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Forget "Gladiator" because this is where the real action is. In this arena writers battle it out for the ultimate prize of being right, usually by sheer exhaustion or a better internet connection. Listed below is a lengthy argument too wordy for a mere Feedback section. Go on, immerse yourself in a mass debate!

Ned Kelly - Irish or Australian Accent?

re: Ned Kelly, bog Irish? I think not
From: Mick Fitzsimons [] 08 Jun 02
I hate to sound like I am flogging a dead horse, but I cannot let these misconceptions go unanswered. Although Marian Mattas remarks on Neds accent initially may say sound good, a closer examination of the facts can dispel these comments. Ned as he was learning to speak, would undoubtedly have had an Irish accent, but the problem is now posted Marian Matta, as to whether it was the Northern or Southern Irish accent he would have had, because to have had a mixture, would tend to throw to the formation of a third accent (possibly early Australian) and this could not possibly be according to the proponents of this theory. The real question should be is, ìwhen did Ned loose his Irish accent and succumb to the inevitable and speak like everyone else.î Was it when he went to school, when he started working, or when prospectors were passing through his motherís sly grog shop? Mr. Wall, the teacher at Beverage Catholic School (which consisted of ìmixed denominationsî) was educated in Canada. The name Wall can be of English, Scottish or Irish descent and it is not clear where Mr. Wall was born and raised. So what influence would he have had on his young pupils.

When the Kellys moved to Avenel, the area was mostly settled by English, with a smaller number Scots and Irish (quoted from, Ian McMenomyís 1984 book). The school was a ìcommon oneî and the new schoolmaster was James Irving. Irving is predominately a Scottish name, so what influence did he have on the pronunciation of the words his pupils were learning. One could certainly assume (and for many reasons) that the English settlers would not have approved an Irish speaking teacher to have taught their children. Combine this with the fact that Victoria was in the middle of gold fever with many nationalities descending on Colony, all lending something to the way words were pronounced. Let us not forget that in the case of the Kelly children, their mother also ran a sly grog shop at her home in Greta. If this place was so isolated in those days, who would bother to open a sly grog shop? What influence did these people passing through, to and from the goldfields, have on the young children born here?

My wife was born to an Irish family and arrived in Australia when she was nearly 4 years old. When I met her, she was 18 and did not have the slightest hint of an Irish accent. How could this be when she only heard Irish accents when she was learning to talk and until she went to school? Some people say they believe that Ned had a ìslightî Irish accent. Even if this were true, (and I am not for one minute suggesting it was), what was the rest of his accent? Should he be portrayed as having a thick Irish brogue when he ìmayî have only had a slight touch Irish in his voice? It would make far more sense to portray him (and others of that time) how they did speak, ìwith the new developing language of their country of birth.î As this would prove far too be difficult and be just as confusing than the current situation, substitute the current Aussie accent for the developing one. As for Clear Creek being Clare Creek, this couldve been misheard by the original Englishman or the other Englishman he told, who subsequently reported it. Most people have played, or seen the game where a phrase is passed around a circle and the end result can be totally different to what was first said. It was also reported that when on trial, Ned answered ìayeî instead of yes. This may (and may not be) so, but one word does not an accent make. This word is still used in our Parliament today to give an affirmative vote. Does this mean all our politicians are of Irish parentage and brought up isolated and cut off from the rest of the country, even if some of them do act this way?

re: Ned Kelly, bog Irish? I think not
From: Marian Matta [] 07 Jun 02
Regardless of the influences that undoubtedly modified it, Ned's initial accent would have to be Irish because that is what he would have heard at home, the Antrim (northern) accent of the Quinns and the Tipperary (southern) accent of his father. As far as I know, there is only one tiny report that may shed some light. In May 1879 it appears the Kelly Gang turned up in the Dandenong Ranges where they spoke to a local farmer. In the course of the conversation Ned (if it was him, and I think it likely was) told the farmer that they had lost a horse taken from Clear Creek, beyond Wangaratta. The farmer was English and the man he told who then reported it to the police was also English, yet the name of the place was reported as "Clare Creek". Try saying "clear" with a brogue and see what happens. Ian Jones put me on to this many years ago. I have researched the whole incident and if anyone wants a copy of a rather wordy piece I wrote for a history-writing competition they are welcome. I just have to work out how to attach an MS Word 3.1 document to an email. While I'm here, does anyone know if it's possible to get copies of the different Ned and not-Ned photos with the death mask superimposed, apart from the brief glimpses on TV news programs? Keep up the good work.

re: Ned Kelly, bog Irish? I think not
From: Mick Fitzsimons [] 04 Jun 02
It's good to see somebody else (Max Rowley) who is not prepared to blindly follow the rest of the sheep on this topic. You will find many more proud Australians who know something of our nations past, will be deeply outraged and insulted by this slur on our forefathers. The sad thing is, this latest movie with Heath Ledger could have set the record straight.

