My Message for 2023 : The battle to keep Ned Kelly as an Australian Hero has been lost.

It would be interesting to know for certain who supports the idea that Ned Kelly is an Aussie Icon and Hero these days but I would guess that more than half of the population still does. I would guess though, that a survey would show that the huge majority of Australians have only a very limited knowledge of the facts of the Kelly story, much of what they believe about it is wrong, but most would say he was some kind of hero who fought against corruption and only ended up killing police because he was standing up for his family.

My guess is based on what I’ve seen the general public post to Facebook about the Kelly story. On places that discuss Australian history in general there are quite frequent references to the Kelly story and the majority of those comments are ‘pro Ned’ but often expose the writer’s ignorance of facts. Even on the FB pages specifically devoted to Ned Kelly many of the comments reveal ignorance of the facts or relate to outdated and now refuted claims about the Kelly story. The obvious clangers are discussions about Dan Kelly surviving the Glenrowan siege, the ‘rape’ of Kate Kelly, the great cluster of myths about the police search party being in disguise, carrying ‘body straps’ being heavily armed and so on, but up-to-date devotees of the story shouldn’t be talking about Ned Kellys last words being “Such is life” anymore, or referring to the Kelly Republic any more, or to Fitzpatrick being a drunk or a womaniser. All these claims are false.

So you might ask why am I saying Kelly Sympathisers have lost the battle to keep Ned Kelly as an Australian Icon if I also think most Australians still think of him as some sort of hero?

I can illustrate it best with a simple analogy: when the tide turns, and starts to go out, for a while nothing looks any different…. except that the water has started to flow in the opposite direction to what it had been. Eventually, what’s happening becomes obvious to everyone.

The big and dramatic change in momentum around the Kelly story began ten years ago with Ian MacFarlane’s courageous ground-breaking publication ‘The Kelly Gang Unmasked’. Before then, there had been a few challenges to the Kelly myth at various places but they were mostly smothered by ‘Australia’s foremost Kelly  authority’ Ian Jones, author of the 1995 Kelly biography “A Short Life”. A steady stream of ‘pro-Kelly’ books preceded and followed Jones book but before MacFarlane nobody had assembled the evidence from the historical record and published a comprehensive forensic analysis of the entire story. Before then, for over thirty years Kelly books and literature to be found in school and public libraries, in museums and tourist trails were almost entirely ‘pro-Kelly’, all pointing in one direction, to the man as icon and hero. The police were the villains and Kellys murders were justified by tales of persecution and oppression, and his willingness to stand and fight for his family. Kelly was promoted as a colourful uniquely Australian hero, Australia’s Robin Hood, no less.

It’s now ten years since MacFarlane threw his hand grenade into the Kelly legends. The flow of pro-Kelly books quickly slowed and has now stopped and been replaced by a growing list of titles that challenge the Legends and replace them with the evidence based historical truths of the Kelly story. In the last ten years  Dr Doug Morrissey has released three books, Grantlee Kieza has written two, David Dufty one, Dr Stuart Dawson four powerful monographs, Aidan Phelan self-published, and there are two books from Police descendants, one written by Leo Kennedy and another by Lachlan Strahan.

On the internet, where the only activity taking place other than on Facebook pages is this Blog, change has also been in the same direction : less interest in mythology and more interest in accurate history. Apart from The Best Bloody Man Facebook page, where the focus until recently has been on Kellyana rather than history, all other FB pages devoted to Ned Kelly are struggling to survive.  Several pro-Kelly Facebook pages, and a few pro-Kelly forums have been and gone. One interesting challenge they are struggling to deal with more recently is balancing devotion to Ned Kelly with his obsessional hatred of police and his scheme to murder a score or more of them in cold blood at Glenrowan. For decades police hate and scorn and vilification has been a fundamental of Kelly sympathiser belief. Now, because of pressure being out on these people by this Blog and by others, the ugliness of  police hatred that used to be tolerated is increasingly being rejected. People labelling Lonigan and Kennedy and Scanlan as scum and as dogs who got what they deserved are starting to be called out, if only because it gives the Kelly sympathiser mob a very negative and unattractive public image. The paradox has emerged of pro-Kelly pages prohibiting the expression of anti-police sentiment, even though police hate was the central driver of Ned Kellys behaviour. The growing cognitive dissonance between rejection of police hate and devotion to Ned Kelly, the personification of police hate, is driving some of them crazy. The point is that even within the Kelly mobs, because of the pressure of evidence thats being exposed in this stream of books and writing in various places,  there is gradual movement away from some of the historical core beliefs of the Kelly legend.

