The documentary “Outlawed: The real Ned Kelly” was first broadcast on ABC TV in 2003. A year ago, on December 18th2014., it became available on You Tube and since then has been viewed 14,930 times and attracted 36 comments. You can watch it here.
Its worth watching, even if only to see what a few of the modern Kelly identities look like – Ive already mentioned David Griffiths, but there’s also Noeleen Lloyd, Judith Douthie, Michael Kennedy, Christopher Bantick and Professor John McQuilton, the author of one of the landmark Kelly books “The Kelly Outbreak”.
It’s a very slick production with highly professional but brief re-enactments of various scenes from the Kelly story, some quite romantic photography of the beautiful Kelly country bush, horses and farms interspersed with “talking heads” like McQuilton and Bantick, as well as a “CIB Trained Crime Profiler”, Steve Longford who provides an intriguing assessment of Neds personality. The rich baritone of Jack Thompson recites a compelling narrative, and overall, as entertainment, its quite brilliant. As History though…well as all Kelly buffs on all sides of the debate know, nobody ever gets it right!
As seems to be usual with people wanting to tell the Kelly story, it starts with the inevitable largely rhetorical question “Is this man Australia’s greatest rebel Hero, or simply a murderous thug?”
As I have stated time and time again, reducing the entire complex Kelly outbreak to this absurd dichotomy is merely a debating trick, a ploy designed to confuse the issues and maintain the view that Ned Kelly was a hero. It’s as stupid as asking if Pol Pot or Stalin was a visionary leader and revolutionary icon, or mass murderer. The reason those comparisons seem absurd is because we are all agreed on the facts about these people and there is no need to keep asking ourselves if they are heroes or villains – its been settled long ago. The same should also be true of Ned Kelly.
The trick here is to suggest a choice has to be made between a possible truth – that Ned could have been a rebel Hero – and an impossible one – that Ned was ‘simply’ a murderous thug, when its clear to anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of Ned Kelly, that there was nothing ‘simple’ about him or about the Kelly outbreak. Who writes phrases like “a parcel of big ugly fat necked wombat headed big bellied magpie legged narrow hipped splaw footed sons of Irish Bailiffs”? Who designs and builds crazy body armour and takes on a train-load of Police? Who announces that he fears death ‘as little as to drink a cup of tea’ and says “Such is life” before he’s hanged? A simple murderous thug? Of course not! So, as no other choice is offered he must be Australia’s greatest Rebel Hero!
Inevitably therefore, the overall tone of the Documentary is that Ned Kelly was indeed Australias greatest Rebel Hero, notwithstanding the attempts to provide ‘balance’ by having a Police point of view, the opinion of the Crime Profiler and the comments of Christopher Bantick. Whereas the believable McQuilton is seen out on site at Glenrowan, Griffiths is shown picking at the dry dusty soil and leaning on a rustic fence and Noeleen Lloyd sitting under a eucalypt out on the selection, Bantick, in beige trousers pontificates from a comfortable lounge room, and the Crime Profiler is in a high rise overlooking the Melbourne CBD – what would these ivory tower arm-chair academics know?
And after the Police are murdered at Stringybark, the voice-over is a quote from the Jerilderie letter, spoken with an irish accent intended to be Ned expressing regret saying “I cannot have felt more sorry for them – this cannot be called willful murder; those men came into the bush with the intention of scattering pieces of me and my brother all over the bush”. This quote is typical Ned Kelly blarney from the Jerilderie Letter – crocodile tears for Police shortly before he began preparing to massacre many more of them at Glenrowan.
Whats worse than this subtle undermining of the contrary arguments are the overt misrepresentations and falsehoods presented as fact. We have already remarked on David Griffiths solemn description of how the Police killed the Kelly cows and horses by poisoning their dam, an item of his familys oral history based on a lie told by Ned Kelly. It didn’t happen! Worse still is the sequence immediately after reconstructing the Police murders at Stringybark Creek in which McQuilton dramatically lifts a covering on a Police pack horse to reveal the infamous “body straps” and four guns McQuilton describes as “State of the Art” Martini-Henri rifles. He explains that the Police possession of these articles supports Neds later claim that the Police had come armed to the teeth and with every intention of killing him on sight, and therefore Ned was justified in killing them in self defence. However as we now know, the body straps are a modern addition to the story, and as McQuilton ought to have known the Police only had two rifles, and only one of them was “state of the art”. It was a Spencer rifle borrowed by the Police from a Gold Escort guard the day before the Police left Mansfield. Apparently the Policemen didn’t actually know how to use it. The other rifle they had was a “fowling piece” used to kill parrots….so here, the case against the Police is created out of gross misrepresentation.
There are also huge errors of omission in this attempt to define the “real” Ned Kelly. There isn’t a single mention of the criminal background of the entire Kelly clan, of the feuds and fights between various factions within it, of Neds fathers alcoholism, of Neds earlier criminal charges for violence, obscenity, highway robbery and horse theft. Aaron Sherrit, an intimate associate of the Gang killed in cold blood by them, is described as “a local man they suspected of being a Police informant” – a deliberate concealment of the truth about the coldblooded killing Kelly authorised, using a friends murder to lure the Police into a trap, the massacre he planned for them at Glenrowan.
How can an attempt to present the ‘real’ Ned Kelly be genuine when so much of relevance to the story is ignored or misrepresented?
In fact the story is very much presented as poor and desperate selectors forced by the oppression of the Squatters and the corrupt Police into lives of crime in order to merely survive :
“The squatters, always greedy for more, were ready to pounce” says the voice-over.
