Ian Jones has gone: the Kelly story needs to be un-re-written: Discuss.

Ian Jones was regarded as Australia’s ‘foremost Kelly expert’, and even though he had a long career writing and directing many popular TV series, it’s his role as a champion of the bushranger Ned Kelly that he will mostly be remembered for. His influence on the existing body of Kellyana was huge, and since he emerged onto the scene almost sixty years ago almost every book, every minor or major publication, exhibition, essay, museum display, commemoration, movie, play, radio interview, You Tube video or documentary has had Ian Jones fingerprints on it, either because of his direct or indirect involvement with it, or through its expression of ideas and concepts that were devised and popularised by him.

Now, three years after he passed, aged 86, the Kelly world is emerging from under his spell and should be asking itself what just happened….and where to from here?

 

I say ‘emerging from under his spell’ deliberately: when one reads what people who knew Jones say about him, they almost always express a near reverential respect, a degree of admiration and devotion to the man that’s almost cultish in its intensity. The merest hint of criticism of Jones is typically responded to with anger and an indignant defence, such is the loyalty Jones commanded from people who shared his convictions about the Kelly story. At a personal level, at least in relation to people who agreed with him, he was clearly warm, charming and persuasive: people readily and willingly submitted to the Jones ‘spell’. To people who didn’t agree with him however, there was another dimension to his charm.

 

Jones contribution to the developing narrative wasn’t the only one: several other authors and actual academics gained prominence in the Kelly world, but I would argue, given nobody ever disputed the assertion that Jones was Australia’s leading Kelly expert, that without his lead and his inspiration, the others, such as McQuilton and McMenomy might never have been heard of. How very different the Kelly landscape would have been over the last fifty years without him – the influence of his 1980 TV miniseries ‘The Last Outlaw’ was massive and enduring, his major work ‘A Short life’ remains essential reading, and to this day any reference anywhere to Ned Kelly almost always lists Jones as a major source.  It’s almost impossible to underestimate the importance of his influence. What this speaks to is Jones remarkable ability to inspire and convince : he managed to persuade millions of Australians that his view of the Kelly story, the one he called his “New View” in 1967 was the true story.

 

The ‘new view’ was a radical departure from the usual anti-Kelly narrative, which had predominated for fifty or more years after his death. That view had begun to soften in more recent decades with Sydney Nolans extraordinary Kelly series of huge artworks in 1947, and Max Browns Australian Son published in 1948. However, quite apart from the Stringybark Creek murders the thorny problem of Kellys florid expressions of extreme violent intent in the Jerilderie Letter and his attempt to massacre twenty or more police at Glenrowan stood in the way of the idea being widely accepted that he was a hero and not a villain.

 

Enter Ian Jones with his ‘new view’:  a brilliantly marketed and quite ingenious solution to the problem of Ned Kellys dark side getting in the way of declaring him a true hero. Jones ‘new view’ replaced the orthodox view that Kelly was a criminal on the run with the view that as a result of persecution he became the de facto leader of an undeclared rural rebellion against corrupt authority and the oppressive power of the wealthy squatters. Jones believed Kellys plan at Glenrowan was to found the Republic of North East Victoria, and he actively argued for and promoted this view for the rest of his life.  In this context, Glenrowan was a political act, an act of war, and Kelly wasn’t a criminal but a visionary and a leader. Jones developed an historical narrative to support this idea, arguing that Kelly had been endlessly harassed and mistreated, that because of selector oppression generally and widespread farming failure the entire north East was seething with mass discontent, that Kelly was widely supported and that a small army of sympathisers was forming to support him. “Victoria was ready for rebellion” he wrote.

 

Jones was convincing not just because of his afore mentioned personal charm. He was convincing because his extensive knowledge of the story and the landscape and the people of the north east enabled him to find ways to easily fit his new view into what the public already knew and make it seem like a better explanation than the old view. Without such a rationale, Jones correctly acknowledged that what was planned for Glenrowan was ‘mad’ and would have been ‘a criminal atrocity of monstrous scale’ – but who in the North east wanted to accept that nightmare about one of their sons? Jones was also convincing because he didn’t appear to be sugar-coating the dark side of the story, conceding for example that at least some of Kellys version of the Fitzpatrick incident were lies, that he was lucky not to have been convicted of the assault on Ah Fook, that some of the members of the wider Kelly family were brutes. But these concessions were strategic.

