Wednesday, March 12, 2008

'Ned Kelly's burial site' found - Tell Them I Died Game (BBC)

'Ned Kelly's burial site' found

Ned Kelly has become part of Australian folklore

The burial site
Scientists in Australia believe they have found the grave of 19th Century outlaw and national icon Ned Kelly.
His remains are thought to be among those of executed prisoners found on the site of an abandoned prison in the southern city of Melbourne.

Kelly was a bank robber who was hanged in 1880 for murdering three policemen.

After evading arrest for several years, he used home-made armour in a final shoot-out with police; his exploits have been the subject of several films.

The scene of his last stand has also been designated a national heritage site.

Kelly's story divides modern Australians, says the BBC's Phil Mercer in Sydney. Some see him as a folk hero, who fought the colonial British establishment, others simply as a violent criminal.

Either way, the Irish convict's son's daring bank robberies and escapes made him a legend.

Guns blazing

After two years on the run, police finally caught up with Kelly and his gang.

The outlaw made his own armour by beating plough blades into shape and walked towards police with guns blazing. He was shot 20 times but survived.

He was hanged for his crimes in 1880 and buried in a mass grave at the old Melbourne Gaol, but the whereabouts of his body has remained a mystery.

His remains, and those of others, were thought to have been reburied half a century later at Pentridge prison in Melbourne.

Archaeologists say they have now found the remains of 32 bodies in coffins in various states of decomposition. The bodies will now be subject to forensic tests.

"We believe we have conclusively found the burial site, but that is very different from finding the remains," Jeremy Smith, senior archaeologist with Heritage Victoria, told Reuters.

"If the remains exist, then we will have found them."


Ned Kelly, the subject of this year's Booker Prize-winning novel, was a violent outlaw. But Australians prefer to see him as a victim of heartless colonialism. And that makes him ripe for the Hollywood treatment, writes BBC News Online's Chris Horrie.

More than 120 years after his death, Australia's most celebrated outlaw is growing ever more popular in his homeland.

And now the success of Peter Carey's Booker Prize-winning novel about Ned Kelly may be set to boost the whiskery anti-hero onto the world stage via the Hollywood movie business.

Not everyone is happy with this emerging state of affairs, however.

Earlier this year the New South Wales Commissioner of Police complained that "adoration of Kelly reflects the black heart of nothingness that lies at the centre of the Australian character".

A few days later Australia's population looked deep into the dark existential void of its collective character and passed judgement in a TV opinion poll.

More than nine out of ten thought he was a national hero. The general opinion is that he is a martyr hounded into crime and then unjustly executed by evil Victorian British colonialists.

The British empire is now such a distant memory - with some of its horrors officially apologised-for by the UK government - that justified Victorian-Brit bashing causes little difficulty or offence and much cheer to many in Australia and around the world.

It is important that Kelly came from Ireland, the son of John 'Red' Kelly, born in 1820 in County Tipperary. Red Kelly was transported from Ireland to Van Diemens Land in 1841 for stealing pigs.

Carey emphasises the Irish connection throughout his novel and, at one point, has his fictional Ned say: "When our brave parents was ripped from Ireland like teeth from the mouth of their own history every dear familiar thing had been abandoned on the docks of Galway."
Fair enough perhaps, given the treatment of the Irish by English landlords in the 19th Century.

The erosion in respect for the old Australian Anglo-Saxon elite against whom Kelly fought - and the need for non-Brit national heroes to symbolise the new multi-cultural Australia - has led a bout of Ned-mania in the country.

A Ned Kelly exhibition opens in Melbourne Old Gaol this Monday and is expected to attract crowds, especially after the news of Carey's Booker Prize triumph.

Good auction bet

Exhibits include "Betty" - the outlaw's Snider Enfield Carbine rifle as used at the Euroa bank hold up in December 1878, the whiskey still used by the gang to brew moonshine at their Bullock Creek hideout and the doorframe from the Kelly family's outback shack.

In July 2001 a piece of Kelly's famous home-made suit of armour was sold at auction for more than US$100,000.

And last year there was a hell of a fuss when a modern day outlaw claimed he had stolen Kelly's skull from a prison museum 22 years ago, and said he would nor return it until Ned was officially pardoned.

The demand for a statue to be erected in front of the former British governor's mansion can not be long in coming.

World fame beckons?

The question now is whether Ned Kelly can achieve similar hero status in the United States and throughout the world.
American folk-hero bank robbers and outlaws like Jesse James and Pretty Boy Floyd have been big box office in the US.

Many of these enduring American anti-heroes could claim Irish or immigrant descent - but only at the distance of a few generations.

The potential attraction of Ned Kelly and his gang is that he combines the plus points of Bonnie and Clyde with the direct anti-English insurgency of a Braveheart. Film rights to Carey's book have already been snapped up.

At one point in Carey's novel Kelly says "all the Micks was just a notch below cattle".

That's the sort of talk that, even 150 years after the Irish potato famine, still strikes as much of a chord in Boston and California as it does in Botany Bay and Canberra.

The following is an Interview with author Dr.Graham Seal, folklorist and cultural historian. Dr. Seal is Deputy Director of Australian Studies at Curtin University of Technology in Perth. His other works include; The Outlaw Legend: a Cultural Tradition in Britain, America and Australia and the Encyclopedia of Folk Heroes.

Q. Firstly Graham, congratulations on your book 'Tell em I died game'. I enjoyed reading it and consider it a quality addition to anyone's Kelly collection. Was it the current surge in Kelly popularity and demand that inspired you to revise and re-release your work?
[Graham Seal] Thanks Nicky. Yes, to some extent it was the resurrection of Ned as a national icon after a few quiet years, though he never goes away altogether, of course! Also I'd had some further thoughts about it all since 1980 and felt the urge to get them down.

