2pm August 2nd, 2008
Good afternoon everyone, my name is Brad Webb and I run the ironoutlaw.com web site. I’d like to welcome you all to the famous Beechworth Courthouse and thank you for attending what I hope will be an informative event. And if not then look on the bright side, I’ve only wasted an hour of your life, much less than a season of ‘Big Brother’.
I was planning to open with a joke about Ned Kelly but seeing this is his weekend I thought it better if I told a joke instead about the judge that sentenced Ned to hang… Why did Australia Post recall their new stamp featuring a picture Sir Redmond Barry on it? Because people couldn’t tell which side they should spit on!
I’ll start off by saying this isn’t going to be a lecture. I’d like to see it more as a forum, so if you have something to add to the discussion feel free to join in.
My talk today is about ‘Ned Kelly and the Emergence of Technology’. The dictionary defines technology as, ‘the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in industry. For example, the branch of knowledge dealing with engineering or applied sciences; and the machinery and equipment developed from such scientific knowledge.’
From the telegraph to the Internet, Ned’s story truly transcends both space and time. While the focus of today’s talk is on these two mediums in particular, it would be remiss of me not to mention another significant mode of communication which Ned has unwittingly played a vital part in.
Part of an early flowering of film production in Australia The Story Of The Kelly Gang, is hailed as being the first feature-length film produced in Australia and possibly the world. When it opened on 26 December 1906 The Story of the Kelly Gang was six reels long, or close to 60 minutes, a duration that was unheard of at that time.
Staged for maximum excitement, with a nonchalant attitude for as much screen violence as they could pack in, the film shows Ned and his gang shooting troopers at close range in the Stringybark scene, and the action during the Siege of Glenrowan includes a memorable moment in which Dan and Steve shoot each other rather than allow themselves to be taken alive. Ned’s capture too is filmed effectively, as he staggers toward camera, guns blazing. Audiences had never seen anything so bold, and the film was presented with live sound effects and narration, so it was anything but silent. Scenes were also tinted for dramatic effect, as in the red colour used to enhance the effect of the burning of the hotel (the producer simply smeared red food dye directly onto the film cells).
Audiences all over the country flocked to see this film. It stayed in distribution, in various forms, for the next 10 years. The film was a huge success, continuously playing to packed audiences. It was reported to have made a huge £25,000 profit after costing only £1,000 to make. The film ushered in an active period of film production in Australia.
Between 1906 and 1912 Australia produced more feature-length films than Britain or the United States of America. Unfortunately, the romantic image of bushrangers attracted censorship problems. In April 1907 it was banned in the areas around Benalla and Wangaratta, in what is still today referred to as ‘Kelly Country’. Concerns for law and order caused bans not just for this film but for many later films of the same genre. Coupled with US and British distributors signing exclusive deals with Australian cinemas during the 1920s, the resulting limited screening possibilities for Australian made movies effectively consigned our film industry to the scrap heap up until the 1970s.
In 2006, 100 years after it was first shown, the National Film and Sound Archive has managed to restore almost 17 minutes of footage. For those lucky enough to have seen it, the film provides a clear sense of the form, style and experience of the extensive production. It has been put on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s ‘Memory of the World’ register. The register identifies ‘documentary heritage of international significance’, with the film joining an elite list of fewer than 200 items including the official trial records of Nelson Mandela, and the Endeavour journal of Captain James Cook.
Far from fading into obscurity after he was hanged, the Kelly legend continues to grow with each retelling. Today, Ned can be seen virtually everywhere – in film, books, musicals, theatre, television, and advertising (where unfortunately he’s currently starring in a Nurofen commercial). It seems every week there’s a story on Ned in the newspaper. And it’s how these newspapers first received publishable reports of distant headlines that we now turn our attention towards.
As the Kelly outbreak intensified it was the telegraph which kept the population enthralled with the boys daring exploits. Each week, newspapers across the country would devote thousands of words describing the Gang’s recent escapades, with more than a few heaping scorn on the hapless police search. During the siege at Glenrowan, thanks to regular updates coming down the wire from the North East, hundreds of Melbournians milled around newspaper offices eagerly awaiting the next broadsheet to be circulated.
Ned may have accepted the power of Morse code (cutting down telegraph poles to prevent authorities being altered), however, he never truly grasped the technology. In 1879, during the Gang’s daring robbery in Jerilderie, New South Wales, Ned planned to have his manifesto published in the local newspaper, the Jerilderie Gazette, as well as have extra copies for distribution. Unfortunately the printer, Samuel Gill, caught wind of Ned’s intended visit and panicked. Maybe he was worried about some negative reports he’d printed previously, either way he bolted into the bush.
