It’s interesting that such a strong legend and aura still persists around Ned Kelly, 125 years later. People have written books about why that might be and there are still widely disparate views about whether he should be seen as a common gangster, murderer and crook or as a fighter against oppression and injustice. Even as I type this sitting in a plane, the inflight TV is advertising the ‘Ned Kelly Trail’, a tourist trek around parts of Victoria.
About 10 years ago, I visited the old Melbourne gaol where Ned Kelly was hanged. It is a bleak, imposing and foreboding building, made of huge blocks of black stone. It certainly speaks of a time where the brutality was starker. However, imprisonment is almost inevitably brutalising in some way, even if the facilities are far improved. I don’t know if it’s due to my having a significant amount of Irish ancestry, including some who lived in country Victoria in the 19th Century, but the Ned Kelly story has always had some fascination for me. I guess like many things, it really isn’t a black and white story and he was both sinned against and sinner. It is certainly a story which shows how one injustice can breed another, and how systemic oppression often begets violent responses. That is a lesson we seem not to have learned. Oodles of information on Ned Kelly can be found at http://www.ironoutlaw.com/.
It is strange, but sadly not that surprising, that Ned Kelly is known by virtually all Australians and is seen by many as an icon and a hero who fought back against unfair treatment by police and the state and whose name and story would by known by virtually all Australians, and yet there remains little awareness and even less sympathy for the Aboriginal Australians who fought back against far greater injustice and attacks on their land, property, culture and family. Aboriginal resistance or freedom fighters such as Pemulwuy and Yagan are barely known and, in contrast to the mountains of material available and research done on Ned Kelly, there is very little material on these people. Here is some brief information on the web about Aboriginal Resistance, Pemulwuy (1), Yagan and Pemulwuy (2).