A lot of things confused me about Australia. Paying $4 for a 20oz. Diet Coke, the nonchalant attitude towards the myriad poisonous things that can cause instant death just to name a couple. But what really threw me for a proverbial loop was the admiration of the outlaw Ned Kelly.
For the uninitiated, Kelly is an Australian folk hero famous for his criminal resistance to British colonial rule. In short, Kelly had a violent confrontation with authorities in Glenrowan, Australia in 1880 during which he dramatically donned a suit of homemade armor. Having killed several policemen, he was captured and eventually hung for murder. To many Australians though he’s more than just a ruthless murderer, he’s a cultural icon.
This is where I get lost. I understand that he symbolizes the Australian spirit and why he’s even become a political symbol. But he was a criminal, and a bad one. He killed several people and didn’t really seem to care about it. If this happened in 1980 instead of 1880, he’d be labeled a ruthless serial killer or domestic terrorist.
While his martyrdom confuses me, I got to experience it firsthand while we were in Melbourne. Coincidentally, it was announced that authorities had finally located the lost remains of Kelly while we were in town. (I forgot to mention that his body was stolen from the Old Melbourne Gaol) This wasn’t just a casual human interest story, it was breaking news in Melbourne. The evening news that night even aired a special about how the forensic scientists determined the remains were indeed Kelly’s. That’s why I had to snicker when I saw the following headline this week:
Not Ned’s head but a Ripper tale all the same
To be clear, most of the remains were Kelly’s, all except the head. (only in Australia) It turns out that the head actually belongs to another convicted killer, Frederick Bailey Deeming, who was executed in Australia in 1892 for killing his wife, and was claimed by some to be Jack the Ripper.
So, in a strange antipodean way, it seems that the Kelly mystery is still at large. The majority of the bushranger’s remains have been positively identified, all except for his head. I think that’s for the best though, it keeps the spirit of Kelly alive in Australia and until they find that damned head, there will be mountains of rumor and speculation, which is ultimately what I think everyone enjoys the most.
What do you think? Is Kelly really a big deal, or not so much?