 

And so, it came about that the New View became the new orthodoxy. The hero-versus-villain debate continued, but now, with Jones new view about the Republic of North East Victoria being adopted and argued for in virtually every discussion that followed, it was heavily weighted to ‘hero’. The history books were rewritten to account for the new view, and there was great flourishing of interest among academics and lay people alike in the heroic Ned Kelly that prevailed for the next thirty years.

 

But Jones also made this prophecy:

“Just you watch, the next wave of Kelly scholarship is going to be revisionist. There will be people like this McDermott character falling over one another to say “all this is wrong, Ned Kelly was really a dreadful person, a cold-blooded killer and a coward”. Gradually, they will try to regain the ogre that was portrayed back in 1880. Just for the sake of saying something different, making a buck, making a reputation”

 

And this:

 

“Certain people will continue to chip away at Ned and try to drag him down. But it’s like trying to destroy Uluru  by crashing a Tiger Moth into it. There might be a big bang and a great ball of flame, but there’s not going to be any Tiger Moth left. It’ll leave a little mark that will wither away in no time and Uluru will still be there.”

 

In these remarks, we get a glimpse of another side of Jones persona, his dogmatic certainty about the rightness of his beliefs, and his willingness to aggressively defend them against any challenge.

 

 

Inevitably, as he predicted the challenges did come, the first important one being the 2012 publication ‘The Kelly Gang Unmasked’ by Ian MacFarlane. Here was a book not made by a TV producer but by an archivist who worked in the PROV for more than 20 years, and with exhaustive reference to the archive it calmly and methodically exposed as myth the veneer that had been built up around the Kelly story by Jones and most of the writers who followed him. Jones sensitivity to being challenged was again made clear the following year when popular Australian history writer Peter Fitzsimons published his Kelly biography. Curiously its bibliography and references made no mention of MacFarlanes book, and when asked why, he admitted Ian Jones had told him he hated the book and advised Fitzsimons not to read it.

 

Jones never made even one public comment about MacFarlanes book but two years later published his last contribution to the Kelly literature with a booklet titled ‘The Kellys and Beechworth’. Jones view hadnt changed one bit – the booklet contained references to the Republic and all the essential elements of his ‘new view’, now almost 50 years old. Not long after, because of age and ill-health Jones withdrew from all public life and he passed in 2018.

 

But MacFarlane’s book was much more substantial than a timber and canvas lightweight biplane, and Jones new view turned out to be a whole lot less substantial than Uluru because from the moment MacFarlanes book was released the Kelly legend started to collapse. A better analogy would be a surface-to-air missile puncturing the Hindenberg because the new view immediately started to deflate.

 

In 2018 Doug Morrisseys detailed analysis of the results of selection in the north east, and of social conditions generally was published in “Selectors squatters and stock thieves”. He exposed as a misrepresentation Jones view that the North east was ‘ready for rebellion’ and that there was widespread support for the Kellys. Morrissey showed the Kellys to be criminal outliers in a church-going, law-abiding community of battlers who valued hard work, supported home rule for Irish in Ireland but largely backed the colonial government. Morrissey also revealed that Jones was the victim of a hoax perpetrated by Tom Lloyd, one of his most important sources of information about the republic.

 

The final, and fatal blow to the ‘new view’ was Stuart Dawsons 2018 peer reviewed research paper “Ned Kelly and the Myth of the Republic of North East Victoria” (Linked top right of this page and reviewed HERE). Dawson unpicked every thread of the ‘new view’, tracing the origins of the idea back to sources which were remote from the Kelly outbreak. This had to have been expected, given that not one person ever mentioned the Republic for at least fifty years after the Outbreak ended in 1880. With this publication, the ‘new view’ was finally and completely debunked, and nobody in the Kelly sympathiser community bothers to defend it any more.

 

Looking back it would appear that Jones took Australia on a wild ride into his own personal fantasy, but it was a dead-end that he took everyone into, and there are many still stuck there. The reality none of them stuck in the dead-end seem to understand is that the idea that there was a plan to create a Republic of North east Victoria was the means by which Kellys reputation was rehabilitated by Jones, from “ogre” to hero. Once that is gone a whole lot of other stuff has to go with it, because now there is nothing left to sustain the notion that Kelly was anything more than a notorious criminal. They need to realise that what was planned for Glenrowan, as one Kelly sympathiser said recently, was a ‘mad plan gone bad’  and as Jones said himself it would have been a ‘criminal atrocity of monstrous scale’. Nobody in their right mind who truly understood that would call themselves a Ned Kelly “sympathiser’ or think there could be anything admirable about a man who would plan a ‘criminal atrocity’. That was Ian Jones own analysis, and he certainly got that right.

