I think that everyone with more than a passing interest in the Kelly story will have been watching Foxtel’s History Channel last Tuesday night at 8.30 pm to see the heavily promoted first episode of their new series, Lawless: the real bushrangers. This one was about Ned Kelly.
In the promos, Kelly followers were all warned that the documentary would change Kelly history for ever and that not everyone would be happy with their conclusions. None of us were sure if the documentary was going to bolster the view that Kelly was a hero, or the idea that he was a villain. It purported to be ground breaking, research based and scientifically validated, backed up by “Experts” and to have found answers to questions that had been asked for nearly 140 years. However, it was clear the focus would be on Stringybark Creek, the place where the gang murdered three policemen. My interest was in how they would account for Lonigans death, and in where they might decide it all happened. I’ve now watched the entire documentary three times. I would encourage anyone who has seen it once to see it a few more times because there is an immense amount of detail and a lot of ground covered in a very short time.
In brief, as expected, the hour long documentary concentrated on Stringybark Creek. The archaeologist claimed to have identified the exact site of the police camp and the police murders using some whizz-bang drone based 3D technology , the forensic pathologist claimed to have shown that Lonigan was shot by at least two people and that Kennedys death was an execution rather than a mercy killing, and the historian claimed that Irish criminal gangs called the White boys may have influenced Ned. She also set the social scene that prevailed at the time saying that it was a time of unique opportunity for the working poor, following years of land and class tension. She said the poor ‘were working bloody hard to try and turn it (their selection) into something, and to lead an honourable if humble life, but that existence wasn’t for everyone’referring obviously to the Kelly brothers preference for the easier life and greater rewards of a criminal lifestyle and stock theft.
This was all rather clinical and academic, so to add a bit of touchy-feely human emotion to the story they contrived a meeting between an angry descendant of one of the murdered police, Leo Kennedy and a relaxed and comfortable Kelly descendant, Anthony Griffiths. It was no surprise that he trotted out the well-worn favourite of Kelly apologists, that none of this would have happened if the police hadn’t gone to the Kelly home to arrest Dan. Put another way, the silliness of this argument is too obvious: yes, if the Police hadn’t gone about their duty and attempted to arrest criminal suspects, none of this would have happened! Actually none of this would have happened if the Kelly’s weren’t big time criminal stock thieves but law abiding citizens, like the huge majority of selectors in the North East, as Doug Morrissey has pointed out with actual research. What a pity Anthony Griffiths was allowed to get away with this silly excuse unchallenged. For more human interest they also filmed a Kelly fancier getting a Ned Kelly tattoo – this was the guy who used to call himself a Kelly historian but was described here as a ‘Kelly fan’. Every so often he sends me abusive texts on Facebook, none of which I have ever replied to. Nice to see what he looks like close up! His last message to me ended “See you soon” which was supposed to be a threat, but that was months ago. Funny how I ended up seeing him but he still hasn’t seen me!
I was pleased that the overall impression created by the documentary is that Ned Kelly was a violent murderer, because that’s the historical truth about him. I wonder if the ‘Kelly Fan” is still happy that he got his 15 seconds of fame by assisting them get that message across, because Kelly fanciers universally hated the documentary, and on the History channels Facebook page, vented their rage :
· “Fake stories about real people. History being invented by media isn’t real history. Pathetic series, poorly researched and very one sided.”
· “I watched the first few minutes and thought ….. “What a load of crap !!!!!” The pursecution of the Kelly Family started with his father. Just more garbage for the ignorant to regurgitate”
· “I turned it off when the show began at Stringy Bark Creek …… oppression of the Kelly Family began in Ireland.”
· What an absolute load of rubbish glad i didn’t watch this rubbish nothing but witch hunt
· Could see by advertising, main pic…..’Ned, standing over the unarmed cop, with gun at cops head’ . That set the picture for bullshit. Biased, lm not watching it. I cannot tolerate liars…and this ‘doco’ ….fantasy by sounds of it…is not worth watching! Cunning barstards. Hope currupt cops grandson feels better .
(The spelling is all their own)
The Facebook Kelly devotees also trotted out all the usual myths about Kelly persecution, corrupt police, Fitzpatrick being drunk and raping Kate, and so on. The Kelly troll advanced a conspiracy theory about the Royal Commission that I hadn’t come across before, and confessed whats long been suspected that he has only managed to read at most half of the book he has been attacking for four years or more. Half is probably a generous over-estimate, but one doesn’t expect rational behaviour or logical thought from people who think a violent police murderer and wannabe mass murderer is a hero.
