised as a major theme in the study of Australian social history, not just an embarrassing aberration or a case of idiosyncratic criminal behaviour. It would be safe to say that Ned is no longer seen as Colin Caves ‘bearded braggart brawling Irishman; horse thief bank robber bushranger and murderer; the loud mouth lawbreaking swaggering son of an Irish convict’ but as a complex and extraordinary man whose ethical standards and moral courage eclipse his relatively minor criminal tendencies”

“relatively minor criminal tendencies” – Really? And yet that it would seem was how Ned Kelly was increasingly being seen in Australia, a man who had been ‘shabbily treated by the Law of the day’ (Aust Womens weekly 8/10/80) but rebelled and became an Australian Legend!

Two years later, in 1995 Ian Jones finally published the biography that overshadows all other Kelly biographies. “A Short Life” and five years after that one of the enduring images beamed to the  entire globe from the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympics, was of gun-toting Kelly images in the style of the famous Nolan series of oil paintings. As noted above, these images were discussed in great detail at the 1993 Symposium.

There have been many other publications of varying quality, continuing right to the present day, but theres no doubt , 25 years after the first Symposium, and for much of the next 25 years as well, Kelly enthusiasm was huge in Australia.

However, as we discussed in the review of the original Symposium, that enthusiasm is now dramatically on the wane, because key pillars of the Kelly legend have finally been subject to proper scrutiny and the spell cast by Ian Jones is dissipating. We are returning to discover that the truth about Ned Kelly is that he was in fact that man described by Colin Cave and dismissed by Marian Matta, “horse thief, bank robber, bushranger and murderer”

I am a bit Kellyed out at present, after writing up all the reviews of the original Symposium and enduring the onslaught of Kelly trolls on the Ned Kelly :The True Story Facebook  page. I suggest readers who are interested download the 1993 Symposium documents from Bill Denhelds website and post their observations and thoughts here. I may yet write up posts on at least a couple of those 1993 papers but for now I’ll wait to see if anyone else is interested in doing so.

Monday 24 April 2017

50th Anniversary Lecture : A New View of Ned Kelly

Ian Jones created a vision centred around Ned Kelly that inspired many, but it was fatally flawed.

Ian Jones landmark Lecture, A New View of Ned Kelly, followed Louis Wallers lecture about Ned Kellys trial, which Jones described as ‘brilliant’, saying ‘perhaps it is appropriate that we should follow an examination of a legal judgement on Ned Kelly with what amounts to a moral one. Ned Kelly was found guilty, legally.

Was he guilty morally?”

To answer his question, Jones then proposes in this lecture ‘to look at some important  aspects of the man which perhaps we have not glimpsed yet’ ; to look at the conditions which led up to Ned Kelly’s personal revolt against injustice; to look at the conditions in the north eastern district and in Victoria as a whole, which created a situation in which rebellion could develop’  and ‘at the way in which Kelly’s personal rebellion became associated with a broader rebellion of the selector class in the North east’

Jones decribes his lecture as “an attempt – a first attempt, I believe – to bring some meaning to this mass of material, to reconcile documentary evidence with these frustrating fragments of verbal tradition which have come down to us”

So, to start with he focussed on the person of Ned Kelly, who he said in 1967 was still largely “a faceless inhuman figure. He is almost anonymous behind the plough-steel helmet”. So, figuratively taking off the armour, this is what Jones finds inside, in his own words :
*Physically Ned Kelly was almost superhuman. This sounds an extravagant statement in every way but the man WAS physically remarkable
*He was an outstanding boxer…. Ned Kelly’s boxing prowess was symptomatic of strength and endurance which he displayed to a spectacular degree in his Last Stand”
*Ned Kelly was a crack horseman.
*Ned Kelly was acknowledged to be one of the finest trick riders that the people of his time had seen
* He was also a crack shot
*He emerges as a surprisingly quiet and gentle man…a restraining figure…a man curbing the hotheads among the sympathisers
*a man who, when it was aroused, had tremendous anger
*He possessed a degree of vanity but not without some reason. He was proud of his boxing ability, he was proud of his personal appearance
*He trusted people…Fitzpatrick to an almost ludicrous degree and of course he trusted Curnow
*utterly devoted to his family
*over many of Ned Kelly’s actions we see this paternalism
*Ned Kelly was Irish…. Two hundred years of bitterness and hatred lay behind him. He was the son of an Irish convict

