How do we define a hero? Is it the things he achieves that makes a man a hero, or the fact that he tries to do what he thought was right? Can you still be a hero if you make mistakes trying to right wrongs?
Ned Kelly’s family were Irish, and historically the Catholic Irish had had a very hard time at the hands of the Protestant English. Many Irish people had emigrated to Australia because the English had destroyed their homes and forced them out of England. The Kelly family was further looked down upon because Red Kelly (Ned’s father) was also a convict. Thus, Ned would always have been treated as nothing more than a criminal’s son, or even worse, an Irish criminal’s son.
How did Ned’s early years shape him as an adult? In 1865 he saved a young boy from drowning in a river. He was only a boy himself. The boy’s parents gave him a sash, a sash that obviously meant a lot to him, for he was wearing it when he was shot down at Glenrowan. A few years later, Ned was given 6 months hard labour for assaulting a Chinese man. Perhaps his growing sense of discontent at the social injustice surrounding him made him lash out at others as oppressed as him, because the English were too powerful to hurt.
Ned Kelly was only seen as a villain by the upper classes. His sympathisers in the lower classes were treated very badly, being held for months on end without charges or trial. They weren’t allowed to take up land holdings in the region as an attempt to get them out of North-East Victoria. The police were trying to discourage support of Ned Kelly within the lower classes. Their efforts weren’t successful, as 30,000 Victorians signed a petition, sympathetic to Ned, to stop him from being hanged. Also, the majority of people receiving a share of the reward money for the capture of the Kelly Gang were either in the police force, employees of the railways, or native trackers hired by the police.
The information about the deeds of the Kelly Gang is very clouded, an example of this being the Stringybark Creek incident, where 3 policemen were killed, with only Constable McIntyre living to tell the tale. Some insist that the Gang deliberately chose to stay and confront the police, rather than simply escape into the bush. In the Jerilderie Letter, Ned states that the police had many more weapons than were needed to purely arrest someone. The Kelly Gang believed the police had come with the intention of killing them. They believed their only chance of escape was to take the horses and weapons of the police. Many would believe their actions were ones of self-defence.
I think Ned Kelly was a hero because he always had a belief that the social inequalities of his days should be righted. He became caught up in a series of events over which he had little control. Towards the end he was no longer just fighting for his beliefs, he was fighting for his life, and the lives of his friends. Up until his final moments he still firmly believed he had fought for a just cause. To me, his final words “Such is life” suggest that he had tried his hardest to live for and by his beliefs. He died a man of honour, loyal to his friends, family and class. He died a spokesman for an entire generation of the oppressed.