Poor old Ned. With the news yesterday that the remains of the infamous armour wearing bushranger and Australian icon, Ned Kelly, have been positively identified, will he finally get an actual place of rest?
After his execution, Ned Kelly was originally buried in the grounds of the Melbourne Gaol (I did an earlier post about Ned’s ‘mum’ telling us his story in the gaol museum). When the prisoners graves there were opened in 1929 his remains were spread far and wide by souvenir hunters, although most were quickly returned. After this little ‘excursion’ his bones were moved to Pentridge prison. His skull spent some time at the Australian Institute of Anatomy, then was moved back to the Melbourne Gaol museum. It was stolen from there in 1978 and hasn’t been seen since.
There has been much discussion in the media as to what should be done with him now. I don’t think his remains should be treated as a drawcard for some tourist attraction. Shouldn’t he be allowed to be buried peacefully? He was hung for his crimes in 1880, after all. It isn’t like allowing his bones to be buried in Greta with the rest of his beloved family is letting him off the hook, is it?
I know, he was a bad guy. In his short, but lively, career he was a horse thief and not averse to re-homing valuables. He also took hostages, although once supplied them with dinner and a show. The killing of a policeman named Lonigan was the crime he hung for, although he also killed two others named Scanlon and Kennedy. He was accused of shooting at (but not killing), a policemen named Fitzpatrick but he was being a bit too forward with Ned’s sister, so probably got off lightly.
Was he a hero or a villain? The Ned Kelly story is part of Australian folklore regardless of your point of view. I have noticed in my travels through old newspapers that the policemen of yesteryear were not the highly trained officers we have today. Rather, they were the men who were the best at getting people to do what they wanted, and weren’t afraid of a fight, often in court themselves. I am generalizing, of course. Some officers were dedicated to justice, but Ned and his family believed they were the victims of persecution by the police and behaved accordingly. I can’t tell you if they were unfairly treated or not, although he and his family behaved in ways that were certain to attract police attention.
Judging the incidents of the past by the society we live in today is a bit unrealistic. It is hardly surprising he is seen more and more as a hero. Crime is glorified on television these days (Underbelly, anyone?) and I am sure he won’t be the last bad guy whose name will be remembered long after he is gone.