Ned Kelly, bog Irish? I think not
From: Max Rowley [] 01 Jun 02
I was interested to see how many people communicated to you on a matter which really irks me. The habit of performers giving characterisations of Ned Kelly a broad make hammed Irish accent. Why? My Great grandfather was a school teacher throughout outback NSW in the 1860's. He was educated in Germany and brought up in France. He was of Irish birth and all his family lived in Ireland. Here in Australia he married an Irish girl. To the best of family memory he had the accent of a gentleman of his time. His son, my grandfather who was of the Ned Kelly era spoke like an Australian. The only alteration from currently accepted Australian was to my personal memory the pronunciation 'sawlt' for salt commonplace in Southern England today. My Great Grandfathers children lived with and were educated by their father and yet my grandfather and his siblings all had Australian accents. They were as Australian as Ned Kelly obviously was. They didn't sport Irish parents. Why then the Irish accent for Ned Kelly when he was born in Australia and was proudly Australian? The Royal Easter Show centre ring performance saw all of the Kelly family with a theatrical "Irish brogue" and the Police all with foppish 'Restoration' style English accents. This riled me as an Australian. It smacked of the worst Victorian melodrama tradition where the poor rustic was molested by an evil 'toff' in a top hat sporting the 'Mayfair' accent... Thank you.
Max Rowley
The Max Rowley Media Academy, Sydney Australia

A Final Word?
From: Mick Fitzsimons [] 13 Apr 02
Ned Kelly never knew the land of his parents, was fiercely proud of “his country” (Australia) and what this new Nation had the potential to become. Below are extracts from The Jerilderie Letter, dictated by Kelly and penned by Byrne:

Ned referred to people by their nationality; the brutal and cowardly conduct of a parcel of big ugly fat-necked wombat headed big bellied magpie legged narrow hipped splaw-footed sons of Irish Bailiffs or English landlords which is better known as Officers of Justice or Victorian Police. People usually refer to someones nationality because they consider those persons to be different from themselves (without being derogatory). I have witnessed this from ancient relatives and other older people as I was growing up.

He also appeared to be ashamed of, or disillusioned with some of his heritage; But he would be a king to a policeman who for a lazy loafing cowardly bilit left the ash corner deserted the shamrock, the emblem of true wit and beauty to serve under a flag and nation that has destroyed massacred and murdered their fore-fathers by the greatest of torture as... He didn‚t appear to consider himself Irish, as the Irish speak very passionately of their love and connection to their Emerald Isle; I could not suffer them blowing me to pieces in my own native land. And; and they knew Fitzpatrick wronged us and why not make it public and convict him but no they would rather riddle poor unfortunate creoles." As “Creole” means a HYBRID LANGUAGE of people from European descent, does Ned consider that he and those like him (Australian born), spoke differently? Throughout the Jerilderie letter are classic examples that are not just new words to describe new animals, but the formation of our language, eg. Larrikin, neddies, mustering, whacks, duffing, spewy ground, splaw-footed.

Unfortunately the response from some of Australia‚s leading academics regarding this topic has not been as great as one would‚ve expected. Out of 7 consulted, only 3 replies have been forthcoming. One response was from the Dean of Humanities and also a Senior Lecturer of English at Macquarie University. Unfortunately he was about to board an plane and said he would get back to me when he could. Another response was from an Emeritus Professor of Melbourne University (who’s Research Interests include: Australian culture. Oxford Australian Writers) and I quote, The gold rush mixed people up so much and so rapidly, that it probably generated (in Vic, and NSW), something like the modern Australian accent.

The most compelling evidence comes from a another Professor of Melbourne University, Department of Linguistics and Applied Linguistics and Research Unit for Multilingualism and Cross-Cultural Communication Faculty of Arts The Professor’s Research Interests are: Bi- and multilingualism; sociolinguistics, especially in relation to Europe and Australia cross-cultural communication; language policy and second language acquisition:

Dear Mick Fitzsimons,

Many thanks for your email and for raising an interesting and important
issue. I haven't seen any contemporary sources that comment on Ned Kelly's accent. It might be useful to find out if there are any. I would agree with your position about 2nd generation speaking with Australian accents, and that is what one would accept from more recent parallels. Certainly there is a general consensus that Australian English was very widespread among the Australian-born from the early days of European settlement. Perhaps an exception were those wealthy families who visited 'home' frequently and who didn't identify with the colonials.

