Last month I predicted before the anniversary of Ned Kellys capture that this year any kind of commemoration or celebration of it by Kelly devotees would be a flop, because even in Victoria interest in celebrating debunked Kelly mythology has fallen to barely recordable levels. Kelly sympathisers have already noticed it themselves and have been complaining at the way Beechworth tourist interests seem to be sidelining their hero, and at the Burke Museum the same thing is happening.They try to mitigate their despair by pointing to the restoration of the Kelly house at Beveridge and the Tower construction at Glenrowan, but they fail – or wilfully refuse – to understand the difference between preserving history and preserving their delusional fantasies about Kelly – both these local endeavours are related to preservation of the true history, not of the Kelly myths the sympathisers want to promote. They can take no comfort from those two projects.
But its not just in the north east where interest in Kelly mythology has changed : its an Australia-wide phenomenon, nowhere more easily seen than in the types of ‘Kelly’ books that have been published in Australia over the last few years. If you made a list of all the very many ‘Kelly’ books published say since Max Browns 1948 publication “Australian Son”, what you would find is that up until ten years ago almost every single one of them was “pro” Kelly – there were dozens and dozens of them – it was all one way for decades. But the publication of ‘pro-Kelly’ literature came to a more or less complete stop in 2012 with the landmark publication of Ian MacFarlanes ‘The Kelly Gang Unmasked’. This book was an intelligent fact-based meticulously researched and referenced masterpiece which arrested the march of Kelly idolatry in its tracks. The Kelly sympathiser mob absolutely hate this book, because its demolition of the mythology was devastating and virtually irrefutable.
Since The Kelly Gang Unmasked appeared on bookshelves, I can think of only three new pro-Kelly publications, and none was substantive. (The authors were Peter Fitzsimmons, Bradley Webb and Eugenie Navarre, and I haven’t counted Rebecca Wilsons terrible book about Kate Kelly).
On the other hand over that same period substantial works which debunk the Kelly myths and expose the truth about the Kelly Outbreak now, by my count number at least a fifteen:
by Leo Kennedy,
NK Under the Microscope
edited by Craig Cormack,
Ned Kelly Stock thief, Bank Robber Murder,Psychopath
by Scott and MacFarlane
1st and 2nd editions by Aidan Phelan,
Doug Morrissey’s Trilogy,
A Lawless life
The Stringybark Creek Police Murders
Selectors Squatters and Stock Thieves
Stuart Dawsons 4 publications:
Such is Life,
The Myth of the Republic,
The Death of Metcalf
Grantlee Kiezas 2 books
The Kelly Hunters
by David Dufty,
the most recent and freshest look yet at the outbreak
There are a couple of other publications which I haven’t counted for either side because they are very worthwhile but impartial compilations of articles from the time of the outbreak.(Authors Trudy Toohill and Kelvyn Gill)
The telling observation is that over this time, despite various promises, there hasnt been even one attempt by a pro-Kelly author to rebut any of the arguments or the evidence assembled by the new Kelly authors. The only responses have been incoherent ranting and abhorrent personal abuse on Facebook of every one of these authors by known trolls on Facebook, reactions which are irrelevant, except for one thing – they illustrate the anti-intellectual mind-set of Kelly devotees, and they condemn prominent Kelly sympathiser spokespeople who have remained silent about this abuse, when they should be condemning it.
Speaking of Facebook, and the internet generally, here also there has been a dramatic decline in interest and activity related to the Kelly story. Back in 2012 there were several active Kelly forums, one of which – the NK Forum – didn’t survive more than another couple of years, another , called Kelly Country 2000 still exists but is dead, and the Iron Outlaw web-page is still there but is also dead. A Facebook page called NK Central run by a Kelly family descendant lasted only a couple of years, and another Kelly family descendant Joanne Griffiths has a FB page called NK Center which is also dead. The remaining three or four active Kelly related FB pages are all dominated by blind kelly fanatics who aren’t interested in anything but recycling now disproven myths and fantasies about Ned Kelly, in giving voice to police hate, and in wallowing around in sickly sentimental recollections of the Kelly story they learned and immersed themselves in three or four decades ago. Some of these places pretend to be interested in ‘all sides’ but anyone voicing contrary opinions is rapidly kicked out, one or two others are more honest about their purpose and openly warn visitors that anything thats not pro Ned will be removed – thats a kind of openness and honesty I can respect. Finally there are a couple which have made themselves irrelevant to the conversation by hiding themselves behind a Members Only screen.
One curiosity that amuses me is a novel that the pro-Kelly mob admire even though in it the author doesn’t paint Kelly as a victim of persecution but as a violent and delinquent youth and as a volatile bully. More importantly the author leaves out the theme that has been central to pro-Kelly narratives for 50 years, the debunked theory of the Republic of North east Victoria. Leaving this theme out reduces the Kelly story to one of pure criminality, as Ian Jones himself pointed out years ago, but most of the pro-Kelly mob don’t seen to have realised this yet and continue to praise the book. They all seem to be in denial about the huge problem that taking out the republic myth has created for them : they have to find something which simply doesn’t exist – a sane justification for Glenrowan without the republic – certainly, Aidan Phelan couldnt find one.
