The Summer of Ned Kelly

Preface: I wrote this at the start of January. But a dead iPad (well, seriously ill one) and a trip overseas (I did cross the Tasman Sea) have intervened in my blogging. So imagine you have read my next few entries a couple of weeks ago. Summer is not over – February is generally hotter than January, but my summer holidays are ending today. Back to work tomorrow. However, my Kelly Summer is not yet over.

A search of my local library’s catalogue reveals 92 items on Ned Kelly. That doesn’t include the items that would be about bushrangers in general (179 items) or with bits about Ned Kelly. The 92 does include multiples of some items. Still, a worthy amount.

A quick dash last Saturday to the main branch, as the sub-branches are shut until the new year, and I return home with a start on my Summer of Ned Kelly.

First up a mini-series that I thought would be boring and sensationalist, coming as it does from a commercial channel, and made in 1980. But it was brilliant. I don’t remember it being on tele but then I was busy with high school.

The mini-series is historically accurate with great attention to detail. It is filmed on location in the north-east of Victoria – Kelly country. Looking at how hard the life was then for the poor, I can see why they turned to crime. Bugger tilling the hard Australian soil. The hard labour of timber cutting. And living in gaping, drafty slab huts – bloody uncomfortable. (But all shown with great accuracy.)

The only dodgy bit – the accents! Great costumes, transport and scenery. And of course, a riveting tale. With a young Sigrid Thornton. Her first role of many bonnet dramas?

In the manner of 1980s miniseries, it is very long. Four episodes of over 90 minutes each. But I loved it. Brilliant.

Mr S, who doesn’t like much on tele, asked why this wasn’t a bigger hit. He can’t remember it either. Not only is it well done in terms of historical accuracy, setting and props, it is also a great tale with plenty of humour.


Half way through, and Ned is not as swoon-inducing as Drew’s Ned Kelly. But he’s definitely a manly man and a champion horse rider.

I’ve finished Ned’s (I feel on first name basis with him now) Jerilderie Letter. This is Ned Kelly’s explanation for his actions, in particular the shooting of the three police.

What a strong voice! The years melt away. His presence feels so near.

In parts very poetic, in a base, earthy manner.

In other parts it reads as a political desertion.

In yet others he sounds like a truculent adolescent who doesn’t want to take ownership of his actions. “Not my fault. Only did it because he gave me no choice. He made me do it.” Oh haven’t I heard this a few times in my career?!?

The copy I read was interspersed with photos, one of which showed the actual handwriting of Joe Byrne, who transcribed it for Ned. Really lovely handwriting.


8000 words from a bushranger, who had limited education and spent much of his time camping out bush.

Can you see his attraction? No simple dismissal as a common criminal. A man who encompasses such diversity, and so many contradictions.


11 thoughts on “The Summer of Ned Kelly

  1. I do love me a bushranger with gorgeous… handwriting. And that, of course, is why he was so popular with the ladies. It was his PENMANSHIP. Now I know:)

    • Funny girl! Who doesn’t like a nice pen hold?

      Except it was Joe Byrne who had the penmanship. Back to Ned, I can swoon at a nice turn of phrase, at a man who is good with words. You too?

  2. Fun fun! This reminds me of the tv show Lost, where even the “bad” characters had positive qualities and even the “good” characters were flawed.

  3. I agree – he’s a very enigmatic character. Complex, so many shades of grey. I can’t help but admire his writings while at the same time being very torn by his actions and his rationales at times. He is a fascinating and complex figure.

    We had a bit of a Kelly fixation a few years ago, reading lots at the time. We’ve taken Mr. 10 several times to the Domed Reading Room at the State Library here in Melbourne to see Ned’s armour on display – quite fascinating to see it close up. We haven’t been to the Old Melbourne Gaol yet (a few streets away from the Library) – too creepy for younger kids. We visited the Lockup and Courthouse in Beechworth and the kids had a lot of fun standing in the dock running mock trials. Maybe a trip to Beechworth and on to Melbourne is in order??

    • It is easy to get fixated. The complexity but also his gentlemanlike nature.

      Mr S is excited to visit Kelly country for a few days before our ski trip to Falls Creek this June. We won’t make it as far as Melbourne, but I definitely want to get there one day and see the gaol and the State Library. (And do some shoe shopping!) I’ve only been to Melbourne once, over 22 years ago, and only for a couple of days, as we detoured on a camping trip.

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