This would make their more English variety of English particularly unacceptable in the wider community and esp. among Irish-Australians. There seems to be a long tradition of ethnolects in Australian English - ethnic varieties used alongside mainstream Australian English by second and later generation Australians as an in-group marker when they were interacting within their own group or family. An Irish ethnolect of Australian English (with slightly different vocabulary and pronunciation) seems to have persisted for some generations, for instance, around Koroit but has since died out (A German ethnolect of Australian English can still be heard among some of the older generation around Tarrington or Tabor and in parts of South Australia).

These ethnolects I know occur in my wife‚s family who are Irish. When they are in their “own family group”, they use certain words and phrases. Some of these words and phrases are from the "old country", some were "playing" with their parents‚ accents, some were so their parents would not know what they were saying, but most were made up and used as kids (there were 9 of them, 6 being born overseas and 3 born here) and carried on to this day. To an outsider, they sound totally foreign, but outside of the family group, they sound like any other Australians.It is a shame that more people were not as proud of our heritage. One of the films to be made, looks like it will be made with overseas actors, playing Australians with Irish accents. How absurd is this? I hoped that by raising the subject on this website that it would make people stand up and question what a few have been dictating for far too long. The really sad thing is, we have now missed the opportunity to rectify this injustice to Ned and all those “not so famous” people who helped shape how Aussies are today. Anyone who would like to contact me directly regarding this topic, please do so.

Setting the Record Straight... again
From: A Baron [] 21 Mar 02
My sincere apologies, Mr. Fitzsimons, for not spelling your name correctly. I am sure you justifiably proud of your Irish ancestry. A graphologist does not study accents, or make assumptions, or apply to their study any prior knowledge of the subject of their analysis. A graphologist studies, in painstaking detail, many hundreds of traits within a piece of handwriting, using a scientific method. The data is collected, sorted, and interpreted according to trait. It is possible to build a most accurate profile of a personality based on graphological methods of analysis, without referring to any other available life data. In the evaluation of Ned Kelly's handwriting, I relied solely upon the data I obtained from the two letter samples that exist. You will find no mention of accent or Irish ancestry. Graphology is the study of human personality. I may have believed certain things about Ned, based upon the many books I have read on his life, but I did not apply these beliefs to my analysis.

In fact, the results of the analysis surprised me, as such studies often do, as the pictures we paint in our heads of a person we have only read about is much less intricate than the true personality. Graphology offers an insight into the inner workings of a human personality, not just explaining what a person's actions are likely to be, but why people act as they do. When looking at historical figures such as Ned Kelly, whom we hold up as icons of our Nation at international events such as the Olympic Games, it is important to understand what it is about him that we identify with. In order to do that, we need to see Ned in his entirety: as a human being, warts and all. If I had wanted to write a book based on my "pre-conceived ideas" why would I then bother to spend many months analyzing handwriting samples?

I have set upon the task of writing the book in order to share the results of my research, to offer a more accurate profile of the key figures in the Kelly saga than is currently available via historical research. I am interesting in knowing the truth about our history and I hope that others, who feel the same way, will find the book of value. As to Ned's accent, I surrender! Let it be Australian if you wish. Forget his Irish upbringing and the "small pocket" of Irish people who surrounded him in his formative years. Forget the relatives who actually remember the sound of his voice. Let's make him an Aussie: put a footy jumper on his back and a beer in his hand, and let's sit him on an Esky for good measure. Who cares who Ned really was — he was an Aussie, and that's all that matters, right?

re: Setting the record straight / Ned's Irish Brog
From: Mick Fitzsimons [] 16 Mar 02
My referring to Ms. Baron as a “he”; was an honest mistake (which is a worry Mick, seeing you love to quote research and facts, as you missed the obvious clue! Angie's email address contains the word ABBIE), as she had only signed as A. Baron, so for that I apologize. Her misspelling my name however, has changed my ancestry from Irish to English. I wonder how Ned would have felt if this had been done to him? It would seem that Ms. Baron does not believe that other people are entitled to an opinion and it would certainly appear that she is not comfortable with anything that does not “fit the norm”, or is contrary to what she believes in. Can a person with such a constricted view, give an accurate and unbiased appraisal of someone’s handwriting? More faith could be put into the “Science” (and I use that word with caution) of Graphology, if carried out by a professional who was unfamiliar and had no preconceived ideas about who they were studying.

