|The Ned Kelly Legend is on Life Support|
“Why isn’t Ned dead? The Australians we still Believe in” This was the title of an article published a week ago by the on-line news site “The New Daily”. It was described as “News” though most of the discussion was about a paper that was published in the Journal of Sociology in 2014, which in turn was based on the results of a Survey carried out in 2011.
The ‘news’ being reported was that recently the legendary Australian musician Nick Cave and his son Earl were seen visiting the Kelly armour on display in the State Library of Victoria in Melbourne. Apparently, Earl has been selected to play Dan Kelly in the forthcoming movie adaptation of the Peter Carey novel, ‘The True History of the Kelly Gang’. Nick Cave is reputed to have been obsessed with Ned Kelly when he was a kid – not surprising really because he was born and grew up in Kelly country and in 1967 when Nick was 10 his father Colin was Director of the Adult Education Center, Wangaratta, the place where that landmark Symposium ‘Ned Kelly Man and Myth’ was held. Colin Cave was the Editor of the 1968 publication of the same name which records the fascinating presentations and discussions of that symposium where Ian Jones gave first voice to his fantastic redemptive theory about Ned Kelly and the Republic of North East Victoria.
The article quickly went on to ask this question “how has a cop-killer endured, with much love, as a figure of ‘national importance’?”. A chart was produced of the top 20 people nominated by respondents to the questionnaire as the most important Australians, living or dead. Ned Kelly was slotted in at #15. The #1 was Kiwi-born eye surgeon Fred Hollows.
The article eventually concluded the Kelly Legend was not going away any time soon : “There’s too much money in it” according to Tim Hogan, Manager of Collection Development and Discovery at the Victorian State Library. And, according to ‘an historian with an interest in myth-making’ Dr Dale Blair of Deakin University, Melbourne, “ the revisionist crowd – who believe Ned was a bad man – won’t cut through. Because people aren’t interested in that story. Even if it’s true.’’
Kelly apologists of course are giving this article a big tick. I responded in the Comments section at the bottom of the article, comments which were duly noted by one of the contributors to the Facebook page originally dedicated to the vilification of Ian MacFarlanes book but is now predominated by hysterical attacks on me. It claimed I hated articles like that one, and went on to liken my remarks to a Tiger Moth crashing into Uluru – a big flash and a bang but in the end, the Rock remains, unchanged. This was the amusing analogy created by Ian Jones many years ago, predicting how successful revisionists would be. Very funny!
But I have to tell that person that this article, on closer examination has turned out to be something he will hate, because, knowing how often journalists are lazy and how often they write garbage I decided to track down the articles and the sources for the statistics to make sure we weren’t being fed bullshit. And we were! He’s going to hate it because its led to the discovery and broadcasting here that hardly anyone regards Ned Kelly as important or significant. He’s on the way out!
The Chart of who the most important Australians were was based on the 2011 Australlian Survey of Social Attitudes. Ive tracked it down. 1225 Participants were asked “In your opinion, who are the two most important Australians, living or dead?” Guess how many of the twelve hundred respondents nominated Ned Kelly as their number one pick? A miniscule 19! Ned Kelly was the nominated first or second choice by 35 people, Fred Hollows by 150! To describe someone supported by 35 people in a survey of over one thousand as ” a figure of national importance ” is hyperbolic nonsense. Fake News by a lazy journo.
Participants were also asked “Many people throughout Australia’s history have influenced the way Australians see themselves in terms of their identity as Australians. If you had to choose among the following, which would be your first choice as the most influential? Aboriginal people/Convicts/ Free settlers/ Bushrangers/ ANZACS/ Immigrants after World War II/Sporting heroes/ Political leaders/ Other..”
The most popular first choice was ANZACS (47%) but Bushrangers were the least popular first choice (1%) In other words 99% of Australians think there are other more important influences on the national identity than bushrangers, and by that they mean Ned Kelly the name first on anyones lips when bushrangers are mentioned. Who would have guessed ? The Kelly apologists, and this journo think Kelly is “much loved” and wildly popular and admired, but these FACT tell us otherwise. This survey tells us that the huge majority of Australians don’t think Ned Kelly was important or particularly influential.
