|I do apologise most sincereley to the Kelly Fanatics whose day was ruined
by my mis-identification of this building in a previous photo – now deleted – as the Bank.
One of the lessons Harry Power is supposed to have taught Ned Kelly when he was his “apprentice” was that to survive as a bushranger and outlaw-on-the-run you needed to cultivate and maintain a network of support within the communities that you moved between. Supporters were often family, and extended family and friends, obviously like-minded people who lived on the fringes of society and had little time for the Law but never-the-less maintainaed an outwardly respectable and legitimate lifestyle but for their own reasons raised no objections to the unlawful activities of the outlaw they would assist from time to time. I imagine they regarded the outlaws victims in some way deserving of their lot, and had no sympathy for them or the Police in their efforts to maintain law and order. And of course they were pleased to benefit from the outlaws crimes, as he was obliged to pay for their silence and support in cash and kind. It was a mutually beneficial dependency of doubtful ethical quality.
I mention this because in thinking about the next two acts in the criminal history of Ned Kelly, the robbery of the banks at Euroa and Jerilderie, I realized there is a contradiction in the narrative usually spun by the Mythmakers which I hadn’t noticed before. They claim that as outlaws with no legal means of support, Outlawry forced the Kelly Gang to adopt illegal means just to survive. The contradiction is that Mythmakers also claim Ned Kelly was a master bushman and was skilled in the art of bushcraft which if true would have meant he ought not have needed to rob banks to survive.
I forget where but I have read suggestions that in fact the Gang wasn’t as good at survival in the Bush as the mythmakers would have us believe, and they depended rather heavily on food and supplies being brought out to them by sympathisers. In truth I imagine the Gang probably could have survived on its wits indefinitely out there, and therefore the reason for the Bank Robberies was not so much to provide for themselves directly but to obtain cash to keep the Supporters on side. There is most definitely NO evidence that the robberies were “Robin Hood style” undertakings aimed at redistributing wealth from the rich to the poor, a myth I exposed in a Post on this topic last year. Ned Kelly liked to talk about helping the poor but he didn’t ever actually do it himself – he actually robbed and stole and abused them when the opportunity arose. His orders about giving to the poor were hypocritical posturing, talk that he himself never backed up with action. The stolen money only ever turned up in the pockets of family and of supporters.
But what of the robberies themselves? Most people hearing of Euroa or Jerilderie or Glenrowan imagine that holding an entire town hostage was an original, brave and imaginative innovation from the mind of Ned Kelly, and some then go on to propose that Ned Kelly would have been a fine General and a leader of men. In fact most of Ned Kellys exploits were not original ideas of his, but things he had picked up from others. He wasn’t so much an innovator as a quick learner and copy-cat, having adopted the survival lessons taught to him by others, notably Harry Power. His role model for Bank Robbery was Ben Hall, the Bushranger from New South Wales who seemed to have far better reason for hating the Police than Ned Kelly ever did. He became known as a Gentleman Bushranger, though I expect that much of what was believed about him even then was sentimental mythmaking rather than historical truth. Never-the-less he had a reputation for fairness and became known as “Brave” Ben Hall. This reputation and notoriety was obviously something Ned Kelly admired from a young age.
Perhaps Ben Halls most extraordinary and most admired exploit was to take an entire town hostage – the small NSW town of Canowindra. He imprisoned everyone there and passersby, in the Pub for 3 days and created a party atmosphere with food drink and entertainment. However, no bank was robbed, no shots were fired and it is said that people were given “expenses” money at the conclusion. The local Policeman was not harmed but was made a figure of fun, this humiliation apparently being Halls purpose for the entire event.
Ben Hall was ambushed and killed when Ned Kelly was only 10, but his exploits and anti-police sentiment clearly appealed to certain sectors of society, and theres little doubt, the life and times of other bushrangers and especially of Ben Hall influenced Ned Kellys own perceptions, his aspirations and ultimately his methods. Ben Hall was a legend in Ned Kellys lifetime : I think Ned Kelly wanted to be one too – so wether consciously or not he adopted Bens anti-authoritarian and anti-Police stance as his own, manufactured his own set of grievances and set off on his doomed criminal path to legend.
Taking an entire town hostage was therefore not an original idea of Ned Kellys but a copy-cat crime. He copied Ben Halls idea of using hostages as an audience to speak his grievances to, to capture and humiliate police, to offer food drink and entertainment to the hostages, and not to harm anyone. Kellys notable embellishment was to then rob the Bank. Strangely these unusual Bank robberies are regarded as bold and defiant acts of a fearless larrikin bushranger, the acts of a future General, but I have an alternative view to offer : the taking of human hostages and the use of human shields in the form of women and children reflects a distinct lack of the bravery and courage required by the more typical Bank Robber. Rather, Ned Kelly preyed first on the weakest links, ordinary citizens, men women and children, Policemen in the dead of night, and used them as collateral to ensure the outcome of his robbery, and his own survival. There was nothing admirable or particularly brave in any of this.
Much is made of the fact that these robberies were accomplished without a single shot being fired, the implication being that this was not a crime of violence but a kind of charm offensive, in some way a triumph of persuasion and tact rather than something crude and violent that involved shooting and killing people. In fact these robberies entailed massive use of intimidation and threats of violence, and as modern psychologists tell us, intimidation and threats of violence, being held hostage and having loaded guns pointed at you by a gang of known murderers are hugely traumatic and psychologically damaging to the victims. Anyone in Australia who has seen the accounts on TV provided by survivors of the recent Lindt Café siege in Sydney, where they were held hostage for most of a day by a lone gunman will know what I mean. The women who spoke up were devastated and terribly damaged by it all. Heres an example of Ned Kellys violence as told by Peter Fitzsimons :
“In a sudden flash of fury Ned grabs Dudley by the collar puts his revolver to the old mans temple and says he will blow his brains out if he does not keep quiet.
