Ned Kelly was a thug

This bit of advertising for some "Authentic Ned Kelly Collectables" fell out my local paper The Irrigator this week and I've since been talking about the crap written in it to anyone who'll listen. While the text has some entertaining 'weasel' words, like mention of the "gold-toned handle" and "wood-tone display"; the "art" deserves focus here.

These replica knives, presumably because they're not actually knives rather than based on one owned by Kelly, continue the mythologised view of Ned Kelly, rather than the view largely supported by historical record that he was thug from an early age who was charismatic enough to attract a gang to follow him.

The sympathetic view is that he was a victim of police harassment because he was poor, Catholic and of Irish descent and forced into a life of crime to avoid being set-up as a criminal and locked up for crimes he didn't commit.

Kelly became the most infamous of Australia's bush rangers in large part because the suit of armour he fashioned was too iconic to be supported by the life of the man within it. Sidney Nolan's series of Ned Kelly paintings do a beaut job of showing this as the visor in the helmet shows the background, demonstrating the armour as empty.

I understand the anti-authoritarianism appeal of Ned Kelly and have read that this is why the successful Australian film industry was dealt a blow when the popular bushranger movies were banned in the early 20th century. The 1906 film The Story of the Kelly Gang was the first feature-length film released anywhere in the world but only fragments of it remain today.

Anyway, back to the replica knives/art forms. It's not clear whether the representations on them include Kelly escaping conviction for highway robbery in 1870 because witnesses described him as "half-caste" when police thought this was due to him being unwashed. And there probably isn't enough space on the blades to show the 18 charges that were brought against Ned Kelly before he was declared an outlaw, half of which resulted in convictions.

History shows Ned Kelly was a thug and a murderer. Circumstances may have given him little choice but there is still little to celebrate in his life and it's unclear how he changed Australia forever.