But publications are not the only indicator of the change thats taking place. Public institutions are now coming on board with the need for the new research and the new insights and understandings to replace the myths.  One of the first places at which this process of renewal and of rejection of the Kelly mythology took place was at Stringybark Creek four or five years ago. Heritage Victoria upgraded the signage to bring it into line with modern understandings of what happened, minimising references to the Kelly Gang and maximising awareness of the brutality of the police murders.

At Glenrowan an expensive Tourist investment is underway with the construction of a viewing Tower near the siege site. The historical content to be displayed there has yet to be revealed but it needs to be approved by Heritage Victoria, which means of course, given the nature of their revisions at SBC, it will focus on history and not myth. It will be a huge disappointment to Kelly devotees who are expecting it will glorify the Last Stand, but if evidence and historical truth is their guide, the take-away message from the Viewing Tower will be that it overlooks a place where a brave disabled teacher stopped a brutal murderer from carrying out a monstrous bloodthirsty and merciless act of mass killing of innocent people. Nothing heroic about the Kelly gangs behaviour.The excuses have all been debunked. Is it too much to hope the new narrative will be about the genuine hero at Glenrowan, Thomas Curnow?

Kelly devotees themselves have noted with alarm recently further mythology roll-back in Beechworth, where the promotion of all kinds of other local historical cultural and social attractions seems to have displaced the Kelly story from centre stage. This is in addition to the disappearance of the once very popular annual Beechworth Ned Kelly Weekend and the closure of the equally popular Kelly Vault, its interesting collection now disbursed among the private owners and the Burke Museum, which has also removed its large display of Outbreak related material.

Other public institutions re-evaluating the information about the Outbreak that is being put on public display include the National Museum of Australia. After I wrote to them in 2021 and detailed my concerns about inaccuracies and misinformation in them, this influential and important public institution removed two 30 minute videos from its “Australian Journey” series. That was because they agreed with my critique.

Brad Williams also wrote to the NMA to express his similar concerns about the content of their “Defining Moment : Ned Kellys Last Stand” and this is part of the response he received a few days ago :

Thank you again for alerting us to new research which was not reflected in our Defining Moment titled ‘Ned Kelly’s last stand’. This has been extremely useful.

 In response to your review of the Defining Moment ‘Ned Kelly’s last stand’, two external reviews, and an internal review we have decided to temporarily unpublish/remove the web page that features the Defining Moment ‘Ned Kelly’s last stand’ and work to update and re-write the content to better reflect new research, and to correct factual inaccuracies that were identified through the review process.  This process also initiated a review of other material related to Ned Kelly across the Museum’s website. We will also work to ensure that this material is updated and more reflective of current scholarship in the field.

 This has been a valuable undertaking for the Museum, and we again thank you for your thorough review of the Defining Moment, which has contributed to this decision and will support us in re-writing this content.”

Another institution reviewing its approach to telling the Kelly story are the regional councils of NE Victoria. They are jointly responsible for the content of the well-known and well publicised “NK Touring Route”.

Brad Williams alerted them to the new research and understandings of the Outbreak and suggested a rewrite of the NKTR material was long overdue. They agreed and set in train a Tender process which resulted in the appointment of an independent researcher to review the entire Touring Route enterprise, a process which took most of 2022. The reviewers remit was to make information on the NKTR historically accurate and ‘to move away from the usual “simplistic narratives of legends, heroes, villains and myths”. This process is in the very last stages of implementation and already many of the myths and misconceptions have disappeared from the NK Touring Route website. Changing websites and brochures is not too difficult but replacing signage will take a little longer.

So, the outlook for 2023 is not good for the Kelly sympathisers, devotees, apologists – whatever you want to call them –  who have been deriding Brad Williams campaign for truth to be told about the Kelly story in public institutions.  He has been warning the Kelly mobsters for a long time that change is coming and indeed it really is :  what we all will be seeing in the coming year, 2023 is further public rollback of Kelly myths and fables, and their replacement with the evidence based historical truths. Kelly fans have nothing to look forward to in 2023, not even the anti-Fitzpatrick work promised by Mick Fitzsimons : that book is unlikely to ever see the light of day, but if it did, and it was honest and true to the evidence it would further redeem him. If its not true to the evidence it will be quickly shot down in flames.

