I really love these Extra History videos. As I've mentioned before.
See my thoughts on the Extra History series on the Gracchi Brothers here,
and on Catherine the Great here.
Their latest series takes on Ned Kelly.
I first heard about Ned Kelly from Bill Bryson in Down Under (which I read on the plane ride to Australia).
Bill Bryson was not a fan of Ned Kelly: “He was a murderous thug who deserved to be hanged and was," said Bill Bryson.
However, as Bill Bryson went on to note, Ned Kelly had become a huge folk hero in the Australian mind.
During my one year living in Australia, I heard a lot about Ned Kelly. (I was living in Melbourne, which was in the same province as Ned Kelly's escapades, and where Ned Kelly was tried and hanged. In fact if memory serves, in the course of my wandering around Melbourne, I saw the site of where he was kept in jail, and the site of where he was hung.)
Of course we have a bit of the romance of the outlaw in America as well--Billy the Kid or Bonne and Clyde. But Ned Kelly seemed to have a political significance in Australia that went beyond a vague sort of anti-authoritarian romance. I frequently heard politically sophisticated Socialist and Trotskyist groups talk about Ned Kelly.
In fact, at one meeting I went to, I saw one Australian Trotskyist work himself into tears when talking about how "those same fucking cops who killed Ned Kelly" are still out harassing people today.
Bill Bryson, though, isn't having any of it. The description of Ned Kelly that you get in Bill Bryson's book is a lot different than the charming young gentleman presented in the Extra History videos. To quote from part of it:
(I don't have a copy of the book with me anymore, so I'm borrowing the above quote from some else's blog.)
“He was a murderous thug who deserves to be hanged and was. He came from a family of rough Irish squatters, who made their living by stealing livestock and waylaying innocent passerby. Like most bushrangers, he was at pains to present himself as a champion of the oppressed, though in fact there wasn’t a shred of nobility or his deeds. He killed several people, often in cold blood, sometimes for no very good reason.”
About the way he was arrested in 1880 in Glenrowan (reminds me some western movies):
“As surprise attacks go, it wasn’t terribly impressive. When the police arrived (on an afternoon train) they found that word of their coming had preceded them and that thousand people were lined up along the streets and sitting on every rooftop eagerly awaiting the spectacle of gunfire. The police took up positions and at once began peppering the Kelly hideout with bullets. The Kellys returned the fire and so it went throughout the night. The next dawn during a lull Kelly stepped from the dwelling, dressed unexpectedly in a suit of armor of his own devising – a heavy cylindrical helmet that looked strikingly like an inverted bucket and breastplate that covered his torso and crotch. He wore no armor on his lower body, so one of the policemen shot him in the leg. Aggrieved, Kelly staggered off into some nearby woods, fell over, and was captured. He was taken to Melbourne, tried, and swiftly executed. His last words were “Such is life”.”
About the Kelly Tree and the events in Stringy Bark Creek in a discussion with his friend and guide, a different version than the one told to the tourists:
“- What is the Kelly Tree exactly? I asked.
– Well, Alan said with a learned air, as the Kelly gang got more and more notorious the police started hunting them with greater determination, and so they had to hide in increasingly remote and desperate places. (…) For three years, Kelly and his gang laid low, but in 1878 four policemen tracked them here. Somehow Kelly and his men captured and disarmed the policemen. Then they murdered three of them in a slow and pretty horrible way.
– Horrible in what way? I asked, ever alert for the morbid detail.
– Shot them in the balls and let them bleed to death. To maximise the pain and indignity.
– And the fourth policemen?
– Scarpered. He hid overnight in a wombat’s burrow and the next day he made his way back to the civilisation and raised the alarm. So it was the murder of three men that led eventually to the shoot-out at Glenrowan.”
Which view of Ned Kelly is correct? I don't know.