Moving on from his description of the Ned Kelly Ian Jones saw inside the armour, he spoke about the  ‘the conditions which led up to Ned Kelly’s personal revolt against injustice’. Here he discussed the local persecution of the Kelly family by Police, saying of Kenneallys version that ‘perhaps it went too far’ but ‘the fact remains that the Kelly family were persecuted’ He quotes the famous directive of Superintendent Nicholson, ‘to bring them to justice and send them to Pentridge. Even on a paltry sentence’.  Added to this, was the ‘bitter land war being waged by Whitty and other squatters of the district, and the small selectors’. On a much wider scale, there was ‘an economic depression and political ferment’ which led to the ‘notorious Black Wednesday of January 8th 1878’ which saw the wholesale sacking of civil servants including county court justices and police magistrates. This was a desperate means to eke out the dwindling  finances of Government as expenditure drained the last supply vote…..Police expenditure was hacked back. Men who left the force were not replaced and many country stations were broken up” This was ‘a demoralised community, a period of bad debts and bankruptcy  in all levels of society. People in almost every town could see bank managers and officers being charged with embezzling funds or shire secretaries absconding with public money. There were Bank failures, mass meetings of unemployed’

“Victoria was ready for rebellion” he said.

Constable Fitzpatricks response to all this uncertainty, according to Jones  was to attempt to enhance his credentials in the eyes of his superiors, and thereby his prospects of keeping his job, by biting off more than he could chew in attempting to take on the notorious Kellys. Instead, ‘those mysterious events of April 15th at the Kelly homestead’ resulted in Mrs Kelly going to jail for three years, and then three weeks later three police died at the hands of Mrs Kelly’s son at ‘the Stringybark Creek gunfight’. According to Jones, Stringybark Creek was ‘not the act of a gang of bushrangers making their first blow against the police. In point of fact Stringybark Creek was an act of personal rebellion by Ned Kelly. A personal blow against police who had come out after him and his brother…’

Jones says there was no immediate support for the Kellys, other than from relatives and close friends. There was fear and suspicion of the Kellys until after ‘they conducted two brilliantly planned and executed bank robberies, probably the two most immaculate exploits in the history of Australian bushranging’. Now, according to Jones , and especially after the holdup at Jerilderie ‘with its magnificent flair and its many wonderful touches’ suddenly people had a new view of these ‘gentleman bushrangers’. Additionally, the arrests and subsequent release without charges having been laid of a few dozen Kelly sympathisers  between January and April 1879 ‘had swung a huge body of people throughout the North east toward support of the gang’…..The injustice of this stupid manoeuvre was aggravated by the fact that the period of imprisonment straddled the harvest time”

Nevertheless Jones records that ‘One way or another the sympathisers harvests were brought in. It was another bad season and about a quarter of the harvest was destroyed by rust anyway”

The final straw for the poor selectors of the North East, according to Jones was the decision to deny land selections to known Kelly sympathisers. ‘This, I believe was the turning point in the support of the Kelly gang’. Now, Ned Kelly’s previously identified ‘paternalism’ resulted in him feeling responsible for what was happening to his fellow Irish selectors, and so he warned in the Jerilderie letter, that if they did  not receive ‘justice and liberty I will be compelled to show some colonial stratagem that will open the eyes  not only of the Victoria police but also the whole British Army….Fitzpatrick will be the cause of greater slaughter to the Union Jack than St Patrick was to the snakes and toads of Ireland.’

