TONY JONES: Ian Jones, how did Ned Kelly evolve from a young boy in constant trouble with the police into a legend -- in a sense the hero of the struggling poor selectors in their battle against the squatters and the Melbourne aristocracy or the Melbourne club?

IAN JONES: He wasn't in constant trouble with the police to start with, Tony.

Ned Kelly was jailed for three years -- three years hard labour for innocently receiving a stolen horse.

This tape is when Alex Mc Dermott and Ian Jones disputed the Kelly legacy, enjoy! 

What sort of man was he?

IAN JONES: He was a man who wasn't a victim.

He wasn't on the receiving end all the time.

He dictated his own destiny to a very large extent.

He made some bad decisions, some serious mistakes, which headed his life in particular directions at particular times, often with tragic results.

He was a likable man.

As I say, an incredibly brave man.

At Glenrowan he showed almost superhuman strength and endurance and if you start adding up all his qualities, you start to sound like you are creating a wish fulfilment figure.

This is the danger with Ned Kelly, the fact that he is almost too good to be true.

If you line up all the qualities that you would look for in an Australian folk hero, a frontier folk hero, Ned Kelly seems to have them all.

TONY JONES: Let me throw that straight to Alex McDermott.

You say the dark side of Ned Kelly has been somehow underplayed or ignored by most historians and you describe his brooding and implacable menace.

Now you tell us your view of him.

ALEX McDERMOTT, AUTHOR, 'THE THINGS NED KELLY SAID': He was obviously one of the most charismatic and engaging characters in the region at the time.

Every single person who encountered him was not only intimidated and frightened by him but in awe of the man.

He did manage to attain a great deal of prowess through his horse-riding ability, his physical stature, his ability to beat up anyone who crossed his path.

IAN JONES: This idea that he beats up anyone who comes across his path is simply not true.

ALEX McDERMOTT: That's what Ned says in his own letter.

TONY JONES: I would like to get to your broader argument, particularly as you have drawn from the Jerilderie Letter a lot of bloodcurdling threats which Ned Kelly evidently was making through this letter.

What is the point, in your article, of dwelling on these things?

Why are you suggesting that Ned Kelly has made threats to others?

ALEX McDERMOTT: One of my chief points of dwelling on those aspects of the letter in the article was because most other historians have tended to run a mile from them, and trying to explain them away by saying things like, "The letter is a composite production, "it's not Ned Kelly's voice here, "it's been worked on by Ned Kelly and Joe Byrne."

As Ian puts it in his study, it's a composite production that defies psychological analysis.

My particular point is that what is so frightening about this letter is it gives us such a clear picture and image of what was going through Ned's mind at this stage.

TONY JONES: Ian Jones, there is some bloodthirsty stuff in the Jerilderie Letter.

Did Ned Kelly write it?

Did he intend to carry out these threats against people who informed or worked with the police?

IAN JONES: Of course he didn't.

This is bulldust.

I mean this stuff in the letter is bulldust.

ALEX McDERMOTT: He is having a joke?

He is playing around?

IAN JONES: He is not having a joke.

He is intimidating.

This is would-be intimidating.

It's bluff.

It's Harry Power bluff on a gigantic scale.

Ned Kelly's mentor in bushranging, Harry Power, used a booming voice and piercing blue eyes to intimidate people so he never had to use his gun.

TONY JONES: There is a long tradition of dealing bloodily with traitors and informers in Irish history.

Is this part of it?



TONY JONES: Because they dealt bloodily with one person identified as being a traitor and that was Aaron Sheritt.

IAN JONES: Aaron Sheritt, who was a lifelong mate of Joe Byrne, and Joe Byrne killed him.

I don't think Ned was very happy with that decision but went along with it.

I don't think Ned truly believed Aaron had betrayed them.

After he was captured, he said to one of the police -- he said, "Did you torture Aaron?"

He couldn't understand how it was possible that Aaron Sheritt had betrayed him.

Once Joe decided that Aaron had to die, that had to become part of the plan, otherwise it would wreck everything.

TONY JONES: In the end, Kelly was the leader of that gang.

IAN JONES: Certainly.

TONY JONES: That murder would not have happened without his say-so, would it?

IAN JONES: Probably not.

But then, you forget he was also planning to kill an entire train load of police.

We're looking at warfare here.

We're looking at guerilla warfare in which one life --

ALEX McDERMOTT: So it's not an unhinged mind, it's warfare.

TONY JONES: Alex McDermott, what is your view of the Aaron Sheritt killing?

ALEX McDERMOTT: I think it's fairly typical of the time and the culture that was taking place.

You see, what was fairly detailed is the amount of litigation and arguments and stealing of each other's stock, even amongst these small groups and clans.

It's not as if they were an entirely cohesive, lovely, matey unit that were at war against the outside world that's busy trying to oppress them or anything.

They're half the time carrying out feuds and personal feuds which is why Ned Kelly growing up is running to the police to hide from his uncles who are trying to beat him up and so on.

This is a continual thing that spills over into what we know of as the Kelly outbreak.

My problem with the traditional view of Ned Kelly is that it's just a humble, decent man trying to do what he does until the big, bad oppressive people come along.

That's an unreasonable way to look at any human being.

TONY JONES: Ian Jones, how did Ned Kelly evolve from a young boy in constant trouble with the police into a legend -- in a sense the hero of the struggling poor selectors in their battle against the squatters and the Melbourne aristocracy or the Melbourne club?

