Sunday, 18 February 2018

Criminals who kill Police

The Four Police killed by the Clarke Gang in 1867

“Towards evening on 8th January 1867 Special Constable Carroll and his men set out on foot from Jinden, in the midst of the Jingeras, south of Braidwood, intending to visit the house of a man named McGuinness, whom they suspected of harbouring the Clarkes. The property was 6 kilometres from the hamlet, the last kilometre of the road passing through thick scrub.

At around 8.30 pm the residents in the McGuinness house heard shots coming from the vicinity of the scrub. Some time later other shots were heard. Nobody thought to leave the house to investigate.

The following morning, stockmen found the bodies of special constables Phegan and McDonnell lying on the road. Both had suffered multiple gunshot wounds. Three revolvers lay near Phegan’s body. A kilometre away, the bodies of Carroll and Kennagh were found by a police patrol from Ballalaba. Carroll had been shot in the head and through the heart. He was lying on his back with a neatly folded handkerchief and a pound note pinned to his chest. Kennagh had been shot in the throat. None of the men were robbed of their valuables.

It was thought that all four men were ambushed in the scrub – Phegan and McDonnell being hit and falling almost immediately. Carroll and Kennagh managed to run but were forced to surrender. They were then executed. Powder burns on Carroll’s face suggested he was shot at close range

This is an extract from “Bushrangers : Australia’s greatest self made heroes” by Evan McHugh, published in 2011 by Penguin Books. It describes the worst single act of police murder in Australian history, the killing of four police in 1867.

Ive posted it here for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it horrified me. The thought of  those four police walking into that trap and being slaughtered, executed like criminals by the Clarke Gang is almost unimaginable, it turned my stomach. Then I wondered why it is that I don’t have the same reaction to an almost identical horror –  the killing of three police at Stringybark Creek by the Kelly Gang. I’ve concluded that in all our discussions about SBC, about exactly where it took place, who told lies about what happened, how there could be four wounds from one shot, what the police motivations were, what the Gang really intended when they went there, why Kennedy was hunted down, and so on – all those deliberations have caused me at least, and I think many Kelly apologists as well to lose sight of the horror that SBC actually was. These merciless killings were undertaken by a gang of delinquent youths – Kelly and Byrne were 23 and 22, Hart was 19 and Dan Kelly 17 – and their victims were adult men in their 30’s, two married with children to support. Kennedy was hunted down and executed. Lonigan and Scanlon were shot the moment they attempted to resist. It was an appalling inexcusable slaughter, and there simply cannot be any excuse for it, though of course, many have been made. The self defence excuse has been thoroughly debunked, another nail going into that coffin as recently as the Lawless TV miniseries last year. The description of these murders by apologists as a ‘shoot out’ or as ‘a fair fight’ is a blatant falsification. This outrage, by itself ought to have long ago ended any idle chatter about Ned Kelly being any sort of hero.

What happened I think was that the inexperienced  Ned Kelly, feeling tough because he had a gun in his hands , full of bravado and rash thoughtless youthful anger and police hate, imagined he could do what he had seen his former teacher Harry Power do : disarm people, take what he wanted and disappear. Harry Power, much older and much wiser knew how to threaten with a gun but not be forced to use it; that was the subtle skill and critical lesson Ned Kelly never learned.  Powers victims were ordinary citizens on the road – Ned Kelly took on armed police! They were out there specifically charged with the task of bringing him in, a completely different prospect to travellers just wanting to stay alive. Kelly obviously never thought about that - what a fool! And so seemingly without hesitation he blundered into the police camp, never having properly thought out what possible responses there might be and how he might react, and from the very first minute it all went disastrously wrong. Three good men dead and the Gang on the run. 


The other reason I posted this description was as a reminder that the Kelly Outbreak didn’t happen in a vacuum. There was a considerable history of bushranging in the Colonies, and when men joined the police they would have known these stories of police murder, and of the other atrocities committed by bushrangers against them. It made me realise again that many police, indeed I am sure the majority of them even then, as today were decent brave people, very far from deserving of the disgraceful abuse they get still from people who admire Ned Kelly. I really couldn’t care what people believe about Ned Kelly but what I really find offensive is when they use that belief as some sort of excuse for police hate.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Understanding Ned Kelly


The undisputed facts seem very clear: Ned Kelly was a notorious criminal, a multiple police killer, and yet there are people who think he was a hero. How is that possible? How can some people believe Ned Kelly was a hero and others that he was a villain?

