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New light on Ned Kelly
Geraldine O’Brien
Heritage Writer
Sydney Morning Herald
10 September 2002

New light on Ned Kelly
Reclaiming history... Janette Pelosi examines documents recovered by State Records relating to the Glenrowan siege.
Photo: Robert Pearce
More than a year and about $16,000 later, a swag of documents relating to the Glenrowan siege and the capture of Ned Kelly has been returned to the State Records office after disappearing from its files. State Records staff say the case highlights the frustrations of recovering estrays, items officially belonging to government archives that are lost, stolen or strayed and appear too often for the archivists' liking in auction catalogues and second-hand shops.

The Kelly items disappeared probably before 1935, when they were transferred from the Mitchell Library. They included telegrams between the offices of the NSW and Victorian colonial secretaries which announced the capture of Ned Kelly. “Am happy to inform you that the outlaw Ned Kelly has been taken. The others are surrounded in a house at Glenrowan...”

Another gives a vivid, further update: “Dan Kelly and Hart covered with shot proof armour have thrown doors of hotel open and have let all civilians out and are now calling upon the police to come in. Bullets flying in all directions. The two remaining members of the gang cannot hold out much longer.” With four other items, including a letter and minute drafted by Sir Henry Parkes about the reward for the gang's capture, they were offered for sale by Lawsons auctioneers (now Lawson Menzies) in August last year.

According to Alan Ventress, associate director, city, of State Records, Lawsons was warned the items were estrays and should be withdrawn from sale. But the company claimed it had legal advice the sale could go ahead. After an exchange of correspondence, the items were withdrawn but Lawsons was reluctant to divulge the name of the would be vendor, who had been told the documents could fetch up to $40,000.

By January formal threats of legal action were made. In February solicitors for Lawsons replied, saying the company did “not wish to be obstructive in this matter but is most reluctant to hand out personal information about its customers”. It was a lucky break for State Records when the vendor, incensed at the loss of his windfall, rang Mr Ventress.

“He phoned and called me a bloody mongrel because he was expecting to get $40,000 from the sale.” Caller ID on his phone gave him the number, the police became involved to provide an address "and we served notice on him at his work", Mr Ventress said.

“But these had obviously been gone from the archives for some time and... we don't want to disadvantage people, so we got two independent valuations.” The vendor - who told Mr Ventress he had been given the papers by his father, who was now suffering from Alzheimer's disease - was paid $10,500. It was, according to State Records staff, galling to have to pay for the recovery of their own material, including $6000 in legal fees.

A spokeswoman for Lawsons said there had been a large staff changeover since Rod Menzies bought the company last September. Its new chief executive, Paul Sumner, who started last week, would have “a major focus on improving client services”, and such a situation was unlikely to arise again. But Mr Ventress said his staff did spend “a fair amount of time tracking things down, and I hope the message will now get out to the second-hand dealers and the auctioneers”.

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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Australian Son by Max Brown

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