 

All we should be discussing now is what kind of ogre Ned Kelly was, and the how and why of it all. Its a fascinating discussion because he wasn’t your ordinary common or garden criminal, but he was undoubtedly first and foremost an Australian criminal, and there is no justification for continuing to  parade Ned Kelly about the place as some sort of Australian hero. The story needs to be rewritten for all future generations, this time without incorporating into it Ian Jones fantasies.

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24 Replies to “Ian Jones has gone: the Kelly story needs to be un-re-written: Discuss.”

  1. Ian Jones has a lot to answer for. His fictitious nonsense saturates YT and Facebook and sadly many government and quasi government websites and other printed material.
    Ian MacFarlane did an excellent job in exposing Jones for what he was, and his book holds pride of place on my bookshelf.
    I enjoy reading what Doug Morrissey said about Jones in his comments in the Quadrant, “Time to Bury The Ned Kelly Myth.” He does not mince words and blasts him with both barrels. I often return to that article and re-read it, as it warms my heart to know I am on side with someone with the knowledge that Doug has.
    http://nedkelly.info/morrissey-kelly-myths.pdf

  2. Hi David, what a great start to a Sunday morning, waking up and reading this excellent overview of where Kelly discussion is now. Jones was aware of his radical rewriting of the Kelly story; as you note, he said ““Just you watch, the next wave of Kelly scholarship is going to be revisionist. There will be people like this McDermott character falling over one another to say “all this is wrong”.

    There are two curious things in this. First, Jones was the revisionist of the Kelly story, not McDermott. McDermott and others questioned some of Jones’s revisionism, and rightly so. Second, Jones clearly believed his new and revisionist view of Kelly as folk hero was correct, regardless that no-one in Kelly’s day believed any such thing. To be sure, there were a couple of police-baiting larrikin songs, as there were some traditional convict songs (mostly laments), but Joe Byrne is generally accepted to have written the few pro-Kelly ballads that achieved much notice – pretty much a legend in his own lunch time.

    The “bold Kelly gang” was a bunch of craven cowards who first took to the bush after Ned shot and wounded Fitzpatrick, leaving his mother and friends in the lurch with eventual prison terms, and then led the ambush murders at Stringybark Creek where Lonigan was shot dead before he could draw his revolver, Scanlon was likewise shot dead before he could draw his revolver while he was on the ground entangled in his (borrowed) rifle strap, and Kennedy was pursued through the bush, mortally shot when he was out of revolver bullets and surrendering, then executed by a shotgun blast to the chest after over an hour and a half of interrogation.

    Jones and most of those writers who followed him were amateur historians, most of whom are best described as enthusiasts in his wake. Although Jones’ 1967 “New View” set the stage for what would become the dominant Kelly narrative for most of the next 60 years, it is interesting that the only reference to Jones in Professor John Molony’s 1980 “I am Ned Kelly” is his listing of Jones’s 1962 Walkabout article, “The years Ned Kelly went straight”, itself a fairly dubious proposition. Moloney swallowed the republic myth too, similarly basing it on Tom Lloyd Jnr’s son (and retired policeman) Tom’s wild oral history tales, told to pull the legs of the Kelly researchers as he afterwards admitted to both Doug Morrissey and Leo Kennedy. The core framwork of Molony’s book also crashes and falls on this point, as his entire book was writen as a 1980 vindication of how he thought Ned Kelly would have looked at the world. “I am Ned Kelly”, he thought, the arrogant bozo, as he proceeded to get much of the history wrong by starting out on the wrong foot and filling the gaps with convenient and often clearly wrong newspaper and popular magazine articles rather than a thorough examination of all the available evidence. He digs deep in the archives only when they support his outlook, but references fluff and bumpf when it suits him better.

