AUSTRALIAN FOLK HERO
But no one single handed
Can hope to break the bars
It's a thousand like Ned Kelly
Who'll hoist the Flag of Stars
"I tell you that highway robbery is only in its infancy, for the white population is been driven out of the labour market by an inundation of Mongolians, and when the white man is driven to desperation there will be desperate times". Ned Kelly, letter to Sir Henry Parkes 1879
Ned Kelly's first brush with the law came when, at 14 years old, he was charged with beating up a Chinaman. Ah Fook had asked Ned's sister for some "water" [Fook was possibly a police spy, checking out unlicensed "sly grog" sellers; indeed, Ned's mum was to be later charged with selling "sly grog"], and had become abusive when she only gave him water. When Ned told him to "Clear out you Chow!", Fook brandished a bamboo stick at him, whereupon Ned took the stick, hit him, and chased him away. Ned was later locked up in remand for 12 days, but was not convicted. It has been said that Ned hated the Chinese presence in Australia for several reasons, one being that he blamed them for his friend Joe Byrne getting addicted to the opium drug, provided in their "opium dens".
The police in the Beechworth area constantly victimised and harried the Kellys, Quinns and Lloyds, and many of the men in these three families had trouble with the law [often for minor offences]. Ned himself was jailed at 15 for 6 months for minor offences; and later jailed for 2 1/2 years for "receiving" a stolen horse [he was originally charged with stealing it, until the police found out he was in jail at the time]; and some years later arrested and fined for drunkenness
In 1878 Ned, and his brother Dan, were accused by a police constable, Fitzpatrick, of trying to shoot him. It is now generally believed that Fitzpatrick was lying; and Ned said of him that "I have been told by Police that he is hardly ever sober, also between him and his father they sold his sister to a Chinaman" [indeed, Fitzpatrick was later sacked because he "could not be trusted"].
Facing fifteen years in jail, because of a policeman's false accusations, and hearing [as Ned later wrote] "how the police used to be blowing that they would shoot me first and then cry Surrender", Ned and Dan "took to the hills", later to be joined by two of their friends, Steve Hart and Joe Byrne.
When the police were sent out to hunt down the Kellys, three policemen were killed in the ensuing shootout; following which, the Victorian Governor proclaimed the four as "outlaws" [that is, anyone could shoot them; they were "outside the law"].
The Kelly Gang roamed the bush for over two years, defying the police hunt for them: they held up the National Bank in Euroa; took over the NSW town of Jerilderie, robbed the Bank of NSW there, and gave the town's population free drinks at the pub [where Ned produced his famous "Jerilderie Letter"]; then later took over the Victorian town of Glenrowan [again, the town's population received free drinks], where the four were finally cornered by 34 police in a long and bloody shootout. Joe, Dan and Steve died, but Ned survived his 28 shot wounds, and was captured by the police.
Ned, and his family, had for years been constantly harassed, and often falsely accused by the corrupt policemen of the local area. The Kelly Gang did not see themselves as Bushrangers [there was no sticking up of mail coaches and robbing of travellers] and, as Allan Nixon wrote, "their robbing of two banks ... would serve to remind people that they were against authority"; indeed, the proceeds of each bank robbery were actually distributed to the gang's family, friends and sympathisers. Ned's radical thoughts are apparent; it was said that "in the hour of his capture, the police took from his pocket a declaration for a Republic of North Eastern Victoria!". Indeed, his Jerilderie Letter shows, as Allan Nixon pointed out, "elements of a manifesto" and a "foreshadowing of a rebellion".
Although his date of birth is not known [commonly believed to be between November 1854 to January 1855], his death by hanging on the 11th November 1880 is a date etched into our national memory.
In fact, the 11th of the 11th is also important to Australians for other reasons: 1] the sacking of Gough Whitlam, by the "Queen's Representative", Governor-General John Kerr, in 1975; 2] the end of the futile First World War, in which so many Australians needlessly died in foreign fields, in 1918; 3] the formation of the Ballarat Reform League, which led to the Eureka Stockade rebellion, in 1854.
"Cold blooded murder is ... something different to shooting three troopers in self defence and robbing a bank ... I did not blame them for doing their honest duty but I could not suffer them blowing me to pieces ... in my own native land ... I give fair warning ... I am a widows son outlawed and my orders must be obeyed."
Ned Kelly, The Jerilderie Letter, 1879.
"For I need no lead or powder
to revenge my cause
And if words be louder,
I will oppose your laws".
Ned Kelly, The Cameron Letter, 1878.
A HEROES OF AUSTRALIA SERIES
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