Ms. Baron’s assumption that it was a predominately Irish district, is not supported by Birth, Death & Marriage Records of the time (these records can be sorted by place and date on CD Rom). No doubt there were small pockets of certain nationalities in some areas, but this would have been for very short periods as people were continually moving, settling and resettling the area. You only have to look at the amount of times the Kelly family moved. Anton Weekes was German. Did his children speak with an Irish accent also, or with a German accent? Maybe they (and others like them) started to speak with a combination of all the oral influences that surrounded them.

Let us not forget that the world was once thought to be flat until someone questioned that “known fact”. It is interesting that in one reader’s research it was asked; “One question we asked was about the way Ned spoke. According to a late descendant, Ned certainly did speak with an irish brogue”. Maybe this question had raised it’s ugly head before. There is a long oral tradition in my family, my great grandfather being born in Melbourne in 1843. I could not possibly know precisely how he spoke, let alone be quoted on it as fact.

I grew up with many Greek, Italian and Dutch children and never noticed that they had accents, even those that had to speak another language at home. There would only be the odd word now and then and I have no doubt the same would have applied to Ned and others of that period. I have never stated (as some people imply) that our language/accent just happened. It was evolving and as neither modern Irish or Australian would be correct for that period, by depicting those that were born here with a modern Aussie accent, it would help to show how our people were developing, instead of “pretending” they were something they were not. The quote below was taken from the third paragraph.

History of Australian English
It is believed that Australian English begins at the same time of first settlement in New South Wales in 1778. It is known that Australian words emerged in historical dictionary of the English language in Australia in 1898. There are certain distinctive features of Australian vocabulary in this version. There is some evidence to suggest that the linguistic situation at the end of the nineteenth century was much simpler than it is now. This is due to new influences on the vocabulary. And later, the vocabulary and pronunciation of Australian English had become distinctively different from any model that British English could supply (Ramson, 1966). I’d like to thank Brad for the opportunity to express my opinion on this site and to Matt Sumner for his informative input.

re: Setting the record straight
From: Matt Sumner [] 08 Mar 02
My great grandmother was born at Ryan's creek near Greta to Irish immigrant parents and grew up around the same time as the Kelly's. My father remembers her as an old woman with an Australian accent that had a definite Irish 'twang'. Of course her accent may have changed from her younger days to the time she was an elderly lady but I thought those arguing about Ned's accent may find it interesting.

re: Setting the record straight
From: A Baron [] 06 Mar 02
One also wonders whether Mr Fitzsimmons is so hell bent on getting his ideas accross that he is blind to anyone else's opinion but his own. As for your assumption that I was making an assumption rather than taking note of " historical fact", I would like to ask you to what "historical fact" you are referring? I made no assumptions, which is more than I can say for you, since you assumed I was a male, when I am actually female. That aside, I suggest you look more carefully into the Kelly story. There is a very strong oral history attached to the Kelly saga. That oral history remembers Ned with an Irish accent. Apart from that, travelling writers of the time described how there appeared to be an area in the North East of Victoria which was so inundated with expatriates of the Emerald Isle that one would swear that they were in Ireland, so strong was the accent amongst the people living there.

It stands to REASON (something missing from the letter below) that a person who grows up in a predominantly Irish district, in an isolated house, surrounded by Irish expatriates, that the way of speaking English will mirror that of the English heard. It is impossible for a child to learn to speak an accent it does not hear. It would have been impossible for Ned, growing up in such isolated areas as he did, to learn to speak with an Australian accent when he didn't hear it. By your own admission, the Australian accent, if one could have called it that, was still evolving. I would go further and say that it is continually evolving, as language is want to do.

The point I was trying to make, and it the one point you seemed to miss entirely, is that it is not important what accent Ned spoke with. WHAT he said, and how he lived, is what made him Australian. Our nation is built on deeds, not the turn of the tongue. Render Ned with an Australian accent if that is what you need to do in order to feel comfortable with your history, or your sadly misguided sense of what constitutes national identity. I'm a purist, I'm afraid. I like to read history as it really happened.