    What is funniest is that Tom Lloyd told Jones and Molony some directly contradictory stories about what “happened” at Glenrowan, and both of them fell for and printed the contradictory versions. I think Tom would have cracked up laughing when he saw how stupid they were. I highlighted some of these contradiction in my Republic Myth book. It also highlights the poor, amateurish standard of so much Kelly commentary written since 1980 that what was obviously bunkum was never exposed by anyone except in Doug Morrissey’s academic articles for some 30 years. The standard of what was accepted in Australian history writing has been insufferably low for decdes, and not just in respect of Kelly. The myth that Australia was first established as a penal colony, a dumping ground for prisoners, raher than as a carefully planned colonisation project, was still being taught when I was at school. Not until Alan Frost’s book on “The First Fleet” was this thoroughly and carefully overturned. (A great read, by the way.)

    So yes, we are long overdue for a new Kelly narrative. I have got a lot of flack for posting some comments on this blog from time to time that criticise various points of Jones’s writing, where he has got things horribly wrong. “Why are you always having a go at Jones?”, some replied. Again I say, I’m not having a go at Jones the man. I never met him. But condider that he was dismissive of my Republic Myth book in the Border newspaper without having read it, regardless that I had emailed copies to his secretary, the Kelly Vault, the Burke Museum and the Beechworth Tourism office two weeks prior. He seems to have regarded himself as an unaccountable guru – his published comments about McDermott and eminent legal author Alex Castles (NK’s Last Days) were bitter and cruel. His scorn and mocking of those who disagreed with him over any part of the Kelly story is on the DVD of the Kelly weekend at Beechworth about 10 years ago, and on other video clips. His put-downs of McDermott are in the ABC transcript of their interview on ABC radio. His arrogant disdain for Kelly writers who didn’t think as he did is in the preface to the second edition of Short Life, where he says that atempts to combat his view are “marred by extreme selectivity, exaggeration, blatant omission, factual error and occasional fabrication” – yet this describes exactly the nattative he himself concocted over decades.

    Bring on a new comprehansive Kelly history – the Jones’based one we have put up with for the past 60 years is filled with ridiculous nonsense in just about every chapter.

    1. Thanks Stuart. Ive been tempted at times to say Australia was the victim of a giant hoax perpetrated by Ian Jones, but that would only be true if he knew that what he was promoting was nonsense. But as we have discussed before, it seems he really did believe that he had discovered the truth about Ned Kelly. Given that we now realise the centra elements of his kelly beliefs were completely wrong, I think it would be fair to say he was deluded. I know you didnt really agree with me but I still think Tom Lloyd has a lot to answer for because he DID know that what he was telling Jones was bullshit. Your point if I remember rightly was that it was Jones responsibility to check and double check his sources but of course Jones was already desperate to believe Kelly was a hero and not a villain. I think it was reprehensible of Lloyd to take advantage of Jones desperation in that way.

      I recently came across another example of Jones delusional state of mind, in a You Tube Video of Jones taking a group of people to Stringybark Creek . This is what he said while standing beside the Kelly tree :

      “For years I accepted this is where it happened. But as I said before there were no vibes here the place did not speak to you, you got nothing from it. Why, when I had steeped myself in the Kelly story for so long, and where I could get such amazing vibes from other places where I could feel what had happened there, I could get nothing from this place.”

      Its quite incredible to realise that Jones believed he could ‘feel’ what happened at certain places, as if there is some sort of lingering spirit or mystical aura or presence that hangs over a place that visitors can tap into. Certainly, people do get ‘feelings’ about places, but they originate from within not from the place itself. Its a surprise to learn that Jones believed in this kind of entirely irrational paranormal nonsense.

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      1. Maybe he was unaware of the hoax; maybe he believed everything he said. You can’t assume that.

        1. Hi Frank, from what I read of the comments you are replying to, I think all three of us (me, David and you; and there ae others too) agree that Jones did genuinely believe everything he said and wrote. And that’s the problem. He told it with conviction and railroaded over objections from the prespective of his narrative. So when people would say, as McDermott did in the old ABC interview with Jones, that such and such happened and that contradicts something Jones had said, Jones would say OK maybe that’s one questionable instance BUT there’s a whole story here that overwhelmingly shows that my narrative is correct, and here’s some more about why.