At this point Jones introduces the central revelation of his ‘New View’ saying “I have heard the story from many different people, told usually as a deep and dark piece of information – once or twice referred to as the United States of Australia. Whether this was Ned Kelly’s concept, Joe Byrnes concept; whether it had filtered through from the ideas of American republicanism given to Ned Kelly by his stepfather George King; whether it sprang from some politically minded person among the sympathisers trying to realise in this growing rebellion in the north-east, the great promise of Ned Kelly the figurehead…..we will never know…..But the fact is indisputable that by the beginning of 1880 the rebellion was taking shape”

According to Jones, Ned Kelly then went about raising a ‘selector army’ and making suits of armour from mould boards stolen from nearby farms. Kelly’s plan involved using the murder of former gang associate Aaron Sherritt as bait to lure a special trainload of Police into the district from Melbourne. The train would crash at high speed where the Gang had ripped up the tracks near Glenrowan, the gang in their armour would then act as ‘shock troops’, and ‘mop up’ any survivors from the train wreck, and then in response to the firing of two rockets ‘the sympathisers would ride at the gallop, clutching the guns which had been given them by the gang to follow them in raids on the banks at Benalla, Wangaratta, possibly Beechworth. And then what? The Republic of Victoria? Holding the Governor to ransom? We don’t know”

Jones declared “This was a ruthless and brutal act, but it wasn’t a criminal act. This was an act of war”

Jones then quickly sums up what actually happened at Glenrowan and provides an account, based on eye witness reports which he said are ‘confused and contradictory’ of an ‘extraordinary meeting’ between the seriously wounded Kelly and the Sympathiser army on the shoulder of Mt Glenrowan.  “By some miracle, he had mounted the grey mare Music and met the sympathisers on horseback.” Kelly turned the army back, because the plan had ‘miscarried’ saying to them “This is our fight’ and “I am prepared to die” He then returned to the Inn in ‘his last magnificent possibly futile attempt to rescue the these two young men (Dan and Steve)

‘Ned Kelly had been losing blood for more than five hours in near zero temperatures. He was carrying ninety-seven pounds of armour”. Jones says of this episode: “This seems unbelievable but it is true”

Neds capture, trial and execution are mentioned briefly but Jones devoted the remainder of the lecture to a discussion about the fate of the ‘rebellion’ Oral traditions were that an uprising was still being contemplated but by the end of 1881 ‘the Kelly outbreak was at last over’

Jones concludes by saying that the Kellys were ‘much more than mere criminals’ and we would be justified in saying that “Ned Kelly the man was infinitely greater than his legend, a man of greater nobility and moral courage than anything we have even hinted at in the past” In other words, Jones answer to his own question, “was he guilty morally?” is an emphatic ‘No”.

Much of what Jones delivered in that speech at Wangaratta 50 years ago is familiar to all of us today, but back then, I think it must have been electrifying to hear him draw so many disparate and contradictory elements of the Kelly story into a coherent and magnificent narrative that seemed to make sense of everything. As anyone who has ever heard or seen Jones speak knows very well, he is now and clearly was then a brilliant and accomplished speaker and story teller, and I imagine the audience would have been listening in rapt and amazed silence to his every word. His quiet delivery radiates a beguiling kind of genial professorial modesty and believability that speaks of integrity and a desire for truth.

Jones “New View” became the dominant narrative for much of the next half century, its most radical component being the idea that Ned Kelly was some sort of figurehead for an incipient rebellion in north-east Victoria. In this view, the Glenrowan affair was more to do with a wider political inspiration that merged with Ned Kelly’s personal rebellion. Later, Jones made his view clear that without such a justification Ned Kelly’s plan was ‘madness’.
The other components of the new view were support for Ned Kelly’s declaration that his family was persecuted and treated unfairly by corrupt Police and that he was largely a ‘police made’ criminal, and acceptance of Jones belief that the north-east was in turmoil because of Police behaviour toward Irish-Australian selectors, and the policies of a Government in crisis.

