I began a reply to Sharons comment under the previous Post, Peter Newmans excellent review of “Ned – Knight in Aussie Armour” by Eugenie Navarre, but it got so long I decided to make an entire Post out of it!
Regarding the alleged suggestions that Father (later Bishop) Gibney had sympathy for the cause, just what were those suggestions? Were they backed up with anything concrete other than him being a fellow Irishman? Gibney was quoted in Sir John Kirwan’s autobiography as saying of the Kellys – “They were a wild, reckless, lawless lot, and the wonder is they had so many sympathisers even amongst those who ought to have known better.”
He went on to say a few more choice things, but the gist was that he disapproved heartily. I feel, or would like to think, that Gibney was more than likely only concerned with the saving of their souls, not with their political leanings.
Sharon, as usual you’ve hit the nail on the head, in asking for something ‘concrete’ to back up this suggestion in Eugenie Navarres book that Father Gibney had sympathy ‘for the cause’, a suggestion which contradicts recorded actual quotes from Father Gibney himself. What you’ve done is expose the almost complete ignorance of this author, and of many of the old-timers she quotes of what is ACTUALLY already known of the Kelly saga.
I’ve had an opportunity to look at this book now, and I have to tell you Peter Newman was far too kind in his assessment of it, generously calling it a ‘worthwhile contribution’ even though he concedes it contains numerous errors, inaccuracies and false assumptions, is misleading and jumps to false conclusions! I wonder how bad a Kelly book would have to be before Peter would reject it as worthless!
But it’s a whole lot worse than Peter lets on!
Part of the problem is that the Author is confused about what she is actually trying to do with this book. She claims to merely be recording oral history and passing on what old-timers have told her of their families traditions and shared memories of the Kelly gang and the outbreak. She writes “Every effort was made to be factual however these are personal statements and recollections often of historical data and no responsibility can be taken for inaccuracies or personal ideas expressed”
If that’s all she did the book would simply be a weird collection of tales and third hand reminiscences – and some nice photos. Peter Newman puts great store by oral traditions but in my view gives them far too much credibility. But in any case, family stories are what they are, just stories that can be accepted as colourful enriching fun family traditions that may contain a greater or lesser degree of historical truth within them. No harm in recording them.
Unfortunately this Author doesn’t stick to the objective of simply recording family recollections, and she confuses this activity with something altogether different, which is social history research, claiming at other places in the book that this is what she is doing.
“The Kelly record is finally set straight, due to genuine grassroots information”
“We attempted to ‘crack the kelly code’ and get to the essence and truth lost in secrecy and time for over 135 years. But have we got to the truth after this deep rooted quest? Probably, as best possible”
Actually, the ‘information’ Navarre obtained was the BELIEFS of her interviewees, and the only way she could use these beliefs to go on and set the record straight would be to take those beliefs and do the hard work of genuine research to find out what actual truths they might contain. It is well known that there are innumerable family traditions of forbears who fought in wars or were heroes of one sort or another which on close scrutiny turn out to be completely wrong – one that springs to mind is of the Australian war hero Sir John Monash who believed he himself – not his great great grandfather but he himself had met Ned Kelly and held his horse for him when he was in the midst of the Jerilderie robbery. Scrutiny of the records show that he was at Boarding school in Melbourne when this happened so his memory was wrong! There have been several people claiming to be Dan Kelly and Steve Hart – all of them are wrong – except maybe ONE if you believe the impossible happened! But the point is word of mouth claims, oral traditions and family stories simply CANNOT be accepted as ‘information’ – they have to be subjected to proper scrutiny and research.
Such research is a rigorous academic discipline wherein these family traditions are not merely recorded but scrutinized and analysed for the possible historical truths they might contain. This is actually the sort of thing that Peter Newman likes to do, but it is hard work that requires hours of tedious examination of official records, of the existing literature, of journals and archives, it may require original field work and careful cross-referencing and intelligent piecing together of all the relevant information. Eugenie Navarre may be passionate and she may be sincere but that’s not enough to be a competent researcher – in this work she is nowhere near the required standard, and does almost none of the necessary hard work. Instead she extracts a word from this person, another from that, a quote from Gary Dean and a rehash of some old rumours and tries to make out that she’s doing research. She isn’t.
