With the recent passing of Ian Jones and Professor John Molony, the last remaining important links to the golden age of Kelly adulation were broken, and the Kelly story has reached a watershed. Up until Jones died, his mere presence in Kelly country was like a bulwark against the tides of change that were steadily turning against the popular image of Ned Kelly as the people’s hero. Jones’ word, written or spoken, could and did often settle an argument, close down a discussion or inspire another round of Kelly enthusiasm. No other figure in the Kelly world commanded anywhere near the same respect or wielded the same power and authority over Kelly history as did Ian Jones. One of the things that impressed me about his writing was that with some notable exceptions, for the most part Jones was prepared to let the evidence speak for itself. It must have been difficult for him to admit, in his discussion about the Fitzpatrick incident, that Ned Kelly lied about it. But Jones accepted the logic of evidence and facts.
I say we have now reached a watershed moment in Kelly history because there are no longer any spokespersons for the Kelly story like Jones and the cohort that accompanied him, such as Manning Clark, McQuilton, McMenomy, Phillips and the like, who have the standing and the academic authority that gave their pro-Kelly points of view credibility. These people are not all deceased but they have all fallen silent. We are at a watershed moment because the balance of credible academic opinion has now tipped the scales in the opposite direction. This is undeniable – all the credible voices that continue to discuss the kelly story are dismantling the old view:
· Ian MacFarlane (The Kelly Gang Unmasked – 2012)
· Dr Craig Cormack (Ned Kelly under the Microscope-2014)
· Dr Doug Morrissey (A Lawless Life -2015),
· Dr Stuart Dawson (‘Redeeming Fitzpatrick’, ‘The Myth of the Kelly Republic’, ‘Ah well I suppose it has come to this’, and ‘The shooting of George Metcalf’)
· Grantlee Kieza (Mrs Kelly 2016)
· Dr Morrisseys second work (Selectors Squatters and Stock Thieves 2018)
· Leo Kennedys Black Snake: The real story of Ned Kelly ( yet to be reviewed on this Blog)
In tandem with the dismantling of the old view there has been a decline in the once active Kelly world, both online and in the real world. There was once a very active online forum called the Ned Kelly Forum. I joined but was kicked out within a few weeks, but Forum activity declined and then it disappeared completely a couple of years later. There was once an active free online forum called Kelly Country 2000 – it declined into inactivity and when it was recently threatened with closure by imposition of an annual fee of $80 its administrator announced it would close. Nobody offered a cent to keep it going! There are a couple of worthless Facebook pages devoted to Ned Kelly – but both are echo-chambers from which all dissenting voices are banned. They are inhabited by people whose main pre-occupation is attacking and vilifying every voice wherever it may be that expresses an opinion they disagree with.
In the real world, Heritage Victoria is revising the tourist experience at Stringybark Creek, changing the emphasis from the gang of murderers to their police victims. The Ned Kelly Weekend, an event that devotees once attended in their hundreds has disappeared, due to lack of interest or support. At huge expense an exploration of the tourist potential of the Kelly story delivered a report to North east councils this year that suggested pouring buckets of money into promoting it, but all that’s happened so far is a lukewarm commitment to the least expensive proposals. The suggestion that a significant Kelly Centre with a tower be developed at Glenrowan, something that had already been mooted many years ago and dropped, has once again been dropped, and the Kelly descendant hoping to get millions for the Center after her own attempt to raise money flopped, has yet to even complete a web site which has been ‘under construction’ for years.
In the movie world, the big money is not going into the actual story of Ned Kelly but into a fantasy based on him. Crowd funding for a grand Kelly outbreak movie promoted by Kelly devotees failed dismally. Now the same group are seeking funding for a movie centred around the demise of the Kelly Gang at Glenrowan – and have already announced it won’t contain one of the central myths of that bloody debacle, the myth that it was an attempt at establishing a Republic : progress in the right direction! Another Kelly movie, successfully crowd-funded and promoted not by devotees but by independent students of film-making is in production as we speak. It will depict the horrors of the Stringybark Creek murders – another step in the right direction, away from the myths and lies of the Kelly fables.