Q. You say in your book that as far as the legend of Ned Kelly is concerned it does not matter if he was a larrikin criminal, or a hero. Do you think the ongoing debate and 'side taking' on the issue manages to enhance or detract from the Kelly legend?
[Graham Seal] I think the debate is an essential element of Ned's longevity. As I say in the new last chapter his contradictions and his dual status as hero and villain neatly encapsulate our own contradictions - we have a romantic image of the bush but mostly live in cities; our mythologies are strong on anti-authoritarianism, but we are an exceptionally governed and law abiding mob and we espouse the 'fair go', yet there are demonstrably many who do not receive that, including but not restricted to indigenous peoples and asylum seekers.

Q. Given that you believe that the 'truth' is not that relevant to the Kelly legend, do you think the lack of clarity over historical 'facts', enables people to adjust their ideas of Ned to keep the legend relevant?
[Graham Seal] Mythmaking works by selecting and enhancing from historical events and producing a story or version that appeals to people for a variety of reasons, often fulfilling their needs. Certainly this is what I was trying to show regarding Ned Kelly's legend. Once the cultural processes of mythmaking and legendry get going the truth - whatever that might be - takes back seat.

Q. You note how Ned is described variously at different times in history - that the characteristics valued by society at any given time are used to depict and, or admire him. However you have not gone into much detail on the anti-Ned literature, such as that of Ned's contemporary Frances Hare, or the modern writings of Edgar Penzig. Do you think a national folk hero such as Ned Kelly needs such voices speaking against him in order to keep his supporters passionate in his defense? Is such 'anti-hero' sentiment essential to maintaining hero status?
[Graham Seal] Yes, this goes back to the earlier answer about Ned being an icon who combines the hero and the villain (actually quite common with folk heroes, especially those of the outlaw variety). In our case, he combines certain contradictions that resonate strongly of our national identity.

Q. You address the idea that Aaron Sherritt was "cast in the role of traitor", and claim his guilt or innocence is no more relevant to the Kelly story than Ned's. Without Aaron as the turncoat, do you think the police would have been sufficiently 'villainous' enough for the legend to retain its force?
[Graham Seal] From the perspective of folklore there has to be a traitor in outlaw hero stories. Sherritt - actually a very complex character - filled the role nicely. I don't think the police needed much help to be cast as, to say the least, heavy-handed! The Royal Commission that was held after the execution made it quite clear that there were major problems in the Victoria Police at that time and in the policing of n-e of Victoria. It is also very difficult to see the actions of the police at Glenrowan in a positive light.

Q. You explain how over time Kate Kelly has been seen as the prevailing 'heroine' of the story. The more recent public perception of her importance seems to have waned, and been spread more between her, Maggie Skillion (nee Kelly) and various love interests of Ned. Why do you think this has occurred within the myth?
[Graham Seal] Yes, that's an interesting point that I could have considered more. Again from a folkloric perspective, the helpful heroine is a stock standard of outlaw and some other types of hero traditions. While it was clearly Maggie who did most of the heroic stuff the younger and more publicity-conscious (took after her brother Ned there) Kate got the guernsey. I think the work done on the Kelly's in the last 20 years or so by scholars like Ian Jones and John McQuilton have contributed to a reassessment of Maggie's role, though I would argue that as far as folklore is concerned it matters little which sister it was, as long as there is a helpful heroine!

Q. You assert that the Kellys were not actually as motivated by Irish sentiments as is widely portrayed, but that they "...had no other means of expressing their anger than through the inherited images and clich├ęs of Irish nationalism." How important do you think the Irish influence is over the Kelly legend? Do you believe the legend would have been so widely accepted if, from the outset, the gang had expressed an 'Australian sentiment' instead?
[Graham Seal] The Irish heritage was extremely important, of course, as it comes out in Ned's own words in the Jerilderie Letter and elsewhere. But his problems, and those of people like him were very much of that time and place and his actions, even though informed by the language and grievances of Irishism, were responses to the local situation. Given the resonances of Irishism in Australia, especially in those days, and the widespread conflicts associated with free selection (to which bushranging was one response), Ned didn't need to articulate an Australian-ness, his actions were perceived as relating to Australian issues.

Q.What do you think of the way Ned is portrayed in schools, and do you think this has/will change over time? Every Aussie school kid learns about the bushranger Ned Kelly. Is the schoolroom where opinion on Ned is generally formed? Do you think it is it the nursery for the persistence of the legend?
[Graham Seal] Is he portrayed in schools? My impression is that Australian history, culture, etc have just about disappeared from secondary curricula altogether!

Q. What role, if any, do you see the 'information age' playing in the future of the legend of Ned Kelly?
[Graham Seal] I really think that Ned has staying power as a national icon. Until we undergo some fundamental changes to the ways we think about ourselves Ned will continue to appeal and to be reworked and adapted to new circumstances, generation after generation.

Q. Do you think Ned would recognize himself in the legend?
[Graham Seal] That's a good question: yes, I think that his character and his actions, whatever we might think of them, were such that they were appropriate to the genesis of his legend. He was noted by his peers before the outbreak and his bushranger actions (which he made sure were good 'spin') were carried out in accordance with the moral code of the outlaw hero, which was familiar to the many who supported and sympathised with him and which acted as guidelines for what was OK and what was not. How many other bushrangers were not celebrated as heroes - an awful lot.
[Nicky] Thank you very much for your time Graham, I wish you all the best with the release of the book.

Copyright Bailup 2002

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