24 Jun 2012

Poor Ned Kelly

Precisely those who plead that Kelly was the creature of circumstances, and that we are all moulded by our surroundings, ought to understand that society is bound to put the brand of failure upon crime. Other men as ignorant and as weak as Kelly must learn from him that it is wise to refrain from bloodshed; that the State is stronger than any one citizen; and that no fictitious romance, no maudlin sympathy will avail against the common sense of the governing majority.

Editorial Opinion, The Age, November 13, 1880
New Kelly was a bushranger. He was an outlaw and a convicted police killer. He was a murderer and a cattle duffer. He took innocent hostages. My grandmother, whose family lived in Yackandandah in the middle of Kelly Country, grew up strongly believing that he was a villain who got his just deserts.

Yet despite that, Ned Kelly continues to be considered by some as a romanticised Aussie Robin Hood, stealing only from the rich to support his poor and struggling relations. He's fondly thought of as loyal and brave and daring and a bit of an Aussie larrikin.

Certainly Ned was a victim of circumstance. That his family situation, the bad influence of his Uncle Jimmy Quinn, and the incessant harrassment by the police influenced his later choices is without dispute. The fact remains though, that many of those decisions were wrong. Ned Kelly was at war with society. He was at war with authority. He was at war with the law.

I suppose it is the ease with which we can see both sides of the Ned Kelly character that makes him such an enduring enigma. There have been books, films, plays, folksongs - even a ballet. His story has been stretched and distorted so much that nowadays it is difficult to distinguish the real man from the even bigger myth. And yet even at the time of his execution by hanging he had his supporters - 32,000 people signed his petition for clemency.

'This week as we cover his period in Australian History, Jemimah and I have been doing a bit of a character study of Ned Kelly. We've been reading from Frank Clune's Ned Kelly,a book that clearly develops the unfortunate circumstances that lead to Ned's life of crime, but which also lays the blame for that ultimate decision on Ned's own shoulders.
Ned Kelly was a desperado, with a chip on his shoulder. From the moment he was released, Ned was at war with the community that had spoilt his life.

There could be no real excuse for Ned's choosing wholesale horse-stealing for his profession... This was the taking of a wrong turning for him, and he had nobody to blame but himself. An honest career was open to him...Instead Ned challenged the Law - a fight he was bound to lose.
Many times we've stopped reading for a long discussion about who is to blame for a particular outcome. Could things have been done differently? What should Ned have done? What would you have done?

Charlotte Mason taught that 'an ordered presentation of the possibilities and powers that lie in human nature and of the risks that attend these, can hardly fail to have an enlightening and stimulating effect on young children'. Certainly Clune's book has provided us with some marvellous opportunities for a discussion into Citizenship over the past few days.

I look forward with interest to a continuation 0f the discussion after we read from this book again next week.

Of course Ned Kelly is OOP - aren't they all? Abe has it here. You're looking for the children's adaptation - the one illustrated by Walter Stackpool.

What do you think of Ned Kelly? Is he hero or villain in your eyes?

In unlikely ways and from unlikely sources do children gather that little code of principles which shall guide their lives.

Charlotte Mason Towards a Philosophy of Education p 189

What to avoid and how to avoid it, is knowledge as important to the citizen whether of the City of God or of his own immediate city, as to know what is good and how to perform the same. Children recognise with incipient weariness the doctored tale as soon as it is begun to be told, but the human story with its evil and its good never flags in interest.

ibid. p186-7


  1. Ned drives me insane. Irish history repeating itself in another time & place. Sheer stupidity. ON the other hand, being Scots myself, The English were absolutely horrible to the Scots, the Welsh, the Irish ~ & everyone else they considered inferior. There is such a thing as human decency & the English were never very good at it. I blame their bad Saxon blood! lol Ned is not one of my heros ~ but I have no patience with his English persecutors either. Come to think of it, Australian history on the whole has that effect on me! ☺

  2. I dunno, I haven't read enough to work out what is just pure legend, and what is truth in regards to Mr Kelly. The only sure thing is that his life was made forfeit and he perished in the process.

    Perhaps we can revisit this topic again in a couple of years when we get back to Australian History. :o)

  3. It's such an Aussie thing, to champion the underdog and I think in some cases that's the rebellous Irish streak coming out.
    ( To be sure, to be sure.) We know that Ned and co were outlaws and criminals, we just like to imagine him as our Robin Hood. We wouldn't want to truth to get in the way of a great yarn, would we? :-)

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