The Legend of Ned Kelly exhibition
One of the most cringe-worthy episodes of the Kelly story, particularly for the male population, was when Mounted Constable Thomas Lonigan tried to restrain Ned Kelly by squeezing his testicles. Lonigan resorted to this appalling tactic, known at the time as ‘blackballing’, despite being assisted by three other police, including the pathetic Constable Alexander Fitzpatrick, in a dust-up in a bootmaker’s shop in Benalla on September 17, 1877.
Ned later said that Lonigan “inflicted terrible pain on me, but still I would not surrender”. It’s easy to understand Ned’s anger and utter disregard for Lonigan when he raged in his attacker’s face, prophetically as it turned out, “Well Lonigan, I never shot a man yet, but if I ever do, so help me God, you will be the first!”
At the opening of The Legend of Ned Kelly exhibition a Melbourne’s Southgate, respected Aussie actor Peter Phelps, who plays Lonigan in the upcoming blockbuster Ned Kelly, gave an insight into how the scene will be portrayed on the big screen. My character, Mounted Constable Thomas Lonigan (was) described by Ned on pages 34 and 35 of the Jerilderie Letter as ‘the biggest enemy I have in the country’,” Phelps, who also stars in the Aussie drama Stingers, told the exhibition gathering.
“Certainly, when I had the scene with Heath Ledger as Ned where I grabbed him by the privates, I made him feel that vengeance shall be his. Luckily, in present-day film-making, we can protect our heroes with strategically-placed cricket boxes, which are useful for guarding against over-enthusiastic actors like myself. I think Heath may have got more than an inkling of what it was like to be on the receiving end of what an Englishman of the time would have called ‘blackballing’. The tears on his face gave it away.” Sydney-born Phelps, who will be 43 this year, also revealed the following:
Murder or manslaughter?
Thomas Lonigan was the first police trooper shot dead at Stringybark Creek. Ned Kelly was hung after being found guilty of his murder. “In his book The Trial of Ned Kelly, Chief Justice Phillips conjectured that Lonigan’s killing was manslaughter; that Kelly had maintained he shot Lonigan at Stringybark Creek as he raised his head above a log, his gun pointed Kelly’s way; the shot made in self-defence. We depict in the film that Ned, with the element of surprise, has ordered Lonigan to “Bail up!” Lonigan fires first and we have enough ambiguity existing in the film for the audience to decide where their allegiances lie.”
“From June to October last year (2002), the film Ned Kelly was shot within a one-hour radius of Melbourne at locations that were replicas of Greta and other towns that are internationally famous because of the story of Ned Kelly. “It’s testament to the internationally recognised legend of Ned Kelly that Universal Studios in Hollywood, Working Title Films in the UK and several A-list actors, directors, cinematographers and film-makers joined forces to create, from what I’ve seen, to be as iconic a story as the legend itself.”
No beards, no armour!
“Aware that our winters can be like they are in Victoria, it was the intention of the film-makers to have a gritty, muddy, realistic look, as rural Victoria had in the mid-19th century. In initial discussions in Hollywood, the director, Gregor Jordan, and Heath Ledger as Ned, were told that the hero, Ned, should be clean-shaven throughout (the movie) and that the armour would get in the way of the climax and the stars. To Gregor and Heath’s great credit, the essential physicality of our great story stayed in the picture.”
No Aussie accents
“Although described as the true and possibly first all-Australian legend, there is no such thing as an Australian accent in the Kelly story. The Kelly Gang, their extended family and other roles we had in the film have various dialects of Irish, English, Scottish, Welsh, South African, German, Chinese, etc. We even had a dialect coach on set.
A modern-day Ned
“The intriguing thing about the Kelly legend is that he is a folk hero, police killer, anti-authority figure – all elements explored in the film and this exhibition. Since appearing in the film, I have been asked what Ned might have been in a contemporary sense. With his hugely physical presence, athleticism, horsemanship, toughness, charisma, natural sense of justice, charity and leadership, mixed with ruthlessness and loyalty, I dare say he would be a great politician or even a leader of the nation. To further indulge in fantasy, I would have ridden around in the tracks of these original Australian men. I am pleased and honoured to have a role in depicting a piece of our country’s history and to be part of this great exhibition.”
*Peter Phelps acknowledged the presence of two of Thomas Lonigan’s great-grandchildren, Jack Wilson and Pat Tunstall and a great-great-granddaughter. A great-grandson of Ned’s half-sister Alice King and a grandson of Sir Redmond Barry were also in attendance. Phelps also made a special mention of Ian Jones, who was standing near the front of the crowd. The pair had worked together on the 1987 film The Lighthorseman (which Jones wrote and produced). Phelps said Jones’s research had made it easy for an actor to get to know his character.
