|The idea that Ned Kelly has ever had huge popular support is a myth|
Matthew Holmes is probably wishing he had never met the two Kelly fanatics who were named as his co-screenwriters for the proposed Kelly movie, because they persuaded him to abandon his already publicly announced plan to make more movies about Bushrangers and instead make one about Ned Kelly. They’ve persuaded him that they knew what they were talking about and that Australia was hanging out for a movie about Ned Kelly based on ‘facts’ and the ‘evidence at hand’, ignoring the fact that Kelly wasn’t really a Bush Ranger but a notorious outlaw, a very different character to the genuine bushranger Ben Hall, who though misguided was at least a man with a conscience.
Matthew Holmes easily got the money he needed to make his Ben Hall movie, and it was brilliant. However the fundraising for his Kelly movie has been a humiliating and unequivocal failure, the number of Australians prepared to support such a movie is vanishingly small – by the end of the campaign at current rates of sign up, they’ll be lucky to get 500!
Obviously, they grossly over-estimated public support for Ned Kelly, and I have to admit, so did I. At the beginning of the Campaign I imagined there might just be sufficient support nation-wide to make it happen, though I realised it was a massive challenge. The reality we all now face is a realisation that Ned Kelly is nowhere near as popular as we all thought a month ago – and I have to say I am heartened, and grateful to Matthew Holmes for conducting this kind of “Poll” of public support for Ned Kelly and providing us with information about something that we were just guessing at before.
I realise now that if I had thought about it all a bit more carefully, I should have been able to predict this outcome. Blog readers will recall that for a long time I have been pointing out that public interest in Ned Kelly has been collapsing – the Ned Kelly Forum and various predecessors, once buzzing have all disappeared; the long-lasting once dominant Iron Outlaw website has fallen silent; the Iron Outlaw Facebook Page, and the Ned Kelly Central and Ned Kelly Center Facebook pages are dead, once prominent thoughtful contributors to Kelly history debates have been bullied into silence, the Beechworth Ned Kelly Weekend has been abandoned for lack of interest, the tourist attractions at Glenrowan are falling into disrepair, the Ned Kelly Tour website barely ever advertises a Tour, but books and articles challenging, debunking and ‘unmasking’ the Kelly story are proliferating as never before.
Thanks to the Kickstarter campaign we now know with certainty that people who support the unhistorical stories about Ned Kelly are a very tiny minority of Australians. Everyone else has acknowledged the results of the last half-century of research, debate and revision of Kelly history, and moved on from Kelly idolatry but a tiny minority remains who cling to the same tired and disproved arguments, the same misrepresentations and lies that the criminal Kelly family was telling in 1880. This tiny group, living in its Facebook Echo-chamber makes a lot of noise, but its time we just ignored them. Theyre fighting a battle that’s already been lost.
The interesting thing that occurred to me while thinking about what the Kickstarter campaign has revealed, is that its always been the case that Ned Kellys popularity and support in the wider community has never been anywhere near as great as the Kelly mythmakers claim. The most obvious example of this misrepresentation of the facts relates to what Kelly sympathisers write about the petition that circulated in Melbourne before Ned Kelly was hanged – there were over 30,000 signatures on it, and the Kelly mythmakers invariably claim these signatures were given in support of Ned. But the truth is that it was not a petition about the popularity or otherwise of Ned Kelly but about the increasingly contentious issue of capital punishment, a subject which eventually obtained sufficient community support to have it banned altogether. The Petitioners were not asking for Ned to be retried or to be pardoned or to be set free – they just were opposed to capital punishement and didn’t believed he, or anyone, should ever be hanged:
“PETITION FOR REPRIEVE”
To his Excellency the Governor in Council-
your humble petitioners ( having carefully considered the circumstance of the case) respectfully pray that the life of the condemned man EDWARD KELLY may be spared
At around that same time, something else was happening that showed how almost nobody supported Ned Kelly or his family: Neds lawyer David Gaunson was working for free but was not a barrister. He recommended they hire Hickman Molesworth, a barrister with a fearsome reputation, but his fee was 50 guineas for two days work. Kelly sympathisers still whinge and complain that Ned Kelly ended up with a very inexperienced barrister, Henry BIndon instead of Molesworth, but the reason they had Bindon was because nobody wanted to donate to the Kellys. On October 18th Bindon successfully had the start date of the trial postponed 10 days to allow his team even more time to raise funds (they had already squandered nearly four months), but like the Kickstarter campaign, this fundraiser also failed and Molesworth dropped out of the picture. This episode confirms that it wasn’t support for Ned Kelly but opposition to Capital punishment that led people to sign the Petition – if their signatures were genuinely in support of Ned Kelly, raising Molesworths fee from the more than 30,000 signatories would have been no problem at all. It also reveals the emptiness of the Kelly claim that Ned Kelly had a small army of sympathisers at Glenrowan, sympathisers who they say, even after he had been hanged were on the verge of starting a revolution. What kind of army would allow its captured leader to be defended by the city’s most inexperienced barrister if by chipping in a few quid they could have got him the best one available? In fact no such ‘army’ ever materialised anywhere, it never existed, it was a figment of the Kelly sympathisers tiny collective imagination. The reality is that the Kellys had almost no support anywhere.
