50th Anniversary : Lectures 3 and 4 : Beechworth, and the Folk Hero.

These two shorter lectures featured the rising star of the modern Kelly phenomenon, Ian Jones, aged 36 at the time, described as ‘a former journalist and a television producer-director’ who had by then been a student of Kelly history for twenty-five years.
In the first Lecture, ‘The Kellys and Beechworth’, Jones mostly recounts the relationship between Joe Byrne and Aaron Sherritt, who first met when at the Woolshed School, not far from Beechworth. Later Aaron bought land and Joe helped him work it, but ‘they got into all sorts of scraps’.  Jones says he spoke to Joes sister shortly before her death in 1964, and she told him that Joe met Jim Kelly when they were both serving time, and it was through Jim that Joe met Ned, and they then became close friends. He says that they were ‘particulary good looking, well dressed young men’ who could easily pass themselves off as young squatters, a fact which they made use of when stealing horses. The two of them, along with Aaron Sherritt and Dan Kelly and possibly also Steve Hart would take stolen horses to an unknown property perhaps in NSW and trick the owner into signing a transaction whereby Joe, arriving later and pretending not to know Ned, would ’buy’ one or two of the stolen horses from Ned. This created a legal document on the landholder’s notepaper which would then facilitate the sale of the animals for a handsome price in Melbourne. ‘This was a spectacularly successful ruse which the Kellys pulled off many times’.
Jones discusses Aarons admiration, almost hero-worship of Ned, who Aaron said was the only person he was ever afraid of. By chance it would seem Aaron was absent when the Stringybark Creek police murders took place, so Aaron was never identified as a gang member, though he scouted for the Gang when they fled the scene and headed for the Murray. On another occasion, according to Ian Jones, Aaron helped Joe Byrne escape capture by the police and in so doing ‘he let the £2000 reward slip happily through his fingers’ Later, Aaron entered into an ambiguous relationship with the Police, and later still when Police moved in to Aarons hut everyone supposed it was to protect Aaron because it was thought he was about to betray the gang. Ian Jones said that Aaron was still regarded as a traitor in 1967, even by Sherritt descendants still living in the area, an attitude that he thought was ‘strange’ – the suggestion that Aaron did NOT betray the Gang ‘has already proved unpopular he said. However, rather tentatively he then declared that ‘a critical evaluation of all available evidence fails to prove that Sherritt ever did one thing to bring the police pursuit any closer to the Kelly Gang.’
Aarons murder is described as ‘the keystone of the Glenrowan campaign.’
In the rather brief discussion following the lecture, Aarons relationships with various local women were discussed. At one time, after his engagement to Joes sister Kate was called off, Aaron had been pursuing Neds sister Kate. Jones mentioned ‘an unpublished manuscript in my possession’ that contained suggestions of a ‘mild flirtation’ between Kate Kelly and Fitzpatrick. In reference to the Fitzpatrick incident, supposedly triggered by Fitzpatrick making some sort of a pass at Kate, he says it ‘may not have offended Kate terribly’ and reports that a Kelly descendant showed him ‘the exact spot’ in the Kelly family home – which was still standing and intact in the 1950’s – where Fitzpatrick was sitting when it all happened.

