does a common criminal come to symbolize a nation?
Blu is an Australian attending
university in the United States. He recently researched
and wrote a paper on Ned Kelly as an Australian National
Icon which in turn won an award.
My friends and I whiled away many childhood hours
in the outback of Australia, role-playing national
heroes and icons such as the bushranger and outlaw
Ned Kelly. Outfitted with upturned buckets on our heads
with slits cut out for eyes, we imagined ourselves
as Ned Kelly in his infamous iron helmet and armor,
fighting against injustice. This unlikely Australian hero fired our childish
imaginations. Rather than adults admonishing us for our adulation of a common
criminal, they encouraged it as a continued tradition from their own childhoods.
childhood games were the result of oral accounts of
Ned Kelly handed down through the generations and preserved
unconsciously as a natural product of Australian folklore.
One indication of how integrated with group consciousness
oral traditions of Ned Kelly have become is the Australian
colloquialism “as game as Ned
Kelly,” which is now a part of common, everyday
speech. Australians’ national
identity is created through collective oral traditions
about cultural symbols such as Ned Kelly, and is the
product of communal consensus of what it means to be
a part of the group, as much as the soil on which Australians
In the last forty years, oral traditions of
Ned Kelly have been co-opted by the Australian government,
and used as a deliberate tool in the formation of national
identity. Riding on the coat tails of heightened public
interest in Ned Kelly books and documentaries, the
government has made “Ned” the focus
of tourism and a mascot to the world in the opening
ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. Some question
the authenticity of Ned as a cultural icon in light
of the government’s blatant, propagandistic use
of his image.
Australia is a young country. The deliberate
and unconscious participation in oral traditions of
this common criminal-turned-hero, represent an ongoing
process of reconciling the group’s burgeoning
identity with its shaky birth in 1788 as a storehouse
for England’s unwanted criminals. Most academics
do not dispute the power of oral traditions in forming
national identity. Rather, what is often disputed is
whether Ned Kelly, the icon, is a product of the group’s
collective memory or merely a creation of the ruling
power to further its own political agenda.
contends that not only is Ned a product of the group’s
collective memory but that he is deeply embedded in
Australian’s unconscious and can
be traced back to the group’s convict heritage
and growing affinity for oral traditions of the “anti-hero.” Ned
Kelly’s own life story
of rebelling against oppression reflects that of an
entire nation’s search
for identity in the aftermath of the British Empire’s
decline and waning influence. Unknown to many, the
government was originally opposed to representing Australia
as a country of questionable, convict origins. It was
overwhelming affinity for this particular anti-hero
that swayed the government towards repositioning Ned
Kelly in popular culture as an “official” national
Collective memory versus propaganda as explanations
for national identity
The scholarly work of sociologist
Robert Prus lays the foundation for how oral traditions,
such as Ned Kelly, are a product of Australians’ collective
memory. The logic laid out by Prus is simple. Storage
of information in memory is dependent on the individual
and occurs in “increments” over the
individual’s lifetime. However, those memories
only assume meaningful context to the individual because
of the “historical accumulation of concepts,
comparisons and inferences” within the group’s
communal memory, which can span beyond the lifetime
of the individual (Prus 398, 401, 408).
outsiders to the group may hear “as game as Ned
understand its connection to the story of Ned Kelly’s
life. However, they would most likely lack the accompanying
feelings of pride and implicit identification with
rebelling against authority that insiders have learned
from members of the collective group. The reason for
such implicit associations with Ned by Australians
will be discussed shortly.
Professor of Commonwealth
and Post Colonial Literatures Graham Huggan supports
Prus’s perspective on collective memory’s
crucial role in forming group identity. Huggan perceives
the all-pervasive nature of collective memory as likely
to “supersede state-sanctioned attempts to regulate
ruling powers may influence collective memory for their
own political agendas (Huggan 151). On the other extreme,
some scholars view perpetuated myths such as Ned Kelly
as a blatant manipulation of memory to serve the powerful
in authority and further the agenda of nationalism
of the state. Specialists in Australian studies and
history, Kate Darian-Smith and Paula Hamilton, go so
far as to describe mythic narratives as simply being “the
wellspring of nationalism” that
are “constantly mobilized to serve differing
ideological and political interests” (2).
adoption of Ned by the Australian government in national
initiatives would appear to support this propaganda
based theory of nationalism. However, closer examination
of Australian history supports Huggan’s collective
memory based theory of nationalism. The Australian
government has simply taken an already existent foundation
myth—namely that of the dual legends of convict
and bushranger—that were conveniently embodied
in the popular oral traditions of Ned Kelly.
