When it comes to the words of Ned Kelly, why do we often read “I am a widows son, outlawed, and my orders must be obeyed” but almost never read “I will not exactly show them what cold blooded murder is but wholesale and retail slaughter, something different to shooting three troopers in self-defence and robbing a bank”. The first quote conveys a noble image of a righteous defender of his mother’s honour standing up for something, but the second, which includes the lie that he killed three police in self-defence, is a prophecy of the blood thirsty slaughter which he later attempted to carry out at Glenrowan, a plan of mad revenge that betrays a mind that’s close to completely unhinged. There are many more possible quotations of the words of Ned Kelly that are equally as vicious, extreme and unhinged but which for obvious reasons remain unquoted and are ignored by the Kelly promotors, because they demonstrate truths about Kelly that they are in denial of.
The issue I want to highlight this week relates to the remarkably selective and uncritical use that is made of things that Ned Kelly said, and of other things that he never said but which are wrongly claimed to be his, to carefully craft the false image of him that is the Kelly legend.
It’s becoming more and more clear to me as I investigate the Kelly Legend, that it’s basically a huge collection of lies, many of which were words first uttered by Ned Kelly. For reasons that would be interesting to understand – but are not going to be explored here just now – gullible people have swallowed these lies and continue to believe and promote them, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that they’re falsehoods. The gullibility of Kelly supporters and their frightening capacity to ignore the evidence that contradicts their fond beliefs was recently demonstrated yet again with crystal clarity in Facebook discussions when they insisted that when former constable Alexander Fitzpatrick died, he had cirrhosis of the liver, even though his death certificate clearly shows that what he died from was something completely different, and there is no mention anywhere of cirrhosis. They all want to believe he had cirrhosis because they are desperate to find something to support their false belief that Fitzpatrick was an alcoholic, so they just dismissed the proof on his death certificate that their belief was false!. My point is that Kelly sympathisers happily believe lies – such as the stream of them that issued from Ned Kelly’s own mouth – as long as they support their mythology about Ned Kelly, no matter where they come from. They’re not all that concerned about what the evidence might show : if it supports their story, well and good but if not – who cares?
Possibly the greatest of the lies that Ned Kelly told, and one that’s believed by all his modern-day followers, and even by many people who are not all that supportive of Ned Kelly, was that his family were unfairly harassed and persecuted by corrupt police, and because of this oppression he decided to fight back. This is the Kelly legend in a nutshell. This allegation of Ned Kelly’s is believed in spite of the fact that it was investigated by the Royal Commission of 1881 and dismissed with inconvenient words that again, are never quoted by sympathisers because they conflict with the Kelly fantasy based on Ned Kellys lies :
“It may also be mentioned that the charge of persecution of the family by the members of the police force has been frequently urged in extenuation of the crimes of the outlaws; but, after careful examination, your Commissioners have arrived at the conclusion that the police, in their dealings with the Kellys and their relations, were simply desirous of discharging their duty conscientiously; and that no evidence has been adduced to support the allegation that either the outlaws or their friends were subjected to persecution or unnecessary annoyance at the hands of the police.”
The truth is that long before the Fitzpatrick incident or the Police murders at Stringybark Creek the Kellys drew police attention to themselves by their criminal behaviour, by such things as sexual assaults, domestic violence, drunkenness, arson, bashings, robbery and even animal cruelty. Police involvement was inevitable following such criminal acts; it was never police persecution and harassment but police responding correctly to actual serious crimes, something I would guess every Kelly sympathiser would expect from police if such criminal acts were directed at them. All these crimes are recorded in the newspapers and police and court reports of the time, and discussed in depth on this Blog, but they are too awkward and embarrassing for the Kelly promotors to ever talk about them, so they never do. As for fighting back against injustice I’ve yet to hear a Kelly supporter ever explain how setting up a stock thieving syndicate, or murdering three ordinary policemen was taking a stand against injustice. And none of them has ever attempted to explain how the cause of justice and fairness was going to be advanced by the massacre of a trainload of innocent people at Glenrowan.
Another one of Kelly’s big lies was to claim that he wasn’t at his mother’s house the night Fitzpatrick came to arrest his brother Dan – even Ian Jones conceded that this claim by Ned Kelly was a lie – and another lie was Kellys claim that he killed Lonigan in self-defence. He said that Lonigan was about to shoot at him from behind a ‘battery of logs’ but even though the forensic evidence completely demolishes that claim, Kelly supporters refuse to admit it, preferring to believe Ned Kelly’s preposterous excuse that his murder of Lonigan and the other two police murdered after him were all acts of self-defence. And yet, even the Kelly supporters know that Kennedy was running away, he was shot at and chased, and once he was wounded and had run out of ammunition they caught up to him and shot him at point blank range. The idea that this was ‘self defence’ is laughable and a sickening and miserable joke. You would have to be a blind idiot to accept such a lie, but so great is their capacity for self-deception all Kelly sympathisers do.
I also want to comment on things Ned Kelly never said – which might seem a crazy idea, to discuss things someone never said but there are two ways in which a discussion about things Ned Kelly didn’t ever say is important. The first is about things he should have said, if he was the sort of person – the concerned brother and son, and the visionary – he is claimed to be. So for example, how come he never expressed one word of remorse and sorrow over the fact that his failed plan for Glenrowan resulted in his younger brothers’ death, in Aaron Sherrits death and the death of some of the innocent people he took hostage? He didn’t even have to admit liabiity for their deaths to be able to express sorrow at what happened to them but after he was captured he never uttered one word of regret or apology or sympathy or condolence to anyone, not even to his own mother. If Ned Kelly was really planning a Republic of north-east Victoria, as claimed and promoted by the late Ian Jones, and still promoted at the Kelly Vault in Beechworth, you would have thought he would have had lots to say about it but he never mentioned it, or anything remotely like it, ever, not one word. The main topic of Ned Kellys writings and ramblings was always himself.
But the second and more important way in which words Ned Kelly never said needs to be discussed is in relation to things which people claim he said, but which are words he didn’t actually ever say, words put into his mouth by others wanting to dress up his image from violent unhinged criminal to some sort of hero. These words are among the most widely cited of all words attributed to Ned Kelly, and most of them appeared in an “Interview with Ned Kelly” that was published in the Melbourne Age in August 1880, an extensive article that, as was quickly recognised, contained words language and sentiments, especially in the first paragraph that had never been typical of Ned Kelly. “It was very clumsily managed, that interview business. They put too many big words in Neds mouth”. In fact the “Reporter” was Ned Kellys own solicitor, David Gaunson, an ambitious lawyer who was deeply committed to the abolition of capital punishment and who saw Ned Kellys high profile case as a golden opportunity to advance that cause, and his own career.
So don’t be fooled next time you read the quote that begins “I do not pretend that I have lived a blameless life or that one fault justifies another…”. And don’t be taken in by the one that starts with “If my life teaches the public that men are made mad by bad treatment, and if the police are taught they may not exasperate to madness men they persecute and ill treat…..” or any of the several other snippets that are taken from that Interview – these fine words were not Ned Kelly’s but David Gaunsons, words put into Kelly’s mouth, carefully crafted to present an entirely false image of Ned Kelly as mistreated and downtrodden, as a humble and repentant prisoner, and most importantly as a victim of police persecution. Clearly it was Gaunsons job to present as favourable an image of his client as he could create, but nobody should be taken in by that clever PR image, favoured by Ned Kelly himself that it was all the fault of the police. Even Kelly supporters know that the independent Commission of enquiry into the outbreak said there was no evidence of corruption or persecution, though, because those findings conflict with their favoured Kelly fables, once again they’re in deep denial about those words too!