The heritage marketing of Ned Kelly

Doug Morrissey*

‘The heritage marketing of Ned Kelly’, Honest History, 15 October 2017

Mention Ned Kelly and everybody has an opinion. To many people, Ned is a hero, a champion of the poor man, the quintessential Aussie battler. To others, he is simply a criminal who stole horses, murdered police and robbed banks. Whatever the opinion, there is a national fascination with all things Kelly, especially the Kelly armour and the Glenrowan shootout with the police.

downloadThe best-known picture of Ned Kelly, allegedly taken the day before his execution on 11 November 1880 (Wikipedia)

In today’s world, Ned would not have been hanged for his deplorable crimes. Instead, he would have been granted leniency by a legal system and parole laws that put a violent serial rapist like Adrian Bayley back on the streets, to rape and kill Jill Meagher. Deceased celebrity criminal and media personality, Mark ‘Chopper’ Read, bragged he had committed numerous murders and was the successful author of crime novels and a book for children selling in excess of 500 000 copies. Ned the triple murderer would no doubt have been eventually released, a ‘reformed’ character to pursue a lucrative literary and media career.

Apotheosis by marketing

In the marketplace, the selling of ‘Ned Kelly product’ has never appeared rosier or been more profitable. Ned memorabilia is a multi-million dollar business and everybody wants a piece of the pie. Ned collectables and giftware items number in the thousands and are available online or in tourist shops around the nation. ([1]) For the princely sum of $149.97 plus $19. 95 handling, you can order ‘A Ned Kelly Personalised Welcome Sign’ complete with ‘Home of the [your surname] Gang’ insert. Ned and the gang feature with rifles and revolvers pointing directly at you, extending a threatening welcome to those visiting your household.

At the core of Ned Kelly marketing is the Ned Kelly myth. The Ned merchandising juggernaut provides products with the iconic Kelly armour emblazoned on T-shirts, stubby holders, beer mugs, keyrings and a ‘Such is life’ white metal ring ($89.95 plus $10.50 postage). Young men and women proudly sport Ned Kelly tattoos, menacingly depicting the outlaw in armour and an overcoat and brandishing two revolvers, generally with the caption ‘Such is life’ or ‘Ned Kelly legend’. These acolytes are under the spell of the Kelly myth and by branding their bodies – sometimes their entire back, front and arms – for life in this inky fashion, they acknowledge their hero worship of the outlaw. To wear a Ned Kelly T- shirt was once considered sufficient proof of Kelly Gang loyalty; not any more, it seems. Not by half.

The institutional custodians of our historical and cultural heritage – and aspiring authors who want to make their mark – perpetuate the Ned Kelly myth and its ‘underdog’ version of history. Such a politicised ideology extols Ned as a working class hero, the darling of radical trade unionism and the Australian independence movement. Ned in his armour joins with the Southern Cross flag of stars, as a rebel metaphor for defiant republicanism.

Even the Federal Government buys into the fictitious image of Ned the oppressed hero. On the website we read ‘Ned Kelly’s final defiant stand … and his pleas for justice to end discrimination against poor Irish settlers did end up opening the eyes of people. Ned Kelly in his armour came to symbolise a fight by a flawed hero, a convicted criminal, for “justice and liberty” and “innocent people”’. ([2])

The Ned Kelly history books, the media, the museums and keepers of the public record, including the Victoria Police and the Victorian and federal governments, use Ned and the Kelly armour to market their exhibitions, promote tourism and sell books. Of these, only the Victorian Police express a critical view of Ned and use the bushranger’s story and armour to bring to the public’s attention the ambush murder of policemen. Newspapers, magazines and television rarely carry a story critical of the bushranger. They follow the established trend of repeating the Kelly myth. Ned Kelly movies, too, have always pandered to an image of Ned as the poor man’s hero.

OMG_home_hero_01Home page of Old Melbourne Gaol website (Old Melbourne Gaol)

Old Melbourne Gaol

Ned is unquestionably the publicity poster boy for the Old Melbourne Gaol, administered by the National Trust of Victoria. The first image encountered on the gaol website is of a young boy dressed in a fibreglass mock-up of Ned’s armour. ([3]) From there on, the static displays and website discussion give way to hour-long tour amusements:

‘Hangman’s Night Tour … Tour the Gaol with a real hangman …’ Tickets $38, booking essential. This night tour is not recommended for children 12 years and under.

‘A Night in the Watch House … This immersive experience is conducted in the dark, includes loud noise, adult themes and confined spaces … Please note: A Night in the Watch House is an adult experience … ID will be required on the night. Anyone under 16 will not be admitted to the tour and tickets will not be refunded.’

‘Ghosts? What Ghosts! This gaol is a grim place. It has a dark history. Stories abound of an unexplainable presence.’

The gaol’s artefacts and history receive barely a mention on the website and are there as stage props for the theatrical performances.