Australia’s convict and colonial heritage fostered
affinity for the “anti-hero”
Eleanor Conlin Casella and Anthropologist Clayton Fredericksen
point out that the reason Australia’s
convict past is the “dominant narrative” in
oral traditions is that unlike other penal colonies,
Australia is the only case in which forced convict
migration was carried out with the intention of establishing
a self-sustaining colony (104). The transportation
of women and children as convicts as well as men fostered
the birth of an entire generation of criminal origins.
To offset the mounting expenditures associated with
establishing a colony, most convicts roamed free as
indentured laborers for the free settlers (104-106).
Thus, convicts constituted the majority of the founding
population of Australia and were the originators for
many founding oral traditions.
Per an Australian government
web site, many convicts and subsequent settlers were
illiterate therefore folksongs and oral traditions
were central to preserving information. Over the centuries,
a folk-identity of Australians as “resilient
people who laugh in the face of adversity,” “face
up to great difficulties and deliberately go against
authority and establishment,” and
who value “egalitarianism” and “mate-ship” became
embedded in many oral traditions (Australian Folklore).
horrors of the penal colony that engendered these qualities
were well publicized in ballads throughout the British
Empire with lines describing the distant land as “a
wretched life in chains, upon a distant shore” and
pamphlets entitled, “The Horrors
of Transportation, The Suffering Convict” (White
19). The drive for survival in a harsh, alien land
served as an effective equalizer of social classes.
Describing the equalizing nature of Australia for fresh
immigrants of different classes, famous Australian
poet Henry Lawson (1867-1922) wrote:
But the curse of
class distinctions from our shoulders shall be hurled.
There’ll be higher education for the toilin’ starvin’ clown,
An’ the rich an’ educated shall be educated
down. . . (Appendix A)
By the 1850s, transportation
to most of the colonies had ceased. Australian studies
specialist Elaine Thompson attributes the beginnings
of the “strong cult
of egalitarianism” in Australia to the elevation
of many ex-convicts to authoritative positions where
their past was deliberately forgotten (Thompson 27,
215-248). Australians’ high esteem of mate-ship,
outwardly manifest in the famous colloquial endearment “mate,” is
also viewed by Thompson as an outgrowth of that egalitarianism
and the idea that people “make judgments about
a person without reference to birth, class or reputation” (152).
Here, we gain the beginnings of understanding as to
how Ned Kelly could be revered like Australian nobility
without the usual stain of a convict heritage.
insight into why Ned’s crimes of livestock
theft and murder of colonial police could be viewed
as acts of defiance can be found in the changing nature
of the colony he was born into. By the 1850s, along
with cessation of transportation, primary industries
were becoming established in the vast, rural, bush
settings attracting free, working class immigrants.
By 1871, when Ned was 16 years old, over half of the
white population were immigrants who had been born
in other countries (White 48). Ned himself was the
son of an Irish convict. Consequently, this burgeoning
society consisted of a working class majority of immigrants
and emancipated convicts, which lacked ancient European
distinctions of peasantry and aristocracy (White 49).
This distinct lack of social lines between the rich
and poor provided the backdrop for a growing sentiment
of injustice at preferential treatment of the wealthy.
The intense class conflicts this engendered might not
have occurred so readily in other parts of the British
Empire where social distinctions were accepted as the
Australian sociologist Brad West views
Ned Kelly as being the product of those intense class
conflicts. The historical build up to the conflicts
occurred between 1860 and 1880, which was coincidentally
the last twenty years of Ned’s short twenty-five
year long life. Pastoralists took over vast areas of
territory, which they had originally occupied illegally
but annexed by right of their wealth and a number of
land acts. Tensions grew between the free roaming,
rural laborers and the wealthy pastoralists over property
rights (West, 130-131). Through a dominant presence
in judicial positions, pastoralists were able to leverage
opinion that “there never was such a thing as
Justice in the English laws but any amount of justice
to be had”, which he expressed in his famous
Jerelderie letter reflected the popular perception
of the colonial justice system by the rural laborers.
Like Ned, the rural laborers perceived the police to
be agents for corrupt colonial collaborators (Appendix
B, 13; West 129-131).
