“Ned Kelly : Man and Myth” is a fascinating book that was published in 1968. It contains the results of a symposium that was held over the Easter weekend of 1967 at Wangaratta. Presenters at the symposium included Professor Manning Clark, and a youthful Ian Jones. The lectures are presented along with interesting discussions that took place on the floor after each of them. The symposium included a display of Kelly “relics, documents photographs and writings” as well as a conducted tour through Kelly country. It would have been a fascinating weekend I am sure. But that was 48 years ago, many of the participants have passed on, and many new Kelly books and much new research has been published since then. Its time someone convened a new symposium.
Never-the- less much of the material presented is still relevant and interesting to read.
I’ve just read Chapter 5 : Regina v Edward Kelly by Law Professor Louis Waller. It’s about the Trial, as you would guess and is brilliantly written. He provides much background information about the way in which the system operated then, and how it differs and where its similar to the system that now operates. His description of the trial itself is the best Ive ever read and along the way he addresses many of the issues that are still raised about the adequacy and the fairness of the trial. For example one often reads that the trial was rushed through so that Justice that Barry could go to the Races – at the end a questioner asked if a two day trial for a capital offence was a “track record” and Wallers reply, demonstrating his detailed knowledge of the times, was that in fact by the standards of the time it was a LENGTHY trial. He noted there were instances of arraignment trial conviction and sentencing taking as little as “about a quarter of an hour”.
Even Peter Fitzsimons in his recent book perpetuates this falsity, writing in Chapter 17 : “Nothing is to be allowed to interrupt his (Barry’s) attendance at the Spring Carnival” This example illustrates yet again how uncritical the Kelly Mythmakers are, ignoring known facts and expert opinion to enable a piece of Kelly Mythology to persist to the present day even though it was exploded nearly half a century ago!
The thing that particularly delighted me, was to read the Professors view about the defense of Self Defense which was never actually put at the trial but is often regarded as the defense Kelly wanted and Bindon, his Barrister should have presented. What Waller believed all those years ago was what I had concluded myself, and presented in a Post here last year though not nearly as coherently as Waller does, that “Self defense” could indeed have been successful, and could have resulted in a different outcome to Ned Kelly’s trial for the murder of Lonigan. He provides a detailed description of relevant case Law from Kelly’s times and modern times to illustrate his argument, but in the end has to admit that the outcome MIGHT have been different rather than WOULD have been. In any event, even if his trial for the murder of Lonigan had found him not guilty, there was still the matter of Scanlan and of course Kennedy : Waller wrote “It would be impossible to make out a similar argument in respect of Sergeant Kennedy”
In truth, notwithstanding the hyperbole and misrepresentations about deficiencies in the trial that ended up with Ned Kelly being sentenced to hang, even if the Lonigan case had been decided in his favour, its impossible to imagine that his ensuing trial for the murder of Scanlan and then of Kennedy would have ended the same way. One way or another, Ned Kelly’s crimes were going to catch up with him and he was destined to hang.
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