Its hard enough being an outlaw without taking cheek from a thing like you’ Ned adds morosely.
Similar treatment is needed for another of the party by the name of Tennant, a proud Scot who refuses to co-operate with these ruffians no matter whom they might threaten.
Roughly grabbing him Ned forces him to open his mouth and then jams the muzzle of his revolver between his teeth. How about co-operation now?
These scenarios were not made up by Peter Fitzsimons – they are taken from recorded statements given at Ned Kellys trial, and from a newspaper report of 1878. Threatening an old man with a loaded gun to the side of his head, and forcing a loaded gun into someones mouth are the terrifying acts of a seriously violent bully, a psychopath. These were entirely innocent citizens trying to conduct their ordinary lives. Horrifying.
No amount of free food or beer, or trick horse riding or hop-scotch would ever mitigate the terror and fear most of the hostages at these round-ups would have experienced, let alone the two mentioned above. Neither would it have lessened the post-traumatic stress they would have endured in many cases for years afterwards, at a time when such devastating psychological injuries were not recognized, and help was not available for them. When I mentioned this inevitable outcome on ordinary citizens in an earlier Forum of mine – since deleted by Kelly fanatics – I was dismissed with the claim that country folk back then were much tougher than people are now days, but this is simply not true – in fact that statement betrays the common misconception about mental illness – that its just about how weak a person is. Mental illness may not have been recognized but that doesn’t mean it didn’t exist at that time, as Leo Kennedys recent talk proved. At the Morrissey book launch earlier this month he gave graphic account of the mental pain, depression and suffering Bridget Kennedy endured for many years after her husband Michael was murdered by the Kelly Gang. Make no mistake about it – among the hostages at Euroa and Jerilderie and Glenrowan there would have been many traumatized and damaged survivors who suffered for many years to come, perhaps for the rest of their lives. No shots needed to be fired as the hostages were terrified and brow beaten into abject submission. Ned Kelly and ignorant modern sympathise think the fact no shots were fired is some sort of positive truth about Euroa and Jerilderie – in fact they are a testimony to the effectiveness of the over-the-top violent and believable threats the Gang made to its hostages- and just because nobody was shot doesn’t mean there weren’t many people injured – the sad truth is that Psychological injury cant be seen, and in those days was barely recognized.
Something else about which much nonsense is spoken of in relation to these hostage dramas are the various complements paid to the Gang and to Ned Kelly personally by a tiny minority of the hostages. Particular mention is always made of a few women who were apparently thrilled and stimulated by the presence of this rugged Outlaw in their midst. As we all know and agree Ned Kelly had a way with words, but he also employed the deliberate tactic of ingratiating himself towards women. This was of course a deliberately manipulative tactic, and typical of the behavior of a psychopath who without empathy or the least actual concern for anyone but himself, played on womens emotions when it suited him. These infatuated women and a few men were hoodwinked by Ned Kellys good looks and apparent charm, not realizing it was an act and a cynical façade designed to create and sustain the “Gentleman Bushranger” image Ned Kelly was trying to copy off people like Ben Hall whom he aspired to emulate.
Kellys deference to women only lasted as long as it was necessary : he readily threated violence if they failed to obey his orders to the letter, and of course he didn’t hesitate to use them as hostages and human shields. At Jerilderie for example Ian Jones records how to obtain the hostage Constable Devines co-operation he threatened Devines wife and children :
“ As long as they remain quiet, you and the children will be safe”
The charm offensive obviously worked on Mrs Devine because later she is reported to have said Ned Kelly was “the kindest man I ever met.” What nonsense! How could she have forgotten that Ned had used her life and the lives of her own children to blackmail her husband into doing exactly what Ned wanted? A pity she hadn’t been able to go to Victoria and talk to Bridget Kennedy about the gold watch Ned stole from her dead husbands body and refused to return it to her as a keepsake of the loved one he had murdered a few months before! How kind would she then have thought he was? She obviously didn’t witness Kelly outside shoving his revolver down someones throat! Her opinion of Ned Kelly , based on a few hours of interaction with him, is laughable nonsense. I am reminded of modern day women who are infatuated with terrorists – they are motivated by a weird sexual attraction to violent dominant hyper masculine figures most women with insight would run a mile from. Seems they could be found on the frontiers of North eastern Victoria 135 years ago as well!
In summary, its time to reject the Myth makers claim that these events were something akin to a weekend Picnic at a Fun Park with the Kelly Gang doing tricks, because nowdays we recognize they would have inflicted massive psychological injury on many of the victims. People co-operated and put up only token resistance because of the high level of intimidation and threatened violence, which was not confined to Bank Clerks and Policemen but to ordinary citizens and women and children. Placing a loaded revolver beside an old mans head, or forcing it between someones teeth testify to the ultra- violent nature of these hostage taking and bank robbing crimes of the Kelly Gang. The fact no shots were fired and nobody was actually shot, confirms two things : the bullying and intimidation of ordinary people by the Gang was at such a high level, shooting was unnecessary, and secondly, that the hostages behaved very sensibly – they were all very aware of what happened at Stringybark Creek when Ned Kellys orders were not instantly obeyed! No doubt if they decided to take matters into their own hands at Euroa or Jerilderie, shots would have been fired and more innocent lives would have been taken by the Kelly Gang. The fact this didn’t happen is no thanks to Ned Kelly, but of course he is happy to take credit for it.
I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that there are actual recorded personal stories of this sort of post traumatic misery, depression, suicide, alcoholism and relationship difficulties by survivors and family of Kellys hostage taking, Bank robbing and general terrorising of Kelly country. I encourage anyone knowing of any to post a Comment.
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