Ned commented in his famous Jerilderie
manifesto, which was written as justification for his
…If a poor man happened to leave his horse or
bit of a poddy calf outside his paddock they would
be impounded. I have known over 60 head of horses impounded
in one day …all belonging to poor farmers
(Appendix B, 16)
Cattle and sheep stealing, as conducted by Ned Kelly,
became an act of defiance against this perceived colonial
oppression. In his own words:
It will pay Government
to give those people who are suffering innocence,
justice and liberty. If not I will be compelled to
show some colonial stratagem which will open the
eyes of not only the Victoria Police and inhabitants
but the whole British army…(Appendix
Even though some acts of Ned, such as burning mortgages
and sharing the loot of robbed banks with poor farmers
to get them out of hock, could be construed as “Robin
Hood-like”, it was probably not important to
his popularity. Ned’s contemporaries shared no
love for the police. Ned’s claims of police persecution
served to underscore the inequalities they saw in Britain’s
The term, “bushrangers,” was
originally used for escaped convicts who roamed the
bush, but came to be used for the persecuted and impoverished
locals of Ned’s era who took to outlawry and
poaching livestock for survival. The custom of indentured
convicts supporting those who escaped became a part
of the tradition of mate-ship, and continued with the
support of bushrangers by dissatisfied farmers and
bush workers. Ballads of the rural proletariat portrayed
bushrangers as the champion of the poor and heroic
fighters against colonial injustices that were being
perpetrated at the time.
Convicts authored many of
the original ballads about bushrangers who were usually
escaped convicts. Ned Kelly himself used the lines
from a famous convict ballad in his own Jerelderie
letter (see highlighted sections of Appendix B-p.46,
and Appendix C to compare the original convict ballad
with Ned’s letter).
Such ballads were sung as “anthems of defiance” for
decades. One example given on a government website
is the 1891 strike of sheep sheerers protesting perceived
mistreatment by wealthy landowners and the government
by singing the ballad of bushranger Jack Donohue (Bush
Songs and Music).
It is telling that the ballad “Waltzing
commonly acknowledged as the unofficial national anthem
of Australia even on government websites (see Bush
Songs and Music) honors a poor, rural worker who commits
suicide rather than be taken by law enforcement for
poaching a sheep on a wealthy landowner’s property.
Coincidently, this song was performed along with Ned
Kelly at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.
anthropologist Deborah Bird Rose discovered Ned Kelly
oral traditions amongst the Yarralin and Lingara aboriginals
of the Victoria River District of the Northern Territory.
The Yarralin and Lingara people worked most of their
lives on cattle stations as rural workers. After the
1966-1972 strikes, they gained some legal rights over
the land that colonial powers dispossessed them of
during the course of 100 years of subjugation (Bird
Per Bird Rose, Ned’s appeal to the
aboriginal tribes most likely lay in his fight for
of the oppressed” and his vocal stance on land
rights (184). A leader of the Lingara community expressed
his opinion of the questionable validity of the “European
White man lease, you read him
out on the paper, you change him next year, nother
lease. . .mine lease you can’t wash him out.
. .He’ll be there for
years and years, till he die. . .We call him, that
lease, blackfellow law.” (Bird Rose, 180)
Similar to the aboriginals, the rural proletariat
of Ned’s generation believed the land was theirs
by right of use and did not recognize the European
pastoral leases originally drawn up in colonial times.
In some of the tribes’ oral traditions blame
for the loss of land is clearly attributed to colonial
subjugation. Bird Rose notes that in more than one
account, Captain Cook who charted the eastern coast
of Australia in 1770 for the British Colonial Empire,
is depicted as the harbinger of the “immoral
process by which peoples’ land was stolen” (Bird
In contrast, Ned is featured in their foundation
myths as an original being involved with the creation
of life itself. The actions of those “original
in traditional aboriginal “dreamings” are
implicitly understood to represent the moral principles
of the universe (Bird Rose,179). Thus, even for some
aboriginals Ned came to represent the “moral
European” and advocate for the oppressed (Bird
How do we explain the retention of convict
values in contemporary Australia?
It easy to imagine
how values such as defiance, mate-ship, the underdog,
courage, and the anti-hero shaped the lives and sustained
such Australian forebears as Ned Kelly through harsh,
colonial conditions. However, why were such values,
embodied in Ned Kelly, still upheld as the Australian
ideal at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games? Absent a reasonable
explanation, the theory that Ned Kelly is simply a
product of government propaganda appears to be reasonable.