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9 Replies to “My Message for 2023 : The battle to keep Ned Kelly as an Australian Hero has been lost.”

  1. Thomas Whiteside says: Reply

    Have people seen this new video / analysis from ‘The_Jaguar_ Knight’ on youtube

    JagKnight has reassessed the claim the Cherry was indeed shot by Ned (or a member of the Gang) and come out favouring the claim (in some form at least).

    Am interested in others’ thoughts.

    1. Hi Thomas, thanks heaps for that link to the Jaguar Knight’s Martin Cherry episode. He puts up some interesting and in places hilariously funny material. The funniest one to me was a clip from the Last Outlaw of Ned dancing with Mrs Jones overdubbed with “Disco Duck”, a gold star sendup. Now to the Cherry story. Mr Knight (if I may call him that, although I have some doubts as to his Aztec incarnation after his Aussie campfire chat cameo) has put up a string of evidence that forces one to question the standard view that wounded platelayer Martin Cherry dragged or helped drag the shot boy Johnny Jones to safety in the kitchen immediately behind the Inn (separated by a breezeway).

      For general interest, I found the 1990 reprint of the 12 August 1880 Irish Chronicle article about the death of Cherry that is mentioned in his video here,
      Knight has a quote from Mrs Jones, from the Adelaide Advertiser 23 Sept 1911, p. 8. that “My daughter and I dragged my wounded son into the kitchen between us”. She also said, “there was no help” to do this. So moving John Jones had nothing to do with Cherry.

      How and when was Cherry wounded, a wound from which he died by the end of the siege? Knight gives an extract from the Argus, 1 July 1880, which has Cherry shot by Ned Kelly after the first volley, when Ned went back inside the Inn and ordered Cherry to hold a blind open so Ned could shoot through the window. Cherry refused, and Kelly shot him in the groin. Three witnesses independently said this is how it happened. What is not clear is whether they were actual eye witnesses, or prisoners relating something that happened in a different room to the one they were in? I haven’t gone over it enough to have an opinion; but interesting question. What is clear is that pro-Kelly writers no longer acknowledge that that version exists as a possibility.

      Knight’s next revelation is that Cherry was not found in the kitchen behind the Inn, as commonly thought, but in an outbuilding well back from the Inn and its detached kitchen. In the sketch ‘Birds eye view of Glenrowan’ 1880, the outbuilding is numbered as location 2. It is set well back from the Inn, though within its fence lines.

      Knight gives plenty of evidence for this. The RC 2846-2849 says Cherry was found in a back detached building. The NSW Advertiser 3 July 1880 quotes Tom Dixon as stating that he was present at the burning of the inn. He says, “I went to the hut as soon as the priest came out”. Clearly this does not mean the Inn or its detached kitchen, which were well ablaze. “I heard there was a man wounded in the hut. With others I helped drag him out”.

      Most importantly, Constable Bracken stated that Cherry was taken out of the hut at the back of the hotel. “The hut he was taken from still stands unburnt”. It was not the Inn or its detached kitchen, but an outbuilding well to the rear of both. Knight has proven his point: the wounded Cherry was in no danger of being burnt to death; and Bracken goes on to say that.

      So was Cherry shot by Kelly? It needs re-examination. Maybe it should go back on the table.
      We can say from Mrs Jones’ statement that Cherry did not help her move her wounded son to safety. We can say with Knight that Cherry was not carried through the police line in the middle of a shootout. It seems that at least one policeman was aware there was a wounded man in the outbuilding who was not an outlaw. Did Cherry make his wounded way to the outbuilding at some much later point in the siege when things had quietened down? Did a policeman let him pass? I don’t know, but there is an interesting new question of what happened and when, that is opened up here.

      1. I am wondering how this can be fitted with the story that Cherry was dragged out just before the inn collapsed and Gibney administered the last rites? If Cherry was in the outbuilding he was in no danger, and given the short amount of time they had to rescue anyone at all, I cant see why they would have gone across to the outbuilding unless it was well after the Inn had collapsed. So maybe they went there a bit later and called Gibney over after. finding him in extremis?

