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BOOKS OF THE

THE WEEK

Ned Kelly's Enemies

And Friends

THE KELLY HUNTERS, by Frank Clune. – Angus and Robertson, Sydney. 25s.

IF young Ned Kelly, Joe

Byrne, Steve Hart and Dan Kelly had operated in England there would long since have been plaques and relics across

the country to beguile tourists.

Down in Jerilderie, the town which the Kelly gang so adroit- ly put in their pockets for a couple of days, there are no such frivolities. Indeed most of the people there still seem to regard the episode as a sort of local scandal, about which the less said the better.

It is much the same at Glen- rowan, where the last battle in the Kelly War was fought. A stran- ger there is liable to get mono- syllabic replies; and the closer he moves to the Wombat Ranges the less indulgence his curiosity

will encounter.

Although it all happened three quarters of a century ago, the Kelly War in a sense continues.

Ever since 30,000 people in Melbourne signed a petition in a few days in an attempt to save young Ned from being hanged, the point at issue has been: Was he a ruthless scoundrel or a wronged rebel? It is only in and near the "Kelly country" that the outsider is made to feel very smartly that this is a private dis- pute.

The histories published in re- cent years have been more sym- pathetic than they used to be to- wards Ned Kelly's memory and now Frank Clune, in the best documented large study, quickens

that trend.

*

MR. CLUNE has been collect-

ing Kellyana for 20 years; evidently much of it has been long digesting in his mind, for this is no hasty job. And now critics who have said in the past that Australia's most garrulous author could never write system- atically and concisely will have to

eat those words.

He begins the book with the announcement of a notable dis- covery about the start of the Kelly affair. Ned's father, John, was transported in 1841 from Tipperary to Tasmania for steal- ing two pigs, and not for shoot- ing at a landlord as the Victorian Royal Commission indicated in "an unwarrantable piece of pro- paganda."

(Incidentally, John's mother, a Cody, was "probably a blood-

relative of Buffalo Bill"; there- fore two folklore heroes may have been kinsmen.)

Mr. Clune quotes official re- cords to show that John was a quiet, orderly prisoner during the seven years' ordeal in Tasmania. In north-eastern Victoria, as a struggling dairyman for 19 years, he seems to have been timid and

Two of the heraldic animals which stood at the     entrance to Westminister Abbey on the ccasion of     the Coronation in June, 1953. The Red Dragon of       Wales (left), and the Falcon of the Plantagenets.    

— From THE QUEEN'S BEASTS.– Newman Neame Ltd., London (sponsored by the Shell Company).    

peaceful. Shortly before his death he was gaoled for having illegal possession of "one cow hyde": he had stolen twice in his life, both times for food.

The germs of the Kelly out- break came mostly from trouble among the Quinns, Ned's moth- er's clan of Irish immigrants; but Mr. Clune disproves the theory that the family was innately vici-

ous.

In Victoria the numerous Kel- lys, Quinns, and related Lloyds had a clean sheet from 1841 to

1860. They were nearly all small farmers hemmed in by the moun- tains and the big squatter hold- ings. The Quinn patriarch's farm was of poor land amid rough bush country in which his and other men's cattle strayed.

In 1860 the police launched a powerful campaign against the clan, and in the next 20 years,

up to the death of Ned Kelly,

they charged 13 Quinns, Kellys   and Lloyds with 57 offences. In   23 cases the prosecution failed. Of the convictions 11 were for minor offences, and Mr. Clune makes it fairly clear that many of the remaining 23 were false ac- cusations.

Persecution infuriated the youngsters of the Irish clan. They were a wild lot, says Mr. Clune, but they became wilder when they learned from experience that the law was lopsided.

Ned was probably willing enough to break the law in the matter of a straying horse; even so, his first six months' gaol, at the age of 15 in 1870, was over a ridiculous and trivial affair, and at 16, when he was given six years, he was again probably innocent again.