After Gill’s wife refused to accept the papers, Ned unwisely handed over his work to the bank accountant Edward Living who promised to have it taken care of. The rest shall we say is history (and to this day I’m still amazed the Jerilderie Letter has survived intact).
However, instead of wasting time chasing a terrified printer, imagine if the Gang exploited this evolving medium and wired the Jerilderie Letter to every newspaper in the country? By 1880, the standard of telegraph equipment allowed Morse code to transmit at between 10 to 60 words per minute. Given an average transmission time, the Jerilderie Letter with its 7,400 odd words would take about four hours to send. Although this sounds like a long time, it was still much quicker than setting type for a letterpress machine (particularly if you’re a panicked printer prone to spelling mistakes). And when you factor in Morse code abbreviations which, from 1845 were found in commercial telegraphic code books with the express aim to shorten telegrams, the job could have been completed even quicker.
At any time while they were at large, Ned and the boys could have used some ‘colonial stratagem’ and seize a telegraph station (there was, and still is, a perfectly good example right next door). Then it would be a simple matter of ‘persuading’ an operator to do their bidding, and settle in for a touch of creative broadcasting.
Nevertheless, there would be no need to wire the entire transcript in one sitting. They could have broken the story down into episodes. That way the story would move over the wire quicker and travel further; it could remain in the public eye longer (with each transmission a new chapter would unfold); and, more importantly, it would be harder for the authorities to cover up because, by 1880 the telegraph not only reached every region within Australia but was linked to the United Kingdom via India. In short, Ned Kelly’s audience could have been immense.
Fast forward 85 years to around 1965, when the United States Department of Defence commissioned a study of decentralised switching systems. Up to that point, data communication was based on the idea of circuit switching, as in the telegraph, where a dedicated circuit is tied up for the duration of the call and communication is only possible with the single party on the other end of the circuit. Some of the ideas developed in this study provided inspiration for the development of the packet switching research network, which later grew to become the public Internet. The telegraph had finally evolved.
With the growth of the Internet, email began to be possible between any two computers with access to the Internet. The broad user base created by the demand for email smoothed the way for the rapid acceptance of the World Wide Web in the mid-1990s. Today, the vast majority of telegraphic messages are carried by the Internet in the form of email. The telegraph as we know it is well and truly gone. But it is important to remember telegraphy permitted for the first time the effective separation of communication from transportation. Before the telegraph, messages were delivered as fast as people could move. Nowadays, people can send messages across the world in a few seconds. In other words, the telegraph freed communication from the constraints of geography, and paved the way for this next step in the evolution of communication.
And it is the internet, or more correctly the World Wide Web, which will guarantee Ned Kelly’s continued evolution. A quick Google search lists nearly one and a half million entries! So what motivates someone living in Russia or Japan to search online for Ned Kelly? What are the benefits to this readily accessible information and, conversely, what are the disadvantages? And what motivates someone to go to the trouble of putting it on the Web in the first place?
The World Wide Web encourages viewers to read, investigate, research, expand and develop new ideas and theories. Interesting sites need to be diversified otherwise they are simply repeating what has been said before.
Back in 1995 when the Internet was still in it’s infancy I started searching for information on Ned Kelly. What I found was a poorly designed — even for back then — shambles. Having a background in graphic design and eager to embrace this new web technology, I decided my first web site client would be myself. What better way to hone the HTML skills. Thirteen years and thousands of hours later, (plus three URL changes and five total site rebuilds), the end result weighs in at over 90 megabyte — including 380 html pages, 1200 asset files, 45000 links, and an average of over 8.5 million hits (or nearly 340,000 unique visitors) a year.
When you consider the average web site in Australia is six pages long and attracts about 1000 visitors a year I think we’re doing a reasonable job. Little did I know this part time distraction would allow me to one day not only meet people like Ian Jones and Max Brown but allow me to publish their books as well.
It’s Ironoutlaw’s aim to list every important event linked to the Kelly Gang, and in doing so hopefully open up some relevant topics for discussion in the feedback section. And there’s plenty of support and competition in the online community.
While the Internet is described in terms of binary code and pack data it is also full of human traits and emotions. Assumption is rife on the Web. Anyone can set up a site or a blog, send through a chain email or post a video without ever having to back up their claims. Coupled with the rise of digital based publishing and you have a whole media outlet full of conjecture and unsubstantiated truths. Ridiculous tales like Dan Kelly escaping the shootout at Glenrowan and making his way to Queensland are a case in point. The rumour manifested itself into a book with the classy title Burnt to a Cinder was I? Yet, thanks to the World Wide Web, sites like ironoutlaw.com and bailup.com quite happily managed to shoot these nut-bag theorists down in flames.