Robert Prus’s social theory of memory
provides us with another explanation as to why traces
of Australia’s past have been retained even if
preserved qualities such as egalitarianism and defiance
are no longer relevant for the present world Australia
occupies. Collective memory establishes a frame of
reference for viewing the world. This frame of reference
becomes permanently embedded in the group’s cultural
filter and implicitly accepted as being the way the
world is (Prus 408, 414). Thus, the “cult of
egalitarianism” as noted by Australian studies
specialist Elaine Thompson is still strongly represented
in codes of loyalty to mates and the standard Australian
salutation, “G’day Mate” (Thompson
The explanation that convict beginnings became
a part of the Australian world-view might also explain
why a 2003 Australian Survey of Social Attitudes by
sociologists Bruce Tranter and Jed Donoghue found that
many of Australians who constitute the middle classes
identify with the collective memory of a convict heritage
(555, 573). This is in spite of the theoretical and
empirical impossibility for over 20 million people
to be descended from the original convict inhabitants
of the penal colonies.
Historical evidence resolves
who chose Ned—the
People or the Government.
The cultural groundwork has
been laid as to why a nation might accept a criminal
as a national hero. The question is who chose Ned Kelly—the
Australian government or the Australian people? Historical
documents provide objective evidence concerning the
issue of the popularization of Ned as a national icon
and a definitive answer to whether his iconic status
is the result of nationalistic propaganda or the natural
process of oral traditions and collective memory.
matter the true motives or criminal nature of Ned’s
acts, oral traditions lauded Ned as a hero of the people
even while he was alive. In 1879, while the Kelly gang
was hiding in the bush after murdering three troopers
and robbing multiple banks, they were publicly criticized
in the publication, “Outlaws of the Wombat Ranges”.
The author noted that youths “not content with
openly avowing their feelings in simple conversation
. . . congregate occasionally at street corners and
elsewhere to sing ballads – hymns of triumph,
as it were – in their praise.” (Appendix
D, 70) The youths’ words of defiance and admiration
of Ned are clear in the following ballad excerpt:
thin their ranks,
We rob the banks,
And say no thanks,
For what we do.
Oh, the terror of the camp is the bold Kelly Gang. (Appendix D, 71)
As unfavorable to Ned as the 80-page
booklet was, it fed the public’s hunger for information
on Ned. While the Kelly gang was at large, the first
The Kellys” was performed in Melbourne.
to the governor for a stay of execution collected over
31,000 signatures, a sample of which can be found in
Appendix E. At Ned’s sentencing
on October 30, 1880 Judge Barry Redmond commented on
the support Ned received from the local community:
. .by some spell, which I cannot understand--a spell
which exists in all lawless communities more or less,
and which may be attributed either to a sympathy for
the outlaws, or a dread of the consequences which would
result from the performance of their duty--no persons
were found who would be tempted by the reward or love
of country, or the love of order, to give you up. .
.(The Sentencing of Edward Kelly).
Far from fading into obscurity after he was hung,
the legend of Ned grew with each retelling. The first
ever, feature length motion picture in Australia, released
in 1906, recounted Ned’s exploits just 26 years
after his execution. It played to packed houses and
accelerated the momentum of Ned’s myth towards
the level of national narrative. In the 1920s and 1930s,
with the development of commercial radio, numerous
songs recounted Ned’s deeds and appeared on records
for the first time. Some songs, such as “Poor
Ned Kelly” and “The Ned Kelly Song” are
now a part of Australian oral traditions.
the formidable intertextuality of Ned’s
story is reflected in the numerous movies, novels,
plays, songs, operas, ballets, cartoons, and paintings
done in his name. Sociologists Bruce Tranter and Jed
Donoghue found evidence of the depth of Ned’s
integration into Australian culture in a study of the
depiction of bushrangers in the Sydney Morning Herald
from 1987 to 2004. While other bushrangers were discussed
mostly in an historical context, Ned was predominantly
associated with the arts and culture (10). Many cite
Sydney Nolan’s 1946 and 1947 series of Ned Kelly
paintings as the turning point for Ned becoming a national
icon. (See Appendix F for a comparison of the actual
armor and one of Sydney Nolan’s paintings.) Sydney
Nolan encapsulated the nation’s fascination for
Ned in the simple but powerful symbol of the black,
square, slit helmet, which dominates all of the paintings’ scenes.
was the government doing during this time? Contrary
to using Ned as propaganda, the Australian government
initially discouraged propagation of his myth. In 1912,
after a rash of bushranger movies was released, the
New South Wales law enforcement officially banned the
bushranger genre of movies due to the romanticization
of bushrangers and the poor portrayal of police. Douglas
Stewart's 1956 play “Ned Kelly” was supposed
to be included in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics but was
cancelled due to concern over projecting the wrong
image to the world. Contrast such actions to: the repatriation
of Ned as national property since the 1960s; government
tourist campaigns and national events that depict Ned
as the Australian mascot; numerous government sponsored
art and museum exhibits; and legislation reclassifying
historical locations and artifacts, including Ned’s
infamous armor, as national heritage.