re: Setting the record straight
From: Mick Fitzsimons [] 02 Mar 02
One has to wonder if Mike Lawson and A. Baron read fully what I wrote and if they took time to digest it before writing their replies. Both have obviously misunderstood what was written. Mike Lawson states, Does or will any one ever really know? I believe that I covered that question as the language has been clearly documented. I also asked that the makers of these films undertake the necessary research to find out for themselves, as I would not expect that they would act on the opinion of one person. A. Baron states, Ned spoke with an Irish accent. How does he know this? Are we to take his assumption over that of historical fact? Historical fact that was written down as it was happening. I never said that our early forefathers spoke as we do today, only that our accent was developing and was different to those of the old country.Can anyone state categorically that the Irish speak the same today as they did back then? So how can you give them a modern Irish accent? In depicting those that were born here with an Australian accent, we would then be presenting a clearer picture to our fellow countrymen and indeed the rest of the world. What is wrong with being proud of ones heritage and if there are any grey areas (exact speaking of the time),wanting to see it portrayed in a manner that leans toward our national identity.

re: Setting the record straight
From: Mike Lawson [] 01 Mar 02
Does it honestly matter wheather Ned had Irish accent or an Australian? Does or will any one ever really know? As A Baron said below "that his accent should reflect what he heard around him everyday of his life." I believe we can call Ned an aussie, as he was a native to this land, but I also believe he had a "slight" Irish accent.

re: Setting the record straight
From: A Baron [] 28 Feb 02
Ned spoke with an Irish accent. When he was growing up, most of the folk around him spoke with an Irish accent, so it is not surprising that his accent should reflect what he heard around him everyday of his life. What was charmingly colonial about Ned was more what he said, not how he said it. He referred to his brothers and friends as "mates", enemies as "goannas" and "dingoes". His outlook on life was decidedly outback Australian. Ned speaking with an Irish accent does not pose a problem for me. He was of full-blooded Irish descent, and was a very staunch Irish nationalist. He was also very proud of Australia, of his "native land" as he called it. Isn't it possible to be truly Australian, whilst also looking backwards with pride at one's roots? Besides, when all is said and done, Ned was true to himself and his heritage. In order to do true justice to our history, we ought to respect the right of our forebears to be remembered as they truly lived.

Setting the record straight
From: Mick Fitzsimons [] 25 Feb 02
I have enclosed a copy of a letter (unedited) that I sent to the Herald Sun and was published in “My Say” on Monday, 7 January 2002. I have been involved in genealogy for 20 years and always had an interest in Australian History and to say that I am enthralled by the Kelly saga would be an understatement. I have read many historical accounts that refer to the early development of our language and from the earliest days, was quite distinct from the “new arrivals” in this country. Unfortunately this letter only solicited one response and that person missed the whole point that I
was trying to make. What can be done about this injustice, not only to Ned, but all our forefathers. I would appreciate any help that you may be able to give me, in trying to have this injustice rectified in at least one of the planned movies that are being made. Any contacts that you can give me, I will actively try to convince them to undertake the appropriate research and rectify this misconception:

Ned was an Aussie
Now that there are several new films to be made about Ned Kelly, let's hope that the makers of at least one of these, will portray Ned for what he really was, an Aussie. Why is the world (and Australia), always being told that early Australians all spoke with a heavy accent that would indicate where their parents came from. This is utter nonsense and has come about by early film makers trying to be so correct that they have created a myth that is still perpetuated to this day.

It is widely documented that you could pick the “Colonials” by the way that they spoke and acted, even during the earliest days of our country. Our accent is a combination of many influences, and films should reflect this by depicting native born Australians as speaking the local language. Although the accent would not have sounded as it does today, all films should adopt this concept, as it would be far more accurate and would help to build our National identity.

How many Aussies know that Ned Kelly was actually born and bred here. Come on Australia, stand up and be proud. We only have to look at early American films where the “locals” speak like they came from that country. This approach has greatly added to their sense of pride in who and what they are. For a time, Ned had an American stepfather, George King. I'm sure that if he is featured in any of these movies, he will have an American accent. It is a wonder that film makers have never given Ned an American twang to his “Irish” accent so that he would sound even less like an Aussie and confuse
everyone even more.

Is there a journalist at the Herald-Sun who has the influence, commitment and conviction, to take up this cause on behalf of all Proud Australians. The first film do this will indeed be braking new ground and creating history themselves by correcting this terrible wrong that has been done to the great pioneers of our great country.

While not everyone wants to read about Ned Kelly or the ANZACs or even The Great Depression, we hope they want to learn something about Australian History. From the ex-Prime Minister John Howard to a confused ex-NSW Education Minister Carmel Tebbutt (see the ex-pattern here?) a number of politicians have jumped on the teaching history bandwagon. But at what cost? From Right Wing Liberals to the multitude of State Governments, seems everyone has an agenda. We'd like to let the readers decide what is worth learning. Here at we present the facts, the fiction and everything in between. It all adds to the experience and hopefully makes History an exciting place to be while also proving it needn't always have to be written by the victors.
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