However one does expect a much higher standard from people who promote themselves as ‘experts’ and professionals, but it wasn’t much better. The Lawless team produced a deeply flawed analysis that exposed their lack of a detailed knowledge of the subject matter, and sacrificed their professional integrity for the need to grandstand, to inflate their own egos and merely produce something that was entertaining and perhaps would be a commercial success. What anyone who is familiar with the subject would have known, but nobody else in Australia would have known, is that almost everything they claimed to have “discovered” had been well and truly ‘discovered’ and analysed and discussed and turned upside down and inside out long before these ‘experts’ appeared on the scene. This naked grandstanding and misrepresentation of the truth was truly sickening.
So, for example they claimed this was the first time since the murders that a Kelly descendant and a Kennedy descendant had met, face to face. Here’s the facts : McIntyre, Kennedy, Hart, Kelly and Lloyd descendants met at SBC in 2001 at the unveiling there of the Police Memorial.(Ian Jones; A Short Life p 419) I don’t blame Mike Munro for not knowing that, but perhaps if they had employed not just ‘experts’ but experts in the Kelly story they would have been spared making that embarrassing blunder.
They also created an impression that if she didn’t actually discover it, Keira Lindsey the historian was among the first to make use of the relatively recently discovered map of the area made by McIntyre: “Keira has something new to bring to the table” said Mike Munro breathlessly. Here’s the facts: this map has been widely published and used in many discussions about SBC for years. It’s in the first CSI Report from 2011, MacFarlanes 2012 book, and in Kelvyn Gills 2017 publication! Its nothing new at all to people who actually are familiar with the Kelly story. As for her ‘unique theory’ about the Whiteboy rebel gangs of Ireland – she was drawing a very long bow here indeed because as I discovered on Wikipedia the Whiteboys were a late 18th century phenomenon, a fact not mentioned in the documentary, and the only “link” she produced between them and Ned Kelly was an entirely contrived parallel between ‘threatening letters’ that they wrote, and the last few words of the Jerilderie Letter : “my orders must be obeyed” . This was an unconvincing performance but I wonder if we should be keeping an eye out for Kiera Lindsays research publications on the topic? Somehow I think the whiteboys reference was just an opportunity for a few shots of the inside of the State Library of Victoria, images that were expected to add gravitas and a hint of academic rigor to the documentary, and I suspect Dr Lindseys interest in the whiteboys finished once the filming was done. I think I might email her to find out.
The documentary claims that ‘the Lidar technology has led Adam to an extraordinary find’ and Adam Ford announces triumphantly “the location of the Police camp hinged on us finding archaeological remains of this hut – and we’ve done it” But here are the facts : firstly if I am not mistaken these hut remains had long ago been identified by the CSI team, and I suspect are the ones depicted in a photograph in their Updated Report, and identified in the map they drew in 2011. Bill Denheld has also seen these remains and discussed them on his web site. There was never any need for a drone and Lidar technology to find these remains – that was just razzle-dazzle aimed at blinding the audience with “Science”. God only knows how many thousands they spent on the “Lidar” equipped drone but for fifty bucks they could have got a copy of the CSI report with a map that would take them straight to it!
As for whether or not they are actually the remains of the hut depicted on the 1884 map – there is enormous well founded doubt that they are. The Lawless team should have known that a second surveyors Map produced the very next year, 1885, placed that hut in a very different position. I noted in the documentary that at least one of the ‘stones’ had flat surfaces at right angles to each other, suggesting this fireplace, if that’s what it is, may well be of a much more modern era than 1884. Heritage Victoria are expecting to receive a full report of this archaeological dig, but as it has not yet been completed one wonders how Adam Ford, who calls himself an archaeologist, can be so confident. Frankly I doubt the report will ever appear anywhere. Its apparent Ford was convinced of his find the moment the tiniest bit of a fireplace emerged from under the dirt : this looks so much like cowboy archaeology and tunnel vision rather than balanced careful scientific research, but they claimed that the SBC site “had never had a full scientific examination until now”. I will wait till I have read the report of their Dig, the one expected by Heritage Victoria to see how justified Fords confidence is, but to describe what they did there as a ‘full scientific examination’ was nowhere near accurate. It was hype. And if the report ever emerges I bet it wont be anywhere near as dogmatic about that site as Ford was on the documentary.