The source of
this governmental change of heart towards Ned can be
traced to the strong, nationalistic movement that began
in Australia in the 1960s. Historian Stuart Ward asserts
that the Australian government’s
sudden focus on promoting culture and identity unique
to Australia must be understood in terms of Britain’s
waning influence in a post-colonial era. The last vestige
of “British emblems of civic identity” and
tangible ties to Britain were disappearing in the 1960s.
A new identity was needed to fill the void (53). The
substitution of colonial symbols for Australian symbols
such as new Australian currency and the identification
with Australia Day over Empire Day reflected a general
loss of affinity for “Australian Britishness.” Each
transition was underscored by a sense of anxiety that
the newfound Australianness would lack a “distinctive
soul” revealing a crass provinciality (65).
suggests that the overly used adage of projecting an
image to the world that started in the 1960s was dogged
by the insecure notion that the imaginary world would
look down on a culturally barren backwater (60). Accordingly,
Australian Prime Minister John Gorton who was in power
from 1968 to 1971, perceived Ned Kelly, along with
kangaroos, as detrimental to what makes Australia “great” in
the eyes of the world, stating:
We can show the rest
of the world what Australia is, how its people live,
and impress them with the fact that there are other
things than avant-garde kangaroos or Ned Kellys in
this great country of ours (60).
In order to promote what the government perceived
to be a more “culturally sophisticated Australian
image at home and abroad”, the Australian Council
for the Arts and Australian Film Corporation was established
in 1968 (Ward, 53).
The Chairman of this newly established
council perceived the problem with Australian arts
was that they arose out of the “Western European
thus were regarded suspiciously by many Australians “as
alien, an expression of snobbery and of privilege” (Ward,
62). At the same time, he expressed the commonly held
fear that what constitutes true Australian culture
and national identity might not amount to good art,
reflecting the insecure and “self conscious Australianism” of
the time (Ward, 64), stating:
What happens if Kangaroo
Productions or Bushwacker films apply for a subsidy
to produce the “Saga
of Bib and Bub”, or “John and Betty go
to School?” I have very little sympathy with
people who say ‘this film may not be so good – but
by God it’s Australian (Ward, 64).
In spite of the prevailing government’s insecurities
about the perceived backwater provinciality of homegrown
culture, it was the Australian public and group consensus
of disdaining snobbery and pretension in favor of egalitarian
values that swayed the tide on what constituted Australian
arts. After promotion of a succession of unsuccessful
productions covering topics considered suitable material
for the national image, it is very telling that the
few commercial successes funded during the six years
the committee lasted was a series of farces about Australia’s
relationship with the “Mother” country.
Australian culture and arts specialist Ann Pender
points out that the character in these films, Barry
McKenzie also known as “Bazza,” was the
quintessential Australian who spoke with a real Australian
brogue. The significance of this film was that for
decades Australians had been taught to regard their
culture and natural brogue as crass and “inferior”.
The character made a parody of British sensibilities
and allusions of the “bygone grandeur” of
colonial times and in typical Australian style, made
a self-depreciatory mockery of the “crude parochialism” of
Australian culture (Pender, 72).
The main character
of the film even made fun of the government committee
that funded the film stating:
An arty-crafty bloke like
you would be laughin’ back
in Australia right now. The government’s shelling
out piles of bloody moulah for any bustard who reckons
he can paint pictures, write poems or make fillums
Critics condemned the film for its crudeness, lack
of refinement and stain on the national image (Ward,
65). However, Australian intellectual Manning Clark
praised the film, succinctly tying the reason for its
success into Australians’ affinity for more familiar
character traits embodied in local heroes such as Ned
The response of the audience was so warm and
spontaneous that it was clear once again that you
had succeeded in catching at type Australians recognize,
and they are really proud of, and so barrack for
him as they would for one of their football heroes,
or for Ned Kelly, or for anyone who is unmistakably “one
of us” (Pender, 75)
Clearly, historical evidence shows that the government’s
adoption of Ned and the convict roots that he stands
for was swayed by public opinion. Examination of present-day
government cultural websites such as the ones referenced
in this paper reveals that Australians’ sense
of group identity, retained in collective memory, is
now accepted as the “official” consensus
of what it means to be Australian.