Well, one thing that makes it easier for someone to believe that Ned Kelly could be a hero despite what everyone else says, is that Ned Kelly wouldn’t be the only personality who arouses strong and sincere but opposing viewpoints. Politicians are the obvious example: to Republicans Donald Trump is making America great again, to others he's an appalling buffoon. Soldiers are another example –  hated by one side while the other side is determined to decorate them as heroes. A spy is a brave patriot to one General, a treasonous scum to another. Both descriptions seem to be valid – it just depends on where you’re coming from. One mans hero CAN be another mans villain, right?

So  if someone can be patriot and traitor at the same time, depending on where you’re coming from, then couldn’t Ned Kelly be a hero and a villain at the same time, depending on where you’re coming from? Or has one side simply got it wrong? 

Aidan Phelan and Matthew Holmes, and the Historian on the Lawless documentary series refuse to say. They think asking if Ned Kelly was a hero or a villain is asking the wrong question. Like the Beechworth tour guide, and like Peter Fitzsimons the journalist they  believe Ned Kelly was somewhere in the middle, somewhere between ‘villainous hero and heroic villain’ Phelan thinks that there’s nothing to be gained by trying to decide if Ned Kelly was a villain or a hero because all that happens is that "the debate about Ned Kelly ceases to be about Ned Kelly at all and simply becomes a contest about the moral superiority and respective intelligence of the opponents.

Phelans thesis is that people whose moral values lead them to condemn a person who would chase a wounded policeman through the bush and kill him, or plot to wreck a train and kill any survivors are people with hang ups about moral values.

“Ned Kelly becomes the scapegoat upon which society heaps its hang-ups about moral values."

I don’t know if he realises it but that’s a very ‘post-modern’ approach, an approach that shies away from value judgements and the idea of objective truth, and favours a moral relativism in its analysis of history. People who are critical of Ned Kelly’s murders and plans to murder are using him as a scapegoat, according to Phelan, making themselves feel better, and morally superior, by loading on to Ned Kelly their own ‘hang-ups’. To Phelan, there are no real villains, just complex individuals who we shouldn’t judge, because we are all in the same boat:

“its very easy to forget that Ned Kelly was a living, breathing human being. He had loves, hates, family, friends, skills and talents just like all of us. He loved horses, he was an excellent tradesman and his favourite book was Lorna Doone. Do these qualities negate the fact that he killed people and held people hostage? Certainly not, but they help to remind us that Ned Kelly was not some cartoon character or a black hat wearing outlaw in a cowboy movie.” 

Matthew Holmes and Aidan Phelan seem to want to argue that there is no such thing as a truly bad man, just men who are misunderstood, and this is how they want us to view Ned Kelly, not as a hero or as a villain, but as someone not unlike ourselves. This I think was the sort of Ned Kelly Holmes and Phelan wanted  to portray in his movie, a sympathetic portrayal that refused to make a judgement about him. But I cant help wondering how many Kelly sympathisers would be happy about Martin Bryant  and Charles Manson getting the same treatment that Ned Kelly gets from these post-modernists? They certainly wouldn’t tolerate it if Holmes and Phelan applied that approach to Constable Alexander Fitzpatrick : imagine the outcry from Kelly sympathisers if Phelan and Holmes tried to argue that Fitzpatrick “was a living, breathing human being. He had loves, hates, family, friends, skills and talents just like all of us.”
But if someone like Ned Kelly shouldn’t be labelled  a villain,  because that would just be making a scapegoat of him, and a reflection of our own hangups,  then this must mean they don’t think there are truly good men either, and that all of us are roughly the same clustered about a mean for moral rectitude. 