While a person’s opinion cannot be wrong, because it’s what that person thinks on a certain subject, their reasoning and conclusions can be rightly debated. Yet even when the facts fly in the face of these opinions, many of these theorists refuse to acknowledge the errors of their way.
What’s this got to do with the Internet, and more importantly Ned Kelly? Plenty. There’s over 20 million people in Australia and probably just as many interpretations on the Kelly story. Add to this the countless numbers of overseas visitors who frequent ironoutlaw.com and other online sites and the story grows exponentially.
Perception plays a vital role in one’s understanding of the world around us. Many people make assumptions based on hearsay and innuendo. Over time these assumptions become canon. Oral accounts become accepted history. Look no further than the tales of Robin Hood. How many times has history recorded heroes as villains, or more alarmingly, villains as heroes? Here in Australia we just need to cast an eye over our dear departed $2 note, featuring none other than the self important John Macarthur. Despite orchestrating the 1808 ‘Rum Rebellion’ which overthrew the King’s representative in Governor William Bligh, Macarthur not only served as Colonial Secretary in the rebel administration, he shipped himself over to England where he remained for eight and half years to avoid an arrest warrant back in Sydney. Macarthur, the absconder, refused to accept the conditions imposed that he admit his wrong doing and promise his good behaviour. He was never tried, and apart from the exile (or extended holiday), he was not punished for his involvement in the rebellion. It was classic squatter arrogance with the establishment refusing to chastise one of their own. Unfortunately, Australia was to see numerous examples of this ‘class system’ throughout the 19th century.
Macarthur was absent during the formative years of Australia’s wool industry, leaving his more than capable wife Elizabeth to establish New South Wales as a reliable supplier of quality wool. Yet it’s not her head sharing the $2 note with a merino. ‘Doc’ Evatt, in his 1943 publication, The Rum Rebellion: A study of the overthrow of Governor Bligh by John Macarthur and the New South Wales Corps (whose title left no one in doubt as to who was at fault), was extremely critical of Macarthur, describing him ‘as a man guilty of sedition’. Yet we make heroes out of men like Macarthur, and John Batman.
Batman was one of the founding fathers of Melbourne. He captured bushranger Matthew Brady; and played an instrumental part in the organisation of the Black Line campaign to round-up Tasmanian Aborigines. Batman wrote in his disarmingly frank memoirs about a raid on an Aboriginal camp in which he, ‘ordered his men to fire on the blacks as they ran for their lives. A woman and a child were captured and, the next morning, two badly-injured men were discovered’. They told Batman that ten men were dead or would die. Batman’s account then records, ‘how the two male prisoners found it impossible to walk because of their injuries, so I felt obliged to have them shot’. Batman died of syphilis at age 38. Syphilis apparently causes execrating pain before death. I could go on and name many more ‘questionable historical figures’ but this is not the time nor place.
So what can the Internet do? It can highlight these historical inaccuracies and inconsistencies. It can open up discussion as to why these men are held in such high esteem by people who should know better, and shame these faceless government authorities into changing the names of such monuments to murderers beginning with those numerous Batman Parks found around Melbourne, and closer to Beechworth the Warby Ranges (yes folks, Benjamin Warby was an aboriginal killer too, apparently he enjoyed herding tribes off the same cliffs which now bear his family name).
Web sites like Wikipedia make it that much harder to hide these otherwise ‘distasteful’ truths. The ability to rewrite history in your own image is now long past. Education in the form of entertainment is a far more effective way of getting your message across. And luckily for Ned Kelly, he has numerous web sites spread across the Internet to make his presence felt.
A Curtin University case study involving ironoutlaw.com, titled Ned Kelly’s success in Cyberspace: Proving Australian history does not have to be boring, found ‘as Internet users and learners become more demanding, their experiences with technology become more dynamic and sophisticated. With each visit their expectations become higher and their online choices more discerning. The Ironoutlaw web sites continued success as an educational vehicle and its ability to tap into the education market is quite an achievement, considering this was not its original purpose.’
The report goes on to say, ‘This study has concluded that the best work comes from those who are devoted to their cause. And suggests many educational web sites produced by education institutions lack, aesthetic and entertainment value, rendering a web site ineffective. Although it was not the web masters intention, Ironoutlaw.com has achieved what Australian education institutions or suppliers of educational material, seemingly have not to date, and that is provide a comprehensive online Australian history resource. A resource that appears to have overcome the challenge to package pedagogical information in a stimulating way. Which perhaps parallel the entertainment industry’s skills of presentation.’
One of the reasons why Ned Kelly and his story continues to keep readers fascinated is this direct correlation between information and entertainment. People are actively seeking a ‘Neducation’.