The next lecture in the Symposium was described as ‘Kelly – the Folk-Hero.  A Recital by Ian Jones and Glen Tomasetti.’ I had never heard of Glen Tomasetti, and was surprised to learn Glen was a woman, a popular folk musician of the time, and an influential political activist and writer. In 1967, apart from appearing at the Symposium in Wangaratta, according to Wikipedia she went to court for withholding one sixth of her Tax bill, saying that this was the proportion of Government income that was spent on the war in Vietnam, and as she didn’t support the war so she was withholding it!  It appears that Ian Jones lecture included performances by Glen of several  of the popular Kelly folk songs of the time, the words of which are included in the book along with a few lines of written music. Both presenters were focussed on portrayals of the heroic character of Ned Kelly the folk-hero, and the popular imagery of Legend, though at the start Ian Jones expresses a view that the Legend, the Folk-hero is close to being the truth about him:  the Kelly story itself has the quality and stature of Legend’.  Its obvious by the words that Ian Jones spoke, and the words of the songs sung by Glen Tomasetti that this lecture was not an appeal to the minds of the audience but to their hearts, with long quotes from Max Brown, from the Jerilderie letter and this from Jon Clow “No matter what his faults were he is the father of our national courage  and the heart of our literature” He also recounted from a series of letters the effect on the Police of the hunt for Ned Kelly, saying “I have here some letters written by a most remarkable Policeman, Robert Graham of whom you have probably never heard” They were love letters detailing the frustrations of courting a young woman far away whilst engaged in the hunt for the dangerous Kelly Gang of Police Killers.  Graham wrote “ I must certainly say that I feel very lonely up here. I have to thank you very much for the wave of the handkerchief on the day I left Camperdown. Although I have not written to you I have by no means forgot to think of you. In fact you are always uppermost in my mind”.
The lecture ends with Ian Jones reading a long account of Neds execution, so that I imagine by the end of it, the audience would have been emotionally exhausted and keen to get out of the Hall and have a cup of tea and a scone!
There are three fascinating things that particularly caught my attention, in relation to these two lectures. The first was to realise that for many in the audience, and later reading the Book that resulted, much of this information is new and exciting. In 2017 for example we’re all very familiar with ‘The Fatal Friendship’ and the notion that Aaron probably didn’t betray the Gang, but in 1967 that book hadn’t been written and that idea was new and challenging. We’ve all heard of Robert Graham and his later role in bringing peace to the North East, but in 1967 Ian Jones said to the audience “you’ve probably never heard of him”. So much would have been new that the Symposium must have been an exciting revelation to many.
The second thing that became apparent to me was how deeply Ian Jones had involved himself in the search for the true story, how extensively he had probed and hunted about for people and documents and places, tracking down leads and oral history and artefacts with intense focus. It must have been then, and still is today quite astonishing to read his casual announcement of being in possession of this or that document or manuscript, or managing to track down at almost the last minute survivors from that very time such as Joe Byrnes sister, and making public thoughts and details  and insights never before known.
And this leads to my third observation : Ian Jones, because of the depth of his knowledge and the obvious passion and the integrity of his search, was absolutely dominant at this symposium. His voice was already the most authoritative one in every discussion after  each lecture, and his opinion was rarely challenged. And yet, it was clear after having been studying and doing Kelly history research for 15 years by then, Jones had the very  firm opinion of  Ned Kelly, that he was indeed heroic and almost superhuman, that the truth about him ‘had the quality and stature of legend’. Looking back, we can see he has never wavered from that conviction, and all his lifes Kelly work has been focussed on building and sustaining that image.
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11 Replies to “50th Anniversary : Lectures 3 and 4 : Beechworth, and the Folk Hero.”

  1. Stuart Dawson says: Reply

    Re. "Jones mentioned ‘an unpublished manuscript in my possession’ that contained suggestions of a ‘mild flirtation’ between Kate Kelly and Fitzpatrick", that will be the Joseph Ashmead manuscript from the 1920s, which Jones quotes a lot from in his "Short Life" book, especially in the chapter on the Fitzpatrick incident. Ashmead's MS can be seen in the Vic State Library, and a copy used to be downloadable from Gary Dean's website; I don't know if the site is still up. Ashmead is full of errors; of ten top of my head, I remember he has the police tent still standing the day after the Stringbark Creek murders, but the tent had been well-reported burned out. Ashmead is totally unreliable on many counts. I demolished the tripe he wrote about Fitzpatrick having a crush on Kate Kelly in my "Redeeming Fitzpatrick" article, but Jones put a lot of store in it. Ashmead was a bible-bashing nutcase whose MS, "The thorns and the briars", tries to draw religious moral stories out of the Kelly saga, based on his claim to have palled around with Dan in their youth.

