The end of The Last Outlaw

John Jarratt in Wolf Creek : was he closer to the real Ned in this role than when he played him in TLO?

Ive now watched the rest of The Last Outlaw, Episodes 3 and 4, which detail what happened after the Police murders at SBC, shown at the end of Episode 2, and ending of course with Neds hanging. Seen purely as entertainment, I would give it a pass mark as Soap Opera, which according to one definition I found is “A drama, typically performed as a serial on daytime television or radio,characterized by stock characters and situations, sentimentality, and melodrama” Its also typified by characters who are one dimensional goodies – the Kellys and their allies – or baddies – the Police and the Squatters.  So we have a jolly scene of the Outlaws returning home for  a happy Xmas reunion, romantic interludes among the Eucalypts between Kate Lloyd and Ned, hostages dancing merrily at the Ann Jones Inn and beautiful shots of horses and riders galloping exuberantly across the picturesque countryside. On the other hand Police are portrayed as universally unattractive and devious;  one couldn’t create a more evil  and less believable Police Commissioner than Standish – but real people are not like that even if they are corrupt or incompetent.

Also typical of Soap is camerawork that lingers long on extreme close-ups of faces that fill the entire screen, and background music that tells us what we are supposed to be feeling – sadness or empathy for the Kellys, contempt and disdain, and a sense of something malevolent for the Traps, amusement  and delight at the antics of the gang when taking women and children hostage and robbing Banks.
But as I have already pointed out, what we are being shown is not the truth but the Mythology of Ned Kelly, a private version of history  created by Ian Jones who has said he believed if Ned was not a villain he was almost an “un-beatified saint”.  Its obvious Jones prefers the latter possibility and tries hard to prove it. As Ive already noted Jones suggests from the beginning that the ideas that took Ned down the pathway to criminality were never his own : George King introduced him to horse stealing and sowed the seeds of resentment towards the Squatters and the Police, and in Episode 4 Tom Lloyd is the one who erodes Neds faith in Aaron Sherritt and encourages his murder. 

Neds own ideas are expressed in statements like “Not a word about us calling it quits if they would free our mother” and “ We’ve tried to get Justice and to lead our own lives”. These are made up bits of dialog, but for obvious reasons Jones never has Ned uttering any of the words he actually used in the Jerilderie Letter, hate-filled bloodthirsty language of torture and vicious threats of cruel punishments and death to anyone who would dare oppose him or in any way help the Police.  Such talk would ruin Jones carefully crafted image so he ignores it. Jones actually claimed in a Radio interview that much of this rhetoric is from Joe Byrne, once again attempting to keep Neds image squeaky clean at the expense of someone else in the story.
Where in this miniseries is the “wholesale and retail” stock theft that was such a large part of Neds adult life, the forging of Sales documents, the slaughter of horses to conceal evidence, the gambling, and the hooning about town with the Greta Mob?  Where are the fights and disputes that occurred between  various members of the Quinn and Kelly clans? Where are the other lovers that Mrs Kelly took after Red died?  Nothing is  mentioned about the sly-grogging and other dubious activities said to be taking place around the Kelly homestead. All trace of the intimidation and terrorising of hostages at the Bank robberies and at Glenrowan is wiped from the record. These unattractive “Facts” about Ned Kelly, like his language in the Jerilderie Letter are not drawn on by Ian Jones because they disturb his myth. Instead he has the preposterous image of Ned bouncing a child on his knee in the middle of a hostage crisis, and shows him cheerfully clearing the table and emptying a bath for the pregnant Mrs Devine – but no re-enactments of him warning the Policeman that harm might come to his wife and children unless he does exactly as he’s told, or vision of Ned shoving the barrel of a loaded revolver down the throat of an old man who dared challenge him! Why are these facts ignored? And why, when there are NO facts to draw from at all does he create a scene where a meeting takes place to draw up a Charter for the Republic of North East Victoria? Why? Because Jones is selling a myth, his private fantasy about Ned Kelly, and being a skillful movie maker, I have to say he does a damn good job.
As entertainment its well done and it works – I confess I had a lump in my own throat as Ellen embraced Ned in his cell the night before his execution, and a tear in my eye when he was hanged and all the sympathisers wept and wailed at the Prison Gate. Less well informed people watching this  series uncritically would easily be persuaded it could be the truth, not least because of the disingenuous claim at the beginning of each episode that “All events…are drawn directly from fact” Moreover, in publicity supporting the Miniseries, much is made of the desire of the Producers to make the sets and the props and  even the minor detail as accurate as possible. I noted that when Ned fired a test shot into the armor, it was into the inside of the breast plate – a trivial but true detail. I read that the Police uniforms were exact replicas, with five buttons rather than the four found on the uniforms of Police from NSW. All this attention to detail, to the physical setting adds further to the feeling that this is really what happened.
The truth is Ian Jones  did such a brilliant job that everyone was convinced. I am amazed that nowhere on the internet can I find a single critical word about this series – it seems to have been universally acclaimed and yet where were the Kelly buffs and the actual historians who could have challenged this skewed version of history, added some notes of caution, pointed out how the unpalatable parts of the Kelly story were left untold, how “facts” were invented, or ignored or misrepresented? Perhaps, because Ian Jones was already an acclaimed and respected producer nobody even thought to question his approach, or the Story he wanted to tell? So he got away with it for 35 years – but not any more.