          In other words he dismissed objections to parts of his narrative as isolated cases that counted for little. You can see the same process at work in his Fitzpatrick chapter in Short Life. He starts out with a depiction of Fitzpatrick riding towards Greta “aglow with autumn sunshine and brandy” and “always eager to see Kate”, two pieces of absolute BS that have since been totally demolished. Then we get the nonsense about the colony’s economic crisis and desperation that was bowled over way back at the end of his 1967 Wangaratta Kelly seminar by historian Weston Bates’ response to his talk , with both the talk and Bates’ reply published in “Man and Myth” in 1968. But Jones did not change his totally wrong view of Voctorian economic history. He clung to it from 1967 right to 2008 in the most recent edition of Short Life. Doug Morrissey also took those ridiculous misunderstandings apart in his PhD thesis back in the 1980s and in his recent Kelly trilogy. But facts and Jones were never friends where the facts disrupt his Kelly narrative.

          Jones did a right snow job on Fitzpatrick: “With alcoholic optimism and more than a dash of fatalism, Alex swung his horse… towards the Kelly homestead.” Then a few pages on he has Fitzpatrick waking Sgt Whelan at Benalla after the Fitzpatrick incident, “smelling of brandy, with a bandaged wrist”. Jones set Fitzpatrick up as a drunk from the outset, because that’s what he believed since he was a young lad reading Kenneally, then he filled in the gaps with more bitter bile about Fitzpatrick, never troubling himself to objectively look at Fitzpatrick’s reported cpourtroom testimony of the papers of the day and wonder if it just might be possible that St Ned told a bunch of porkies. But as I demonstrated in meticulous detail in the “Redeeming Fitzpatrick” article, Fitzpatrick was at least 99% truthful and his story can be corroborated. Jones simply believed what he had always believed, and nothing on earth – no about of facts – would shake him out of it.

          That Fitzpatrick article came out in 2015. I emailed it to his secretary, to the Burke Museum, the Kelly Vault, and the Beechworth Tourism office, so there’s no way he could not have known about it, and he was fully compus and active then as he had just published his little Beechworth Kelly book. His long-held Fitzpatrick myth was blown out of the water, and he had nothing to say by way of response. Pathetic, just as he never responded to Ian MacFarlane’s magnificant demolition of Kelly myths in “The Kelly Gang Unmasked” 2012. And we know why: Peter FitzSimons told David that Jones had told FitzSimons not to read MacFarlane’s book when he was writing his own Kelly book. Taking that pathetic excuse for expert advice at face value, FitzSimons didn”t, and his book is much the poorer for it.

          The idea that Fitzpatrick’s testimony was right, and that so much other of his beliefs were factually wrong, was too much for Jones to deal with, and he simply ostritched as far as I can see. He kept believing his own Kelly fantasies, the fantasies that he had written into film in the 1970 Jagger Kelly movie and the Last Outlaw mini series, and several other videoed interviews over the years. From what I can see he was simply incapable of seeing the Kelly story in any other way. so yes, he absolutely believed what he said. Pity about that, as so much of it is wrong.

          Incidentally Jones was actually right in one thing he said about Kelly’s outlawry in Short Life, that the Outlawry Act gave a member of the outlawed gang “a slightly better chance thatn is sometimes claimed. He could be killed without challenge, ‘if found at large armed or there being reasonable ground to believe that he is armed'”. This of course contradicts the widepread, almost universal, and false belief that anyone could shoot a proclaimed outlaw down like vermin if they happend to spot one, with no consequenses, conditions or legal liability. I will have a journal article out soon on the Outlawry Act that will clear this up properly.

  3. Hi David, there’s no problem at all in us having different ideas of what Tom Lloyd the ex-policeman’s thoughts on pulling the Kelly researchers’ legs might have been, but Morrissey is clear in the Lawless Life comments pp 149-150 that Lloyd was sick of telling enquirers thing and them going off and writing something else altogether, so he told them tall tales they were gullible enough to believe in order to make fools of them. I don’t find that reprehensible as you are saying you do, because Lloyd could have no way of knowing just what idiocy they would write.

    I find it funny in the same way the story goes that when an Aboriginal guy was asked by the City of Melbourne what a good name for a festival would be, he said “Moomba”, which meant up your bum, and the “up your bum” festival has been an annual Melbourne institution for decades now. Hilarious IMO.