Evans, A. Australian Survey of Social Attitudes 2011, The Australian National University: Australian Demographic & Social Research Institute, 2012.
Now, when this Survey was undertaken Ian Jones was still in full flight, the Ned Kelly Forum and the Beechworth Ned Kelly weekend were still in existence, and the ABC documentary on the Glenrowan excavation had just been shown. The myth-busting works of MacFarlane, Morrissey, Kieza and Dawson were still to come. But even then, in what was a relatively pro-Kelly environment support for Ned Kelly was minimal, something which the Kelly apologists wouldn’t want anyone to know. But since then much has changed, and none of it would give any comfort to the Kelly apologists: quite apart from the exposure of the true story by the aforementioned writers, the Beechworth Ned Kelly Weekend has disappeared, the Ned Kelly Forum imploded, the Iron Outlaw Website has died, the tourist attractions are falling into disrepair, the crowd-funding attempt to raise millions for a Ned Kelly Center raised a paltry $1100 and another one for yet another Kelly movie raised barely 5% of its target, and the only ‘pro-Kelly’ publications have been repetitions of the same old tired fairy stories. Since then all that will have happened is that support for Ned Kelly will have shrunk even further.
Heres the proof : long term Kelly country tourist operator, Bob Hempel had this to say three months ago when asked about the new Kelly movie:
“I think there is Ned Kelly fatigue. We used to get 70,000 people through our doors a year, now it’s down to 20,000. Good luck to them, but I think some people are a bit sick of Ned.”
The only thing that’s keeping the myth alive now is crappy journalism like this News Daily article. It would have been more honestly titled “Ned Kelly is on life support : an Australian almost nobody believes in”, and its time to turn the ventilator off. I think the analogy about Uluru and the Tiger Moth should be replaced with the story about the Emperor with no clothes. The King is dead people! Wake up! The age of the Kelly myth is over! Nobody believes in him any more!
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18 Replies to “The Kelly Legend : almost dead.”
Nick Cave's links with "Kelly country" are somewhat tenuous. Wikipedia notes that Cave was born in 1957, in Warracknabeal, a town way out in Western Victoria between Donald and Jeparit, where he spent his first years – nowhere near NE Victoria. "At 13 he was expelled from Wangaratta High School", i.e. in Year 7. "In 1970, having moved with his family to the Melbourne suburb of Murrumbeena, he became a boarder and later day student at Caulfield Grammar School", where he attended from 1971 to 1975, i.e. Years 8 to 12, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nick_Cave
Caulfield Grammar was a posh private boy’s school then, and did not go co-ed until many years later. According to the Independent, "He was obsessed with Ned Kelly, and grew up near the scene of his capture. He and his friends would get sick drinking cheap sherry; at 13 he was expelled from Wangaratta High School for trying to pull down the knickers of a 16-year-old girl. (Her parents wanted to press charges of attempted rape.)", http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/profiles/nick-cave-devils-advocate-350562.html
It is perhaps appropriate that Cave’s son is to act as Dan Kelly, who was involved in a drunken attack at a Mrs Goodman's house and shop at Winton in September 1877, in which one of the attacking youths exposed himself and assaulted Mrs Goodman; see Kieza, "Mrs Kelly", 195-197.
A weird exhibition has just closed at Benalla. It wasn't an alternate take on the story, as claimed in the Benalla Ensign. it was just another tiresome 'take' on the much discredited Kelly myth.
Artist Ray Hearn says: "Two things — he was indeed intending to set up a republic." No he wasn't Ray!
The True Ned exhibition, was opened with a talk by guest speaker, Associate Professor John McQuilton. John was born in north-eastern Victoria and has had a lifelong interest in Ned Kelly.He has written extensively on Kelly with one of his most notable works being The Kelly Outbreak 1878-1880: The Geographical Dimension of Social Banditry. Ho hum.