And what does the future hold? One of the major growth entertainment industries is the gaming sector. In the past year we’ve seen gaming revenue exceed that of the movie industry. Games like Grand Theft Auto IV have raised the bar considerably. In it’s first week this game made $500 million in the United States alone. Australia is well placed in the gaming market. We have a number of well known studios creating dazzling, different, captivating games with state of the art technology over a range of interactive games utilising a broad spectrum of platforms – from PC to Mac to Playstation to Xbox. It is not unreasonable to expect one of these next-generation game developers will one day seize on the popularity of the Kelly story and expand it into a video based entertainment/education port. Imagine an in-depth multimedia experience where you get to select the final outcome, separate to accepted history and more akin to an alternate reality.
This merging of online gaming, increased Internet speed, and the proliferation of multimedia centres integrating with the home entertainment system, will allow viewers to coordinate their web browsing, music and video selection, gaming and social interaction from their living room. Education and entertainment will merge. It will herald a new direction in how people access information, and it will forced educators and trainers to ‘think smart and deliver smarter’.
Luckily this unique Australian story which involves Ned Kelly will continue to attract not only the curious but those eager to learn more about this big brown land. Because, as Australia gets set to play a more dominant role in world affairs, this opening up on the international arena will encourage other nations to learn about our culture and history. So if handled correctly Ned’s story will continue to fascinate well into the 22nd century.
Another exciting avenue guaranteed to keep the Kelly story alive is on-demand digital printing. The challenge for the publishing house is to embrace this new found technology and nurture it. Despite the J.K. Rowling-led recovery, some continue to argue that the end of the book is nigh with publications besieged on all sides from such distractions as the Web, PDAs, computer games, and cable television. With so much going on how can one possibly allocate enough attention for the book to compete? Many of their arguments centre on the Internet. With its emphasis on textual extracts, co-operative creation and browsing, life on the Web seems ill-suited to stimulate the sustained, accredited conveyance of complex ideas that has been the historical purview of the printed page.
Yet these arguments are flawed. Soon, any hard to get Kelly related book, including many out of print titles, will become obtainable online through ventures such as the Gutenberg project, Amazon’s Kindle and Google’s Book Search. Despite, that Jerilderie printer, Samuel Gill, running off into the bush, history has shown an uncanny ability for publishers to adapt. The Harry Potter phenomenon shows that people are reading more, not less. The Internet is stimulating literacy by offering links to alternative publishing options, online book clubs, eBooks, eReaders, RSS feeds and print-on-demand. Here, rejected manuscripts are given new leases on life. These books, that otherwise may have fallen through the crack, are now available to the reading public, and occasionally a publishing house. A number of writers have successfully made a career out of initially self-publishing including Judith Douthie’s impressive work in I was at the Kelly Gang Round-Up.
The Internet not only allows publishers such as myself to sell books directly without the additional expense of added retail costs, but our site content is also on display twenty-four hours a day, providing an invaluable source of information for both the media and reading public. Just as important, web sites like Abe Books and eBay allow visitors to search for hard to find, or out of print publications without the need to travel long distances.
This year the eBook takes another step forward with two of Britain’s biggest publishers, Random House and Hachette (who has just republished Ian Jones’ Ned Kelly, A Short Life), revealing they’re ready to offer eBooks by some of their top writers. In addition, Penguin plan to release new eBooks to coincide with their print editions to feed a growing demand for digital books. These eBooks will be available to download from Penguin’s web site and from digital retailers from September. Penguin are also developing their back catalogue of over 5,000 titles into eBooks and plan to make them available for purchase later this year. Coupled with the price of handheld electronic book readers also coming down, costs are already low enough to allow anyone to publish to everyone, for reading everywhere.
Another future-proof publishing plan revolves around print-on-demand. Bloomsbury, which publishes the Harry Potter books in the United Kingdom, recently signed a deal with Microsoft to be part of its Live Search programme. Live Search allows users to not only locate books but have them printed. Publishing houses such as Bloomsbury hope that the print-on-demand market, in which customers can have one off copies of out of print titles printed, bound and posted to them, will give older books new exposure. The impact on titles involving Ned Kelly could be phenomenal. A quick glance at Brian McDonalds catalogue of Kelly related publications lists hundreds of titles which could be earmarked once more for general release.
Ned’s image has become one with Australia. The opening ceremony at the Sydney 2000 Olympic games is a case in point. While many people see this as blatant consumerism I like to take a different approach. Surely Ned would get a big kick out of knowing his face is as recognisable now as it’s ever been. In stark contrast, the bronzed head of Sir Redmond Barry, the judge that sentenced him to death, has metal spikes inserted in the top to stop the pigeons from pooping on his cranium. Such is life!