        1. Hi David, does it work if the bit about Cherry being dragged out just before the inn collapsed refers to the timing of the dragging and has nothing to do with the place he was dragged from? That seems not incompatible with Dixon’s statement. Also allowing for some potential confusion in the writing up by the journalist. Plus, we don’t know when Dixon became aware of Cherry being in the outbuilding. So not at all clear cut, but Mr Knight has certainly wrecked Jones assertion in SL 2008: 332 that Cherry was removed from the inn’s separate kitchen.

          Jones on p. 348 rejected the story that Kelly shot Cherry – of course – which he did by continuing his slagging off of Piazzi’s statement that Kelly had shot Metcalf in the face and saying we should also doubt everything else Piazzi said about Cherry; hardly a sound argument given that we know how badly Jones twisted and perverted the evidence around that.

          So the version collected by Sadleir with witnesses has to go back on the table. Jones was happy enough to use Sadleir on McIntyre to accuse McIntyre of perjury for the next 50 years. Is there no limit to his ability to thoroughly twist and stuff up history?

  2. Thomas Whiteside says: Reply

    Have people watched this recent video by the Jaguar Knight? Provides a new anaylsis suggesting Martin Cherry was likely shot by Ned or a Gang member and not by stray police bullets.

    Interested in people’s thoughts!

  3. Hi David, it has been nearly 2 weeks and not one single Kelly nut has disputed this post, so it looks like you have stunned them all into silent seething. I’m guessing they just wish your blog would go away so they can pretend none of the multiple dozens of false myths and fairytales it had exposed over the past few years have been demolished beyond repair, and claim victory that way 😂

    But in fact the selection of Kelly myths you have listed in this post are some of the major ones that have fallen, and most of them were generated by Jones, who got away with much of the fuddling, misdirection and deception by his masterful narrative skills, burying, denigrating and misquoting anything that contradicted his Kelly fantasy.

    Kelly as Jones portrayed him never existed. There was no such person as the Kelly depicted in Jones’s 1980 “Last Outlaw” mini-series. It is entirely a work of imaginative fiction. Where at the start it claims that the story it tells is based entirely on facts, that is the biggest lie in the whole production. The lie is so big that one could compare it with someone claiming to present a mini-series reflecting the life of the biblical Jesus (of which ‘The Chosen’ is a brilliant example) and actually delivering a mini-series of the life of Jesus as extracted from the Book of Mormon.

    There are so many factual and representational errors in ‘The Last Outlaw’ that the only thing one can now say about it, after the decade of rigorous critique beginning with McFarlane’s multiple myth-busting ‘The Kelly Gang Unmasked’ (2012) is that the scenery, set construction and costuming are great.

    It is a great example of how a fictional narrative can persuade a willing audience that what it is watching is historically accurate; or near enough to be broadly acceptable. In reality, the audience is being sucked in by a powerful narrative into believing that what it is watching under the claim of historical accuracy is actually accurate.

    The Last Outlaw presents in a visually appealing form the myths and fantasies about Kelly that Jones had pretty much fully formed by 1967 in his Wangaratta seminar talk (A New View of Ned Kelly, published 1968 in Man & Myth). It haha all the golden lies: police persecution, body straps, Fitzpatrick assaulting Kate Kelly, conniving upper classes in a class war with selectors, Whitty as a squatter demon, Kelly boldly facing up to Wild Wright in a pub boxing match, and on and on until Kelly represented as leading a republican rebellion at Glenrowan. Each and every claim a historical nonsense.

    That visual fantasy went on to be fleshed out over the next 15 years into Jones’s “Short Life” book. Here the heroic task of redeeming a semi-literate stock thief, bush thug, amateur stick up and standover man and eventually multiple murderer, into some kind of folk icon worth taking seriously was undertaken with outstanding narrative skills, honed by a career of TV crime series production.