True Ned presents a different Ned Kelly story to that of Sidney Nolan’s famous series of paintings. It was still a nonsense exhibition that conned everyone.
Hi Charlie. Good Afternoon. Did you go to the exhibition in Benalla? Did you hear John McQuilton speak? He is indeed one of the better known of the old guard Kelly Scholars around .. What sort of art appeared? I wanted to go but beung in Adelaide makes it difficult. I look fwd to your feedback. Cheers. MGP
No, Mark, I was complaining about the journo. I too would have liked to hear McQuilton although Morrissey among others doesn't like his social banditry theory. I thought McQuilton's description of the police watch on the gang's homes was exciting.
Whats his name Jager will be jolly miffed as he thought he was developing into a good actor and an obvious choice as Dan Kelly.
Excellent blog Dee!
Cheers Charlie. Thank you for your feedback. Appreciated. So what sort of art was on display? Mixed media? just fainting? Think you are better off communicating on Dees FB page. Quicker. More immediacy. See you over there. Cheers.
Whats the hurry Mark? Charlie Chase might not want to post on Facebook. Actually he said "No" to your earlier question so I took that to mean he didnt go. Did anyone? I would have LOVED to have gone to that, not so much for the art but to listen to John McQuilton. If someone heard his talk or has a transcript or recording of it please let me know.
Hi Dee, I think you are wrong about the Kelly legend going away. I think the new movie based on Carey's book will create a further revival of interest, mostly because the novel is on a lot of secondary school and university English reading lists, and the film will be a supplementary teaching resource (or in some schools, possibly a substitute for some students!). I think things have got to the point where knowing the facts of the Kelly story have more or less ceased to matter. Three years after my "Redeeming Fitzpatrick" article was published, people still keep recycling the same old rubbish about Fitzpatrick. I'm not complaining from depression, but because it shows how bog-brained stupid and sluggish historical studies are in this country. The same goes for Alan Frost's "The First Fleet", showing how it was never about having a dumping ground for convicts, but about carefully planned colonisation. What happens is that history (and in the case of Carey's book, English teachers) do very little ongoing study once they leave university and start teaching. If they think they need to know anything or look something up, they go to some "recognised expert", in this case Ian Jones. Jones' views have not changed since the first edition of his "Short Life" in 1995, and were largely formed back before the 1967 Wangaratta Kelly conference. That means the dominant view of the Kelly story is over 50 years old, consolidated over 30 years ago, and changed hardly at all despite a huge pile of new research published after 2010. Carey's novel was a decade before this, and any claims that it is based around known facts (and there are many of these claims, including in Carey's own acknowledgement section at the end), are increasingly ridiculous.
Thanks Stuart but I think your view is too short-term. I think that compared to say 15 years ago, just after the 2000 Games and those Ned Kelly exhibitions and so forth, support for the Kelly myths is a lot less. Were you not surprised at how little support Ned got in that 2011 Survey? Think of how all those web sites have disappeared, the NK Beechworth weekend has gone, the collapse of all the attractions at Glenrowan, the failure of crowd-funding – and then on the other side of the ledger the revelations Madde by MacFarlane Morrissey Kieza and you, and even the survival of this Blog for four years against attacks you only know the half of! And there are more books coming ! All the big names that used to bat for Kelly are slowly falling silent but nobody is stepping up to replace them, the historians and professors and clever writers are now on the side of truth rather than the myth.When people do Google searches for kelly related stuff they often get links to your stuff and to my pages!
I just think we need to continue on being patient and getting the message out. The opposition we get is from a very limited few Kelly apologists, and they are being exposed time and time again as ignorant and as bullies, so they are themselves trashing their brand. But it won't disappear over night, and there will always be people who believe the Kelly myth just as there are still people who think the earth is flat. But like the flat earthers they will be easily recognised as nutters.
