Dee is not Ian, but John Molony is Ned Kelly:

I am Ned Kelly” was published in 1980, a century after Ned Kellys execution, and was re-released as just “Ned Kelly” in 2001. Author John Molony says in the Preface that he decided to write it when he learned in 1976 that the State Government of Victoria had decided not to formally recognize the anniversary. He claims till then to have regarded Ned Kelly as “someone best forgotten” so why  he decided to ‘remember’ him when the Government was proposing to do exactly what he thought was “best” is something of  a mystery. But this whole book is something of a mystery.
“The historian like the lawyer, holds a brief but his is for the dead whose lips are sealed. He is not compelled to pick up the brief but, once done, his task takes on its own sacredness”
These revealing words of John Molony, also in the Preface to “I am Ned Kelly” are the key to understanding what this book is all about, and unless you understand them first, you will misunderstand the entire book. From what I have read of others reviews of this book, I think very few people have “got it” – most I think have missed it completely.  What he is saying there is that in writing about Ned Kelly, he regarded it as his sacred duty to speak for him, to unseal his lips and to tell the story from the place where Ned Kelly stood and from where he viewed the world, to say what Ned might have wanted to say, perhaps to try to show what it might have been like to actually be Ned Kelly, perhaps to try to get into his mind and understand his thinking.
This deliberate and extremely subjective approach to history telling is  the opposite of mainstream academic approaches to history telling, which prizes objectivity. But a subjective and personal approach arguably makes biography a lot easier to write, because the entire “other side of the story” can just be ignored, balance is not required, the context is narrowed down to the immediate confines of the protagonist, and because state of mind and motivation, indeed all thought is unseen and untraceable, anything can be postulated about it. Never the less, conceivably you might gain some useful insight into the mind and motivation of the subject. What it would be a mistake to do,  reading a work of this kind is to believe you are necessarily getting the full picture, or all the relevant facts, or an understanding of what REALLY happened, because you are not. And that’s because a biography written on behalf of “the dead whose lips are sealed” is not intended to be that kind of biography, one that puts things in context and tries to see the whole picture. No, this kind of biography is intended to tell one mans story, and in this case its Neds: it is absolutely crucial to understanding this book to understand that truth about it. If you read it thinking it’s a history book about the facts, you’ve got it wrong : the clue is in the title – its about being Ned Kelly.
The first thing that strikes the reader of this book is the style of writing, which is closer to the rhythms and phrasing and language of an epic poem than ordinary prose. It reminded me at first of Shakespeare and the King James Bible,  or perhaps the Book of Mormon, definitely not “Jerilderie letter” but more than anything of translations from Greek of the Legends about  Ulysses, another Hero. I wonder if it was these Epics that informed Molonys decision about how  he would tell Neds story, mimicking the style of Homers Odyssey? –  read these extracts and you will see what I mean:
Here in the home of his grandparents Ned first heard the tales that bade fair to make him an alien in the new land in which his sinews had been moulded and quickened. No history in the traditional sense  was ever taught by Old Quinn, nor by Red Kelly as they talked in the lilting soft tones of their people but in the tongue of a victorious invader, for the Gael was no longer theirs except in the brief  greetings, Diaduit –‘God be with you’ – or the fleeting wheel of Marys mysteries of the Rosary”
“Those years in which the clan in the northeast shaped its tortured destiny, etched out also to the inexorable path followed by others who quickened to that mountain air and grew to another fullness. Across the plains at Chiltern an eager child rapturously watched the wattle bloom and breathed in the heavy aroma of those golden pods scenting the air of spring afternoons”

