Saturday, 19 January 2013

There was a rather strange funeral

yesterday. I did not attend it and I would have no desire to attend it. It was for a long dead bushranger, Ned Kelly.
I have never been able to understand the fuss that has been made about Ned Kelly. He was, in my view, nothing more than a common criminal and a murderer. He shot and killed three policemen at a place called Stringybark Creek but it is he and not they who have been remembered.
He has been accorded folk-hero status. There are people who say he should never have been convicted of any crimes, that he was some sort of freedom fighter who opposed oppressors.
He was not. He was a thief. His "oppressors" were law enforcement officers who were searching for someone who had not obeyed the law of the land. He shot and killed them in cold blood.
Despite all this the story of the Kelly Gang has gone down in history as some sort of heroism. It has been the subject of books - for both adults and children - of theatre, of art works and songs.
Worse still perhaps is that the story is taught in school - or should I say "mis-taught"? I can remember being told the story as part of our Australian history classes. I was told it at least once in primary school and then again in secondary school.
In secondary school I can remember asking my teacher, "But what about the men who were killed?" They were, I was told, not what the story was about. The three policemen, Sergeant Kennedy, Constable Lonigan and Constable Scanlon were not the important part of the story. We were being given a sanitised view of history. We were expected to accept that Kelly was some sort of hero. I could never do that.
Later still I can remember writers discussing the story and saying how it made "marvellous theatre" and that it was part of the "rich seam of colonial history to be mined". The problem was that it was not even approaching a true version of who Kelly was.
And, yesterday, that was happening all over again. Kelly family descendants came together to bury Kelly next to his mother. There is a fuss being made as if Kelly is some sort of hero. People actually want to claim a relationship with Kelly, just as some people have been proud to claim a relationship with a convict.
It is something else we were "mis-taught". We were told that people were sent to Australia from England for "stealing a loaf of bread or a handkerchief". They were not. They were sent to Australia for much more serious crimes.
Why are we continuing to mis-teach this? It seems we really do prefer fiction to fact..

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