Little did Ned know
that the iron helmet designed to protect him against
hostile bullets would become a symbol for the entire
nation in the aftermath of colonial oppression against
which he fought with such vehemence. The cards were
heavily stacked against Ned but despite the inevitability
of his death, he conducted his fight with great daring.
As Australians put it, he was “game.” Clearly,
the qualities that his myth evoked for me as a child--of
egalitarianism, courage in the face of adversity, and
disdain for authority—were a legacy of the pioneering
experiences of numerous Australian forebears. In light
of the rich oral traditions, including childrens’ games,
the propagandizing of Ned’s name does not render
him a creation of the powers-that-be, but rather, is
a poignant reminder that Australia is a burgeoning
country exploring the legacy of its penal origins and
what it means to be Australian today.
Australian Folklore. September 5, 2007. Australian
Government. November 11, 2007 http://www.cultureandrecreation.gov.au/articles/folklore/.
Bird Rose, Deborah. "Ned Kelly Died for Our Sins." Oceania
65 (1994): 175-186.
Bush Songs and Music. October 3, 2007. Australian Government.
November 11, 2007 http://www.cultureandrecreation.gov.au/articles/music/bush/index.htm.
Conlin Casella, Eleanor, and Clayton Fredericksen. "Legacy
of the 'Fatal Shore'" Journal of Social Archaeology
4 (2004): 99-125.
Darian-Smith, Kate, and Paula Hamilton, eds. Memory & History
in Twentieth-Century Australia. Melbourne: Oxford UP,
Huggan, Graham. “Cultural Memory in Postcolonial
Fiction: The Uses and Abuses of Ned Kelly.” Australian
Literary Studies (May, 2002): 142-154.
"Kelly Culture: Reconstructing Ned Kelly." State
Library of Victoria. 2 Feb. 2007. Federal Government.
1 Oct. 2007 <http://www.slv.vic.gov.au/programs/exhibitions/kmg/2003/kellyculture/>.
Pender, Anne. "The Mythical Australian: Barry
Humphries, Gough Whitlam and "New Nationalism"" Australian
Journal of Politics and History 51 (2005): 67-78.
Prus, Robert. "Human Memory, Social Process, and
the Pragmatist Metamorphosis." Journal of Contemporary
Ethnography 36 (2007): 378-437.
The Sentencing of Edward Kelly. November 14, 2007.
Iron Outlaw.com. November 7, 2007 http://www.ironoutlaw.com/html/trial.html.
Thompson, E., Fair enough : egalitarianism in Australia.
Sydney: University of New
South Wales Press, 1994.
Tranter, Bruce, and Jed Donoghue. "Bushrangers
in the Sydney Morning Herald: Ned Kelly and Australian
Identity." Proceedings of the TASA Conference,
December 4-7, 2006, University of Western Australia & Murdoch
University, Australia. (December 4-7, 2006): 1-12.
Tranter, Bruce, and Jed Donoghue. "Convict Ancestry:
a Neglected Aspect of Australian Identity." Nations
and Nationalism 9 (2003): 555-577.
Ward, Stuart. ""Culture Up to Our Arseholes":
Projecting Post-Imperial Australia." Australian
Journal of Politics and History 51 (2005): 53-66.
West, Brad. "Crime, Suicide, and the Anti-Hero: "Waltzing
Matilda" in Australia." Journal of Popular
Culture 35 (2001): 127-141.
White, Richard, Inventing Australia. Sydney: Allen & Unwen,
Poem by famous Australian poet Henry Lawson (1867-1922)
It is stuffy in the steerage where the second-classers
For there's near a hundred for'ard, and they're stowed
away like sheep,
They are trav'lers for the most part in a straight
'n' honest path;
But their linen's rather scanty, an' there isn't any
Stowed away like ewes and wethers that is shore 'n'
marked 'n' draft.