“These new ones were not as those who had taught him a little of their wondrous skills as a boy at Avenel. They had not come in communion as fellow Australians  with the simple purpose of tracking game for the campfire. They had come to hunt Ned and those who  went with Ned, and their coming cast fear and pitched deep resentment into his soul. For he now knew that in very truth he was an outcast and a fugitive in the land that had given birth both to hunted and to hunters. One of them called Sambo longed for the far places and the familiar faces of his people in the north. He fell ill , pined away and died to be buried in anothers tribal ground, and it was fitting that he was put to rest as a pauper for he had come owning nothing and his spirit left the northeast as it had come”
If you were already familiar with more than just the barest outlines of the story, then at many places as you read, you would be surprised, because this version tells many things differently; if you were unfamiliar with the story you would miss them. Take the early incident involving Ned, McCormack, Gould , calf’s testicles and an assault. Ned ends up in Prison for the first time as a result of this fracas which in Molonys retelling, begins with this:
One thing was certain to the good constable. Greta and even the bush would be better places were young Kelly to find a more suitable residence during the coming summer. The presence in the township of a former Policeman, Jeremiah Cormack and his wife Margaret offered the possibility of arranging a respectable place for Ned to live
I have to confess I haven’t come across this suggestion before, that the “incident” was in some way a set-up involving the local Police and a retired Policeman, and neither Max Brown nor Ian Jones describe it in that way in their versions of the story, but Molony does. So who is right you might be tempted to ask ? Did Brown and  Ian Jones miss something? Or is Moloney making something up? The answer is actually that these are the wrong questions to be asking about this apparent difference : that’s because Molonys version is what he thinks was Neds understanding of what happened – that there must have been some sort of collusion between the Policeman and the former Policeman, that they were out to get him. And so that’s how he wrote the story, not to necessarily be true to the known facts, if indeed there were any, but to be true to the way he thinks Ned would have seen it.
When you get to the Fitzpatrick incident, there is something even more surprising, but only to anyone who has already seen Molonys 2011 video of the life of Ned Kelly. In that video he states bluntly that the Policeman was caught in the Kellys house, “trying to rape Kate” who was 14 or 15 at the time. In the book however, he tells a completely different story :
Dan requested a breathing space to take a meal before departing for Greta lockup as he had been out riding all day, so he and Alexander went back inside  where Ellen began to remonstrate with the Constable for his breach of hospitality, and asserted that her son would not be taken out from her presence that night. Actions followed words and Alexander was struck with the fire shovel which wounded him in the wrist
The clue to understanding this peculiar and dramatic variation  between Molonys versions is given in the video, where he goes on to say that because rape was such a dreadful social stigma, Ned insisted it be hushed up and not mentioned. In the video Moloney is telling us what he thinks actually happened – attempted rape – but in the book he is telling us the story he thinks Ned would have told : to protect his sisters reputation Ned wouldn’t have mentioned the rape and would have created a different story to hide it. And thats what is told in “I am Ned Kelly”
When you read about Glenrowan, among many things that surprise, is the assertion that Neds plan for Aaron didn’t involve killing him, that Ned was never told about what really happened to Aaron, that Ned intended to stop the train rather than allow it to crash, and that after tricking the Police into getting off, he would then commandeer the train and head south on a Bank robbing spree!
Remember that this is the story that Molony thinks Ned would have written, and then you understand what youre reading: its what Ned would have wanted you to believe, and its not necessarily the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Its actually Ned Kellys spin, putting the best possible face on everything – denying he wanted Aaron killed, denying he knew anything about the murder, denying he ever intended mass murder at Glenrowan, and the Police are corrupt and not to be trusted.  

Someone on the Iron Outlaw site gave this book 4.5 out of  5 stars in a brief mention, saying they regard this work as “one of the most accurately researched accounts of the Kelly outbreak”. I think this person missed the point of the book completely – it wasn’t intended to be a source of accurate facts about the Kelly outbreak, but a view of the outbreak from inside Ned Kellys helmet. So actually, it’s a rather clever book, closer in type in some respects to Peter Careys work of declared fiction the somewhat ironically titled “The True Story of the Kelly Gang”.
The last mystery of this work to be explained is why the title was changed from “I am Ned Kelly” to just “Ned Kelly”  in 2001, because as far as I can make out, thats the only difference between these two books. My guess is this : after 21 years looking out from inside that helmet, Molony became convinced that Ned Kellys view was all that there was to see, that the work was not just one persons view of the outbreak but the truth about it. The helmet became a trap from which he couldn’t escape, and so by the time of his You Tube lecture in 2011 he had forgotten he still had it on.
So, if you want to know what Ned wanted you to believe, read this book. But if you want to know if what Ned wanted you to believe is actually the truth about the Kelly Oubreak then you need to look elsewhere! This Blog is a good start! “I am Ned Kelly” is an interesting read and an unusual almost poetic book, but its too close to fiction for my liking. 

3 stars.
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32 Replies to “Dee is not Ian, but John Molony is Ned Kelly:”

  1. You have a knack of zeroing in on bs in the Kelly books, Dee. I just don't have your patience.

    I flicked through the Peter FitzSimons tome. No Macfarlane book in the bibliography. Shocked & awed! Stomped out of KMART.

    A 20-second review! – – Thumbs down.