Yet another indicator of how comprehensively Kelly mythology has dropped out of favour is to think about who is promoting it these days compared with a decade or two ago. Back then academics of many kinds, professors, barristers, Judges and a variety of other intellectuals were genuinely interested in it. People as well known as Professor Manning Clark wrote about Ned Kelly, and students wrote PhD theses on the topic, two of them being Doug Morrissey and John Mcquilton. There were many other academics who took an interest in the Kelly story – for example there was a huge line-up of them at the 1967 and 1993 Kelly symposia – largely it must be said because of the ceaseless advocacy of amateur historian Ian Jones. Now of course almost all of those people have passed, but no new faces have emerged to replace them. The only academic still showing an interest in the Kelly story nowadays is Dr Stuart Dawson whose work is aimed at correcting not perpetuating the myths – a complete reversal of the situation a decade or two ago.
The reality is that there was an awakening of interest in the Kelly story in the second half of last century, it was re-examined in great detail from a variety of angles by a great variety of people and ultimately found NOT to be about a hero as was hoped but about a murderous psychopath. And then pretty much everyone with at least half a brain moved on. Case closed.
So to put this year’s activities into perspective, consider the sorts of things that were happening a decade and more ago. Back then, Siege commemorations involved huge numbers of visitors to the region, and restaurants and tourist accommodation was booked out. Commemorative booklets and T-shirts and decorated mugs and other memorabilia were produced. Politicians, academics, dignitaries and famous actors and actresses, not to mention experts like Jones and McQuilton would appear, speeches were made and on one occasion a special steam-train trip was commissioned. Not so long ago, Joanne Griffiths organised Grantlee Kieza to attend and give a speech. And these things didn’t just happen once a year – there were several such events annually – an annual Ned Kelly celebration over an entire weekend in August, the Siege commemoration in June and in November further activities commemorated Kellys death. But back then, the entire Kelly legend was widely supported and celebrated. Not anymore.
Former fence-sitter but now unapologetic myth defender and close ally of the worst of the trolls, police haters and bigots in the Kelly world,Mark Perry, for several weeks before this years Siege weekend begged and pleaded on Facebook for Sympathisers to join him and Neal Carney at the Hibernian on the anniversary. He talked it up with promises of “music, book signings, police historian, cosplay, laybacks, darts comp and so much more” and posted to my Blog he had 35 confirmed attendees.
So now, with the Siege weekend behind them, the Kelly mob have claimed I got it all wrong and the commemoration was a tremendous success. One of them wrote “There are photos all over the net providing people’s experiences and proving once again how the troll from New Zealand has got it all wrong as usual”. Another wrote “I wonder why Davy/Dee, Sam/Brad are so quiet about the success of the siege weekend,? Wrong again weren’t you boys?
“Bloody oath they were wrong. In a big way. Egg on their funny little faces” wrote Perry, who is clearly in denial about what actually happened. Denial is a hallmark of Kelly sympathiser psychopathology, so nothing unusual in that.
So, was I wrong ?
Well, of Perrys 35 confirmed attendees only 12 turned up, and there was no commemorative T-shirt or stubby holder, no formal dinner, no speeches, no special guests, no music. They had a few beers and a pub meal and that was it.One pair who attended objected to Perry posting a picture of them all and crowing about his ‘success’ on my Page, so he deleted it. He posted the same photo on his own page with this comment “A big wave and hello to doctor David. We considered giving you the finger but decency and our code of ethics prevailed… for now.” This from the guy who bleats about good manners costing nothing. But it was good to know that in the backs of their minds as they toasted a murderous psychopath they worried about what Dee had said about what they were up to.
So who exactly should we now say has egg on his funny little face I wonder? In comparison with what the Siege Weekend used to be, and even in comparison with Perry’s own boasting about what was planned, only a blind idiot would fail to recognise this most recent Siege commemoration as a totally embarrassing and eminently predictable flop.
Much as they might like to deny it, this years Siege weekend commemoration proved again that the downward spiral of interest in Kelly mythology continues, and that Kelly devotees are a delusional and ever-shrinking cohort of denialists, nostalgically clinging to a dead mythology, like the Flat Earth conspiracy theorists and the Moon Landing deniers cling to their debunked understandings of the world. Obviously there will always be deluded people among us, some claiming the earth is flat, others that nobody ever landed on the moon, others that vaccines dont work and that Hugo Chavez controls voting machines from beyond the grave, and in Australia there will always be a tiny bunch of fanatics who claim that Ned Kelly was a hero.
But the rest of us have moved on. The Legend is dead. RIP.