Take at random, Chapter 15. It is titled “Mystery Women : Who Stole the Bushrangers Heart?. Navarre writes “Neds sister Annie had an affair with a married Policeman and died soon after giving birth to his child. This culminated in the Kate Kelly/Fitzpatrick fiasco, which was to spark the Kelly Outbreak”
Firstly, why no mention that Neds sister was also married? (this from an author who constantly complains about the truth being suppressed !) And how exactly did this “culminate” in the Kate Kelly/Fitzpatrick fiasco? What exactly is the link she is trying to make here? If she is alleging one she ought to state it, if not, then she is merely confusing rather than clarifying the discussion. Navarre then continues to discuss the convoluted family traditions that link various women to Ned Kelly, and lists a total of seven. As well as the usual suspects she lists a woman known only as Madela, who was named by a Police informant as having claimed to be married to Ned Kelly before he was a bushranger. According to Navarre, Madela might have been a woman called Ernestina Diebert, because she was once married to John McCandless and “When one removes the ‘cc’ and the ‘ss’ from the surname McCandless, what remains is MANDLE, easily misconstrued with Madela especially when handed down orally”
Well quite frankly this is not just drawing a long bow – its fanciful and ridiculous nonsense that anyone claiming to be conducting research, and hoping to be taken seriously ought to be embarrassed and ashamed of. But does she come to any conclusions about which one or ones really was Ned Kellys sweetheart, or which of the many Steves or Dans was the real one, if any of them were? According to Navarre ‘history now indicates there were many more than four suits of armour’ but she makes no attempt to back up this assertion with anything so trivial as a fact. This book is an almost endless stream of this sort of absurdity.
This really highlights much that’s wrong with so-called ‘Kelly research’ – its conducted by people who simply have no idea what research actually is, of how reason works or what objectivity is, and who have no understanding of what constitutes rational and logical argument. Furthermore, as highlighted by Sharons question above they are not up-to-date and fully informed about what is ALREADY known. Consequently they produce stuff like this book, rambling disjointed irrational and inaccurate, riddled with conspiracy theory, unsupported claims and unprovable assertions. And of course when REAL research is done, they rubbish it unless it supports their preconceived notions about the heroism of Ned Kelly.
Navarre provides a list of what she curiously calls “References Sources” – again, the ‘usual suspects’ of pro-Kelly books, but the list is very short and has important absences, notably ‘The Kelly Gang Unmasked’ by Ian MacFarlane, and no references to any of Morrisseys work. These absences further undermine this Authors claim to being any kind of serious Kelly researcher because she is either ignorant of or has deliberately chosen to ignore landmark modern Kelly research. On the other hand she relies heavily on Gary Dean a profound conspiracy theorist whose beliefs about many things verge on absurdity. How else can one describe the view that the Australian military possess technology thats so secret that even the Prime Minister doesn’t have the necessary Security Clearances to be allowed to know about it? But Gary does! I am not verballing Gary Dean – he told me this himself.
I’m also told that on an Internet Forum that I cannot join they’ve copied Peter Newmans review from this Blog and there is a post attacking it, claiming Peter missed the point and saying that this book ‘succeeds’. Its written by someone praised at length in the book, and who sells it, so that’s hardly surprising! But this makes my point perfectly – a publication that merely recycles the old myths, fables and conspiracy theories, adds almost nothing new to the debate other than the confusing third-hand recollections of aged Kelly country sympathisers, and exhibits a complete failure to understand the significance and the use and abuse of oral history is regarded as a success by uncritical Kelly sympathisers.
This book is like the tailings from a mine – there might still be some tiny traces of mineral in there somewhere but they are so few and far between it simply isn’t worth the effort of sifting through a mountain of rubbish to find it.
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