    As a side note, Jonesy apparently got the vibe for where SBC happened when he proclaimed what turned out to be the wrong site in his 1993 paper, the one that starts off with a page or so of spiteful, unjustified and small-minded abuse of McIntyre. If there is Karma he’ll be being roasted in a burning log by the Kelly gang, something he seemed to have no problem rationalising in his often irrational defence of that bunch of predatory colonial criminals. It’s a pity Ian never got to publish a piece he was working on about the butchery of stolen horses by the Kellys and their confederates up on the Murray, rather than have them retaken and returned to their owners. They really were a scummy lot of no hopers.

  4. I have no respect for Ian Jones. Although he knew a great deal about the Ned Kelly era, in ALL the movies and especially his TV series, “The Last Outlaw”, that he was involved with, he hid the truth, and he did so full well knowing the facts.
    Jones knew full well that Kelly was a stand over thug. Do we see anything that looks remotely like Kelly standing over his victims of the Greta Mob doing the same? We never see the extent of his criminal network in stealing the only horse that poor settlers had. Jones hid it, and he knowingly did it. He clearly did it to paint a very false picture of a serious criminal.
    He is responsible for the vast majority of fiction that has seriously influenced our children for several decades, painting a very false picture of the real Ned Kelly.

    1. Hi Sam, a while back I had a look at the children’s fiction catalogue in my metropolitan district library catalogue, seaching for “ned kelly” and “kelly gang”, and had a look at over a dozen books produced for children about Kelly. They were all cover to cover nonsense about poor Ned Kelly and his poor little mother, police persecution, and how the colonial authorities had it in for the Kelly family. Most abused Fitzpatrick as a molester of Kate Kelly, a fiction made most famous by Sidney Nolan’s paintings. They all wrote glowingly of the green sash and what a hero young Kelly was for fishing his younger schoolmate Richard Shelton out of a swiming hole. In other words, the only good thing the young Kelly is ever known to have done was blown out of all proprtion and praised to the skies mostly because of what Ian Jones wrote about the sash being worn in some way syboilically at Glenrowan. The reality was that he wore the long double wrap-around cummerbund under his jacket as padding and never missed it or said a word about it afterwards. When I was young the only recollection I have of hearing anything about Kelly – and that was practically nothing – was that his gang was defeated after robbing banks and trying to derail a train on the Glenrowan rail bend. I agree that Jones is responsible for the extraordinary fictionalisation of Kelly and that it is long overdue for redress. Moronically stupid and historically ignorant children’s book writers do children no favours producing the sort of utter garbage of the last several years. No self-respecting school library should stock any of it.

      1. Heres a link to my post from a few years back called Lying to Children. They were mostly written in the ‘Jones Era’ when Kelly was thought to have been some sort of political leader with rebellion on his mind. Now that everyone agrees Kelly was just a serious criminal murderer and nothing else, its time corrections were made to these books, a simple option being to relabel them all fiction!
        http://nedkellyunmasked.com/2016/02/lying-to-children-is-this-neducation/

        1. Sharon Hollingsworth says:

          Did you have a look at this article about Ned Kelly books for children when you did your piece on it?https://www.researchgate.net/publication/239795775_Instilling_postcolonial_nostalgias_Ned_Kelly_narratives_for_children

          1. Hi Sharon, I read that one a while back, great article but it was based on a review of children’s books about Kelly published from 2000 to 2011, so before Ian MacFarlane put a rocket under much of the myths that were dominant then in his 2012 Kelly Gang Unmasked.

            I think her key observation is that that “most Australians are introduced to the Kelly legend as children, frequently in classroom settings, through non-fiction and fiction texts, films and television programs which reflect and advocate views about Australianness and about the implications of the past for the present.”

            As such, what children are indoctrinated with is worth some serious thought. I think the most recent few years of Kelly for children books are even more vacuous than what was around back when Clare Bradford did her review, and the fact that some of the ones she read were shortlisted for the Children’s Book Council of Australia Book
            Awards shows just how bad the situation is. People who hand out awards may be impressed by writing style but are more likely with children’s books to be influencced by the quality or attractiveness of the illustrations as regards their appeal to children thereby encouraging reading.