  2. I sure don't recommend Molony's book for those just getting in to the Kelly story. I won't say it is a hard slog, but it is pretty advanced. One thing that always got me was how he said that only one helmet was ever made. He must have gotten that from Kenneally, but where did Kenneally get it from?

  3. Anonymous says: Reply

    The one helmet thing was always weird. Molonys book I found a very hard slog. I remember Dave White saying he loved it though but found John McQuiltons the Kelly Outbreak very difficult. Whereas McQuiltons 1979 work is one of my favourites. Fantastic book. Cheers. Mark P.

  4. When you mentioned Dave White that reminded me of the time that he did an email interview with John Molony for the glerowan1880 site. (He has also met him in person) I wonder if it would be ok to put some of the pertinent bits here that I have saved regarding his thoughts on the "I Am Ned Kelly" book? Heaven knows that I don't want any copyright problems! But, since I wrote the questions and the site is now missing from the net, what harm could it do? Or maybe I could just do a link if a direct one is possible to the pertinent page from the site in the wayback machine at What do you reckon Dee? Would anyone be interested in this?

  5. If you don't have permission from Dave White then you shouldn't do it Sharon.

  6. I'd like it, Sharon. It's a pity that some great sites like Bailup and Glenrowan1880 have gone. I do love the Wayback Machine though… thanks, I didn't know of it until you mentioned it here.

  7. Yes, that's a good point, Anonymous 🙂

  8. Dee, I had never considered John Molony's book from the point of view you suggest. I will have to have another look at it. To me, it's always been a straight biography, but written in a highly lyrical, poetical style… a style which never appealed to me, incidentally.

    I remember Ian Jones saying he had reservations about the book (although I am just speaking from recall). From memory, Ian made a comment about Molony's mention of the Gaunson exercise books, that is in Marian Matta's transcription of the 1993 symposium. I was at the symposium, and (again, from memory) after his presentation, Ian spoke at his puzzlement about how Tom Lloyd junior, a reputable source, or John Molony, came up with such an idea.

    I do think there was a primitive republic of sorts ready to be unleashed after Glenrowan, but I have doubts about any exercise books, and certainly any that involved David Gaunson.

  9. I also would be most interested Sharon. As far as Copyright goes, I have no idea! Maybe you could track down Dave White and ask him.
    However, it is not always necessary to obtain permission to use material that may have Copyright protection: there is such a thing as “Fair dealing” which is explained below in this extract from the Australian Copyright Council Information Sheet

    The “fair dealing” exceptions to infringement
    There is no general exception for using copyright material simply because you think it is fair or because you are not making a profit. The Copyright Act allows you to use copyright material without permission if your use is a “fair dealing” for one of the following purposes:
    • research or study;
    • criticism or review;
    • parody or satire;
    • reporting news; or
    • professional advice by a lawyer, patent attorney or trade marks attorney.

    Given that you had something to do with its creation you also must be a party to the ownership of copyright. I would be happy for you to Post it here , as part of this criticism and review of John Molonys work, along with an acknowledgement of its authorship, and a link to the original posting. If the other parties to Copyright objected then I would remove it but one hopes that the others involved would be pleased to see it getting an airing again!

  10. After all the input I think that my best bet is to just give the link that everyone could find on their own with a few clicks anyway from the wayback machine. That way no copyright or infringement is involved and if someone were to just quote a few lines (and not do wholesale full on cut and paste of large swatches) from it to support a theory or bring out a point there is no harm in it. Agreed?

  11. I've put that link through Wayback, but it's not working for me. Do you know which section of Dave's site it was in, Sharon? 🙂

  12. Ok, must be like the PROV that does not allow direct links to certain pages. Just go to when there in the waybackmachine slot put when it takes you to the timeline go to 2006 and then April 18 (I can't recall when it was first loaded but that is how I found it this time). It will take you to the 1880 home page, click on site map, then you will scroll down and find Molony Interview. Click and it should be there.

  13. Thanks, Sharon, I got there in the end.

    I read this years ago, but it's been great to look at it again.

    I was stunned by the relevance of some of Molony's words, almost nine years on (in Abbott's Australia):

    There are some questions we could ask which are not far from Ned and his time.
    Are we just to the poor, or are we allowing the gap between the poor and
    the rich to get wider every year? Are we prepared to continue as a
    nation bowed down in subservience to a seemingly greater power whose
    bidding we do even when it results in injustice to others? Will we stand
    up and struggle for a republic of the free, or will we acquiesce in
    remaining tied to a distant and meaningless monarchy? Have we been just
    to those who fled here as refugees? Will we treat those we accuse of
    being terrorists with justice?