But the shearers of the shearers always seem to travel
In the cushioned cabins, aft,
With saloons 'n' smoke-rooms, aft --
There is sheets 'n' best of tucker for the first-salooners,
Our beef is just like scrapin's from the inside of
And the spuds were pulled too early, for they're mostly
But from somewhere back amidships there's a smell o'
An' I'd give my earthly prospects for a real good tuck-out
Ham an' eggs 'n' coffee, aft,
Say, cold fowl for luncheon, aft,
Juicy grills an' toast 'n' cutlets -- tucker a-lor-frongsy,
They feed our women sep'rate, an' they make a blessed
Just as if they couldn't trust 'em for to eat along
Just because our hands are horny an' our hearts are
rough with graft
But the gentlemen and ladies always DINE together,
With their ferns an' mirrors, aft,
With their flow'rs an' napkins, aft
`I'll assist you to an orange' -- `Kindly pass the
We are shabby, rough, 'n' dirty, an' our feelin's
out of tune,
An' it's hard on fellers for'ard that was used to go
There's a broken swell among us -- he is barracked,
he is chaffed,
An' I wish at times, poor devil, for his own sake he
For they'd understand him, aft,
(He will miss the bath-rooms aft),
Spite of all there's no denyin' that there's finer
Last night we watched the moonlight as it spread across
the sea --
`It is hard to make a livin',' said the broken swell
`There is ups an' downs,' I answered, an' a bitter
laugh he laughed
There were brighter days an' better when he always
With his rug an' gladstone, aft,
With his cap an' spyglass, aft
A careless, rovin', gay young spark as always travelled
There's a notice by the gangway, an' it seems to come
For it says that second-classers `ain't allowed abaft
An' there ought to be a notice for the fellows from
But the smell an' dirt's a warnin' to the first-salooners,
With their tooth and nail-brush, aft,
With their cuffs 'n' collars, aft
Their cigars an' books an' papers, an' their cap-peaks
I want to breathe the mornin' breeze that blows against
For there's a swellin' in my heart -- a tightness in
We are for'ard when there's trouble!
We are for'ard when there's graft!
But the men who never battle always seem to travel
With their dressin'-cases, aft,
With their swell pyjamas, aft
Yes! the idle and the careless, they have ease an'
I feel so low an' wretched, as I mooch about the deck,
That I'm ripe for jumpin' over -- an' I wish there
was a wreck!
We are driven to New Zealand to be shot out over there
Scarce a shillin' in our pockets, nor a decent rag
With the everlastin' worry lest we don't get into graft
There is little left to land for if you cannot travel
No anxiety abaft,
They have stuff to land with, aft
Oh, there's little left to land for if you cannot travel
But it's grand at sea this mornin', an' Creation almost
Sailin' past the Bay of Islands with its pinnacles
With the sunny haze all round us an' the white-caps
on the blue,
An' the orphan rocks an' breakers -- Oh, it's glorious
To the south a distant steamer, to the west a coastin'
An' we see the beauty for'ard, better than if we were
Spite of op'ra-glasses, aft;
But, ah well, they're brothers aft
Nature seems to draw us closer -- bring us nearer fore-'n'-aft.
What's the use of bein' bitter?What's the use of gettin'
What's the use of bein' narrer just because yer luck
What's the blessed use of frettin' like a child that
wants the moon?
There is broken hearts an' trouble in the gilded first
We are used to bein' shabby -- we have got no overdraft
We can laugh at troubles for'ard that they couldn't
laugh at aft;
Spite o' pride an' tone abaft
(Keepin' up appearance, aft)
There's anxiety an' worry in the breezy cabins aft.
But the curse o' class distinctions from our shoulders
shall be hurled,
An' the influence of woman revolutionize the world;
There'll be higher education for the toilin' starvin'
An' the rich an' educated shall be educated down;
An' we all will meet amidships on this stout old earthly
An' there won't be any friction 'twixt the classes
We'll be brothers, fore-'n'-aft!
Yes, an' sisters, fore-'n'-aft!
When the people work together, and there ain't no fore-'n'-aft.
The original Jerilderie Letter is
now held by the Victorian State Library.
