And no one showed us to the land,
And no one knows the where or why's
But something stirs and something tries
And starts to climb towards the light.
Echoes. Pink Floyd.
The British Empire may well have been the richest and largest empire in history but it was far from a gracious and just one. From genocide and warmongering right on down to slavery, drug dealing and theft, the English ruling class viewpoint on right and wrong contrasted sharply with that of good and bad. Some of the lesser bricks of this great fortification was a large workforce courtesy of Her Majesty's penal system.
Those sentenced were the Queen's Own subjects, many of which had committed 'henious crimes' against the crown such as stealing food for their starving families.
A large number were not shown to their own land to repay their debt but banished overseas to Australia to face hard labour, some separated for life from their desperate loved ones.
Banishment, I think, is best described in the Arabic tounge as … "another way of dying".
Little wonder then, under these brutal conditions and suffering from police harassment, that people were getting sick to the back teeth with English authority and God save the … whatever.
The high pressure end of this yoke was that some returned to a life of crime, only this time a more violent one. Out for themselves, these Bolters or Bushrangers as they became known, were certainly no bunch of choirboys. Their antics were not only a problem for the government of the time but also seared the lives of the populace - hardworking people with hard earned money.
One of these outlaws, a descendant of Irish Catholic deportee's, was to grow into the most famous (or infamous) Bushranger of all time … Edward 'Ned' Kelly.
Research and figure:
Controversy lies not only in the character of Ned Kelly but also in the exploits of his gang and the story per se. Umpteen films, books and websites have tried in their way to 'capture' and sell it all.
Shovelled together, this has morphed into a 'jump on the band wagon' commercial free-for-all in 'Kellyism', which often has resulted sadly, in an inflation and distortion of the understanding and feel for history ... or 'being there' as I term it.
It was because of this, that I found my research for the figure to be quite difficult as it seemed that everyone was talking at the same time, with not a few, screaming at the top of their voices.
Even learned people, who have made a life's work out of studying the subject, are still in clinch with each other. Not only over the moral aspects but even in the lesser details of the legend.
Anyhow, here's a couple of sites that I reckon to be both neutral and informative:
This is the first time that I've gone so far in sculpting with a converted figure. The iconic armour was not without difficulty to model, particularly in the odd details and imperfections, but I'm very pleased how it turned out. The small silver splashes on the surface pointing out the 'incomings' from the police. The pose chosen is in the final moment of Ned's last stand in the dawn light of the 29th June.
The body is leaning slightly forward, weakened by blood loss and under the weight of his 97lb armour. The Osprey booklet (MAA 525) depict him with a mustard tin containing percussion caps strapped to his breastplate, but I personally doubt this. Upon his arrest he was found to have only one pistol, so I've tried my utmost to faithfully reproduce his .36 caliber Colt Navy revolver along with it's chipped grip. Other details are:
The 'larrikin' heels on the riding boots, chequered suit with strapped trousers, polka dot (heart shaped) Crimean shirt, bloodstained green sash and cartridge bag. The sketch by Carrington at the time shows him wearing the coat in the normal fashion. Fact is, although he was present during the actual firefight he was a long way off. Eyewitnesses at the sharp end state him to have worn it over the shoulders like a cloak. I have however, taken a couple of details from those sketches – the left arm bent upwards with the hand clutching the lapel of the coat to help reduce blood loss and the rather odd reversal of the coat buttons worn on the left:
I have depicted his wounds according to the modern day autopsy report and naturally omitted the protective skull cap from the helmet, his right shoulder plate and Colt rifle - in line with the previous events of the night.
The title actually came to mind before I began to model the figure. My 'Quantum Leap' feel for the situation was akin to some ungainly bird, a throwback from 'across the sea', stumbling and shuffling towards it's fate.
Ned Kelly, psycopath or folk hero? Or the Stringybark Creek murders vs oppressive authority and the police homicides at Glenrowan?
The real question here I feel, is one of balance which leads to acceptance through understanding. Pre-set firmly entrenched bias only leaves us all with two wrongs fighting to make a right.
I see him to have been a hard and ruthless man who paved his own way and met his fate defending that way. He could have galloped off and left his friends at the Inn, rather to confront his foes and stagger forward into the early morning light and eternity.
Psycopath or folk hero? For me he is neither, but he was special. What made him special was his symbolic 'homemade' and effective armour which no bullet penetrated. Armour, without which, he would surely have been seen as just another face in the rogues gallery of Australian Bushrangers.
"Signs and symbols rule the world, not words nor laws."
His famous last stand brought him ironically to his knees … at least in the physical sense. On the other side of the coin, after the whole sordid affair was over, a lot of long overdue clean up work was made to the police system.
This included reprimands. dismissals, reforms and anti-corruption laws being passed.
At 25 years of age, Edward 'Ned' Kelly was convicted of murder and executed by judicial hanging on the 11th November 1880 at the Old Melbourne Gaol.
In the skies over the oldest of the worlds continents he hangs still. Like Coleridge's creature of yore, he now serves as an armoured metaphoric harbinger to all would-be wrongdoers - on both sides of the law.
His noose woven forever around the neck of Australian history and spirit in a marriage of past and present. For better or for worse … like it or knot.
... and for those who are interested in the whole shebang:
(notice the mistake I made modelling the 2nd pistol)