There’s one more issue regarding Ned Kellys alleged popularity that needs discussing : the fact that nobody attempted to claim the huge rewards that were offered for information leading to his capture. Kelly sympathisers believe this proves that Kelly had so much support in the north-east that nobody wanted to dob him in. But where is their evidence for that support? The facts are that when Ned Kelly needed support, it never arrived, either at Glenrowan as a sympathiser army, or at Melbourne in the form of cash. Doug Morrissey has written about these claims of local support for the Kellys and has shown in his research that beyond the extended family and their circle of criminal associates, the Kellys and the Greta mob were largely unsupported, feared and disliked in Greta and the surrounding districts.
“The Greta community was a typical pioneer community, with one major difference; it had more than its share of crooks. Ignored in the Kelly myth histories is the Greta community’s strong adherence to traditional values, religion, morality and respect for law and order. Greta had the largest concentration of Primitive Methodists in Victoria’s north-east. Around half of all selectors attended the Primitive Methodist church. These were highly principled, religious people who did not swear, drink, gamble or dance. They attended religious services several times a week and after ploughing the fields all day, some travelled to neighbouring communities as lay preachers. One such young preacher was reprimanded by church
elders and publicly made to repent for “ jumping fences and shouting at Glenrowan”, while travelling to a preaching engagement. These are hardly the sort of people who would engage in livestock theft, or rush to support a gang leader whose crimes led to bushranging and murder. Nor would they have joined Ned in establishing a Kelly republic based on mass murder, or acted in concert with the thieves, larrikins and local bullies who stole their property and terrorised their neighbourhood.” (‘Its time to bury the Ned Kelly Myth’ Quadrant Magazine, May 2017)
The reason the rewards were never claimed was nothing to do with Ned being popular, and everything to do with his reputation as a criminal bully with a record, a bank robber, hostage taker and triple murderer. Read what Ned Kellys thoughts were on the subject from the Jerilderie Letter :
“..by the light that shines pegged on an ant-bed with their bellies opened their fat taken out rendered and poured down their throat boiling hot will be cool to what pleasure I will give some of them and any person aiding and abetting or harbouring or assisting the Police in any way whatever or employing any person whom they know to be a detective or a cad or those who would be so deprived as to take blood money will be outlawed and declared unfit to be allowed human burial their property either consumed or confiscated and them, thiers and all belonging to them exterminated off the face of the earth”
Such was the fear his reputation created in the district that nobody was willing to risk everything for a reward. An example of this widespread community intimidation by the Kelly gang and its supporters is given by Grantlee Kieza, in his book “Mrs Kelly”. He quotes a report in the Age newspaper about a young worker from Kilfera Station who refused an offer of £50 from the Police to tell them where the Kelly gang was because “I have a mother and father keeping a little farm not far off and if I told anything they would be murdered and burnt” Its also likely that very few people really knew where the Gang was, as they hid in the bush and were protected by their family and criminal networks but it was mostly fear and uncertainty that prevented anyone claiming the rewards. The notion that he was so popular that nobody was tempted is preposterous grasping at straws.
This is the truth about Ned Kellys popular support : there has never been any. What support he has ever had has only ever been from a tiny minority of relations and misguided ill informed hangers on and misfits who hate the Police.
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