The moon landings are more recent than the Symposium that gave rise to the book “Ned Kelly Man and Myth” ! That’s how very long ago Ian Jones “New View of Ned Kelly” was first expounded – close to half a century ago – so it would be fair to say those views are not “new” anymore. In fact those “new views” have become the orthodoxy of Kelly legend and have remained at the centre of the Kelly Myth ever since, unchallenged until only very recently.
Its ironic that the Symposium claimed to be an attempt “to remove the layers of myth and legend, lies and innuendoes, half remembered truths and remembered half truths” because what the Book that resulted from it mostly contains are renewed myths, recycled lies and innuendo, and half truths, the very things the Symposium was supposed to be sweeping away. Its hard to find anywhere in that book a “myth” that is identified and then rejected. Rather, the myths are assumed as truths, and elaborated and expanded, nowhere more blatantly than in the exposition of Ian Jones “new view” . He presented his interpretation so persuasively that it has become the modern Kelly sympathisers “truth”, but in fact, it is almost pure myth. Jones creates his myth by confusing time-lines, by mixing up events which came late and proposing they influenced things that happened earlier, by simply asserting things which are untrue or unprovable, and by ignoring the actual behavior and the writings of Ned Kelly and the Kelly Gang.
Heres a very simple example of a myth being created to hide the truth: Jones writes “He was justifiably proud of his boxing ability” – casting Ned in a favorable light as an accomplished sportsman. But in the Jerilderie Letter Ned Kelly wrote “I had a pair of arms and a bunch of fives on the end of them that never failed to peg out anything they came in contact with” and in several other places boasted again about his ability to brawl and fight. During the Mc Cormick incident for example when questioned by Constable Hall Ned freely admitted to hitting McCormick because he accused him of stealing a horse, then said “ And I will do the same to you if you challenge me”.
This reality, this glimpse of the actual man rather than the myth, shows him to be a big powerful man who, if he was decent and of good character would not use his “boxing ability” to intimidate and assault people who said and did things he didn’t like. But thats what Ned Kelly did – he bashed and intimidated people who disagreed with him. This is UNDENIABLE FACT! And he was very successful at it too. But this was not justifiable pride in a sporting ability, as Jones tries to make out, but loud mouth boasting by an unsportsmanlike bully. So here’s your man and Myth moment: the man was a thug; the myth is a sporting hero: take your pick – the inconvenient truth or a convenient myth?
But what was Ian Jones “new view’?
Essentially Jones “new view” was a view which many now think of as a central truth of the Kelly story: that because of Police persecution, Ned Kelly was engaged in a “personal rebellion” against the authorities and the grievance was about Land. Jones creatively discusses his view of the political instability of the time, of the uncertainty of financial markets, and the effect of seasonal variation and drought to paint a picture of seething volatility and disquiet among the Selectors of the North West. This disquiet, according to Jones, was finding a voice in Ned Kelly whose personal rebellion merged with the selectors one.
Ultimately, according to the “new view” Glenrowan was Ned Kellys attempt to resolve this mess and declare some part of the North East a Republic. Without such a lofty justification, Glenrowan was “madness” according to Ian Jones, ruthless and brutal, yes, “but it wasn’t a criminal act”. It was an act of war!
Again what we see here is pure Mythmaking. Take the notion that the Kellys were persecuted, that, as Kelly said the Police drove him to madness, that all this came about because of Police mistreatment and harassment. Ian Jones develops this argument around the well known instruction from Nicolson: “Without oppressing the people or worrying them in any way you should endeavor whenever they commit any paltry crime to bring them to Justice and send them to Pentridge. Even on a paltry sentence”
But this directive was issued in 1877, by which time Ned Kelly, his mother and two brothers and many other members of their extended family and associates had been in trouble with the law, had been before the courts and served time in Prison. It was the time when Ned Kelly admitted that he was himself engaged in “wholesale and retail horse and cattle dealing” , meaning criminal stock theft. To quote this statement of Nicolson as if it was issued when the Kellys were innocent law abiding country folk, and as evidence of Police persecution is entirely wrong. Such a directive was in fact a perfectly legitimate Police response to the threats to law and order that the Greta mob and the Kellys known behaviours represented. It came well AFTER Ned Kelly had turned to crime and can’t in any legitimate way be implicated in the causation of his criminal career.