As part of the Old Melbourne Gaol precinct experience. Visit the former Magistrate’s Court and perhaps put yourself in the Judge’s seat to mete out justice. Performances of the Ned Kelly themed play “Such is life” are available on most Saturdays.

A National Trust YouTube video titled ‘Take a Tour of the Old Melbourne Gaol with Ned Kelly’s Mother’ is mercifully no longer available.

State Library of Victoria

The State Library of Victoria twice weekly runs Ned Kelly Tours. ([4])

Discover the story of Victoria’s infamous bushranger Ned Kelly, read pages from the Jerilderie letter and see photos and historic objects related to his life. Ned Kelly has split public opinion for over a century. Hero or Criminal? Decide for yourself as you spot the holes in Kelly’s armour, read his passionate Jerilderie letter and sift through eyewitness photographs from the siege of Glenrowan.

Where is an historically-balanced view of Kelly? Where is a fact-based questioning of the Kelly myth and the underdog version of history? The artefacts – and the reverential manner in which they are presented to the public – support and promote the hero image of the bushranger. This is ‘artefact-driven’ history, uncritical and accepting of Ned’s Jerilderie Letter lies and distortions. Voices from the past that condemn Ned’s behaviour as criminal are entirely absent. The invitation to ‘decide for yourself’ is token at best.

In addition to short tours for the general public, the library offers more substantial ‘school tours led by educational professionals’. Hopefully, the educational professionals do more than just talk about Ned and his artefacts to impressionable schoolchildren. Also on offer is a library workshop program: ‘Combined program: The life and times of Ned Kelly & Kelly Gang comics. 90 minutes, Year: 5-6, $150 per group (up to 25 students), 50 students’. ([5])

13.COMBINATION-PROG-NED-KELLYHome page of State Library of Victoria program for Years 5 to 6 students (SLV)

We take for granted Ned’s prominent role in our history. Yet, consider the Cranbourne Secondary College’s recent production of Ned Kelly: The Musical. ‘A show that took 40 students six months to put together and many of the multicultural cast had never heard of Ned Kelly.’ ([6]) Recounting the truth – not a fairy tale account of Kelly’s life and deeds – to a multicultural audience needs to be an educational priority for teachers and tour guides.

Beveridge and the North-east

The Victorian government is a prominent booster of Ned Kelly tourism. Recently, it announced an ambitious plan to spend $1 million of taxpayers’ money on creating a ‘tourist hub’ at Beveridge, memorialising Ned’s birthplace. ([7]) Why public money and not private donations should be the source of this purely commercial venture was not discussed. Deceased Prime Minister Gough Whitlam’s family home was recently demolished, without government intervention to save it. Surely, Whitlam’s historical legacy is more deserving of preservation and government funding than the birthplace of a notorious horse thief and murderer of police?

The Ned Kelly Touring Route, a multilayered commercial venture supported by the Victorian government, the Benalla, Wangaratta, Beechworth, Strathbogie and Mansfield shire councils and even the Victoria Police Museum, is a highly organised and profitable source of tourist dollars. On the Ned Kelly Touring Route website can be found a brief synopsis titled ‘Ned Kelly: A brief but remarkable life’. ([8]) ‘Today, Ned Kelly is indelibly stamped on the nation’s psyche – part villain, part folk hero, but also a man whose courage and defiance is uniquely Australian.’ Buried in the scant text of this whitewashed homage to the bushranger is the revealing comment, ‘the young Kelly soon grew into an accomplished troublemaker’.

Outside the realm of Kelly myth and imagination, there is nothing uniquely Australian about Ned’s courage and defiance that is worthy of celebration. A mixture of blood loss from his wounds, a previous 24 hours of alcohol consumption and a disconsolate desire to seek a bushranger’s ‘death by cop’, now that all hope had gone, accounts for Ned’s armour-clad boldness at Glenrowan. When cornered and brought down by Sergeant Steele’s shotgun blast to his legs, Ned turned coward and pleaded for his life to be spared – something the bruised and battered outlaw had denied Sergeant Kennedy at Stringybark Creek 20 months earlier.

The vision of Ned in his armour plate could just as well be a potent symbol of the bushranger’s cowardice to face his police enemy in a manly fashion, as it could be a hallowed motif of defiant courage. Ned is, after all, hiding behind a protective suit of armour designed to keep him safe, while he murdered the survivors of the train wreck he had engineered.

Ned never was an Aussie underdog or a praiseworthy hero. He was a predatory criminal, a professional horse and cattle thief by choice, turned bushranger and murderer as a consequence of his own lawless actions. Tourists are encouraged, however, to see Ned through rose-tinted glasses, as a larger than life figure more sinned against than sinning. It is more profitable for the tourist industry to stand behind the Kelly myth than to muddy the bushranger’s saintly image by introducing historical nuance and complexity to the story.