Against that onslaught where are the defenders of the Kelly myths? The only voices that remain are those of a few remaining die-hard believers who gather in their echo-chambers on Facebook and reassure each other that yes, the whole world is out of step! Every single dissenting voice and opinion is shouted down with abuse, vilification and derision, and silenced by intimidation and expulsion. They plan to hold a talk-fest next April at Chiltern but with a couple of exceptions, the speakers are the same tired old amateurs who by all accounts will be recycling the disproven myths and yarns they’ve been telling for decades.
Some of them claim to be Kelly ‘researchers’ but what they mean by ‘research’ is trawling the internet and the historical records for the tiniest shred of evidence that could possibly be construed or misconstrued as supportive of their extreme hatred of Fitzpatrick and their blinding pro-Kelly bias. An even easier tactic is simply to make stuff up about him – such as the contemptible unsupported and unchallenged claim made the other day on Facebook that he was a child molester. But the claim he was drunk and a liar and a womaniser is also made up. Lately in their attempts to shore up this increasingly untenable and pernicious view of Constable Fitzpatrick, in the absence of facts that support their claim about the kind of man he was when he visited the Kellys in April 1878, they have turned to muck raking and mud-slinging not just about the man he might have been many years later, but also about any of his near or distant relations – if they were unsavoury, that proves he must have been as well, according to these sleazy ‘private eyes’. But nothing about what happened to him after he left the police, or about his family or his next door neighbour or the price of fish is in any way relevant to what happened years before. If they want to make allegations about what he was when he was in the police force, they need to show evidence from when he was in the police force, not from decades afterwards. Their entire muck-raking campaign is a huge distraction and of no relevance at all to the causes of the Outbreak.
To date none of these malicious muck-rakers have uncovered a single fact that supports their contention that in 1878 Fitzpatrick was a womaniser, a drunk and a liar. Not one blow has even landed on Stuart Dawson’s exposition of what happened, let alone dented it. However, at Chiltern next year one of these muck-rakers, Alan Crichton, is going to be opening the talk-fest with a presentation about Fitzpatrick. Going by his public utterances to date, this talk will be a sickening fact-free vilification of a man who died what would have been a lingering painful and horrible death from disseminated cancer that was invading his stomach. But Crichton says he is “now convinced he died from a liver complaint caused by an over indulgence in the consumption of alcoholic beverages”. According to Crichton “Fitzpatrick’s death certificate says it all”.
This conviction, that Crichton shares with his fellow Fitzpatrick-haters, is completely the opposite of what science and medicine and pathology textbooks say. There is no known link between liver sarcoma – which is what Fitzpatrick died from, – and ‘over indulgence in the consumption of alcoholic beverages’. And yet these wretched Kelly supporters are so determined to vilify Fitzpatrick that they simply close their eyes to the facts written in black and white in front of them on Fitzpatrick’s death certificate. Because he died from disseminated sarcoma which was invading his stomach and causing ascites, Crichton, who clearly knows nothing about medicine or pathology, is going to use that miserable lingering death as an excuse to label him an alcoholic. What more desperate act of cringing muck-raking could anyone imagine? Ian Jones would be spinning in his grave: he was the man who wrote “Fitzpatricks version appears to be closer to the truth than Neds version” and at another place, about something else said ” we are in happy disagreement” – but such tolerance and openness will never be found or even tolerated in this disgraceful new crop of so called kelly ‘researchers’.
I suppose from my point of view I should be happy that the only voices that remain to defend the Kelly legend are people like Crichton and the other male speakers at this last stand at Chiltern. They completely lack the integrity and credibility that people like Ian Jones exhibited, and fair minded people will be, and already are turning away in droves – not just from their talk-fest but from their entire Kelly fairy story. Who would want to associate with a bunch of muck-raking haters?
No doubt in my mind : the passing of Ian Jones was a watershed for the Kelly legends . There is no-one left with any credibility to defend it.
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