|The “poverty stricken” Kellys and George King
I described Part one of this 4 part 1980 TV Miniseries on the life of Ned Kelly as “choloform on film” because it was so slow and it portrayed Ned Kelly to be a gormless goody–goody, an obvious misrepresentation of the truth of who he really was, even in his younger days. Part Two covers the events of 1875 to 1878, the period from the days when Ned was supposedly going straight, through to the “Fitzpatrick Incident” and ends with the police Killings at Stringybark Creek. Thankfully, as entertainment, the second episode is much more interesting, but as with the first Episode it is far from being reliable as historical truth. Nevertheless I can start to see why Bill says TLO was “the viewing highlight of the week” back in 1980!
In this episode Ned at last starts to come to life, the first signs of passion appearing when at the races he angrily confronts Mr Whitty, a wealthy land-owner . Ned demands an apology from him for claiming that Ned stole a bull, something Ned says “I never done”. Whitty refuses to apologise and dismisses the Kellys as “thieves larrikins and a blight on the district”. This dialog is of course entirely fictional, and framed to suit Ian Jones purpose of portraying squatters as arrogant bullies and the selectors as innocent and hard done by. As readers of this Blog will know, James Whitty was not at all the ogre that Ian Jones and the Kelly myth need him to be to sustain their “poor Ned” sob story, (read here) but a man who had worked his way up from nothing, gave a lot back to the community and had good cause to regard the Kellys as a blight. Ned Kelly was intensely envious of Whittys success and carried a deep personal grudge against him. In the Jerilderie Letter Ned complained that it was Whittys fault that he became a criminal, but in the Last Outlaw this decision is prompted by the subtle corrupting influence of George King.
The Last Outlaw portrays the Police as schemers and corrupt, and none more so than Constable Alexander Fitzpatrick, the Policeman Kelly sympathisers so love to hate. By contrast the Kellys and their friends and acquaintances are unfailingly presented as decent honest caring country folk, and as victims – it all gets rather emotive and sickly sentimental, but I suppose thats what TV audiences want. To my surprise, even though Ned Kelly claimed in the Jerilderie Letter not to have been at home when the “Fitzpatrick Incident” took place, this pivotal event in the Kelly story is re-enacted with Ned making an appearance. Virtually every Kelly scholar would agree with this depiction, because virtually every Kelly scholar accepts that Neds claim not to have been there was a lie – but THIS fact about Ned Kelly, that he was a known liar is never revealed in The Last Outlaw…or remarked upon anywhere else in the Kelly world for that matter.
It becomes very clear in episode Two that what we are watching is not history but the mythology about Ned Kelly that Ian Jones wants us to believe was history. He portrays Ned as a naïve and trusting country boy with a strong commitment to family values and a sense of right and wrong, an impressionable impetuous young man who is easily influenced by those around him: at one point, after Ellen had been arrested Ned decided to give himself up but is dissuaded from doing so by Dan; on another occasion, getting all worked up about his mother again he wants to rush out and take the Police on directly but this time Thomas Lloyd stops him.
But in Ian Jones mind the greatest influence on innocent Ned comes from the shady and smooth talking Machiavellian figure of George King. He is shown altering horse brands and painting their feet, smoking and drinking and lounging about in Bars and gambling dens, planting subversive ideas into Neds unwitting head and craftily molding Neds innocent character to his own ends. King introduces Ned to the idea of taking action against his perceived enemies, introduces him to horse stealing, and even to the idea of a Republic, but in the end he proves to be a coward and liar who abandons Ellen when things become difficult. But by then, in Ian Jones narrative, the damage has been done – Ned has been converted from a naive trusting farmer into an angry and scheming activist and budding gang leader. King is not portrayed as someone inspiring Ned to great moral deeds but a manipulator who uses Neds concern for his family and his growing resentment towards Police and Squatters to motivate him towards seeking revenge.
King is described by Ned in the Jerilderie Letter as being a great horse thief, but given the unreliability of this letter, indeed the lies contained within it, there is a legitimate question mark over Neds claim. In fact, as I understand it, almost nothing is known about George King, other than his name. I would be very pleased if anyone can point me in the direction of some facts about George Kings life, but I haven’t come across any of significance. Its possible that Ned was using King as a convenient scape goat, someone to shift blame onto because by the time he made these allegations George had mysteriously disappeared and was not around to defend himself. Ned was free to say whatever he liked about George. It’s been suggested he may have been killed, he may have fled the district or even the country but why and how he vanished is a complete unknown. In spite of this great mystery Jones doesn’t hesitate to make George King central to the making of Ned Kelly and of the Outbreak.
Episode two ends with the Police killings at Stringybark Creek. This time it seems to suit Ian Jones to follow rather than dismiss Neds account, and the invented dialog recycles the now discredited ideas that the Police purchased specially made body straps to bring corpses out of the bush, that they were disguised in plain clothes and were heavily armed, and had the intention to shoot first and ask questions later. Lonigan’s death is enacted as Ned Kelly claimed in the Jerilderie Letter, with Lonigan being killed by a single shot as he lifted his head from behind a log to take aim at Ned. As readers of this Blog know, that account is clearly another of Neds lies, as it is contradicted by the forensic facts about the Policeman’s demise, and neither does it square with McIntyres recollection of what happened. (read here) In fact, though he ran for the log Lonigan had no time to get to it, let alone to draw his gun and aim at Ned, and as the forensics show he was killed with a blast of swan drops or a quartered bullet that left him with wounds not just in his head but on his left arm and leg as well.
In conclusion, I return to Ian Jones claim that in this miniseries “All…events..are drawn directly from fact”. However as I have pointed out, in many places such as in the case of George King, in the absence of facts Ian Jones invents them, but who would know? In the case of the death of Lonigan, the known forensic facts are ignored. But who would know? The claim by Ian Jones that ALL events are drawn directly from fact creates an impression that as far as possible the series is accurate and reliable as historical truth, and imparts an authority to the series that it otherwise wouldn’t have – indeed that is the point of making that claim, but as we have seen it is utterly illegitimate – the claim is simply not true – so should I call it a lie?
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