Outlawed: The Real Ned Kelly
Less than 40 hours after the screening of Outlawed: The Real Ned Kelly on Wednesday August 6, I received a phone call from Kelly aficionado Ian Jones. Ian said that he had been overrun with calls from people whom he said had been “confused or irritated, if not angered” by English film-maker Mark Lewis’ documentary. Ian was keen to set the record straight. So here is Ian Jones’ critique of the documentary – as told to yours truly.
“I watched the documentary with increasing surprise because it is really a pretty confusing exercise. I must say that it was a very clever piece of television. But, at the same time, it was a dishonest and, at times, surprisingly incompetent treatment of history.
“The most accurate part of the whole documentary was the depiction of one of Chief Commissioner Standish’s orgies.
“The root of the problem were a couple of interviews the director, Mark Lewis, gave to The Age ‘Green Guide’ and Virginia Treole. Lewis is an Englishman who came out here to the colonies to do this. Even one of his interviewees in the documentary, Sen. Const. Mick Kennedy (the great-grandson of Sergeant Michael Kennedy) said, ‘he was starting off fresh’. That could be a very good thing; but it could also be a very bad thing if, in starting off fresh, you seem to want to do something different and rush to judgement, which is what Mark Lewis did.
“He told Virginia Treole that treatments of Ned Kelly to date in Australia have ‘glossed over the historical truths of the story’. In other words, we’ve got it wrong. He told The Age ‘Green Guide’ much the same thing when he said he’d spoken to a lot of descendants. He said he treated the descendants with caution but was equally suspicious of the official accounts.
“He said, ‘many historians, lovely chaps they are, also have their own spin. The historians who were writing about Ned Kelly in the ’70s, ’80s and ‘90s who were responsible for the myth of Ned Kelly as a Che Guevera social rebel have their own beef, which is to push this Republican ideal’. He’s just rejecting all evidence that Ned Kelly was a rebel and his plan to set up a Republic. He imagines that any Colonial who supports this theory is a Republican, which is rubbish. I’m not a Republican. My friends could tell you that, if anything, I’m a Monarchist – much to everyone’s amazement. But this is where the evidence pointed. The idea of a Republic of North-East Victoria was mad. It couldn’t have succeeded, or could it? Who knows? But those are the facts as they emerged.
“Mark Lewis told Virginia Treole that ‘Ned’s enemies were the moneyed British landowners’. It isn’t that simple. Ned’s greatest enemies, the fellows he railed against in the Jerilderie Letter, were Thomas and Andrew Byrne and James Whitty of Moyhu – all Irish.
“At the start of the documentary, the illusion of historical objectivity was very effective. It seemed balanced, particularly with John McQuilton as the on-camera narrator. But John’s balance was completely undermined by the voiceover narration, spoken by Jack Thompson and written by an anonymous writer, who I’m certain would have been Mark Lewis. It was also undermined by alarmingly inaccurate re-enactments and by on-camera appearances by Christopher Bantick, a ‘Melbourne writer’ who’s only qualification to appear in the program is a very, very bad case of anti-Kelly dementia. This is the fellow who has leapt into print a couple of times raving against Ned Kelly, once with the absolutely immortal pronouncement that what Ned Kelly attempted at Glenrowan was on a par with the exploits of the Bali bombers. This is the sort of ‘historical truth’ that Mark Lewis was looking for.
“The re-enactments were beautifully produced, superbly shot. Scenically it was gorgeous, and there was some beautiful bush horsemanship. The sort of stuff that was tragically lacking in the Heath Ledger film. But that’s what makes them all the more insidious. They were based on utter bulldust. They’re lovely television but they’re lousy history.
The Fitzpatrick Incident
“Take the Fitzpatrick Incident for example. How can you dare to claim that this is the ‘real’ Kelly story when you portray the bark and slab Kelly homestead as a cabin built of crossed logs. We’re told Fitzpatrick is ‘a local police officer from Greta’. We’re told that he comes there ‘to arrest the Kelly brothers for horse theft’. He was actually after Dan.
