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Friday, 19 October, 2001, 16:40 GMT 17:40 UK
Nedmania for Kellyfornia?
The Patriot
Hollywood Brit-bashing - will Ned be next?
Ned Kelly, the subject of this year's Booker Prize-winning novel, was a violent outlaw. But Australians prefer to see him as a victim of heartless colonialism. And that makes him ripe for the Hollywood treatment, writes BBC News Online's Chris Horrie.

More than 120 years after his death, Australia's most celebrated outlaw is growing ever more popular in his homeland.


Adoration of Kelly reflects the black heart of nothingness that lies at the centre of the Australian character

Australian police chief
And now the success of Peter Carey's Booker Prize-winning novel about Ned Kelly may be set to boost the whiskery anti-hero onto the world stage via the Hollywood movie business.

Not everyone is happy with this emerging state of affairs, however.

Earlier this year the New South Wales Commissioner of Police complained that "adoration of Kelly reflects the black heart of nothingness that lies at the centre of the Australian character".

A few days later Australia's population looked deep into the dark existential void of its collective character and passed judgement in a TV opinion poll.

Ned Kelly
Ned Kelly: Many see him as a martyr
More than nine out of ten thought he was a national hero. The general opinion is that he is a martyr hounded into crime and then unjustly executed by evil Victorian British colonialists.

The British empire is now such a distant memory - with some of its horrors officially apologised-for by the UK government - that justified Victorian-Brit bashing causes little difficulty or offence and much cheer to many in Australia and around the world.

It is important that Kelly came from Ireland, the son of John 'Red' Kelly, born in 1820 in County Tipperary. Red Kelly was transported from Ireland to Van Diemens Land in 1841 for stealing pigs.

Carey emphasises the Irish connection throughout his novel and, at one point, has his fictional Ned say: "When our brave parents was ripped from Ireland like teeth from the mouth of their own history every dear familiar thing had been abandoned on the docks of Galway."

HM Queen
Less popular down under than Ned Kelly
Fair enough perhaps, given the treatment of the Irish by English landlords in the 19th Century.

The erosion in respect for the old Australian Anglo-Saxon elite against whom Kelly fought - and the need for non-Brit national heroes to symbolise the new multi-cultural Australia - has led a bout of Ned-mania in the country.

A Ned Kelly exhibition opens in Melbourne Old Gaol this Monday and is expected to attract crowds, especially after the news of Carey's Booker Prize triumph.

Good auction bet

Exhibits include "Betty" - the outlaw's Snider Enfield Carbine rifle as used at the Euroa bank hold up in December 1878, the whiskey still used by the gang to brew moonshine at their Bullock Creek hideout and the doorframe from the Kelly family's outback shack.


Such is life

Kelly's last words

In July 2001 a piece of Kelly's famous home-made suit of armour was sold at auction for more than US$100,000.

And last year there was a hell of a fuss when a modern day outlaw claimed he had stolen Kelly's skull from a prison museum 22 years ago, and said he would nor return it until Ned was officially pardoned.

The demand for a statue to be erected in front of the former British governor's mansion can not be long in coming.

World fame beckons?

The question now is whether Ned Kelly can achieve similar hero status in the United States and throughout the world.

Mick Jagger
Mick Jagger played Ned Kelly in a 1970 British film
American folk-hero bank robbers and outlaws like Jesse James and Pretty Boy Floyd have been big box office in the US.

Many of these enduring American anti-heroes could claim Irish or immigrant descent - but only at the distance of a few generations.

The potential attraction of Ned Kelly and his gang is that he combines the plus points of Bonnie and Clyde with the direct anti-English insurgency of a Braveheart. Film rights to Carey's book have already been snapped up.

At one point in Carey's novel Kelly says "all the Micks was just a notch below cattle".

That's the sort of talk that, even 150 years after the Irish potato famine, still strikes as much of a chord in Boston and California as it does in Botany Bay and Canberra.


Was Ned Kelly a hero who fought back against harsh colonial rule or just a cold-blooded criminal?

Your comments so far:

As a confessed media junkie living in Victoria, I have noticed no resurgence in popularity of the Kelly gang unless directly referring to Peter Carey's latest book.
Arno, Australia

So he robbed a bank or so, probably shot a few people and brewed his own whisky. It was so obviously an attempt to overthrow the harsh British regime (not an attempt to get an easy living in a very hostile environment and then complain when the authorities get upset). See, I too can write a Hollywood screen play and treat it as a true historical representation.
Dick Webber, UK

It is irrelevant anyway. Hollywood will cast Mel Gibson as Ned Kelly bravely battling the baby-eating Brits. All historical facts will be warped to the extreme or selectively ignored. Yes, our history is full of nasty episodes, but not everyone was pure evil.
Scott, England

Ned Kelly was a product of his time. There is little doubt that he was a petty criminal who was 'pushed' into trouble by the equally corrupt police force of the day, but the facts remain that he murdered not only the police but civilians as well.
Phaslett, Australia

Why do people glorify murderers - is it because their own lives are so safe and dreary? I find it ironic that just about every demented, twisted serial killer, once caught and condemned to a life in prison, soon starts receiving sackfuls of fan mail and offers of marriage.
M Maguire, UK

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