The reality I think is that this ‘post-modern’ approach breaks down at the margins, at the extremes, like many theories of human behaviour do. We are indeed mostly much the same, clustered about the mean with just a different collection of loves and hates, skills and talents, strengths and weaknesses – but some of us are clearly very different.  Martin Bryant is one such person - hugely different from most of us -  a mentally deranged, damaged and deeply disturbed individual with obsessions and thoughts and behaviours that place him close to the extreme end of the spectrum of human behaviour that ranges from Saint to Sinner, from Hero to Villain. Yes, we are all the product of a unique mix of influences from within and without, capable of exhibiting greater or lesser quantities of good and bad behaviour but in a rare few the mix produces behaviour that is almost all bad and very little of the good. Such people used to be called evil. Now we know some of them have personality disorders and character traits that identify them as deviants, psychopaths, narcissists and sociopaths. Some of them have brain damage. Some of them are suffering the affects of drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, limited intelligence.  

So when it comes to Ned Kelly, where should we put him? The post modernists think their approach avoids value judgements and they decry attempts to ‘put him’ anywhere – and yet they have put him in the middle. Phelan unfortunately mischaracterises the debate by making it about the extremes, writing that people who say Kelly was a villain believe “he is a murderous psychopath, a pathological liar and the figurehead for some kind of quasi-cult. To these people he represents everything that is wrong with human kind and should be used as a kind of bogey man to make people walk the straight-and-narrow. He is irredeemable to those that see him as nothing more than a glorified thug. This is a typical ‘straw man’ argument, in which the argument about Ned Kelly being a villain is converted into something that’s easy to demolish, a mere cartoon character, yet demolishing a straw man achieves nothing.

The point I want to emphasise is that calling someone a villain, or a hero does not require or imply in any way a denial of the persons humanity, or a denial of the complexities of human development and character, or a denial that there may be some good in even the worst of men, and some evil in the best. But calling someone a villain, or a hero is a statement of what you believe to be the truth about a person after weighing up all the evidence, all the good and all the bad, all the influences and the circumstances of the life being examined, like a Star rating for a movie or an ATAR rating that is an attempt to sum up a persons ability with a single number. I’m old fashioned enough to still believe such scoring systems have a use, but not so blind as to be unable to see that a person is a whole lot more than just a number or a label, and sometimes that number or a label can be thoroughly misleading.

Equally, with Ned Kelly. If we are not going to simply abandon the attempt to understand who Ned Kelly was, we are going to have to put him somewhere. And its very clear to me that he does not belong in the middle – Ned Kelly was not Mr Joe Average.


My assessment of everything about him, his background, his personality, his influences, his behaviour and his writing leads me to the conclusion that in those last few mad and chaotic years of his life he was most definitely a villain. What I see is a decline that started not long after his father died and the family moved to Greta, a slow but accelerating decline into criminality and villainy. I don’t see an icon. I don’t see a role model. I don’t see someone to be admired but a narcissistic and violent criminal, who it would be wrong to portray as just like all of us.

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Why do people stick up for Ned Kelly?

You cant handle the truth
Obviously, people give many different and sometimes complex reasons for sticking up for Ned Kelly. For example there is  the almost universal appeal of the "David and Goliath" image, where Ned Kelly is portrayed as the brave little guy who goes up against a corrupt monolithic  establishment. There is also the natural sympathy anyone would feel for a handsome young man whose story at every level is tragic : impoverished pioneer farmers, fatherless at 11, imprisoned and hanged at such a young age.  Its also an obvious fact that many of the people who praise Kelly on-line have very negative attitudes to police, and on social media frequently refer to police both then and now as pigs, dogs, c*nts, criminals and scum. I am sure this is why Ned Kelly appeals to many of them : he killed police. But I believe the most important reason there are people who stick up for Ned Kelly is because the people who promote the Kelly story only tell them half of it.

I am going to point out a few examples from current pro-Kelly writings that prove my point : pro-Kelly writers only present half the facts, and they mix in fake news to create an entirely false picture.

The first one relates to the fake news the Kelly supporters promote that the Kellys were persecuted by police. They say this persecution is the toxic background to the whole mess of the Kelly Outbreak. Here’s the half fact that they often quote in support of their argument : in 1877 police Superintendent Nicolson said, in reference to the Kelly boys and other local petty criminals that police “should endeavour, whenever they commit any paltry crime to bring them to justice and send them to Pentridge even on a paltry sentence, the object being to take their prestige away from them”  This might sound a little like harassment until you read a bit more of that quote which BEGINS with “ …WITHOUT oppressing the people or worrying them IN ANY WAY ….….” (my CAPS)  So, the full facts here show that Nicolson is warning that these people are NOT to be harassed or persecuted, but IF they overstep the mark the full force of the law is to be applied. Who would object to that?