“For some unknown reason, Fitzpatrick is shown arriving at this log cabin on foot, in pitch darkness, carrying a lantern. In reality, as you’d expect from a mounted policeman, he rode up to the house and it was actually at sunset. Ned arrives and fires a shot at Fitzpatrick and the script tells us ‘the bullet grazed Constable Fitzpatrick’s hand. The constable claimed, as he ran for his life, Ellen then hit him over the head with a shovel’. Fitzpatrick claimed nothing of the kind. He actually claimed Ellen bashed him over the helmet with a shovel before Ned shot him. The bullet lodged in his wrist and Fitzpatrick was there for something like four hours digging out the bullet, having Ellen bandage his wrist, etc. before Ned saw him back on the road to Benalla. There’s nothing malicious about it but the ‘real’ re-enactment is just a very sloppy retelling of the story.
Stringybark Creek Gunfight
“It’s a very, very different story with the Stringybark Creek gunfight. First of all, according to Mark Lewis, the Kelly Gang has already been formed and two police parties have set out to ‘hunt down Ned Kelly and his gang’. When the Mansfield party makes camp near them, Mark Lewis tells us that ‘Ned and his gang seize the moment’. No suggestion of a motive, why they do it, why they carry it out, how they carry it out. It’s just a minor detail that the re-enactment shows McIntyre and Lonigan shooting at parrots. Of course, it was only McIntyre.
“The gang surprises the two policemen. We’re told, ‘they hardly had time to think, let alone draw a gun’. The re-enactment and the narration ignore the fact that Ned and the other three lads called on the police to surrender several times and then moved from cover in a continuing attempt to get them to surrender. Strangely, and I don’t know how this happened, Lonigan’s death is portrayed accurately – he draws his revolver, dives behind a log and, as he comes up to fire, is shot by Ned. It’s very hard to see, flickering in and out of shadow, but it’s accurate. The accuracy ends right there.
“Lonigan and Scanlon ride up into camp and, we’re told, ‘were taken totally by surprise’. No hint that there were repeated demands to surrender or that the four lads moved out of cover. Scanlon gallops off and, for God’s sake, is shot in the back! McIntyre escapes on Kennedy’s horse and then Kennedy is seen wandering through the bush, firing one shot. Ned follows him, making absolutely no attempt to take cover, and fires. Kennedy falls, Ned walks up to him and as the sergeant is cowering on the ground with one hand pathetically raised in a plea for mercy, Ned just aims his Colt Navy revolver down and shoots him. This is an absolutely malicious distortion of what happened.
“We can only go on Ned’s account of what happened. He’s obviously telling the truth. He comes up with details that are completely inconvenient, like Kennedy having dropped his revolver. It’s an inconvenient detail; you know that it’s true.
“Looking at Mark Lewis’ ‘historical truth’, you’d never guess that there had been a prolonged gunfight, Kennedy had fired 11 shots, he wounded Dan Kelly in the shoulder and he staged a running gun battle with Ned over several hundred metres, during which he nearly shot Ned, and eventually went down with three serious wounds. It was only after a long and harrowing exchange with Kennedy, who was obviously dying, that Ned Kelly faced two courses of action: leave him to die in the bush, eaten alive by insects and animals, or put him out of his agony. There’s no hint of this in the documentary; no hint of going back to the camp to get a water-proof cape to cover Kennedy’s body; no hint of Ned describing Kennedy as ‘the gamest man I ever heard of’. This didn’t fit the picture that Mark Lewis wanted to present.
“To top it all off, a photograph supposedly depicting the discovery of Kennedy’s body is passed of as an early piece of crime scene investigation. The photo is actually a fake. It’s been published many times. Back in I think 1968, I first published in Ned Kelly: Man and Myth that it was a fake. It was just another example of sloppy work by Mark Lewis.
