Death Row

There are a  couple of things going on in the News at present which keep reminding me of the Kelly Story, and I wonder if other people think about these parallels too.
The first is the imminent execution of two Australians who have been in prison in Indonesia for about ten years. It seems their numbers are up, all their appeals have been turned down, the Indonesian President has declined to exercise his right to grant them clemency, and the latest news is that sometime in the next three weeks they are going to be taken out into the bush in the middle of the night and shot.
Capital Punishment is of course no longer practiced in Australia. The last man hanged was Ronald Ryan whose body was buried at the Pentridge Prison Cemetery in 1967, in a spot not far from where Ned Kellys remains had been moved to in 1929 from their original burial site at the old Melbourne Gaol. Interestingly, Ryan was hanged for killing a Prison Officer who was trying to stop him escaping from Pentridge. Ryans life was one of deprivation and neglect as a kid, and gradual immersion in crime beginning with the writing of dud cheques and progression to burglary and bank robbery.
But he should never have been hanged, and I feel the same way about Ned Kelly – he too should never have been hanged.  Even then, in Melbourne there was it seems a growing movement opposed to Capital Punishment, and no doubt they would be gratified to see how far around the world the idea that it is barbaric and should be outlawed has spread since then. But it came too late to save Ned or Ronald Ryan, and unfortunately it has yet to reach Indonesia.
The other issue in the news of interest to Kelly enthusiasts has been  the December Hostage Drama in Sydney. Hostages were interviewed on TV on Sunday night and were obviously massively traumatised by the experience. Kelly fanatics tend to dismiss the idea that I have floated before, that being held hostage by a known gang of Killers would have been a terrifying experience. Kelly fanatics think that while being held captive at the point of a gun, being given free drink and made to dance and play hop-step-and-jump would have meant they all would have had a merry old time. I doubt it. Like the Lindt café hostages, Kellys hostages would have suffered enormous psychological stress, and carried ghastly memories and emotional scars for the rest of their lives.

Its also interesting that even though in their rescue efforts, one hostage was killed by shrapnel from Police bullets, I have yet to hear anyone criticize the Police or blame them for that death. Everyone can see that the ultimate cause of all that trauma mayhem and death was the Armed Hostage Taker.  In contrast Kelly fanatics never stop blaming the Police for the deaths that occurred to innocent people at the Glenrowan Inn, the hostages, including children and women who were imprisoned there at Gunpoint by the Kelly Gang. Ultimate responsibility for all deaths at Glenrowan, as at the Lindt Cafe lies with the people who planned and excecuted the whole operation, the Gang led by Ned Kelly.
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8 Replies to “Death Row”

  1. The people in the Inn might have started out as hostages of the gang, but after a point they were basically being held hostage there by the police due to their (the police's) indiscriminate firing on those who tried to leave. Some of the women and children tried to escape and had to turn back due to being fired on. Others tried and some made it and some had to turn back. Some in the Inn stuck a white flag out the door hoping for the police to honor a truce so they could escape to safety and several bullets were put right through the flag by police. Later, finally, Mrs Reardon who had been amongst those who had been fired on and turned back was told along with others by the gang that they could go but that the police would shoot at them if they tried it. Dan Kelly told Mrs Reardon to tell Hare to keep his men from shooting until daybreak so as to allow the prisoners to get to safety. On her way, while holding her baby, she was again fired on with a bullet going through her baby's shawl/blanket.

  2. My sense is that there are very few people who approach the historicity of the Kelly Gang with a genuine desire to seek out the truth and remain flexible enough to allow their position to change according to evidence. This takes humility. I think most of us fall into the trap of forming a position, sometimes subconsciously, and then mining the evidence base to find the facts that support that view. Some seem to prefer a purely clinical view relying solely on written evidence alone. Others seem to place great weight on oral history. Perhaps there is 'goldilocks' mix of the two. I guess this is part of what makes history so interesting. How do you really get inside someone's head that lived and died well over a century ago. I think part of the challenge is reading between the lines, but that of course is subjective.

  3. Well said David.

  4. Firing squads are an antiquated military execution option. It sits oddly with modern Indonesia's pretensions.

    Martin Place: We were endlessly told how the NSW Police Tactical Group was the best in the world. Well, they weren't. More like the Keystone Cops SWAT TEAM.

    Victoria Police at Glenrowan were local coppers drawn in from country and regional stations. No one ever said they were the best.

  5. Peter Brady says: Reply

    "I was at the Kelly Gang round-up" book by Judith Douthie does not, I think, mention the plight of Glenrowan hostages in later life. A bad omission, if so.

  6. David I agree too, that people form a view and then "mine the evidence base to find the facts that support that view”. In fact we all do this in regard to just about everything we believe , whether its our religious, political or other views. One name for it is “subjective validation”, when what we really want to be trying to achieve is objectivity. I contend this subjective approach you describe is rife in the Kelly world, and is particularly apparent in the “Republic debate” where up until the idea was revived by – it now seems – Ian Jones, nobody could see any evidence for such an idea but since then people have trawled every available source for the slightest hint that could be press ganged into service to the Idea.

    The opposite extreme of the adoption of a fixed view about something is a refusal to take any sort of position and declare nothing is certain, nothing can be known, no position is tenable. I don’t think thats the answer to dogmatism – I think its necessary to weigh the evidence and develop an explanation that best fits all the available evidence, make that your position and then continue to re-evaluate that position as and when new evidence or interpretations are brought forward. This is how Science works and has progressed from a flat earth at the centre of the universe to where we are today. This is why I find the “Ned Kelly was somewhere between a villainous hero and a heroic villain” argument to be so unhelpful – refusal to take a position is a tactic that protects the person making it from having anything to defend other than a nebulous ever changing shadow that cant be pinned down.

  7. One reason firing squads are not preferred as a method of Capital Punishment is that it is visually shocking and violent, but for the accused its instant and less often botched than hanging and even death by injection.The guillotine was an attempt at making execution more humane and more reliable than an axeman whose aim wasn’t always good. Nowadays Society much prefers concealing the abhorrent violence of the act by the visually reassuring sight of a person going to sleep…

  8. Timothy Evans says: Reply

    One wonders if the Indonesian firing squads are issued with one blank. That way no shooter is entirely sure they helped execute the victim.

    British hangman Albert Pierrepoint hanged most of the WWII Nazi war criminals — over two hundred — with little ceremony, no fuss, considerable speed and no mistakes.

    I wish AFP hadn't dobbed in the Bali Nine. Wododo still has time to redeem himself and his nation by halting this execution.

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