**Brendan Pearse, a co-organiser of the exhibition along (whose wife gave birth to their second child, Madeleine May, at 1.30am that morning!), presented Phelps with a photograph of Thomas Lonigan. The photo was a copy of the original which Pearse purchased at auction. Other heavily retouched versions of the photo have appeared in various books, so this certainly was a pleasant surprise. From the mixture of excitement and shock on his face, Phelps was thinking something like: “That’s going straight to the pool room.” Afterwards, he thanked the Brendan profusely for the gesture.
Ian Jones has the Final Word
As is the case with any exhibition of substance on Ned Kelly, the event would be severely lacking if the world’s undisputed No.1 ‘Ned-head’, Ian Jones, did not have a say in proceedings. As he spoke to the crowd, Jones held onto a well-worn leather satchel. You’ll find out why as you read on through his speech, which he delivered without any notes.
“This is an extraordinary Kelly year. It’s also, remarkably, the 150th anniversary of the foundation of the Victoria Police force. It may seem a little inappropriate that these two things are colliding but, in a way, it’s entirely appropriate because it was the Kelly Outbreak that arguably laid the foundations of the modern Victoria Police force, which I think is, almost unarguably, the finest police force in Australia. The tradition of public accountability and self-examination, which was established by the Kelly Royal Commission of 1881, is still alive and well.
“People forget that the only letter in Ned Kelly’s handwriting, which you can see in this exhibition, was written by Ned Kelly to a policeman who had befriended him, Sergeant Babington at Kyneton – a damn good policeman. A damn bad policeman played a significant role in the genesis of the Kelly Outbreak – Constable Fitzpatrick. But then, another damn good, brilliant policeman played an incredible role in rehabilitating the Kelly Country at the end of the rebellion and probably saved dozens of lives. His name was Constable Robert Graham, who took charge of Greta in 1881. He’s an unsung hero of the Kelly story.
With several voices disturbing his speech from over a partition, Jones paused and said: “I have to apologise for the Benalla Light Opera Society out the back there – they’re suffering from bus-lag. But, (they’re) lovely people.”
“I acquired a collection of Robert Graham material some time ago after having access to it for many years. Parts (of the collection) have appeared in my books, at Ned: The Exhibition and now at The Legend of Ned Kelly. As a gesture of gratitude for the help that’s been given to (my wife) Bronwyn and myself through the years and for the cooperation that the Police Historical Unit has given to Brendan (Pearse) in both of his exhibitions, I would like to call Peter Free forward and, if it’s needed, a uniformed escort, Brian Hodge, who is on record as being my favourite policeman. But I’d have to qualify that slightly by saying that he’s my favourite metropolitan policeman as some of my police mates in the Kelly Country may get a bit miffed.
“Peter (Free), in this case I have with me, we have Robert Graham’s certificate of merit from the Royal Humane Society for rescuing a man from the flooded Goulburn River in 1887, his admission to the Masonic Order, a collection of photographs including Robert Graham’s wedding portrait, photos of the police station he established at Greta, Superintendent Hare and search party, etc. We also have Robert Graham’s book of newspaper cuttings.
“I’m happy to say they’re back where they belong and hopefully Robert Graham will get a little more of the credit he deserves for the extraordinary role he played in the Kelly Outbreak and it’s resolution.”
InterNED featured regular instalments relating to people still involved in the Kelly story. Here you will read about experts, historians, authors, descendants, and others with interesting tales to tell about their connection with Ned. Compiled by Ben Collins, InterNED gave you an insight into the lives of people who were helping to keep the legend alive.
Ben Collins was the co-author of Jason McCartney: After Bali – the highest-selling non-fiction book by an Australian author in 2003 – which tells of Jason McCarthy’s recovery from horrific burns suffered in the Bali terrorist bombings and his quest to play one last game of AFL football. In 2004, Collins wrote The Book of Success – a series of interviews with Australian leaders in business, sport, politics, science and entertainment. In 2006, he wrote The Champions: Conversations with Great players & Coaches of Australian Football, which included in-depth interviews with the likes of Ron Barassi and Bob Skilton.
Collins started as a cadet journalist with The Courier in Ballarat in 1997 and worked with Fairfax Community Newspapers before becoming one of the original reporters with the Herald & Weekly Times’ free commuter publication, MX, in 2001. He is a full-time writer for The Slattery Media Group, which produces all AFL publications including the AFL Record. The Red Fox is his fourth book and his first biography.
A Byrne family who lived nearby – Ben likes to think they could be related to gang member Joe Byrne – introduced him to the Old Melbourne Gaol and Ned when he was five. One of Ben’s aunties is also a close friend of a woman who married into the Bartsch family, who are direct descendants of Aaron Sherritt’s sister, Julia.
Through this connection, Ben was shown around the Sherritt family property at Sheepstation Creek in the Woolshed Valley near Beechworth – a property that features prominently in Ian Jones’ book, The Friendship That Destroyed Ned Kelly: Joe Byrne & Aaron Sherritt. Ben and Ironoutlaw webmaster Brad Webb designed and edited the catalogue Ned: The Exhibition, written by Ian Jones.