“He then goes on to claim that he’s going to give us ‘new, incontrovertible evidence that Ned didn’t act in self-defence. This was cold-blooded murder’. And this startling piece of ‘new evidence’ is that Ned took Kennedy’s watch. Is he claiming that Ned shot Kennedy to get his watch? I don’t think even Christopher Bantick would go that far. The point is that Ned was a fugitive at the time, now three policeman were dead and one was riding for help. Ned needed a watch, he needed money, he needed provisions, guns, horses. He took all of these from the police camp, but that isn’t why he shot the police. Even Constable McIntyre and the 1881 Royal Commission and even Chief Commissioner Standish agreed that the police deaths weren’t pre-meditated. McIntyre told the Royal Commission that he believed Ned Kelly told the truth when he said that all he wanted to do was disarm the police, take their horses and send them back to Mansfield. If murder was the intention, Ned and the gang could have picked off the police without revealing themselves. The fact was they wanted the police to surrender, but you get no hint of that from the documentary.
“Via John McQuilton, we’re told that the Mansfield police were heavily-armed, carried straps to sling a couple of bodies on pack-horses. The incredible Christopher Bantick has no problem with this at all. He tells us that Ned Kelly was ‘heavily-armed’ himself. At the start of the fight, Ned had a rickety, sawn-off carbine. It was a cap-and-ball, single-shot weapon that took between 10 and 20 seconds to reload. If that’s heavily-armed, God help us. The gang had only two, possibly three guns with them when they confronted the police. Ned might have had a pocket Colt with him, which wouldn’t have been a lot of use anyway. Steve and Joe were demonstrably unarmed until they had Lonigan and McIntyre’s revolvers. In the running fight with Kennedy, Ned had the police double-barrel shotgun and Kennedy had a six-shot cartridge-loading Webley. Interestingly, Ned was using a Colt Navy in the re-enactment, which would have been a hell of a problem in a running gunfight after you’d fired six shots. You’d be sitting around re-loading it for a hell of a long time.
“Anything that wasn’t convenient was left out. It was erratic. There were some pro-Kelly things included. I suppose you couldn’t make it totally anti-Kelly. But the whole thrust of the thing was to produce this image of Ned Kelly as an overrated thug. The portrayals of the bank robberies were pretty innocuous, but who gives a hoot about historical accuracy? At Euroa, the four members of the gang ride down a steep hill into the town. There was no steep hill running down into Euroa, only three members of the gang there, only one on horseback. Then, after the Jerilderie robbery, they ride back up the same hill. It looks great, a terrific shot, but Jerilderie’s as flat as a pancake. It’s hardly worth mentioning that during the Jerilderie hold-up, you see posters advertising the £8000 reward, which was offered as a result of the Jerilderie hold-up.
“Then we get to the show’s big scoop – CIB-trained crime profiler, Steve Longford. He gets turned loose on Ned and Joe’s Jerilderie Letter, which, incidentally, Christopher Bantick describes as ‘a long discursive piece of utter tripe’. During the re-enactment, we see Ned striding around in a rather manic way, dictating the letter while Joe crouches over a table writing it out. Incidentally, a brown-haired Ned Kelly and a black-haired Joe Byrne, ala the Heath Ledger film. Apart from, that, which hardly matters, it just wasn’t like this. The letter, like the Cameron Letter the gang tried to get published after Euroa, was a joint composition by Ned and Joe. A far more complex collaboration than just a piece of dictation. Immediately, this puts the crime profiler at a disadvantage. He comes up with grave announcements that we’re dealing with an angry young man and that ‘we’re getting some insight into a guy who’s becoming an irrational man’. But his really big scoop is yet to come.
“The documentary produced practically nothing to reveal the ’real’ Ned Kelly. The quotations from the Jerilderie Letter were as close as we got to the real Ned, but that is a very tricky part of the story. Eleven years ago, when I first published any detailed material about the Jerilderie Letter, I warned then that it was a joint product and it made nonsense of any attempt to psycho-analyse Ned from the Jerilderie Letter. It’s a fantastic document, an amazing piece of literature, apart from being a piece of history, which obviously Christopher Bantick couldn’t understand.