Keep up the great work Stuart!
You're both right, but Dee more so. Ned Kelly Forum and Iron Outlaw, among others, have vanished altogether, replaced by lowly pretenders like that dopey Heffalump with the Hate Site against a 2012 book. These days he spends all his time trying to guess who you are Dee and hasn't even come close.
There is nothing much else out there. Ned is buggared!
Hi Dee, Horrie and Alf, just to clarify, I am not "anti-Ned Kelly" as I think the story is a permanent part of Australian history, mostly because of the armour. As they said at the time, it was something that would astonish the world, and it did. Never mind that the last stand only happened because the train derailment and massacre plan failed; it seems to be the last stand that made Kelly stand out longer and louder than other bushrangers. And by the way, the Iron Outlaw website is going strong, so you must be thinking of some other Kelly website. What interests me about the Kelly story is how historical reality has been swamped by myth. The point of the Fitzpatrick investigation was to test whether his version of events made any sense, as clearly the Kelly versions did not. It was a response to Ian Jones’ challenge that we can never know for sure what happened, which seemed wrong, as his presentation of the Fitzpatrick incident was full of fairly obvious holes, such as that Fitzpatrick would go drunk to make an arrest single-handed. Even if he had a drinking problem – which the research showed is very doubtful – he wouldn’t be that stupid; coupled with the standard version matching one of Ned Kelly’s. Clearly the Fitzpatrick incident had never been given any proper attention. The first thing I found was that Fitzpatrick’s record of service was fine from commencement through well past the Fitzpatrick incident. That means Jones’ claims that his conduct was always bad were simply wrong. That’s what showed I was onto a historical fraud, and the rest of the investigation went on from there, and showed that his later failings were read back against the evidence of his employment through 1878. That led to testing whether it was possible to reconstruct and corroborate his testimony, something no-one had ever bothered to do. Hence the resulting article, “Redeeming Fitzpatrick”. In the process of doing that, I saw that much of the Kelly story was simply made up without evidence. A lot of it based on unhistorical fantasy. As a historian, I thought this was ridiculous; popular history books were prenting stories far from the facts. So my investigations have not set out to “nail Ned Kelly”, but to investigate some key problems that stink of ridiculous fantasy. As to overall significance, when I was at school we didn’t spend time on bushrangers, who are interesting in a way but had practically no impact on history except as troublemakers. They were something that interested people read about, not curriculum material. Instead, we did the gold rushes, which were the main reason for the 1850s boom, along with other significant events. Historical education seems to have largely declined into trivial pursuit. One of the reasons history is interesting is learning about past events that had an impact on later events leading to the present. The least I expect is that people make an effort to get the history right, and are willing to re-examine things and correct them when they are found to be wrong. Not just keep recycling unhistorical crap because it feels comfortable or to avoid actually learning something new.
When I said above that the research showed it was doubtful that Fitzpatrick had a drinking problem, I was referring only to 1878, not to him going downhill later, which is well known. Possibly he had some form of PTSD, or went downhill from the constant slagging in the press. But he did not go drunk to the Kellys in April 1878 to arrest Dan; that is just Ned's rubbish, as shown in my Fitzpatrick article.
Time line suggests there was simply no time to get roaring drunk anyway.
Good point Mark. And I don't think any of the police interviews suggested he was pissed either.
My point exactly. A brandy and lemonade was called a spider back then. Might have a bite on the weekend.
Fitzpatrick's drinking problems, if they ever existed, would have shown up somewhere in his police records. They didn't.
You seem to be right about Iron Outlaw, Stuart, where Brad keeps flogging his dead horse of a book. The years of input and feedback have disappeared. This was the only worthwhile contribution, now replaced by acres of public records as his "Archives". I hope Brad got permission to publish them from PROV, but I bet he didn't.
Prove me wrong Brad.
Hi Charlie. Look fwd to talking on Facebook. Are you unable to do so for any reason? Please advise. Or u could email me privately. Look fwd to hearing from you.