What I found remarkable, reviewing this lecture in detail was how extreme were Jones view of the Kellys. By the time he came to publish his great biography of Ned, “A Short Life’ in  1995 he had toned down much of the rhetoric, but even then it was obvious he regarded the Kellys as ‘much more than mere criminals’ . To Ian Jones Ned Kelly was an almost mythical human being and admirable hero , “a man of greater nobility and moral courage than anything we have even hinted at in the past”.  Kelly, according to Jones was ‘almost superhuman’ a crack shot, a fine rider, an outstanding horseman, a quiet and gentle man, a restraining figure, paternalistic vain and proud but  ‘utterly devoted’ to his family. Theres virtually no suggestion anywhere in this 'new view' of any fault in the man, whose acts we might have thought were criminal but were acts of war, whose robberies were ‘brilliantly planned’… ‘immaculate’ exploits with ‘magnificent flair’ and ‘many wonderful touches’, and whose behaviour at Glenrowan was  ‘magnificent’ a miracle and ‘unbelievable but true’. He barely wastes a sentence on the three murdered Police,  Aaron Sherritt or the horror of mass murder planned for Glenrowan where what the Gang was about to do was, in Ian Jones chilling words “mop up the survivors”. He thus set the tone for the next 50 years in which the police murders, the terrors of being taken hostage by a killer with a gun waving in front of your face, the coldblooded murder of Aaron Sherritt and the planned mass killing at Glenrowan are dismissed as what we now refer to as ‘collateral damage’. In his rush to canonise Ned Kelly, in this lecture  Jones fails to notice the horrors and the brutality of  Kellys deeds, or even of his violent threatening and outrageous boasts in the Jerilderie letter.

In addition to his hyperbolic views about the Kellys and Ned in particular, in this lecture Jones also creates a hyperbolic view of social conditions at the time. He uncritically accepts the view that the Kellys were persecuted, - a view we now realise is completely at odds with the facts -  and paints a picture of a social environment almost at boiling point with the Government at war with itself, people being thrown out of work and widespread ‘economic depression and political ferment’. “Victoria was ready for rebellion’ he declared. 

This view was immediately challenged from the floor of the conference room by Weston Bate, a professional historian who denied there was widespread chaos and unrest, who said there was certainly NOT a depression in the region, and who claimed ‘in many ways this was the best time for selectors in Victoria. The majority of them were on their feet..” he said. ‘Black Friday’ was NOT the great catastrophe painted by Ian Jones – of a population at the time of around 750,000, less than 400 were sacked. Subsequent research by Doug Morrissey for his PhD thesis confirmed Bate was right, but neither then nor since has Ian Jones backed down “We are in happy disagreement ‘ he concluded at the time.

Despite Jones brave hope, evidence of the republic of north-east Victoria in the form of  a fabled ‘declaration’ has not emerged, the person who claimed to have seen it has changed his story and the informants upon whom Jones relied have confessed they gave mischievous information to him and contradictory accounts to other researchers. The idea that the Kellys were persecuted by the Police, the idea that the north-east was in turmoil and the selectors were about to rebel or else go under, the idea that Glenrowan was devised as some sort of political act rather than a mad criminal one – all these pillars of Jones imaginative Kelly narrative have all been eroded and collapsed under the weight of the scholarship that followed. You can read my post that shows that Jones Republic Mythology has absolutely nothing to support it HERE

The “New View’ is not only no longer 'new' it is now a completely discredited theory that had its roots in the lies Ned Kelly told about his background, was made attractive by some of the physical attributes of the man and the inherent glamour of the bushranger on horseback, and came alive in the romantic tale woven by the spellbinding Mr Jones. He took us all for a quite wonderful romantic and exciting ride back into history, but it turns out the colourful hero, near superman, moral crusader and ‘physically remarkable’ Ned Kelly was a fantasy.  The real Ned Kelly we now know was someone altogether different, albeit still fascinating in his own criminal way but someone very much less attractive than Jones Legend.

I suppose we all should say ‘Thanks Ian, it was great while it lasted.’