Gaol further embittered him. He worked honestly for two years, then took to duffing in a big way.

When Ned was 22 the second in command of the Victorian police visited the district and in a report on the Kelly family

said that "the gang" must be  

"rooted out of this neighbour-  

hood." This hypocrite added:  

"I expressed my opinion to the   officer in charge of that district,   that, without oppressing the people, or worrying them in any   way, he should endeavour, when-   ever they committed any paltry   crime, to bring them to justice,  

and send them to Pentridge even   on a paltry sentence ..."  

Along Mr. Clune's perspective   there is a classic tragic inevita-

bility about the coming fight. The immediate cause was "a frame-up without the slightest doubt."

That was when Ned's mother, the little mother of 12 child- ren – she was only 5ft 2in – was arrested with her baby Alice in her arms and charged with abetting an attempt to mur- der a policeman in her cottage.

Warrants were taken out for the arrest of the boys Dan and Ned (he had not even been at the farm) for attempted murder. His mother was held six months without trial, then sentenced to three years' gaol.

Heavily armed groups of police opened the Kelly hunt. Mr. Clune makes the unfamiliar point that the shooting down of the bushranger "Midnight" in New South Wales, officially "while at- tempting to escape," had occur- red in the same month and was probably taken by Ned as an indication that he and Dan would get the same treatment.

Soon afterwards the brothers, with Byrne and Hart, came on one of the parties and killed three policemen.

*

THE rest is well-known history,

and Mr. Clune gives it with gusto – the bloodless raids on Euroa and Jerilderie, the killing of the informer Sherritt, the making of the suits of armour, the twelve hours' "tragedy of errors" in the battle of Glen- rowan, and the final trial.

That has been told a hundred times. It is not the only vivid section of this book. Ned Kel- ly's extraordinary power of character keeps breaking through other parts, and even sometimes dominates Mr. Clune.

Although it is the best yet, not all of the book is well document- ed; that would be impossible; but even at the expense of the narra- tive readers may wish Mr. Clune had more often compared con- flicting versions of an incident instead of choosing what he con- siders the more probable.

In Kellyanaland there is plenty more work to be done. Mr. Clune has wisely avoided conjec-

LITERARY AMERICA: No. 9

* MARK TWAIN (1835-1910) was plain Sam Clemens, an unsuccessful prospector with an itch to write, when at 27 he joined the staff of the local paper in Virginia City. His fame as a journalist spread through the west long before his essays, travel journals and novels made him a national, then international figure. "Tom Sawyer" appeared in 1876 fol- lowed by the masterpiece, "Huckleberry Finn." This photo- graph shows a Mississippi River backwater (in Australia it would be a billabong) opposite the town of Hannibal — the spot to which Mark Twain referred when Huck Finn reported:

I run the canoe into a deep dent in the bank I knowed about . . . and when I made fast nobody could'a seen the canoe from the outside ...

ture on most pyschological points. His Ned is less rounded than in Douglas Stewart's drama though a more humorous ranter than in Max Brown's and several other books.

Byrne, Hart and Dan are put in barest outline. Still, there can hardly be any question that Ned Kelly was "at all times the mas- termind of the gang."

Mr. Clune denies having sym- pathies for the criminal. He should not have made the denial. He shows a great deal of sym- pathy, and so will the readers now that the main points of the Kelly story have been brought out more clearly than ever be-

fore.

He has enlarged the monument built by literature and folklore, to a young man who "never had

George Molnar, "Herald" cartoonist, presents significant and  

decorative masonry for all occasions, public and domestic, in   his book of more than 80 satirical, symbolic statues. This  

one is entitled "Statue of Mother and Progressive Child."  

– STATUES – Phoenix House, London. 13/3.

a chance to become what his good talents, keen intelligence and splendid physique should have made him, a leader in some field of reputable endeavour."

– PETER G. HARDING.

Digitisation generously supported by
Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation
Digitisation generously supported by

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