ABOVE : Ned Kelly Sympathisers lined up in front of the now officially debunked “Kennedy Tree”
In 2019, a group of four amateur historians calling themselves the Kennedy Tree Group announced in a media campaign that they believed they had found the actual tree beside which Ned Kelly murdered Sgt Michael Kennedy in 1878. They made their findings available in a couple of reports for download and invited the public to scrutinise and discuss them on their Facebook page. They asked for a formal investigation to be done, saying that they were working with the authorities to get this tree recognised by Heritage Victoria and protected for future generations. Leo Kennedy, great grandson of the murdered Sergeant called it a ‘sacred site’.
A few weeks ago, I wrote to DELWP to find out what, if any progress had been made in their investigation and this was their response:
I must once again apologise for the delay in getting back to you. I do however have an update. We have now considered the material provided by the Kennedy Tree Group and have decided not to take further action. From our perspective, there was not sufficient certainty about the identified tree being the location of Sergeant Kennedy’s body to alter Heritage Victoria’s existing registration of the Stringybark Creek Site (VHR H2205).
We have written to the group to inform them of this decision.
Obviously for the KTG, after all the work they did in trying to find this tree and have it recognised as a place of historical significance, this will be disappointing news, which might be why they haven’t got around to making the news public. However, after doing my own research and evaluation of their reports, I am not in the least bit surprised by this news – it’s what I expected would happen. Their case looked very weak to me, and I tried to make this clear on their site and my own, but the KTG and none of their supporters were persuaded by any of my mumblings. So I, and everyone else just waited for the authorities to look at it. I’m hoping the KTG will now accept the decision of the independent umpire, thank everyone for their interest, pack up their site and move on.
I guessed that if they ever got around to making a public response to this official rejection of their claim, it will be to push back against it and insist that the DELWP experts also got it wrong. I say this because of the way the Kennedy Tree Group responded to every single argument against their claims that I put to them. They rejected every item of the substantial historical documentary record that undermined their claim, they rejected the views of almost every single other amateur historian who had different views to their own on every and any aspect of the subject, and in the end, they simply stopped answering questions on their page unless they were from supporters. About three months ago I asked them on their page about the claim Doug Morrissey made in his latest book that Burman wouldn’t have known where Kennedy was killed and so selected a random tree for his re-enactment. There was no response. A year before, they commented that several questions of mine that were unanswered WOULD be answered but at that time they were busy. They’ve still not answered any of them.
Particularly troubling to me at the time, and illustrative of the aggressive manner in which they and their supporters defended these claims was their response to an investigation that was done at their site by Bill Denheld. He posted a video of metal detecting near the tree, a process that involved raking aside superficial leaves and debris which were later replaced, and digging a bit deeper in the two or three spots where something was detected. In fact, nothing of significance was found. KTG members and supporters rounded on Bill like a pack of baying hounds, calling him a criminal and a vandal and posting all kinds of absurd hyperbolic and abusive claims such as that he had destroyed the place, desecrated sacred ground, behaved like a dog looking for a bone and offended all the police descendants. They ran off to complain ‘en masse’ to Heritage Victoria and to DELWP and to the mainstream media and made statements that resulted in a newspaper article targeting but not naming Bill entitled “No respect for History”, a headline that flies in the face of the fact that it was Bills nomination of the entire area that resulted in it being named a heritage protected area (VHR H2205).In getting that protection in place its unarguable that NOBODY has shown greater respect for the history of the place, and done as much as Bill has to protect it. In spite of that , the KTG posted this disrespectful article to their page and encouraged the pile-on. Aidan Phelan posted a long rant on his Bushranger page that attacked Bill and me as well, a post that was so offensive that Facebook removed it, but undeterred Brad Web of Iron Outlaw shamefully reposted it on his site, where it remains. Eventually DELWP announced Bill hadn’t done anything wrong but there was no apology from his abusers and accusers.
The greatest irony of KTG members and supporter’s horrible over-reaction was that it backfired disastrously on them. Their confected outrage spurred DELWP to take their claims seriously and investigate them, but instead of backing the KTG claims as they expected, as we have now seen DELWP ultimately dismissed them altogether. Now, in the light of DELWPs decision, I can’t help wondering how all these people are feeling about the ill-mannered way they behaved in defence of a claim that has now been rejected.
The KTG also claimed to have located the site of the police camp where the police were bailed up and Lonigan and Scanlan murdered. Its location was determined by working backwards from the so-called Kennedy tree, but now that the Kennedy tree site has been rejected, presumably the police Camp site claim will have to go with it. The methodology that they employed to identify the Kennedy tree has now been proved unreliable by DELWP so it would make no sense to rely on it in making the case for the police campsite.
Wouldn’t it be great if the KTG humbly accepted DEWLPs decision, agreed that their well-intentioned amateur effort turned out not to have found a historical site, apologised to their supporters for leading them up the garden path – or is it the bush path? – thanked everyone for their interest and then went back to the drawing board? Maybe they will think again about why they are the only ones who said the tree where Kennedy was murdered was on the same side of the creek as the campsite, maybe they will think again about why they are the only ones who said the two sites were a minuscule 200 yards apart, maybe they will think again about why they are the only ones who said that the tree was due north of the Campsite? Maybe they will withdraw their unsupported claim that local farmers perpetrated a mean hoax for generations, falsely labelling a tree as the Kelly tree so visitors wouldn’t walk on their land? Maybe they will stop trying to convince everyone that a double tree can be seen in the Burman police camp photo, that a tree with an invisible trunk in 1878 is the tree they called the Starburst tree, that the slope everyone else can see in the background is an illusion, that saplings leaning over and lying on the slope are fences?
Maybe….but I dont think they will.
KTG supporters are almost entirely Ned Kelly Sympathisers – seen standing with KTG members in front of the ‘Kennedy tree’ in the photo at the top of the page – and more or less to a person, like Kelly followers in general they are people who reject the historical record, reason and logic whenever it disagrees with anything they believe to be true about the Kelly outbreak.How many of them have announced their opinion of Steele has changed in light of the recent discussions about an Enquiry that nobody drew to their attention to till now? How many have changed their opinion of Fitzpatrick in light of all the careful re-analysis of the historical record and the publicity about the petition from Lancefield residents? How many of them have announced they no longer support the idea of a republic of NE Victoria in light of Dawsons devastating demolition of the arguments supposed to have supported that notion? Almost none is the answer.
I have a feeling they will all do the same here : cling to their positions as if they were holy writ. The KTG defence of this tree up till now has involved an almost complete dismissal of the historical record, a dismissal of common sense views of what is seen and not seen in the Burman photographs and a dismissal of everyone else’s opinion but their own about how it all fits together. I predict they will also dismiss the Umpires decision about their tree and just add this claim to the long list of other claims they believe to be true about the Kelly Outbreak that are equally irrational and unsupported by evidence. Watch this space – I would love them to prove me wrong but I am not holding my breath.