IAN JONES: He wasn't in constant trouble with the police to start with, Tony.

Ned Kelly was jailed for three years -- three years hard labour for innocently receiving a stolen horse.

I don't think anyone who looks at the evidence can believe for a moment that he was anything -- that he had received the horse -- could doubt he received the horse innocently, not knowing it was stolen.

ALEX McDERMOTT: The police finally managed to nail him on one particular case but he was reputed throughout the district both to selectors, to people, to the police as being a wild and notorious character.

And this gets no mention at all in your work, Ian.

IAN JONES: How is he known throughout the district as a wild, notorious character, Alex?

ALEX McDERMOTT: In that particular thing I'm quoting from the police themselves.

It came out in the Royal Commission after the outbreak.

I realise you'll say "Well, we cannot listen to the police, what would they say?"

But I feel wherever you find evidence, you have to try to weigh it up.

It seems to be indicative of a sentiment that was being voiced throughout the newspapers and the police at the time and I don't think you can just all say it's a smokescreen.

TONY JONES: Ian Jones, can I come back to the central point.

Was he a criminal clansman or did he have a sort of political purpose?

Was he struggling with some kind of roots of Irish rebellion against authorities?

IAN JONES: You get back to the clan, you get back to the core of it.

Ned was a member of the Lloyd Quinn clan who were in constant trouble with the police.

He was the most formidable member of that clan.

Consequently he was regarded as the most dangerous man of the group and physically he was.

Now, his evolution into a political figure came about simply because of the way the police handled the Kelly outbreak.

They -- there was tremendous popular support for the Kelly Gang which was increased throughout their outbreak.

ALEX McDermott: Popular support?


As in the region?

Poor selectors?

That was the support?

Or larrikins in Melbourne?

Precisely who?

IAN JONES: Throughout the region.

ALEX McDermott: So selectors who were losing their only draft horse are all of a sudden going to go, "Wow, that Ned Kelly is a great guy, "I'm going to support him, he is on our side"?

How does that add up?

IAN JONES: That is what they seemed to do, Alex.

That is why the police became impossibly frustrated because they hadn't lost their last draft horse to Ned Kelly.

This is a line, for heaven's sake.

TONY JONES: How widespread was his support, among the poor selectors in Kelly country at least?

IAN JONES: Very widespread and not just among poor selectors.

The general spread of popular support for the Kelly gang was an enormous frustration to the police which is why they started doing stupid things by locking people up without trial for up to three months and eventually setting up a black list of friends, relatives, people who had even slightly known members of the Kelly Gang and they were not allowed to take up land in the Kelly country.

This is what catapulted the Kelly outbreak into a rebellion.

Because at that point, Ned Kelly had to act on behalf of a whole class of people in the north-east.

TONY JONES: Ian Jones, your reading of the final siege at Glenrowan is that it was meant to be a general uprising, a rebellion, if you say.

Is that how you, in the end, see Ned Kelly -- as a failed revolutionary?



A revolutionary who failed simply because he was not at core violent and ruthless enough to carry it through.

That's the only reason it failed.

TONY JONES: Alex McDermott, what's your view of the last stand?

ALEX McDermott: Well, it's the culminating point of a fellow that's pretty much gone off the rails.

I must say I fundamentally disagree with Ian's argument that the reason why there was very little support for the police in the area was because they were all in support of Kelly and his gang.

I would offer the contrary argument -- there's such a history of fear and climate of intimidation that Ned, amongst others, has managed to inculcate over the years, that no-one is going to be coming forth with information if they're aware they're running a high risk of losing their fences to being burnt or very traditional forms of retaliation that are deeply enmeshed in the culture itself.

TONY JONES: Ian Jones, in the end, did Ned Kelly change anything for those poor selectors?

Did he change anything for the better in their ways of life?

IAN JONES: Yes, he did.

As a direct result of the Kelly outbreak, the whole land policy was re-evaluated and with -- particularly with the work of Robert Graham who took over the Kellys' hometown after the destruction of the gang -- the Kelly country's rehabilitated even though the rebellion continued for nearly a year after the destruction of the gang.

And that gives the lie to this whole thing about a community kept in subjection by this creature that Alex would have us believe in.

I mean that's this ridiculous 1880 image of Ned Kelly.

That was gone, yet the Kelly rebellion continued.

New suits of armour were being made and it was eventually defused by Robert Graham.

The Kelly country became a place where Robert Graham could get married, bring his wife and raise a child.

I mean that was one legacy.

The other legacy, of course, is the Royal Commission of 1881.

Ned was outspoken in his criticism of the way the police had conducted not only the conduct of the pursuit of the Kellys but the way they had handled the entire north-east and the Royal Commission of 1881 created a tradition of public accountability which -- and self-examination which exists in the Victoria police to this day and I believe it gave us the foundation of what is arguably the best police force in Australia.

That I regard as Ned's greatest legacy.

TONY JONES: Alex McDermott, what do you see as Ned Kelly's legacy?

ALEX McDermott: If Ned Kelly had not lived, we wouldn't have one of the most precious icons that we now have to worship.

He is up there with Don Bradman and Phar Lap.

He is something we can empathise with as a mythic figure and I feel that's a wonderful thing.

But it's important to remember that's quite different to the historical reality that took place.

TONY JONES: I'm afraid we have to leave it.

Alex McDermott, Ian Jones, thank you both for joining us.

A lively and spirited discussion