  14. Yes, John Molony seems to be a very wise and thoughtful man in many respects. Those words truly do resonate loudly in this time. Looking back over the interview mention was made of his book "Luther's Pine" which came out in 2004, I do recall it had not been out long when the interview took place, so that should give a timeline as to when it was uploaded. I just took a stab in the dark and picked 2006 as the year to look in, still not too far off.

  15. Left wing historians are nothing new. Molony's words than stun and resonate are all very well, but lead us no closer to Ned's republic. Molony did not provide the references to prove any republic was contemplated. Neither has anyone else. The whole republic story is a furphy. Let's leave it at that.

  16. "Gerry", Molony's words have a striking resonance to the present day. That was the only point I was making.

    It's interesting that you define Molony as a left wing historian… maybe, but to me he is just another who made his own biographical sketch of the outbreak. As I say, I am not a particular fan, but he did make some pertinent observations.

    Why would you want to "leave it at that"? I thought the idea of this blog was (in part) to be open to different intellectual viewpoints, rather than shutting down discussion. To attempt to end debate on the matter is…um… anti-intellectual, to say the least.

  17. No, No, No! The Republican stuff is central to the modern Jones version of the Kelly story and has to be conclusively proved.

    So far nobody has come up with proof that a republic ever entered Ned's head.Nowhere in the dismal debacle at Glenrowan is there the slightest hint of some future vision, some bigger plan. There wasn't one.

  18. Chris, if the republican story is a furphy for which no evidence exists (and you certainly haven't added any), why shouldn't discussion be shut down until there is some? You want to keep discussing just it in case. That anti-intellectual in the extreme.

  19. Classic sidetracking, Gerry. My point was about Molony and his relevance to today.

    I certainly agree that evidence for the republic is not strong. I don't think Ian Jones ever argued that there was overwhelming evidence. However, to say there is no evidence is utter rot.

    Anyway, I'm glad to see that you have (twice over) identified yourself as someone who doesn't want open discussion.

  20. Regarding the Republic Molony had this in the interview:

    "A member of the Kelly clan told me that he had seen an old exercise book
    some years later in which he saw minutes of the meetings at which a
    rebellion and republic of the northeast had been planned. That Ned, and
    others, with either memories or knowledge of Ireland and its miseries,
    were capable of conceiving such a plan is clearly possible. That they
    carried it beyond hope is a matter requiring further study and research."

    (Too bad it was an email interview and could not have been conducted in person so that follow up questions to that could have been asked.)

    Anyway, I would like to know where are this alleged exercise book is now in 2015? Will it ever see the light of day? I have heard about the exercise book from more than one source. I still am not convinced about the Republic, though. Maybe seeing this exercise book will shed some light on things, but, will it show that they "had they carried it beyond hope"?

  21. That quote from the interview is a perfect and fascinating example of the way myth making happens.

    In the notes to his book Molony says that Mr Thomas Lloyd told him that “as a boy” he had seen the exercise books containing the "minutes of the meetings” but here in this interview he elaborates on what he was told, saying they contained the plans for a rebellion and a Republic. He doesn’t say when the interview took place but given that he didn’t start to write the book until 1976, we are talking about a very old man.

    The thing that is so interesting about this is that more than ten years earlier Ian Jones had already interviewed Tom Lloyd, and at that time the story he told was that it was his FATHER who had seen the exercise books. Ian Jones grilling in 1964 resulted in the well known effect of that sort of interrogation, the creation of false memories in the mind of Tom Lloyd who down the track came to believe that it was HE who had seen the exercise books, and not only had he seen them he could remember what was in them.

    There can NEVER be evidence that something didn’t happen – whether it be visits by Aliens or plans and declarations to make North East Victoria Republic, so that belief in such events can NEVER be refuted. However if something is claimed to exist but there is no actual evidence for it, its not rational to believe it. There is no evidence that Ned Kelly ever had a vision for a Republic of North East Victoria, and I don’t believe its “utter rot” to say so. What we DO have evidence for is the creation of a myth.

  22. The Thomas Lloyd interviewed by Ian Jones back in the 1960s must have been Thomas Patrick Lloyd, born 1908 and died 1993 at age 85. His father was Thomas Peter Lloyd (Tom Lloyd Jr) and his mother was Rachel Hart. Thomas Peter Lloyd was Ned's cousin who had children with Maggie Kelly and after her death he married Steve Hart's sister. He died in 1927.