And another thing : if the Myth was true, that all his life the innocent Ned Kelly was persecuted by the Police, why did they stop persecuting him in his so called “Quiet years” between 1874 and 1877 when he was supposed to be going straight? If he WAS going straight, and we know there was hardly any Police interest in him during that time, then doesn’t this explode the Myth, that Police persecuted him even when he was innocent? Don’t the facts instead show that when he was “straight” the Police left him alone, but once he reengaged with the criminal world, he was once again of interest to them?
So what we actually KNOW is that when going straight, Kelly was NOT hounded by the Police, and that Police interest came AFTER the Kellys had criminal records and not before. That is the truth. The opposite idea, that Kelly was a Police-made criminal is the myth. So what are you going to believe? The inconvenient truth, that the Police had a legitimate interest in Kelly because he was a known criminal and criminal associate, or a convenient myth that ignores Kellys own admissions about being a thief, and a bully, and portrays Kelly as a victim?
The actual reality of what Ned Kelly planned for Glenrowan was an apalling violent , personal revengeful criminal act, but clearly such behavior doesn’t fit with the image of Ned Kelly as some sort of folk hero and visionary leader. The Myth about Glenrowan, that it was “an act of war” and a prelude to a Declaration of the republic of North east Victoria – or some such political event – is a blatant fabrication, an interpretation elaborated by Ian Jones to enable him to avoid the obvious truth, that it was indeed “madness’ and “criminal”. In proposing this model, reference is always made to Ned Kellys statement in the Jerilderie letter about his being “compelled to show some colonial stratagem “. The precise meaning of this short phrase is not at all clear, but it is the ONLY statement recorded of Ned Kellys anywhere which might possibly be a reference to something like the Glenrowan campaign, and so in desperation Jones and all the Kelly republican believers load it up with meaning and significance that is completlely unsustainable. In fact, if this IS a reference to Glenrowan Kelly makes it pretty clear that the motivation for it was revenge for the imprisonment of his mother and others following the “Fitzpatrick incident” :
“It will pay the Government to give those people who are suffering innocence justice and liberty. If not I will be compelled to show some colonial stratagem which will open the eyes of not only the Victorian police and inhabitants but also the whole British army and now doubt they will acknowledge their hounds were barking at the wrong stump and that Fitzpatrick will be the cause of greater slaughter to the Union Jack than St Patrick was to the snakes and toads in Ireland”
The only way anyone can regard this statement of Ned Kellys as in some way a hint that a political stratagem was afoot to declare the North East a Republic is by completely ignoring the logical meaning of it. Clearly, Ned Kelly is referring here to the Fitzpatrick incident, and his mother and others – those suffering innocence – and threatening violence if they are not given “justice and liberty”. This is most emphatically NOT a political campaign that he is preoccupied with in February 1879, but Jones ignores the inconvenient and obvious meaning, and states, quite inaccurately “ But the fact is indisputable that by the beginning of 1880 the rebellion was taking shape” .
The facts are that neither Ned Kelly or any other person involved in the Outbreak EVER said a single word about a rebellion, about a Declaration, about a Republic or an uprising or any sort of Political movement or lobby group – not one word! And yet throughout this time there was considerable public discussion in the press about the politics of land reform, about Government policy and about leadership and governance. But within the Kelly sympathizer ranks : no interest was ever demonstrated. I mentioned in a Post on the Kelly republic last year one of the most absurd arguments put by Ian Jones in support of his thesis, and its worth repeating :
Ian Jones – and Kelly Republicans generally – claim it took a Century to uncover this truth because the idea of a Republic was treasonous, the penalty was death and so the whole plot was “carefully concealed”. In fact, according to Jones it was so well concealed that “One Police agent broke the inner circle of sympathizers and heard about the armor being made though he failed to learn of the republic”. What we have here is Jones failing to find evidence of the republican Plot even from spies who infiltrated the “inner circle” but instead of accepting that as counting against the possibility that there was ever a Republican plot, he turns it upside down and says he has found proof of how incredibly secret it all was. This is approaching conspiracy theory madness – the lack of evidence for something is proof that it exists and has been suppressed by powerful enemies! Utter and complete nonsense! The simplest explanation of why it was that the spy didn’t hear about a Republic, is that no-one was talking about it – a Republican plot was NOT on their agenda; if it had been, it would have been front and center of everything they were doing and talking about.
So here we are at another Man or Myth moment. Are you going to accept the evidence at face value, the inconvenient truth that Ned Kelly was never on about anything other than a personal mission of revenge, or do you prefer the convenient Myth that has nothing to support it, and that flies in the face of the actual evidence, that Ned Kelly was the brave leader of a movement that wanted to right wrongs and set the innocent free?
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