  2. Jimmy Nelson says: Reply

    Instead of advising Peter Fitzsimons to avoid certain Kelly books, Ian Jones should have told him to "Go and write your own book"!. Fitzsimons had an army of researchers who did him little credit with his Ned Kelly book. Jones and Fitzsimons will go down in literary history as the people who pushed the fraudulent Kelly legend to its limits.

    Agree with you Stuart that Ashmead is worthless bunkum, but it is much loved by the pro-Kelly Push.

    The "Lawless" Foxtell Ned Kelly is coming soon. I think it will be lightweight or totally wrong. Let's see.

  3. Frank Middleton says: Reply

    Ian Jones interviewed many people in 1964, including Tom Lloyd jnr. But this was not the possible fifth member of the gang and witness to many Kelly Gang events. In fact this was Tom Lloyd jnr jnr. As pointed out in The Kelly Gang Unmasked book this Tom Lloyd was born in 1908. In 1964 he was recounting events 80 years before that he had not seen.

    Both the Jones books unfortunately rely on smoke and mirrors a lot. Pity.

  4. Ken Field says: Reply

    Had a peep at Mick's FB Hate Page against that book he doesn't like. Found this:

    1,385 Total Page follows
    0%from last week

    With so many avid followers, Fitzy should be getting a lot more than 0% interest.

    I have reported this site to Faceboob several times, but the lazy buggers seem to accept that some FB people grossly inflate their visitors – although this is against their rules and conditions. Assh*les!

  5. Ashmead, Hare, Sadleir, Chomley…. All these early works contain errors. Makes them no less enthralling though to read their work. I would rather this doesn't become an Ian Jones bashing page. Lets not forget all the good stuff he has done for the Kelly story.

  6. Mark I don't want to host an Ian Jones 'bashing page' but how are we going to be able to discuss his work, if any criticism of it is labelled 'bashing"? I have repeatedly expressed admiration and respect for much of the work and the legacy of Ian Jones but I also believe he made some serious mistakes and has misdirected Kelly history for the last 50 years in some significant ways. All this needs to be discussed and where its apparent he was wrong I believe it should be clearly identified and removed from the Kelly story. The last in the series I am now posting will be about Ian Jones "New View" and it will be critical of Jones but I don't intend to be 'bashing' him but some of his interpretations and his narrative.

  7. Hi Dee. I trust you are well.

    I actually wasn't directing this at you. You have indeed acknowledged all of Ians good work too. It's others who often seem to point the finger but these keyboard warriors forget that Ian didn't have the luxury of the internet in his time researching. He used good old fashioned shoe leather and arrived at his conclusions after painstaking months, years in the field. By all means, offering criticism is fair. But don't forget what he has done for the Kelly Story. It's been huge. Never forget.

    I say this with all good conscience because as you know, I am also a fan of McFarlane, Dawsons and Morrisseys work. (and your own i admit..)

    But I know I speak for myself and others when I say that it was Ian Jones who brought us into the Kelly story. So of course there is a soft spot for all his has done.

    He must accept criticism too, that's a fair thing. But I would really like to see him discussed with a teeny weeny bit more respect by some who frequent this fine blog.

  8. Stuart Dawson says: Reply

    Ian Jones pioneered Kelly research in a way that was different from anyone before him. He took the Kelly gang (and Ned) story from a hobby interest, to a very complex and sophisticated attempt to write a full historical study. He tried to do it in a balanced way. What he does all through the "Short Life" and "Fatal Friendship" books is weigh all the evidence he comes across, debate it like, "on the one hand", then "on the other hand". He set out to write for the first time a full, comprehensive and highly detailed narrative of Ned and the boys from start to finish. Not content with written evidence, he hit the road and interviewed dozens and possibly hundreds of people with family memories and memorabilia about those days. So his "Short Life" is a magnificent and highly readable history.