  23. The accounts given by Tom Lloyd junior (Thomas Patrick Lloyd, as Sharon states above) and others, the description of the printed copy by Leonard Radic, the firing of the signal rockets, the presence of armed men at Glenrowan, and even the oral history about the declaration being found in Ned's pocket.

    These are all pieces of evidence. You may well dispute their validity or argue that they don't add up to an awful lot. However, to say there is no evidence is absurd.

  24. This is turning into an interesting discussion and I agree with you Chris. To expect there to be a bright red notebook with REPUBLIC OF NORTH EAST VICTORIA embossed in gold across the cover or a list of people who were for the idea of the republic and in attendance at meetings is highly unlikely, however this is not to say that they don't or didn't exist. Verbal accounts ARE evidence of the existence of this idea. Stating that "if something is claimed to exist but there is no actual evidence for it, its not rational to believe it" would deny the existence of a number of religions, I mean the bible itself is nothing but a verbal account of the existence of christ. I am interested to know what sort of evidence you expect there to be Dee?

  25. Yes I agree it is an interesting discussion Kate. The subject of Neds Republic has long been on my To Do List, so I think I will make a separate Post about it, I will give my answers your and Chris H’s questions and post it tomorrow, for Australia Day! Then everyone can have a go at it and hopefully we can develop the subject a bit more. I just don’t have the time this afternoon, so stay Tuned!

  26. BTW Thanks Sharon I knew you would sort out who was who! According to a Family tree that Ive looked at Thomas Peter Lloyd was born in 1857. Now if he was the person who claimed to have seen these Notebooks, it could hardly have been when he was “a boy” because he was around 20 when they were allegedly being filled in at these secret Republican meetings.

    So was he not a boy when he saw them, or did he see something altogether different, much earlier, and later imagine they might have been something to with a republic? There is definitely something dodgy about this oral history. The other thing we really need to know, is the exact conversation that took place between this mans son and Ian Jones. Jones may easily have contaminated his memory by asking him if he or his father knew anything about a Republic, or had he seen or heard anything about secret meetings, records, papers, anything at all? It is VERY well known that this type of suggestive questioning of a witness who wants to be helpful can easily lead to the construction of false memories.

  27. It was pretty dumb to keep a record of treasonous activity. In fact, the whole exercise book thing sounds illogical. Young uneducated thugs keeping 'minutes of meetings' about how they might later govern NE Victoria doesn't even sound remotely likely? During the Whitty horse thefts, they had shown they weren't even good crooks.

  28. It is too bad that we don't have access to a transcript or recording of Ian Jones's interview with Mr Lloyd. Surely, much like the Kinnear letters, he has them somewhere in storage? Ditto for Molony. Also, interestingly, I was just looking at the sources at the back of Doug Morrissey's thesis and it states that he interviewed Thomas Lloyd over three separate days in November of 1982 and over the course of two days in 1984.Mr Lloyd seems to have been a very popular man with researchers.

  29. Anonymous says: Reply

    Just wanted to throw a little question into the discussion, when were exercise books or notebooks invented?

  30. I looked at Trove and the earliest newspapers in Australia advertising "children's copy books" was 1808. Advertisements for "exercise books" in Australia could be found in the 1830s and advertising for "school exercise books" could be found in the 1850s. I can't say when they were invented or where, but at least we know what the availability down under was, so it is entirely in the realm of possibility that the gang could have laid their hands on one if needed.

  31. Interesting thought! ( which is why this is all so interesting!)
    Heres a quote from :

    "When the very first Woolworth store opened in Utica, New York, USA in February 1879, the range included stationery. Exercise Books were a best seller. Thirty years later, the first British store stocked an assortment of paper products. The department became a regular feature at Woolies throughout its entire ninety-nine years in the High Street.

    The Exercise Books, made of paper and card, were well suited to mass manufacture. The store's no frills approach was able to cut production costs and make the books available for just 5¢ each, including a profit of 1.28¢. For writing, Woolworth also sold 'Pencil Charms' for 5¢ in his first store, and, for a touch of the exotic, turkey red napkins were offered at the same price.”

    Melbourne was by then a very wealthy city, and among its businesses there were several Stationers who were also printers and publishers of books, so its likely that school exercise books were available – certainly loose leaf writing paper was.

  32. I like to think that they picked it up at James Ingram's shop in Beechworth since Ned and Joe were regulars there. 🙂

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