Here’s another example. Constable Fitzpatrick is blamed by the pro-Kelly people for causing the entire outbreak, by lying about what happened to him when he visited the Kelly house to arrest Dan Kelly for horse theft in April 1878. He claims he was shot in the wrist, but pro-kelly people, attempting to show that Fitzpatrick lied about the wound,  quote Dr Nicholsons opinion of the wound that he saw the next day, when he swore before three  JPs in May 1878 that “I could not swear it was a bullet wound”.  What the pro-Kelly mythmakers usually  leave out is that he then wrote “but it had all the appearance of one”  Once again the entire quote exposes the pro-kelly argument as a half-truth.

Here’s another one about Fitzpatrick. Pro-Kelly writers all claim that he was drunk when he arrived at the Kelly house to arrest Dan. Fitzpatrick himself openly admitted that on his way that afternoon he stopped in at Lindsay’s Shanty at Winton and had ‘some brandy and lemonade’. How many of the pro-Kelly writers and believers know, let alone report it, that Lindsay himself declared that when Fitzpatrick departed for the Kelly’s he was sober? Another example of half a story being told to create fake news about the Kelly story.

Next, I have very recent examples from a Facebook Page set up to promote the newly self-published book “An Introduction to Ned Kelly” by Jack Peterson. Already you will be able to gauge the quality of this site by this sentence that begins a recent Post there about the Fitzpatrick Incident: “On the 15th of April 1878, a drunken Constable Fitzpatrick visited the Kelly homestead to arrest Dan Kelly for horse stealing” Yeah, right!

A few days earlier another post began with this sentence :
“Alex Castles (Professor of Law) discovered through various sources that during the four and a half months between his capture and death powerful men (politicians, police and the legal profession) stretched the law to its outer limits and beyond, engaging in subterfuges, outright dishonesty and monumental legal deceptions which ensured that there was absolutely no chance for Ned Kelly to escape the hangmans noose.”

Its pretty clear from this that Peterson hasn’t read the learned Professors book, or if he did he didn't understand it because Castles most definitely did NOT allege there were ‘monumental legal deceptions’. In fact the Professors case was based on quite subtle legal arguments, arcane points of Law that not every legal expert would necessarily agree with, but which Castles thought could have been grounds for appeal. But Peterson, having not read or understood the book, posing as some sort of authority on the subject makes a claim that readers on his page will swallow without a second thought, not realising they’ve been misinformed about Kellys trial - there were NO "monumental legal deceptions" but subtle more or less technical errors of process. Peterson compounds his public misinforming with this sentence: “Both believe Ned Kelly would have been convicted of manslaughter rather than murder” referring here to the views not only of Castles, but also of former Chief Justice JB Phillips another learned legal expert. In fact, these men both believed that if Ned Kelly’s trial had proceeded with every one of their objections corrected, the outcome may well have been the same ie a murder conviction.

Here’s a quote from JB Phillips you might find in the pro-Kelly writings : “..Edward Kelly was not afforded a trial according to Law.” Here's the rest of that quote, something you probably won’t read in the pro-Kelly writings and the part Jack Peterson would prefer you never read: “Whether the result would have been any different had the Jury had been correctly directed is, of course, entirely another matter”

Here’s another quote from  Phillips you will struggle to find anywhere in the Kelly writings:
“It is possible that were the trial to be reviewed by a modern Court of Appeal, it would, because of the strength of the prosecution case, apply the Proviso in S.568(i) of the Crimes Act on the basis that it considered that no substantial miscarriage of justice had occurred.”

In other words Phillips believed that the technical errors in the trial could be seen in a modern Appeals Court as having had no important effect on the outcome of the trial, and that Ned Kelly’s conviction was appropriate, because the case against him was overwhelming.


That opinion is not one you’ll ever read on a pro-Kelly site like Petersons, and if you express it there you’re likely to be abused and ridiculed and probably kicked off, as I was. So, if you want a proper introduction to the Kelly story the first thing you have to realise is that much of it is based on half truths.The pro-kelly story tellers only want half-truths, because as I have demonstrated here the whole truth is like poison to the Kelly myths.