    But his brilliant powers of narrative are also a problem. He is a persuasive writer, possibly because of being a producer or similar role in Crawford TV series productions. He is a master story teller, and he knows how to write with emotional appeal; he made a living out of it for years, and his “Last Outlaw” mini-series is a wonderfully enjoyable masterpiece that some people (like me) watch just for pure enjoyment probably once a year or so. It is totally watchable, even riveting in parts, with a fine cast of actors who do the production proud.

    The problem is that because he developed it up into such a strong, coherent narrative from start to finish, it became “the” version of the Kelly story. Almost every author of Kelly books between 1968 and 2016 has thanked Ian Jones for his personal assistance, discussion, friendship, etc. He has influenced and largely shaped the discussion of the Kelly gang for the last 50 years. When someone challenges him on a point here or there, he basically says, “yes, but”, and goes straight back into his highly polished narrative. You can see the pattern in his answering audience questions in the 1968 “Man & Myth” book, where Weston Bates brings up evidence that shows it wasn’t a bad time for farmers, then Jones says yes but the papers he looked at said it was. Then he says “we’ll have to disagree”, or words to that effect.

    What is going on is that he has been proved wrong on a point, but doesn’t accept it, or change his mind. So, he has retained the wrong date for Black Wednesday in all 4 editions of “Short Life”. He is immune to criticism that his Fitzpatrick narrative is largely wrong, and you can see how that happens from the small selections he has made from the evidence that he based his narrative on. These selections in turn are based on the biased perspectives of JJ Kenneally and Max Brown. What we have is a great piece of story-telling that contains major factual errors, that are then recycled by others because, after all, he is THE recognised authority. What needs to happen in the interests of understanding history, is a new Kelly gang narrative that replaces those parts of the story that he clearly got wrong, with parts that get it right. The reason that is unlikely to happen anytime soon is that hardly anyone challenges his views on different topics; and when they do, a battalion of Kelly buffs leap from the clouds and spit venomously all over them for criticising the Kelly god. Ah, well…

  9. An excellent assessment of Ian Jones' place in the Kelly story Stuart.

  10. Stuart Dawson says: Reply

    … I suppose it had to come to this. I'm sure I'm not the only one looking forward to Dee's review of Jones' "New view of NK" chapter from the Man & Myth book. That's the talk where Jones first proposed the idea that NK was a republican rebel, which grew and grew until it became central to the "Short Life" book, but also gets a run in "Fatal Friendship" . Apart from Max Brown, the republic idea might also have roots in the long-believed tale that NK's father, Red Kelly, was transported from Ireland for either shooting his landlord (Hall, Outlaws of the Wombat Ranges), or a political faction fight (Royal Commission, 2nd Progress Report). I just saw today a new article up on Bill's Iron-Icon site, taken from an old 1920s newspaper, that has the "transported for political activism" line in it. Another interesting link in the chain, which has been pulled heavily! With historical "evidence" like this, anything can be made up and claimed that it rests on proof! To someone like Brown, following leads to support his own republican enthusiasm, it is quite plausible that this sort of "evidence" was what Brown built his belief about a Kelly republic on. Anyway, that is my only Kelly topic to explore for the next half of this year, and maybe the second last one that I will bother with. I hope Dee writes up her "persecution theory exploded" material at some point, as it is a BFO blinding flash of the obvious that I haven't seen anywhere else, and potentially revises a big chunk of the Kelly story as much as rethinking/ redeeming Fitzpatrick.

  11. Stuart I'm putting the finishing touches to my review of Jones lecture tonight, and will post it tomorrow if when I read it again I am happy! The "New View" is more than the Republic, but the Republic is the radical claim at the centre of it, the claim that Ian Jones believed transformed the Kelly story from one about a gang of criminals into a brave band of revolutionaries with the superhuman Ned Kelly its leader.

    I hope you wont be disappointed!

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