In the Preface to the 2014 CSIRO publication “Ned Kelly Under the Microscope”, the Editor Craig Cormick asks “Do we really need another Ned Kelly book?”
Cormick is a Kelly sympathiser and apologist who believes Kelly made a heroic stand against injustice, but he nevertheless managed to assemble a very worthwhile contribution to the bloated and ever expanding mass of publications about Ned Kelly. He answers his own question by saying “As long as it has something new to say, then ‘Yes, we do’ ” and his work amply filled that criterion – it did indeed have a lot to say that was new. However I think he needed to qualify that answer by suggesting that the ‘something new’ needed to be something significant and it needed to be worth saying. The problem with the Kelly literature is that it in recent years many Kelly enthusiasts have published stuff that may have been ‘new’ but only ‘new’ in some trivial way – and very little has been significant, or worth saying. “Ned Kelly : The Iron Outlaw”, published a few months ago is a case in point – it says almost nothing new, and definitely nothing new that is important or worth saying , so by Cormicks criterion, it wasn’t something anyone needed. It’s a waste of space. It was just an ego boost for its brainwashed author (My Review of that book is HERE )
The latest addition to the Kelly literature is Jack Petersons “An Introduction to Ned Kelly : A pictorial history of an Australian Outlaw”. It’s a self published work of 100 pages available from Amazon. The link Peterson provides on his webpage takes you to the American site where you can purchase it as a 20 cm square paperback for $37.16. but if you search for it on the Australian Amazon site (amazon.com.au) you can get it as a download to your Kindle or e-reader for $3.99. The author, a self taught amateur describes himself as a Kelly enthusiast who has has spent “a lifetime researching, exploring, and photographing the country, relics, and structures that are relevant in demonstrating the historical significance of Ned Kelly’s life and the legendary status he is known for in Australia.”
So does this latest publication have something to offer the Kelly world that’s not just ‘new’, but also important and worth saying? Well firstly, Petersons idea to produce a ‘pictorial’ history is not exactly new. For about the same price as Petersons book, from Abe books you can still get a copy of Keith McMenomy’s “Ned Kelly : The Authentic Illustrated History”, which is the grandfather of all Kelly pictorial histories, an immensely valuable landmark publication from 1984. There is also the scholarly and very beautiful “Kelly Country : A Photographic Journey” by Kelson and McQuilton, 2001.
Certainly the existing pictorial Kelly books have set a very high bar. However, there are no recent predominantly photographic records of Kelly country, and no other photographic record of what Kelly-related sites look like in 2017, even as they are undergoing constant change. In that sense its potentially a useful creation which in time could become increasingly worth the effort. The exterior of the book certainly has visual appeal with its black cover and the famous image of Ned Kelly taken the night before his execution, and inside the uncramped internal layout of the many images and their accompanying text and stylish fonts look good. But as I learned in the discussion about Brad Webbs horrible book, production values aren’t everything. So what of the content?
Firstly, I need to forestall another telling off by Mark Perry who believes anyone who can get his act together to actually write a book and get it published deserves praise. Peterson expresses pride in the fact that he is self-taught, and that he values life experience as much as academic achievement, and so I acknowledge and congratulate him on the realization of his dream to publish a book whose unique selling point is that its a pictorial history of the Kelly story.
However the reader will quickly see why the book had to be self-published. Notwithstanding his life experience, Peterson needed to have taken some professional advice, particularly in relation to the taking and presenting of photos for publication, and specifically because the photos are supposed to be the main point of the book. But he didn’t and it shows. The amateur quality of the photos in this book will leave a critical viewer gasping. Wouldn’t you at least crop out or turn off the Date Stamp? Wouldn’t you wait until the light was right and the object of the photo was no longer in shadow before taking your photo? Wouldn’t you crop your photos or else use the zoom so that half of the image is not the road, or grass or sky or a car park and so that if there’s a sign, it can be seen and read? Surely he can do better than take a photo of the Kelly house at Beveridge that doesn’t include the security fence surrounding it? The photo of the Greta home site is taken from so far back its almost impossible to notice the single chimney that was still standing when that picture was taken in 2008. A quarter of the photo of the entrance to the Beechworth Cells where Harry Power was kept is a bush, and there’s a sign that is too far away to be read. For many of them you get the impression he didn’t even bother to get out of the car to get his photo. There were literally only two or three photos that were anything other than bad – the Railway line at Glenrowan, the Woolshed Falls and the view of the Sherritt Farm gate, but for the rest, lighting, composition, cropping, visual appeal, balance….all the values that a great or even just a good photo needs are more or less completely lacking.
As a pictorial history, I have to say therefore that this publication is a massive disappointment, and falls a long way short of the standard set by the two previously mentioned. You certainly wouldn’t buy it for the pictures, though they were supposed to be its selling point. So would you buy it for the articles, for its “Introduction” to Ned Kelly ?
Well, frankly, no you wouldn’t. McCormicks requirement that you should be saying something new is not met here, as all Peterson has done is recycle the same tired old Kelly myths which can be read in almost any Kelly publication you care to name. He clearly hasn’t made any attempt to update the story in light of recent works by MacFarlane, Morrissey and Dawson, and its clear from his responses to my questions and messages on Facebook he has no intention of changing them any time soon. Take the Fitzpatrick incident as an example : He libellously describes Fitzpatrick as ‘drunk’, ‘intoxicated’ and ‘drunken’, and says that he fainted at the Kelly home and it was ‘more than likely due to the amount of liquor he had consumed” ; he repeated Mrs Kellys lie that Fitzpatrick needed to have a warrant in his hand to be able to arrest anyone, and the Kelly myth that he disobeyed orders in going there. These things are factually wrong, they are ‘fake news’ but for reasons best known to themselves Kelly apologists insist on clinging to them long after they’ve been shown to be false. Peterson repeats many of the Stringybark Creek myths, such as that the police were in disguise, and that Lonigan was behind a log preparing to shoot at Ned when Ned shot him in self defence, he recycles the fantasy that the Kellys were persecuted and oppressed by the police and of course endorses Ian Jones most famous fantasy, that Ned Kelly planned to establish a Republic of North East Victoria. All this is fake news. At the very least, wouldn’t you expect someone wanting to provide readers with an “Introduction” to Ned Kelly to be up front and say lots of these claims are controversial, still under debate, unproven, not accepted by many people, worth further study and so on? But no, just as Bradd Webb did with his horrible little book, everything is presented as if its fact, even things we know are wrong, or pure speculation, or contrary to all available evidence. Its no surprise that the book contains no references or a bibliography.
I said Brad Webbs book was the worst Kelly book I had ever read, and that remains my opinion. The particularly sickening truth about Brad Webb’s book, and the reason I despise it so intensely is that Webb himself knew he was writing delusional nonsense, he knew what all the controversies are and who the new authors are and what they’ve revealed about the Kelly story in recent years but he ignored all that and cynically wrote a deceptive little tract that he said was ‘the essential guide to the Kelly legacy’.
However, in contrast, with its dreadful text and awful photography this pictorial history of an Australian Outlaw does at least have a weird quality of authenticity about it, the quality of a raw amateurish poorly informed unsophisticated labour of love. I think the real problem with this book is the title, which claims much more for this work than it ought to, and creates expectations which it comprehensively fails to fulfil. A better, more fittingly modest title might be “Jack Petersons Road Trip and Snapshots of Kelly Country.” Its not really much more than that, and so its really not worth buying. If you want to see nice photos of Kelly country landmarks just go to Google Images and you’ll find dozens that are much better.
1 star for making the effort.
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