In 1992 when Ned Kelly was generally considered to have been a hero, a giant statue of him was erected in Glenrowan where it has remained as a big tourist drawcard to the region.
At its base is a plaque with the following inscription:
– Hanged a murderer in Melbourne, November 11, 1880 – not 26 years old – described as a rebel, bushranger by necessity, a bush battler, underdog, sometimes gentleman, sometimes larrikin and a man with a strong sense of family.
In a country born of brutal convict settlement the Kellys were one of many to suffer the notions of English class distinction property and land tenure and Anglo-Irish hatreds. With the continued persecution of his family by the police Ned fought back. The donning of armour made from plough mould boards here at Glenrowan in June 1880 made Ned Kelly an Australian Legend.
“He has lost much blood and gone two nights without sleep, he is borne down by the weight of armour, the air is still the earth icy, the mists of dawn just hang. This is the moment of history. Kelly may have escaped here. Having witnessed the death of Joe Byrne from a massive haemorrhage from a bullet to the groin – most men would have given up here, if not before. Instead Kelly went back to rescue his brother and Steve Hart.
Armed he lurches through the mist hulking swaying clanging taunting – the Legend is born. (Ian Jones)
But that was thirty years ago, last century.
In the intervening years, ongoing academic research into the Kelly story has overturned almost every one of the ideas expressed in that inscription, that the Kellys were persecuted by police, and that because of it Ned Kelly ‘fought back’ and became a hero. The noble idea popularised by Ian Jones that Ned Kelly was a political ‘rebel’ who wanted to declare the North East of Victoria a Republic has been completely disproved. The claim he was a ‘bushranger by necessity’ has been refuted by the historical evidence. The idea that he was a man with a strong sense of family has also been shown to be at odds with the evidence.
What the historical record shows us quite clearly is that Ned Kelly was a dangerous and violent criminal. The Kelly outbreak was nothing but a crime spree that had Ned Kelly at its centre. The 2022 Kelly publications, ‘Nabbing Ned Kelly’ by David Dufty and ‘The Kelly Hunters’ by Grantlee Kieza both based on extensive research of the historical record re-affirm this view, that Ned Kelly wasn’t a victim of persecution who ‘fought back’ as the plaque claims but a dangerous and violent horse thief who became a triple police killer, hostage taker and bank robber. His ‘last stand’ at Glenrowan in June 1880 was a failed attempt to murder twenty or thirty police and innocent people by causing a train to crash at high speed. Nothing about this episode was heroic or worthy of special commemoration – it was an ultra-violent scheme for a ghastly slaughter that, if carried out successfully would have written Ned Kellys name for all time in the international lists of abhorrent mass murderers – and it very nearly was. Mercifully, he was stopped.
Knowing this to be the truth about him, one has to ask of the good citizens of Glenrowan why the hell would you want to continue to promote and profit from the name and image of a brutal criminal, and misinform tourists from all round the world? Is there something the matter with you that you see nothing wrong with aligning your towns image with that of a truly monstrous criminal? The popular image of him from thirty years ago is now known to be completely false, and there is absolutely no reason to continue to promote the ridiculous disproven belief that he was some sort of hero who ought to be celebrated. None what-so-ever.
So, what should be done?
In 2016 Leo Kennedy called for the Big Ned statue to be taken down. His great grandfather Michael Kennedy was brutally murdered by Ned Kelly, and like the many hundreds if not thousands of people who are descendants of Ned Kellys victims, and to almost everyone else who understands the truly wicked nature of the man, the giant Ned Kelly in Glenrowan is deeply offensive. Equally offensive is the fact that money is being made out of perpetuating lies about the man, promoting for tourist amusement a false version of history that glorifies a brutal killer:
“It glorifies a murderer and a terrorist – what messages does that send to society?” Mr Kennedy said of the statue. “I’d like to see Curnow put there in place of it, because he’s the hero. He saved lives, Kelly caused deaths.”
Its obvious what needs to be done – and its been done before in Australia!
Thirty years ago when the Giant Ned was put up, Rolf Harris was celebrated all over Australia and widely regarded as an Aussie icon and hero, just like Kelly was back then. But in 2014 Harris went to gaol in the UK after being convicted of a series of sex crimes committed against children decades earlier, and everything changed. Especially in Bassendean, a suburb of Perth where he grew up, but all over Australia as well, memorials to his life, tributes to his skill as an entertainer and artist, paintings that had hung in Council offices and public spaces were all removed. His status as a Freeman of Bassendean was withdrawn, an honorary Doctorate awarded him by Edith Cowan University was withdrawn, plaques identifying the home he grew up in and the school he went to were all removed. All of this was an entirely appropriate response to the realization that the popular image of Harris was only part of the true story about him, and that there was another dark and sinister side to him.
The same can also be said of Ned Kelly: there was a dark and sinister side to him as well, and just as in the case of Rolf Harris, it greatly overshadows anything good anyone might be able to say about him.
At the very least the Plaque at the base of the statue should be rewritten so that tourists are no longer so thoroughly misinformed. What the plaque needs to state is that Ned Kelly was a criminal who murdered three policemen and planned to murder many more in a violent confrontation here in Glenrowan, but thanks to the bravery of Thomas Curnow he was stopped and many lives were saved. The plaque should also inform visitors that when Ned Kelly was finally caught the entire colony rejoiced.
People reading the truth about Ned Kelly will probably then ask themselves what the hell is Glenrowan town – and the entire north east doing promoting and profiting from the memory of such a man, and why do they think it’s OK to have a giant statue of a police killer in the Main Street?
Very good questions – I would love to know what their answers would be, but I daresay it would involve claims about Ned Kelly we now know are lies. The truth about him would not be something they would be proud of.