    An appearance of scholarship is lent by the large section of endnotes and references. Yet when one starts to search out the basis of many of his ostensible claims in the references one finds that all is not what it seems to be. Working through many of Jones’s sources of information is like walking through the looking glass in Alice in Wonderland. One enters a totally different reality. A couple of examples out of hundreds spring to mind:

    First, Jones’s active twisting of the detective’s recorded witness statements collected after Glenrowan in which it is crystal clear that Kelly shot Metcalf in the face while fiddling with Piazzi’s revolver. Jones perversely impugned Piazzi and wilfully both misquoted and misrepresented the witness statements to preserve the lie that Metcalf was wounded by a police bullet during the siege of the Inn, instead of the reality that Kelly the mongrel shot Metcalf then kept him prisoner for the rest of the day and throughout the siege. An utterly shameless abuse of clear historical evidence to more than maintain his fictional Kelly, but to actually actively promote a clear historical lie to add to the many in his book. I exposed this one in my freely downloadable paper, ‘Ned Kelly’s shooting of George Metcalf’.

    Second, Jones’s gross misrepresentation of a London newspapers write up of the Glenrowan siege, where Jones claims some 30 people who fled the inn at the end of the siege and were directed to lie down for identification before being allowed to walk off, to have been part of his mythical army of Kelly sympathisers! An extraordinary abuse and distortion of a historical source; either that or an astronomically astonishing level of incompetence when note taking. Either way it is clear that having determined to count Kelly’s victims as part of a sympathiser army, he never gave his claim or his source a second glance.

    What is amazing is the amount of gullibility with which his claims were received between 1995 (first edition of Short Life) and 2008 (the third and final edition). In all those 13 years any number of sycophants and amateur historians, not to mention uncritical government agencies such as DWELP, the SLV, museums, councils along the so-called Kelly Touring Route, and stockers of public library books, reached for their copy of Short Life for their Kelly information and signage; repeating the myths and lies, particularly about the fantasy of a republican Kelly and the tale of the evil Fitzpatrick, but also all the ones listed in your main post above, which were incorporated into children’s books, plastered over numerous websites, related in bit of the Australian history curriculum, and so on.

    That is I think why it is so hard to get people who have a Jones view of Kelly to see any alternative. They simply accept his one volume narrative as true, and don’t see how when it’s two core pillars (bad Fitzpatrick and the Kelly republic myth) collapse into illogical heaps of pure BS, the house of cards of his Kelly fantasy must necessarily fall with them.

    There is a poster from early 2020 that makes me laugh at how easily people can believe anything that an “authority” tells them. Remember the panic buying? Same time as this poster. And started by the same dear leaders.

  4. I am regularly in touch with the Jaguar Knight. His videos are thought-provoking, and quite humorous at times. Plenty of food for thought from his videos.
    The removal of myths, lies and fiction widely promoted by Ian Jones are now well and truly underway, across numerous government entities. The Ned Kelly Touring Route have removed many of the myths that were on their site, but some errors of facts were evident, and I was asked for a critique, which I have given, along with comments from Dr Stuart Dawson.
    There is more to be done, but we are making headway. It will take time, but it IS happening, much to the chagrin of the Kelly fans.

  5. Hi Sam, happy for any of my comments and critiques to be used by anyone taking on Kelly myths in institutions where a lot of nonsense has been uncritically recycled for many years.

    I am very keen to see how the soon to be reopened Vic Police Museum handles its Kelly display at its new location, as the old display in the Flinders St extension left a lot to be desired. The VPM contributions to other state websites continue to have an unwarranted attacks on Fitzpatrick essentially based on Jones whose views misdirected others including Haldane in his book on VicPol history. I tried to correct this half a page or so when he was preparing his 3rd edition but unfortunately the communications went awry, resulting in a repetition of his earlier incorrect information in the final edition of his book, where it continues to propagate a factually incorrect tale of Fitzpatrick as a particularly bad policeman, despite his statements to the RC (and their frequent misrepresentation by pro-Kelly writers).

    That is not the only place where VPM material provided to other government websites gets bits of the Kelly story badly wrong. You can see some of it on Museums Victoria web pages, sourced to VPM.

    Once people get a factually wrong idea in their heads it can be quite challenging to change their minds.

  6. Here is more information to ponder over.
    “John Sadleir, superintendent of police, stationed at Benalla, deposed; I had had charge of the attacking party of police on Monday morning, at Glenrowan. The firing continued at intervals both from the hotel and by the police. It was not until the captives had made their escape from the hotel that I was made aware that deceased was lying wounded in the back kitchen. I then endeavoured to avoid the firing into this kitchen. In firing the main building it was arranged that deceased was to be rescued before the fire could reach him. I rushed up to the kitchen myself first. Saw Dixon and others lift out the body of deceased who was then alive. He died in a few minutes.”

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