“ This relentless persecution of the family undeniably primed Ned to start his own personal war against the Police” These are awful misrepresentations of the historical truth. Kelly was of interest to the Police because of his criminal activity, and when he wasn’t engaged in it, he was left alone. This lie about relentless persecution is nowhere made more obvious than in Neds so called “quiet years” when he was supposed to be earning an honest living. There is no record or complaint by anyone of Police harassment or persecution over that time. Later, when by his own admission he returned to a life of crime, inevitably Police responded not by “persecution” but by carrying out their sworn duty to uphold the Law. Criminals when they are caught almost universally complain they’ve been picked on, persecuted – Ned was no different.
“Hey we need to have a go, this is OUR country. We’ve come out of a place of oppression, we’re going to make this OUR country and if its not right, well then we can fight for it” says Noeleen Lloyd of what she believes Ned stood for.
And later she says “I have a vision of Ned and the boys as being ‘naughty’, you know, real larrikins” and later “ I don’t believe Ned and the boys were monsters” I need hardly remind readers these Gangsters were not “boys” they were grown men, adults.
And she has the last word as well “ He believed in loyalty he believed in mateship, standing by your mates no matter what (channeling John Williamson here I think) and believing if I started it I will finish it. And that’s about Australia isn’t it? That’s what we hold. Neds struggle wasn’t just about his family, it was about everybody ”
Noble sentiments Noeleen, but no, that wasn’t Ned Kelly! Theres nothing special about someone believing in loyalty, standing by your mates and believing in finishing something once started, but Naughty? Shooting Kennedy after chasing him through the forest half a mile? And then stealing his watch? Sticking a gun down an old mans throat? Planning to slaughter 30 policemen in a train wreck? Naughty? Really? And if you think Ned was struggling for everybody,what makes you think “everybody” wanted him to be stealing, lying robbing and murdering on their behalf? Certainly not me. The idea that Ned was struggling for “everybody” is sentimental nonsense. He killed one of his own friends for Gods sake!
This film does at least make some attempt to present an alternative view of Ned Kelly but there is no doubt its sympathies lie with Ned Kelly. But it wasn’t staunch enough for Ian Jones, who I noted, wasn’t involved in the Production of this one:
“The documentary really upset me. This is the third miss in succession. The Heath Ledger film missed showing us anything significant about Ned Kelly. Greg Miller’s documentary missed. It was a slap-dash exercise. The re-enactments were so hokey. Then this comes along. I had high hopes for it. It’ll be years before you can justify doing another major Kelly film/television project. That is the saddest thing of all.
“Anything that wasn’t convenient was left out. It was erratic. There were some pro-Kelly things included. I suppose you couldn’t make it totally anti-Kelly. But the whole thrust of the thing was to produce this image of Ned Kelly as an overrated thug.”
In fact, here you can read Ian Jones’ long and very angry dismissal of this film as “a surpsingly incompetent treatment of history” . He is clearly awfully offended that an Englishmen dared to challenge some of his cherished beliefs about Ned, particularly his precious ‘Republic’ which the director Mark Lewis described as “a myth”, and he is intensely irritated by errors of minor detail.
Jones dismisses Christopher Bantick as “ a ‘Melbourne writer’ who’s only qualification to appear in the program is a very, very bad case of anti-Kelly dementia. This is the fellow who has leapt into print a couple of times raving against Ned Kelly, once with the absolutely immortal pronouncement that what Ned Kelly attempted at Glenrowan was on a par with the exploits of the Bali bombers.” Actually, I think that’s not an entirely unfair comparison, and worthy of some debate, but Jones haughtily rejects the idea out of hand, and ridicules Bantick quite disgracefully because long ago Ian Jones pronounced that Glenrowan was about the Republic. It couldn’t have been an act of terror!
In rejecting the crime Profilers analysis Jones repeats a trick he’s used before, deflecting criticism or analysis of Ned based on his words in the Jerilderie Letter by saying this was a joint composition between Ned and Joe, and therefore its impossible to derive anything meaningful from it. In fact, as Alex McDermott once pointed out, the language of the Jerilderie Letter is the same rhetoric used by Ned Kelly to harangue and lecture his hostages at Euroa, Jerilderie and Glenrowan – the Jerilderie Letter is pure Ned I am afraid Mr Jones! Not only that, says the indignant Ian Jones in full flight, in the film the Kelly house was constructed of crossed logs when everyone knows it was a bark and slab hut, the Gang is shown riding up a hill when leaving Jerilderie when everyone knows its ‘flat as a pancake’ out there, and Curnow uses a lantern instead of a candle! OMG!
And he says this, with no hint of irony :
“If you tell the story accurately, everything falls into place. People will understand what it’s all about. You don’t have to have people ranting and raving against Ned or for Ned. Just give the facts.”
This is from the author of the Republic myth, an idea elaborated by Jones which was never mentioned by Ned Kelly in the numerous speeches he made to Hostages, not mentioned in any of his many letters, never mentioned by any of his supporters, not heard about by Police spies who infiltrated the Gang, not discussed at his trial, not supported by any documentation or the fondly dreamed of but never found ‘Declaration’, and an idea which is contradicted by almost every deed and act and word of Ned Kelly’s during his entire lifetime. So where exactly are the facts Ian?
I think this response of Ian Jones reveals his anger at having someone challenge his previously undisputed reign as the Chief Midwife and High Priest of the Kelly Legends, Australias go-to Kelly expert and defender of the republic of North East Victoria. Why else would he react so volcanically to a documentary which is essentially Pro Ned, but which includes a few token challenges to some of the Jones-Kelly mythology, his precious Kelly Republic and errors of minor irrelevant historical detail? How dare they?
So I suggest everyone watch the film, read Ians Review, and mine, and tell us all what your thoughts are.
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