So, in answer to Comments made to the previous TLO Posts of mine, yes, I am critical of Mr Jones. In particular I am critical of his failure to recognise his own loss of objectivity regarding the history of the Outbreak and the life of Ned Kelly and as a result claim to be presenting an objective account when in reality he provides a very partisan view carefully created out of whichever selected facts suited his purpose.  The truth is that Mr Jones has had an enormous impact on one of the great Australian stories, and is in no small way directly responsible for the misapprehension by many of us that Ned Kelly was a hero worthy of inclusion in the history books alongside other great Australians like Burke and Wills, or John Monash or Leichardt, Batman and Lalor. He was not. 

In my opinion, The Last Outlaw is really best regarded as Ian Jones fantasy of how he wished Ned Kellys life would have been. If it had been like that, as Ian Jones presented it,  then Neds  status as Icon and Hero might be reasonable. Instead what Ian Jones has given us is not historical truth but a great and clever rendition of the Kelly Myth. Believe it or not!
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13 Replies to “The end of The Last Outlaw”

  1. The guy with the FB hatepage against a certain book claimed there were no warring factions in the Kelly World. Scroll down to see his daft assertion:

    I too support BHRG over the wimps and artistic failures at NKF.

  2. Rick Cavanagh says: Reply

    All the pro-Kelly auhors have been like that. Molony even gave Ned an Irish brogue though he was born and raised here. FitzSimmonds merely regurgitated the Jones version Kennealley pretended to be a Kelly afficianado. From the evidence presented on this blog, they will all be judged by history and their many and varied errors.

  3. Alec Mathieson says: Reply

    Forgetting the police haters who worship Ne for a minute, many smart people have been misled by the likes of Jones. As you have discovered, Dee, the truth isn't easily found always. But the omission of the planned police mass murder at Glenrowan; the attempts to burn police and the relatives of the murdered Aaron Sherritt, and the sanitising of the police murders at SBC are giveaways we are being duped. We know that. Most Aussies don't.

    I'm a BHRG supporter too!

  4. Peter FitzSimmons dedicated his book to Ian Jones and went on to produce a longer version of the Jones' myth.

    As you say, it is the omiissions of the bad stuff about Ned that tell a different tale.

  5. Very interesting coming from the author himself.
    In my opinion Ian McFarlane is just as important a Kelly author as Ian Jones.

    Ian Jones paints the mythological Ned while Ian Mc paints the real Ned Kelly, take you pick?

    For me, I sympathise with Ned simply because history is always written by the winners. I can see through the winners version of history because there are always two sides to any story. If I had been there I would probably have supported Ned simply because the police were being paid reward monies on top of their wages for the capture of the Kelly brothers before they were outlawed. The other two members of the Kelly gang only became implicated because of their failed attempt to bail the police up at their camp, resulting with the death of three police. Obviously it was a desperate move by the Kellys to take the police party on, but what other options were there? Keep running or confront a police force that were clearly in the pockets of the establishment that paid police the reward monies.

  6. Did your objectivity fail to mention that there was a Royal Commission into Police contribution to the Kelly outbreak.Also the sacking of Fitzpatrick,after the RC.WAS it not his evidence that lead to the warrant for Neds arrest.