Given the very real uncertainty about the identification of the Hut, very real uncertainty remains about Adam Fords boast that ‘we can now assert for the first time ever that this location here ( pointing to the picnic area) is the site of the shootout and the killing of police on the 26th October 1878” There are at least three fatal flaws in Adam Fords chosen site : firstly, in the Burman Photo that he is familiar with, you can see the posts of the ruined hut only a few yards away, just to the right of the logs that McIntyre and Lonigan were standing beside when bailed up. When Adam Ford strides across the grass pretending to be Lonigan retreating, counting the steps as he goes, he should be almost right on top of the ruined hut, but in fact from what I could determine from the documentary the Ford Hut is 15 or 20 or more yards away. Secondly, from the Burman photos we know that if you were standing at the hut and looking at the camp site and the logs you would be facing south or south west, but as you will see in the graphic in the documentary, they have the camp site northeast from the Hut. 180 degrees out! The other obvious flaw is that as Ford himself pointed out when rejecting the traditional sites claim to be the correct one, there is no slope as seen in the Burman photo. If one place is rejected because there’s no slope, wouldn’t you have to reject every site that doesn’t have a slope? Hoisted by his own petard one might say!
In the next part of the documentary they explore Ned Kellys accounts of the killing of Lonigan and Kennedy. Shooting the quartered bullet from the rifle at the pig carcase was a great idea. It showed exactly what Ive been saying for a long time, that Lonigan was killed when Kelly fired a load of shot or some sort of multiple projectiles at him. They may have thought they were revealing something never before considered when they also fired a revolver into the carcase at point blank range, in an attempt to understand if the wound in Lonigans left thigh was self inflicted. They did indeed show that the injury and the powder burns didn’t match what was described at Lonigans autopsy in 1878, and so discounted that theory, but all that information had been put together and the same conclusion reached by Ian MacFarlane in his book written in 2012 – yet another ‘revelation’ that was actually old news.
However the forensic pathologist blundered in saying that there must have been at least two ‘shooters’. He said this because he didn’t consider the real possibility that the Doctor who did the autopsy might have been mistaken when he said he removed an ordinary revolver bullet from Lonigans thigh. It quite easily could have been another one of the pieces of lead fired in that one devastating blast from Ned Kellys rifle. The trouble with saying there were at least two shooters is that you then have to go on and answer the next logical questions about them, namely who were they and when did they fire this revolver at Lonigan? This leads into an almost impossible mess of speculations and propositions, the only remotely possible solution being that whoever fired that revolver did it at EXACTLY the same time as Ned fired his rifle. It needs to be EXACTLY the same time because McIntyre only reported ever hearing ONE shot. The Lawless team couldn’t work it out, so concluded with “Lonigans thigh wound remains a mystery”. I solved that mystery last year, and explained it again HERE with some great artwork created with a drone and a laser by Bill Denheld! ( well, actually he used paper and a pencil!)
I tried to explain all this to the Genepool producers of Lawless late last year, and they seem to have accepted most of what I said but unfortunately didn’t think it all the way through.
This highlights what I think might prove to be a really serious problem with this series : the ‘experts’ are so taken with their own genius that they were not willing to listen to people who, when it came to Stringybark Creek, actually WERE experts. They should have consulted Ian MacFarlane and Bill Denheld and the CSI team, Doug Morrisey and Grantlee Kieza. These are people who have spent years and years up there, they know every stream and rock and mine shaft like the backs of their hands, they have thought about all the possible sites for the shoot out, and argued amongst themselves for years – but these Lawless ‘experts’ rocked up, did a two week tour, made a few clever props, launched their drone for a fly over, filmed a fireplace and shot through. What a shame they didn’t have the decency to show respect to the actual SBC experts – have the humility to let them speak, to listen to their arguments and their insights, to put aside their own need to be centre stage and thereby make a much better documentary. The only recognised Kelly authority mentioned in the credits is the inevitable Ian Jones. As a result it seems what they’ve done is please almost nobody who knows anything at all about the place, and fool everyone else with their false claims to have made all sorts of sensational discoveries with their fancy gadgets.
These documentary makers have not identified the site of the Police murders. They didn’t quite solve the mystery of Lonigans wounds. They did however graphically remind everyone who watched it that Ned Kelly was indeed “a clear eyed killer”. That at least is a step in the right direction.
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