A Critique by Dr Stuart Dawson PhD
After reading about the launch of Glenrowan’s “Ned Kelly Discovery Hub” and having followed news of its escalating cost over the past three years (from $2.5M to now over $5.5M and counting), curiosity got the better of me, and I made the trek to Glenrowan in the first week of the school holidays. I had read that stakeholder consultation was done to ensure that the Kelly story told in what until recently was known as the Glenrowan siege site viewing tower would be neutral and respectful to all stakeholders – Kelly clan descendants, police family descendants, prisoners-of-the Kelly-gang descendants and generally to the memories of those caught up in the outbreak and siege. I suppose I was sceptical before I went that this would be achieved, and I can now say rightly so.
There are many problems with the historical accuracy of the Hub signage and information about the Kelly outbreak. Far from maintaining a neutral position, much of the text idolises Ned Kelly and is negative or dismissive both of individual police and of the actions of the police during the Kelly hunt. It selectively omits much information that would, if given, objectively show Kelly in a negative light. I have written an illustrated 12 page report on numerous factual errors I encountered, which I have just sent to Wangaratta Council in the hope that these can be rectified. A copy of the report can be downloaded from the bottom of this page. This post is a short summary of some of the key issues with source evidence and suggestions for rectification.
The Introduction sign speaks of a 12 hour gun battle. After the Kelly gang opened fire at the arriving police, there were two main rounds of volleys between 3am and 3:30am when Ned Kelly escaped into the bush, then sporadic shooting with many periods of quiet, until Kelly emerged from the bush at dawn in an attempt to re-join his gang, with under 10 minutes of fire in what was later dubbed as his last stand. Byrne died from a bullet somewhere around 5am; some sporadic shooting occurred during the day; and Dan Kelly and Steve Hart suicided with poison in the early afternoon. There was no “twelve hour gun battle” between the gang and the police, despite there being a twelve hour siege.
The Hub entrance confronts the visitor with a laughably poor reproduction of Ned Kelly’s helmet (see the photo in my report) against a bush background that I suggest is more likely to make the visitor think of Stringybark Creek than Glenrowan or Jones’ Inn. A large picture of the town in the day would be far better, e.g., the ‘Glenrowan 1880’ etching. A ‘What Happened Here?’ sign says that “on 28 June 1880, all the members of the Kelly Gang – Ned Kelly, Dan Kelly, Joe Byrne and Steve Hart – were either captured or killed in a shootout with Victoria Police”. It would have been just as easy and much more informative to state clearly and correctly that ‘Dan Kelly, Joe Byrne and Steve Hart were killed and Ned Kelly was captured’. That sort of inexplicable vagueness afflicts a lot of the Hub signage.
There are numerous signs in smallish text, often on small clear Perspex panels (see photo examples in my report), that convey brief and mostly fairly basic – and not objectively neutral but notably pro- Kelly – information about their various topics. “A book on a wall” as someone commented, and a rather dull and biased one in many cases.
An audio narration persistently refers to Ned Kelly as ‘Ned’ while referring to others by their surname, e.g. ‘Reardon’, regardless whether the person’s first name is given at first mention. This privileging of the murderer Kelly by constant use of his first name, and the comparative downgrading of his victims and the police by the constant use of their surnames, displays an obvious bias in favour of the criminal and his associates. For example, Joe Byrne and Steve Hart are persistently referred to as such using their full names; whereas their victims (Reardon etc., and especially the police, e.g. Hare; Fitzpatrick; McIntyre) are demoted in the narrative by this biased presentation.
Sitting in the limited seating upstairs in the viewing tower gives only a view of the treetops, and on one side, the ongoing construction of a new bridge. Walking around the deck one can see whatever there is to see through wire birdcage-like mesh. As the photo in my report shows, all that can be seen of the siege site on ‘Siege Street’ is some of the empty block where Jones’ Inn once stood, someone’s house with a pile of old furniture on the front porch, and the tumbledown old blacksmith’s shop. Next to that, some open ground scattered with several historically inaccurate signage posts about the siege dating from the redundant Ned Kelly Touring Route text, and an old portable lockup. Indeed, the view from the ‘viewing tower’ shows little of any interest or appeal.
Considerable trouble has been taken to produce a metal sculpture that conveys very little, as can be seen in the photo in my report. About half of it is meaninglessly labelled ‘Open forest country’ and ‘Grassy plain’; and the other half is an indecipherable topographic mess sparsely labelled with a handful of places the Kelly gang caused trouble in. Far better, and likely at far less cost, would have been a large map that showed what was where in the narrative and in particular explained that Stringybark Creek lay at the intersection of longstanding intercolonial stock theft routes, which underpinned and resulted in the Kelly outbreak.
A series of plaques is ranged around the edge of the viewing platform naming places identified as significant to the Kelly story, but they are light on information. At the very least they should indicate where the place is (e.g., 30 kms southwest of Mansfield; 90 kms north of Melbourne); its physical geography (flat, mountainous, open, rugged, river land, snow); who founded it as a town and when; what its population was in the most relevant year (1878, 1879, 1880, or perhaps Beechworth 1875); what its main industries were; and only then why it is relevant to the Kelly narrative. The only sign that comes close to providing this sort of information is the sign for Melbourne.
I have given a critique of factual errors in each of the dozen or so signs in my report. The statement of the attempted train derailment and ambush avoids making clear that the plan was to kill anyone alive including train crew by shooting down from the top of an embankment, shielded by the half-suits of armour in what would have become one of the sickest mass murders in modern history.
On the ground floor is a sign about the Felons Apprehension Act, that claims it reversed the assumption of innocence until proven guilty. It did no such thing. It was an Act to apprehend for trial, not a default conviction. There was a proclaimed period within which the wanted person/s could surrender prior to being outlawed. Colonial outlawry was not the same as old English outlawry under which outlawry constituted a conviction. That is the radical difference not understood by many. The conditions under which an Australian outlaw could be killed (if armed or reasonably thought to be armed) were tightly prescribed and the wanton killing of an outlaw would itself constitute murder. It is wholly irrelevant that the FAA expired the day before the siege. The warrant under which Kelly was tried for Lonigan’s murder was issued before the FAA was enacted and had nothing to do with it.
The story of Kelly’s victims via robbery and eventually murders is largely erased from the visitor’s gaze. The endless list of crime and intimidation against ordinary residents throughout the north-east by the Kelly clan and their associates, that are a constant backdrop to the Kelly narrative in Kieza’s Mrs Kelly, are passed over, with the police frequently blamed for the free choices of habitual criminals.
Much of the Hub narrative is fictionalised history, and much of that is poorly presented and vacuous. It is hard to see why a visitor would return. Even Kelly enthusiasts can see all there is to see in about half an hour. The views from the tower are unimpressive and much of the signage is factually wrong for the reasons detailed with source references in my report. I hope that the Wangaratta Council’s tourism division take the necessary steps to correct it.
NOW CLICK THE LINK BELOW TO DOWNLOAD AND PRINT YOUR COPY OF
DR DAWSONS FULL REPORT :
The Ned Kelly Discovery Hub at Glenrowan – A Critical Review-2