  7. Anonymous says: Reply

    No it wasn't Fitzpatrick's' evidence which lead to the swearing of a warrant but he had seen that there was a warrant in existence which was noted in the Police Gazette. The warrant was taken out at the Chiltern Bench and had nothing to do with Fitzpatrick.

  8. Jeff Duncan says: Reply

    You are right Spudee.

    Warrants for horse stealing were issued at Chiltern against Ned Kelly on 15 March 1878
    and Dan Kelly on 5 April 1878. The attempted murder of Const. Fitzpatrick took place at
    the Kelly home on 15 April.

    I was reading the documents about the Chiltern warrants last week, but not expecting your comment. I didn't note them. I can assure Paul that Fitzpatrick wasn't involved. I will be able to retrace who the informant was if I retrace my steps.

  9. Anonymous says: Reply

    Paul, forgot to mention. If you want to read some serious research surrounding the Fitzpatrick 'incident', have a look her; it's an eye-opener.

  10. Are you suggesting there was no warrant for attempted murder of Fitzpatrick when the police pursued him ,with the intent to kill him?
    And,once again,why was there a RC into Police contribution to the Kelly outbreak?

  11. Paul, what you’re suggesting is wrong, its just another falsity that as incorporated into the Kelly mythology : the Police did NOT pursue Ned Kelly ‘with the intent to kill him’.

    And if you’re interested in the RC read the post about it that I wrote in August. The RC found no evidence that the Outbreak was caused by Police. What the RC found was that Police mismanagement and internal politics allowed the Outbreak to continue and the Gang to remain at large longer than it should have.The RC stated that the cause of the outbreak was 'the unchecked aggregation aggregation of a large class of criminals in the Northeast'

  12. Stuart Dawson says: Reply

    I have to say that despite 'The Last Outlaw' being a completely pro-Ned and hopelessly biased presentation of events, I do enjoy it as a movie, and watch the episodes on DVD probably a couple of times a year. The Harry Power section at the start is fantastic; the acting is mostly great throughout; and it is great to play 'spot the historical errors', which are rife. A classic part is when Fitzpatrick seizes Kate in the kitchen while Dan goes on eating his dinner, hilarious nonsense.

    The fact that Ned and the other young Kellys have put-on Irish accents only stuck me recently; I had never really noticed it. It's more nonsense; the colonial children had distinctive Australian accents since around the 1840s – see "Power of speech all ours", by Bruce Moore, director of the Australian National Dictionary Centre at ANU, in 'The Australian', 4 October 2008.

    Ian Jones had a fantasy of Ned having an Irish accent at least as early as 1969, when he was co-scripting his first propaganda film, 'Ned Kelly' featuring Mick Jagger and the toast to the Republic of North Eastern Victoria; see the write-up, "Kelly was Irish to his boot heels", in 'The Age', 11 July 1969.

    This comes from Jones' wish to believe that Ned was an Irish rebel at heart, which in turn is where his fantasy of SBC being a declaration of war that led to the armour and attempted train derailment etc., at Glenrowan comes from. As Jones himself said in "The Fatal Friendship" (2003, 156), "the scale of the fight demanded some rationale or it would be seen simply as a criminal atrocity of monstrous scale".

    Jones has to believe in the Republic; he has to believe that the gang are more than a bunch of psychopathic criminals; he has to believe they were good men driven mad by persecution (as per the lines Gaunson wrote for Ned while in Beechworth gaol, that were recycled later as his first condemned cell letter), rather than that the police were onto them as part of a group of persistent stock thieves; he has to believe that Ned was a general fighting for an Irish-heritage inspired cause. Otherwise he'd just be an especially murderous bushranger…

  13. Anonymous says: Reply

    Sorry Paul I misread your original post. You are right about the warrant for the arrest of Ned for the attempted murder of Fitzpatrick. The warrant was issued by F.McDonnell, JP of Benalla on 16 April 1877, presumably after hearing sworn evidence by Fitzpatrick. I had thought you were talking about the warrant for Dan's arrest which lead Fitzpatrick to the Kelly property.

    But as far as your comment that the police intended to kill Ned, this has been discussed in detail here recently. Others have suggested this also but there doesn't seem to be any evidence to support it. However, if you can give me a source which supports your contention, I would love to see it.

    Dee has already discussed the RC and it might be a good idea if you read what their final reports had to say. Here is a link to an abbreviated version.

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