            But those writers can generally be supposed to be historically ignorant and unaware of the historical lies and distortions they are blessing with awards, simply because the standard reference was and continues to be Ian Jones’ imaginings, and those of all the adult non-fiction writers who have followed him up the garden path with such nonsense as young hero Ned as a hero pulling young Richard Shelton out of a swimming hole in a quiet creek (and good on him, but not the raging torrent of Jones/ FitzSimons/ many others’ fantasies); the supression of his brutal robbery of Ah Fook the hawker; and of his assault in company on Mrs McCormack and her husband; and his armed highway robberies; and of his theft of other poor selectors’ horses and cattle; his interference in the lawful arrest of Dan Kally at their mother’s house by shooting and wounding Constable Ftzpatrick; his cowardly abandonment of his mother as a result; his ambush murders at Stringybark Creek; his countless acts of imtimidation of citizens at gunpoint while he bleated about being persecuted; the wide reach of his viscous criminal clan well known in the papers of his day; his attempt to derail a police train and intent to massacre any survivors including crew; and his total unrepentance for any of it.

            The writers and illistrators (and award givers) of such children’s fictions should be ashamed of themselves but their extraordinary historical ignorance shields them from reasonable feelings of shame.. However, it should not shield them from well-deserved mockery.

  5. Hi David, I have just read that past linked blog of yours about the children’s books and you are right, the ones you quoted from are all examples of extraordinary historical nonsense and should be in the rubbish bin, not just moved to the fiction section. Clearly many school teachers are totally ignorant of the historical Kelly story themselves or none of those books would be in a library in the first place. I still think a “bad Ned Kelly” book would be good to provide a contrast, but whether there would be a market for such a book is anyone’s guess.

  6. The Plucky Rhymer says:

    Another blow to Ned.
    Vean got him in the head,
    And now poor Ned is dead,
    In triplicate.

    Now children don’t you cry,
    Or wonder too much why
    Bold Vean did not like Ned,
    You get it?

    Now if I write a book,
    And picture Neddy’s head,
    I won’t forget it’s lost,
    Or tossed out.

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  7. I reckon the venom should be directed at that most notable book called The true History of the Kelly Gang from the redoubtable Peter Carey.
    Leave Jones alone

    1. Really? Carey didnt ever claim anything other than what he was telling was a story, a fable based on the Jerilderie letter ( which was itself a whole lot of lies told by Ned Kelly trying to rewrite history to suit himself)

      Jones I think always believed what he was writing and talking about was the true story but he had convinced himself that he had some sort of special power that enabled him to be certain of what the truth was. His mind was closed and nobody could be permitted to contradict him.

      I dont think its venom that should be directed at Jones – better would be anger for having led everyone on a merry dance down a dead end into his pet fantasy of completely inappropriate Kelly adoration. Maybe also pity, because his legacy is going to be more or less completely turned out.

      But Carey? He received international accolades for that novel – not everyone loves it but it was only ever claimed to be fiction.

      1. Carey may have claimed that he was not telling a true story, BUT he quite sneakily called his book, “TRUE HISTORY OF THE KELLY GANG.” Deceitful, very deceitful.

    2. Hi Anonymous, I don’t think Carey’s novel should inflame one to venom, as that would require wasting energy on what is really about 470 pages of tedious drivel. I have the 2005 Vintage Books edition which I picked up for a dollar in an op-shop, and I can see why it was donated. It is a dreadful read, and I only keep it as it gets a mention from time to time so I occasionally need to reference it (unfortunately). It would be great never to hear of it again. From about 60 pages in it became a chore to read, wracked with historical inaccuracies and fantasies that have no relation to history – and yet pretend to.

      For example, the last 3 pages, titled “Death of Edward Kelly”, purport to be from a pamphlet in the Mitchell Library printed in 1955. in keeping with the nonsense construction of chapters labelled as brown paper parcels of manuscript found somewhere . In this last case, however, the section is just a bumbling plagiarism from the 1880 Melbourne Herald description of Kelly’s death.

      What’s funny is that Carey’s end of book acknowledgement says that he owes a particular debt to several listed books, and “Of these, it is Ian Jones [Short Life] I am most particulary obloged to. It was to his work I turned, almost daily, when I was lost or bewildred or seimply forgetful of facts.” So there you are: a lot of the BS in Carey’s novel is straight from Jones, according to Carey…

      As time goes on, we are learnig by ongoing research that Jones is almost as much a work of fiction as Carey. This was recognised by film maker Justin Kurzel’s subtitle of his movie “True History of the Kelly Gang”, when the subtitle says something like Nothing in this film is true. Where Carey spun out the original 56 page Jerilderie letter into 470-odd pages of odd fiction, Jones spun out 20 pages of Kenneally’s “Inner History” into 480 pages of premium fairy tales in the “Short Life”.