See the original at: http://www.slv.vic.gov.au/slv/exhibitions/treasures/jerilderie/
Old convict ballad
One Sunday morning as I went walking
By Brisbane waters
I chanced to stray
I heard a convict his fate bewailing
As on the sunny
river bank I lay
I am a native from Erin's island
But banished now from
my native shore
They stole me from my aged parents
And from the maiden
I do adore
I've been a prisoner at Port Macquarie
At Norfolk Island
and Emu Plains
At Castle Hill and at cursed Toongabbie
At all these
settlements I've been in chains
But of all places of
And penal stations in New South Wales
To Moreton Bay
I have found no equal
Excessive tyranny each day prevails
For three long years I was beastly treated
irons on my legs I wore
My back from flogging was lacerated
And oft times painted
with my crimson gore
And many a man from downright starvation
now underneath the clay
And Captain Logan he had us
All at the triangles of Moreton Bay
Like the Egyptians and ancient Hebrews
We were oppressed
under Logan's yoke
Till a native black lying there in
Did deal this tyrant his mortal stroke
My fellow prisoners
That all such monsters such a death may
And when from bondage we are liberated
Our former sufferings
will fade from mind
First page of pamphlet
T H E K E L L Y G A N G
The Outlaws of the Wombat Ranges
“Quid de Quoque viro, et cui dicas, soepe caveto”
“Be cautious what you say, of whom, and to whom”.
PUBLISHED BY G. WILSON HALL
Proprietor “MANSFIELD GUARDIAN”.
THE KELLY GANG
of the soi-disant surveyors, informed her friends.
The next morning, before sunrise, the four men were
shot dead (by the Clarks) as they lay asleep, and were
subsequently buried on the banks of the adjacent creek,
each rolled in a sheet of bark, it is said. The inhabitants
of the neighbouring township, however, had them exhumed,
and buried in consecrated ground.
The affair created a great sensation for a time, but
soon became forgotten, or, at best, but rarely thought
of or referred to.
“A famour man was Robin Hood,
The English ballad singer’s joy”. - Old
The widely-extended and generally-expressed horror
and detestation of the police murders which have been
displayed through this colony, render more prominent
the sympathy and admiration for the Kellys that, by
the larrikin class, are not only barely disguised in
some cases, but openly vaunted in others.
This is more noticeable among the youth in various
large centres of population where, not content with
openly avowing their feelings in simple conversation,
they congregate occasionally at street corners and
elsewhere to sing ballads – hymns of triumph,
as it were – in their praise. We have not been
informed, whether these lyrics have yet taken shape
in print, but we have succeeded in obtaining the words
of a few by taking them down from dictation.
They are, for the most part, wretched doggerel, void
of point as a rule, and in the metre – if metre
it can be called – adapted to the Universal Irish
street-ballad tune, if we except one, which is an attempted
parody on the “The Bould Sojer Boy”. It
seems to us that the majority of them are from the
same pen, and we should imagine that the writer would
find himself more at home in a “thieves’ kitchen”,
a St. Giles’ ballad-mongery, or one of Her Majesty’s
jails, than at either missionery meeting or the gathering
together of a Young Men’s Christian Association,
unless, indeed, he attended with the intention of picking
the pockets of the audience.
We venture to submit some extracts from this kind
of literature merely as samples of the pernicious stuff
that is provided to poison the ear.
It is not so much any distortion of facts that will
be found to excite disgust, but rather the flippant
phraseology in which the descriptions of events of
serious import are clothed.
THE KELLY GANG
We have limited our extracts to the
most harmless portions to be selected from the mass
of leprous distilments of the composer’s perverted genius, such as it
is, feeling confident that the majority of readers
will join in our estimate of the wretched and mischievous
productions, inductively judging what the character
must be of the lines we have withheld from publication,
as being outside the limits of decency and order. The
following lines form a portion of a bad parody on "The
Bould Sojer Boy"; this sample will be enough of
the song to judge by. It refers, of course, to the
Oh, there’s not a dodge worth knowing,
Or showing, that’s going,
But You’ll learn (this isn’t blowing)
From the bold K—y G—g.
We have mates where ‘er we go
That, somehow, let us know
The approach of every foe
To the bold K—y G—g.
There’s not a peeler riding
Wombat ranges, hill or siding,
But would rather far be hiding,
Though he’d like to see us hang.
We thin their ranks,
We rob the banks,
And say no thanks,
For what we do.
Oh, the terror of the camp is the bold K—y G—g.
Then, if you want a spree,
Come with me, and you’ll see
How grand it is to be
In the bold K—y G—g.
The next is a fragment of an account of the Euroa
bank robbery, and possesses the negative advantage
of containing less pernicious stuff than most of the
So Kelly marched into the bank,
A cheque all in his hand,
For to have it changed for money
Of Scott he did demand.
First page of Petition for Stay of Execution
of Ned Kelly
Ned Kelly’s actual armor
“Ned Kelly” by Sir Sydney Nolan.