“With amazing analytical skill, Steve Longford decides that Ned is very angry with Constable Fitzpatrick. Not, apparently, because he had sworn friendship to Ned and betrayed that friendship. Not because he had earlier railroaded Ned’s brother Dan into a prison sentence. Not because he had probably drugged Ned’s grog and had him lumbered with a ‘drunk in charge of a horse’ charge. Not because he was responsible for Ned’s mum, with a baby at the breast, getting three years hard labour. No! According to Longford, Ned was angry with Fitzpatrick because they had been stealing horses together and a deal had come unstuck. What can you say? In the Jerilderie Letter, Ned throws everything he can at Fitzpatrick: the man’s a drunk, he sold his sister to a Chinaman. He abuses Fitzpatrick page after page, yet he never thinks to mention that this serving policeman was a horse thief. Mark Lewis loves this fantasy. He told The Age ‘Green Guide’, ‘it’s an incredibly interesting and original theory and really worth having a look at’. If that’s one of the ‘historical truths’ all of us Australian mugs have ‘glossed over’, no bloody wonder!
“Steve Longford also comes up with the pronouncement that Ned was the sort of man who would stick up a store, hold people hostage for days and get police to shoot him – ‘suicide by cop’. So Ned’s last stand at Glenrowan wasn’t incredibly brave, it was just a way to get himself killed. So why did he wear armour? Why did he make it so hard for the police to kill him? We’re not supposed to ask questions, you see; we’re just supposed to be grateful that a Pommy film-maker and an FBI-trained crime profiler have at last revealed the ‘real’ Ned Kelly. We are all suitably enlightened. Thank God someone has come to the colonies to straighten things out!
“What a mess. The police are in uniform. Horses are being galloped down a ramp from the train, which, incidentally, Curnow has stopped with a red scarf and a lantern instead of a candle, and Ned carries out his last stand in pitch darkness with a spotlight behind him and a revolver blazing in each hand. That’s just nonsense.
“Mark Lewis thinks Ned armour is ‘funny’. And he goes to a lot of trouble in the doco to ‘prove’ that you couldn’t aim and fire a rifle while you’re wearing it. He told The Age ‘Green Guide’, ‘it’s absolutely impossible for him to hold a rifle in the suit’. That is Mark Lewis’ ‘historical truth’. It’s a minor detail to him that the first shot fired in the Glenrowan battle was fired by Ned, wearing his armour. He aimed his Colt revolving rifle, by moonlight, and seriously wounded Superintendent Hare at a range of about 30 yards. Now that’s ‘impossible’ for Mark Lewis’ Ned, but not impossible for the man that Lewis and Bantick and Longford and everyone like them never even try to understand and come to grips with.
“Mark Lewis poo-poos the whole concept of the rebellion and this admittedly mad idea of trying to set up a republic. With great authority, he toldThe Age ‘Green Guide’, it’s a ‘myth’. In the narration, Jack Thompson tells us that ‘there is no hard evidence’ of a rebellion. It’s an exquisite irony that only on July 27 this year, the Chief Justice of Victoria, John Phillips, delivered the inaugural Kerferd oration to celebrate the 150th birthday of Beechworth, in which he presented the evidence for a Kelly rebellion in the north-east, examined it with characteristic thoroughness and delivered his verdict that there was ‘hard evidence’ to suggest that Glenrowan represented a failed attempt to establish a north-eastern republic. Maybe I’m biased but I’d rather believe John Phillips than Mark Lewis and his accomplices.
“At least I am grateful for one thing: the last quote of Noeleen Lloyd, the Lloyd, Quinn and Hart descendant. She said, ‘Ned’s struggle wasn’t just about his family, it was about everybody’. That, to me, almost absolved some of Mark Lewis’ sins.
“The documentary really upset me. This is the third miss in succession. The Heat Ledger film missed showing us anything significant about Ned Kelly. Greg Miller’s documentary missed. It was a slap-dash exercise. The re-enactments were so hokey. Then this comes along. I had high hopes for it. It’ll be years before you can justify doing another major Kelly film/television project. That is the saddest thing of all.