      We can roughly halve Kenneally’s book by allowing for all the pages he simply quoted from the Royal Commission, the outlawry act, and so on. But consider that we can considerably reduce te size of KJones’ book by removing chapter 7, “The Fitzpatrick Mystery”, which is full of errors; half of chapter 9, “Stringbark”, which is wrong; large chunks of chapter 13 which is completely wrong about Kelly’s sympathisers, nearly all of chapter 15 “Wandering Wind”, all of chapter 19 “A Repuiblic” which is completely fictitious rubbish, most of the next 3 chapters about “To Glenrowan”, “Jaws of Death”, and “The Last Stand” which are built on a fantasy of a non-existent sympathiser army, most of chapter 21 “A last fight in Beechworth” which gets a lot of the background of Kelly’s committal trial wrong; the everything about Kelly’s trial and sentencing, which he totally mangles.

      Even the first part of the book is full of holes. The early years stuff is mostly padding. He seems unaware of what Kelly was doing while he was on a hulk and at Williamstown. He apologises for Kelly’s criminal activities at every turn, excuses Kelly and associates for violent crimes such as the Ah Fook assault and robbery, the McCormack assault, the Winton Store robbery and assault of Mrs Goodman. Really, Kelly was scumbag and Jones whitewashes most of it. The claimed “quiet years” are a fantasy that Jones had since before his 1962 article of the same title. Complete nonsense. If you cut out all the fiction and factual errors from “Short Life” you would throw out maybe two-thirds of it.

      Jones’ “Short Life” is still an important book to read, because his tale has been the dominant influential narrative for decades and it is important to understand how it is put together. That doesn’t make it correct. It is laughably wrong about the republic myth, for example, and it is amazing that that stack of cobblers ever got off the ground. The Fitzpatrick chapter shows Jones at his most spiteful. He was so petty and biased that he ccouldn’t be bothered researching the several reports of Fitzpatrick’s courtroom testimony and other statements to see how they stack up and vindicate Fitzpatrick from all or nearly all the crap that has been thrown over him, not least by Jones. So no, not a good historian. Not objective. Not at all.

    3. Jones was a great fiction writer, yes, a brilliant story teller – after all, that was his industry, TV fiction. Far better than Carey. But not a good or accurate historian.

    4. Jones has done far more damage than anyone in spreading myths, fiction and lies regarding a very serious criminal.
      Rightly, he should be exposed for his disgraceful distortion of the truth. The damage he did is monumental and will take decades to expose and correct.

  8. Interesting to note that the promotion of the film ‘THE TRUE HISTORY OF THE KELLY GANG’ was enormous, yet it failed miserably.
    Total gross in the USA was US$37,817, and worldwide US$467,189.
    A total and complete FLOP.

    1. A cynic might think that film writers and directors live mostly off taxpayer funded movie arts grants regardless of any commercial viability. (A lot of writers do too.) But if they happen to have a genuinely profitable movie, they keep the profits. I’d like to see a aystem in which the cost of a taxpayer funded flop is recorded somewhere and subsequently deducted from the profits of a later film by the same director. So yes, taxpayers kick in something towards the arts, but it should be thought of like a conditional loan. If the film is commercially successful, the amount of taxpayer money that went into it is repaid to the government film board. If it is not, then the director can still get another grant for a future project if approved, but if successful must first pay back the public investment in both films before taking any money for themselves. The same for writer’s grants.

  9. I still despair at the long-held view of many Aussie’s that Kelly was a ‘Robin Hood’ type figure, who heroically took on the corrupt police. It’s amazing how easy it is to find primary resources that disprove much of this Kelly myth. For example, there is no evidence that Kelly said ‘Such is Life’ before his execution. Perhaps one the the most fascinating bits of research I’ve come across is a study that found that people that get Ned Kelly tattoo’s are more than twice as likely to take their own lives an anyone else, and that they are more than 7 times more likely to die an early violent death. Go figure!

    1. Hi Mike, here’s my paper on Ned Kelly’s last words -and they weren’t “such is life”! Another myth busted? Ah, well, I suppose… https://www.monash.edu/__data/assets/pdf_file/0011/1669214/eras181_dawson.pdf

  10. Interestingly, the original title of Careys book was “The secret history of the Kelly Gang.”

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