This post is a milestone for “Ned Kelly: The True Story” Blog because it is Number 300! When the Blog began in 2014 using the Google Blogspot Platform I called it “Death of the Legend”, because I wanted the Blog to be a site that informed readers about the reasons why, despite what they might have thought, the ‘Kelly Legend’ was close to death. I wanted to point out that the stories that sustained the Legend were mostly false, for example that Ned Kelly was Australia’s ‘Robin Hood’, that he was clever and honest, that he came from a typically decent family of hard working Irish selectors or that police and the judiciary relentlessly harassed and persecuted the Kellys until at last he decided to ‘take a stand’. When you search the historical record looking for the evidence of all these things you almost invariably come up empty handed. Instead what you come up with is a completely different story, the true story, so last year when I transferred the entire Blog to the WordPress platform I changed the name of the Blog to “The True Story” because that’s what I was now telling.
As it turned out, the five years of the lifetime of this Blog have probably been the most momentous five years in the Kelly sympathisers world in the last fifty; that’s because during this five years the status of the Kelly story has gone from being supported and promoted and popular, to a myth that is reeling from sustained exposure to overdue balanced academic scrutiny, and as a result its proponents have retreated into silence, have disappeared from the public spaces they used to strut , their celebrations have ended and all that is left are a couple of Facebook pages that struggle to do anything other than repeat disproven myths, absurd conspiracy theories and lies.
In 2014 when this Blog began Ian Jones was alive and active, and in cyberspace the Ned Kelly Forum was active, along with a couple of other Kelly forums, and there were several different Facebook pages with active rivalry between two Kelly descendant groups on separate Facebook pages. There was also a huge annual Kelly Weekend festival in Beechworth where the Ned Kelly Vault was about to open. There were passionate arguments about all kinds of Kelly-myth related topics, and about the true site of the police murders at Stringybark creek. The only shadow, in 2014 was a book, the Kelly Gang Unmasked, barely two years since publication, but almost nobody had heard of Ian MacFarlane, its author.
And then Dee appeared, firstly on a couple of Forums which were quickly sabotaged by Kelly supporters who couldn’t cope with their applecart being upset, and then on this Blog which despite the best efforts of those same Kelly supporters has continued to this day. The plan was to support the work started by Ian MacFarlane unravelling the Kelly myths, finding out the truth about the Kelly Outbreak.
Soon, Ian MacFarlane’s ground-breaking book had sold out but the damage was done: the Kelly legend was taking on water, and to mix metaphors somewhat, since then its all been downhill for the Kelly story. The Kelly forums dried up and then disappeared, the Facebook pages either disappeared, became members only echo-chambers or were abandoned, the original Beechworth weekend ceased to exist after more than a decade of interest and a replacement lasted one season only, and several crowd funding attempts to get various Kelly related projects off the ground all failed; they all failed except for the one that promised to tell the truth about Stringybark Creek – it succeeded, the movie has been made and will soon be seen all over Australia! One crowd funding attempt at raising $150,000 in the heart of Kelly Country has so far only raised $50 in five months – a telling barometer of public interest in the Kelly Mythology if ever there was one!
And then Dr Stuart Dawson appeared out of nowhere with a series of brilliant academic inspections of several key Kelly legends, the most important being his analysis of the origins of the claims popularised by Ian Jones that Ned Kelly planned to establish a republic in North east Victoria. This is the claim that above all others elevated Ned Kellys legacy from the ranks of brutal murderers to ‘social bandit’ and Republican hero – but Dawson proved it was all a fantasy based on a mischievous spoof from 1900, misunderstood and expanded on uncritically decades later. To the dismay and disbelief of Kelly supporters, Dawson also exploded the pernicious myths attached to the central character of Constable Alexander Fitzpatrick, the false assertions about the death of George Metcalf and the supposed last words of Ned Kelly “Such is Life”.
During this same five years two books that were further hammer blows to the Kelly legend were published by another academic, Doctor Doug Morrissey, known by a few Kelly supporters for his 1987 PhD thesis on the Kelly story. One of these works was the PhD thesis reworked for general consumption and the other an account that emphasised, as MacFarlane’s did as well, the suppressed detail of the lawlessness and antisocial lifestyles of the Kelly clan and of Ned Kelly in particular. A third and final volume of Morrissey’s planned trilogy is expected in a few months.
Yet another doctor, this time a Psychiatrist provided an analysis of the personality of Ned Kelly based on the records of his behaviour and lifestyle and concluded he was a psychopath. Grantlee Kieza provided yet another forensic re-examination of the Kelly story three years ago with his biography of Mrs Kelly, and inevitably he concluded Ned Kelly came from a family of thieves and criminals, rather than from typical selector stock.
This Blog has of course drawn readers attention to all these goings-on during the last five years as well as provide analysis and critiques of my own. One of the really important realisations that I came to after writing and thinking about it for quite a while, is the only explanation ever proposed that fully explains everything that’s known about Lonigans’ death at Stringybark Creek. Dr Reynolds reporting of the injuries Lonigan received and the answers he gave to questions at the Committal hearing made it plain that Ned Kellys claim about what happened were, like many of Ned Kelly claims, desperate and provable lies.
Another important revelation, to date only ever made public on this blog was derived from an analysis of the documentation and records of actual criminal cases for which Kelly clan members appeared in court, either to be convicted or discharged. What these analyses show is that police action was appropriately based on credible allegations or actual criminal acts by Kelly clan members, that the courts acted with fairness and respect for the legal rights of defendants and witnesses and that its almost impossible to find anything to support the Kelly legend allegation of systematic harassment and persecution.
There’s more – a whole lot more on the pages of this Blog where almost weekly over the last five years the Kelly myths have been systematically exposed, torn down and the true story put in its place. Initially, the Kelly supporters responded in various mostly hostile and personal ways, occasionally actually attempting to defend the myths but usually just attacking me personally in an attempt to silence me by hook or by crook. Ironically its now their voices which are almost silent, except for the occasional feeble outburst of abuse, and the sporadic recitation of beliefs which have now been discredited but which they refuse to let go of. No doubt about it, they’ve had a terrible five years, they’ve lost every battle, lost their own forums, lost their own celebrations and also, towards the end of this terrible five years they’ve also lost their champions like Ian Jones and John Molony who have now passed. Worse, there is nobody out there to replace them.
In addition, the public roll-back of Kelly Mythology has begun with the replacement of signage at Stringybark Creek. The old story boards that made the criminals the centre of the story have been replaced with historically accurate and sympathetic ones that laud the heroism of the police whose lives were taken there by a criminal gang. In Greta, in the centre of Kelly country, one seminar has already been held that focussed on historical facts and not myths, and another one, about the Kellys and the law is planned for next year. One of the speakers is a woman who has contributed to the facebook pages associated with this blog, and another wrote a review of Ian MacFarlanes book when it was first published, praising it as a ‘fascinating insight’. These voices had almost no chance of being given a platform five years ago!
So where to from here? I predict that the replacement of myth with historically accurate accounts of the Kelly Outbreak, as happened at SBC and Greta recently, is where all the action is going to be in the next phase of the demythologising of the Kelly story. The point needs to be made that whilst interest in Kelly Mythology is terminal, interest in the actual true story is not terminal, and hopefully never will. The plan is not to wipe the Kelly story out of the history books but to make sure thats what’s in them is accurate and honest and complete.
As for this Blog, well, I haven’t finished yet, by a long chalk and three or four more posts are already in the pipeline. I doubt there are another 300 posts waiting to be written but we shall see.