“My daughter, Elizabeth, tells me that someone was asking the Ironoutlaw website about when (my late wife) Bronnie’s documentary, Ned Kelly Unmasked, was going to be produced. I can’t see it becoming a reality for quite some time though after all that. Bronnie’s doco tells the Kelly story from top to bottom. It doesn’t start at the beginning; it starts at the end. But it simply tells the story in a totally factual way. It has some talking heads, which to tell the story properly is inescapable because you’ve got to background things and put things into context. Bronnie’s thesis was, very much as mine was in writing A Short Life, if you tell the story accurately, everything falls into place. People will understand what it’s all about. You don’t have to have people ranting and raving against Ned or for Ned. Just give the facts.
“It’s like when people say, ‘How on earth has Ned Kelly become a folk hero?’
You say to them, ‘Well, do you know the story?’
‘No, not really.’
So you say, ‘Get to know the story and you’ll understand’.
If they still come back to after they find out the story, it’s like jazz: if you have to ask, you’ll never know.
“I confess that I did a terribly naughty thing once. I was at a soiree at a girls’ college in Adelaide. I was there because a friend of mine, Wal Cherry, who was then a professor of drama at Flinders University, was speaking and I’d been talking to an editor who was interested in doing a Kelly book. She told me about the soiree, so I said, ‘Can I come along? I haven’t seen Wal in years’.
I went along and the headmistress was a little bit miffed that I was such a good friend of Wal’s. He mentioned something about my interest in Ned Kelly. The headmistress, showing off in front of her senior pupils, said, ‘How on earth can you justify this adulation of Ned Kelly?’
I said, ‘I don’t think it’s adulation; I’m merely fascinated by him’.
She started sounding off about Ned and it was pretty obvious that she wouldn’t know Ned if he popped his head out of her Muesli in the morning.
I said, ‘We’ve got to make some allowance here. You’ve got a man who’s born in Ireland, comes to Australia at a very early age, he grows up in the shadow of a dominating father, he grows up to be rather small, rather ugly, black-haired, black-bearded…’
The headmistress was nodding, saying ‘Yes, yes’.
I continued, ‘So eventually he goes on to kill six policeman and rob eight banks’.
She was still nodding her head, ‘Yes, yes’.
I said, ‘Hang on, who are we talking about?’
She smiled and said, ‘Well, your friend, Ned Kelly, of course’.
I said, ‘I don’t think so. He wasn’t born in Ireland; he was born in Australia. He didn’t grow up with a dominating father; he didn’t shoot six policemen, etc., etc.’ I said, ‘Are you still sure we’re talking about Ned Kelly?’
Wal said later, ‘Jonesy, you’re a bastard. It’s all right to take a headmistress’ knickers off, but not in front of her pupils’.
“It all springs from a desperate need to label a man. It’s the Bantick thing. I get asked so often, ‘Was Ned Kelly a hero or a villain?’
“I always say, ‘He was neither. He was a human being. People aren’t heroes or villains. People, at some stage in their life, can do something heroic; at others, they can do something villainous. But it isn’t a way of life. You don’t wake up in the morning and be heroic over breakfast. You don’t be villainous in the toilet.’
“Ned Kelly did things in his life that were heroic. He also did things in his life which I can understand why people would classify as villainous.
“Every time I get into this, I hammer it home like driving in a nail. Jesus was an executed rebel who doesn’t seem to have gotten on terribly well with his mum; Lord Nelson was a one-eyed, one-armed able officer who pinched another man’s wife; Adolf Hitler was an extremely brave soldier who loved children, dogs and Western novels. All of this is true, but what the hell does it tell you about these men and their significance in history. Absolutely nothing. That’s the fallacy of what Bantick and Lewis try to come up with.
“A lot of people were terribly upset with me coming down on the side of Ned having fired the shot that wounded Fitzpatrick. I said, ‘Why are you angry?’ They said, ‘Well, it shows Ned in a bad light’. I said, ‘Look, it doesn’t show Ned in a bad light; it shows that he’s human and he did something very silly. He made a lot of mistakes in his life and that’s what makes him human’.
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.