For example, the Wangaratta Council gave ‘in principle approval’ in June this year to spend ratepayer dollars and make a preferred site available for a Ned Kelly Interpretive Centre at Glenrowan, to be opened in 2020 on the 140th anniversary of the Glenrowan pub siege. A Kelly relative, against the wishes of the majority of Kelly descendants, has established a Ned Kelly trust fund soliciting public and government monies to further the project. The plan is to raise $8 million ‘to tell the untold story’ under the guise of a charity. Donations have been meagre and other funding has not been forthcoming. If the ambitious enterprise ever gets off the ground under the directorship of this same Kelly relative, then we can expect further Ned deification rather than scholarly interpretation. ([9])

Big Ned GlenrowanBig Ned, Glenrowan, outside Kate Kelly’s Tea House (supplied)


Glenrowan daily caters for busloads of tourists and day trippers in the shadow of ‘Big Ned’, a six metre high, painted fibreglass statue of Disneyland proportions suited out in armour and carrying a rifle. The inscription at the base of the statue reads:

Ned Kelly – Hanged a murderer in Melbourne, November 11, 1880 – not 26 years old – described as a rebel, bushranger by necessity, a bush battler, underdog, sometimes gentleman, sometimes larrikin and a man with a strong sense of family. In a country born of brutal convict settlement, the Kellys were one of many to suffer the English notions of class destruction, property and land tenure and Anglo Irish hatreds. With the continued persecution of his family by the Police Ned fought back, donning his armour made from plough mould boards here at Glenrowan, June 1880, made Ned Kelly an Australian Legend [sic].

Big Ned’s inscription climaxes Ned’s bushranger narrative with these words.

He has lost much blood and gone two nights without sleep, he is borne down by the weight of armour. The air is still, the earth icy, the mists of dawn just hang. This is the moment of history. Kelly might have escaped here. Having witnessed the death of Joe Byrne from a massive haemorrhage from a bullet to the groin – most men would have given up here, if not before. Instead Kelly went back to rescue his brother and Steve Hart. Armed, he lurches through the mist, hulking, swaying, clanging, taunting – the legend is born. ([10])

So, too, was born the Ned Kelly tourist industry, with those present at the scene of the gang’s downfall eagerly souveniring everything from Ned’s revolver to spent bullets and the outlaw’s blood splattered on gum leaves. For weeks afterwards, visitors arrived daily by train, buggy and horseback to sightsee and picnic at the scene of Ned’s dramatic last stand. Then, as now, people were fascinated by true crime stories and the reckless criminals behind them.

Why, though, is there no statue or even a simple plaque to Thomas Curnow at Glenrowan? Curnow was the brave recipient of the Victorian Humane Society Silver Medal in 1881, ‘for the great bravery displayed by him and the risk to his own life incurred, in signalling the approaching train with the police at Glenrowan’. ([11]Curnow courageously saved 24 lives. The crippled and valiant schoolteacher should be acknowledged as the true hero of Glenrowan. He stood beside the railway track, defenceless and vulnerable in the darkness with only a lit candle and a red scarf to warn the train, expecting at any moment to be shot by a Kelly sympathiser. He is a far better hero than Ned Kelly.

Another bizarre Glenrowan tourist attraction is the animatronic ‘shoot ‘em up’ Ned theatre performance, where ‘through the brilliance of animation and computerised robots, you will be transferred back in time, over 100 years, to witness the events that led up to the capture of the Kelly Gang’. The advertising goes on to brazenly claim, ‘The show is educational, historically correct and entertaining’. ([12])

Thomas Curnow imageThomas Curnow (KellyLegend.BlogSpot)

The reality is somewhat different with parents complaining about the exorbitant entry fee charged for a hokum, Disney-Gothic horror show. In many cases, young children were so frightened by the overpowering noise and scary theatrics of the event, their families abandoned the entertainment and left the venue, without an apology or a refund offered by the operator. One visitor described the show as ‘an expensive laugh’, ridiculous and tawdry. ‘Highlights include a shootout between giants and pygmies, a spooky laser eyed owl apparently present at Kelly’s hanging, a robotic dog taking a leak in the bar and Kelly rising from the dead.’ One disgruntled visitor complained the silly performance was like a badly produced episode of the Simpsons. Clearly, there should be a disclaimer prominently displayed in the theatre lobby stating, ‘Tourists beware! Any resemblance to what you are about see and genuine Ned Kelly history is purely coincidental.’ ([13])

Located opposite Big Ned, Kate’s Cottage is a commercially savvy tourist operation ‘open daily, except Christmas Day’. ‘Step back in time through the back of Kate’s Cottage Gifts and Souvenirs Shop and into the highly recommended Ned Kelly Museum and the replica of the Kelly Homestead.’ On the online website, there is this boast:

Kate’s Cottage proudly stocks the largest range of Ned Kelly Souvenirs – T Shirts, Singlets, T Towels, Stubby holders/Coolers, Videos, CDs, Postcards, Posters, Shot glasses, Beer Glasses, Bandanas, Playing cards, Stickers, Cloth Badges, Hat Pins, Tin signs, Caps, Buckles, New & Second hand rare books, Statues/Figurines, Helmets, Armours, Flags/Banners, Rugs, Beach towels, Spoons, Pens, Keyrings, Charms, Water Balls, Magnets, Dolls, Children’s Helmets and more! ([14])

A good theme for Glenrowan tourism would be ‘Commercialism run riot’. Among other attractions, there is an entry on Kate’s Cottage website advertising ‘Ned’s Burger House’. The Ned Kelly Museum is referred to as the ‘Ned Kelly Memorial Museum’ and carries a recommendation from the TV holiday series Getaway, where Catriona Rowntree describes the site as the ‘Best Ned Kelly Museum.’ The town has chosen to ignore its vibrant pioneer past, to celebrate Ned Kelly and very little else. Glenrowan history is what the tourist profiteers declare it to be, yet a four-star rating on a tourism brochure is no substitute for an impoverished vision of the past.


The Beechworth Historic and Cultural Precinct opened in 2002 and, funded by federal, state and local government money, does a better job catering to the goldmining and settlement history of the town and Woolshed district. However, Ned’s bushranger appeal trumps Beechworth’s goldmining past as a tourist drawcard. The tourist brochure proclaims, ‘Visit the pub where Ned drank with the locals. Stand in the dock, where Ned stood as a captured bushranger. See Ned’s cell in the Beechworth Gaol.’ ([15])

Beechworth businesses galore – and the Ned Kelly Vault in particular – thrive on tourist dollars spent by those following the Ned Kelly Touring Route. The Ned Kelly Vault describes itself as

an annex of The Burke Museum and houses one of the most significant Ned Kelly Collections in Australia. On display is the original Ned Kelly death mask, Ned Kelly’s gun named Betty, brother Dan Kelly’s pistol, the original table from the verandah of The Anne Jones Hotel, Glenrowan and original photographs and documents’. ([16])

Did someone take the time to save Ann Jones’ verandah table as her pub burned down?

The Ned Kelly Tour and School Camp Company (which is not as popular as it once was), offers the following:

Our tours proudly feature exclusive access, historic content, multimedia, guest speakers and much more to make our tours completely unique; our tours are the stuff of legend! But there are two sides to every story. We are very passionate in presenting a balanced view of the Kelly story. Our camps and tours are not about convincing you that Kelly was a hero, or a villain. Read the evidence. Immerse yourself in the story. See the sites. Make up your own mind. ([17])

redheadsNed Kelly merchandise (ElevenMileCreek.BlogSpot/Michael Ball)

The individual behind the setting up of the Ned Kelly Vault owns and runs this business enterprise. ‘In addition’, he writes, ‘to our awesome, exclusive tour packages, we are very proud to bring you our museum, the “Ned Kelly Vault”, now open in Beechworth’. Who, I wonder, are the guest speakers delivering a balanced view of the Ned Kelly story?

The Ned Kelly Walking Tour of 1¼ hours duration costs $10 and departs from the Beechworth Visitor’s Centre from 1.15 pm daily. ([18]) ‘Join the Ned Kelly Walking Tour and learn more about this famous bushranger’s connection with Beechworth.’ There are strict tour conditions to be adhered to: ‘No audio or video recording allowed. Still photography only.’ There is a reason for the prohibition placed on recording and filming what is said. A tourist with a good knowledge of Ned’s story said of the tour walk, ‘The tour guide praised Ned as a hero and told us he and his family were persecuted and harassed by the police. I felt like interjecting but saw that it would do no good, so I remained silent.’ ([19])

The Ned Kelly Weekend, held in Beechworth and billed as ‘attracting thousands of people annually to Beechworth and the North East of Victoria from all over the world’, is arguably the premier north-east Ned Kelly event. ([20]) There are street performances, portraying Ned as heroic in stature and the police as despicable scoundrels and rogues. ‘One of the popular highlights is being able to sit in the same cell as Ned Kelly and to stand in the court where Sir Redmond Barry sentenced his mother to three years in prison with a baby still in her arms.’ Sir Redmond fares badly in these re-enactments; he is portrayed as an evil caricature of a harsh hanging Judge.

‘View historic displays of equipment and clothing used in the era, as you walk through the market style village, where you can view and purchase Ned Kelly items directly from the makers.’ The message is spend your money, then ‘sit and watch the capture of Ned Kelly and the burning of the Glenrowan Inn’. How many of those watching this Nedcentric street theatre have more than the vaguest idea of what the bushranger’s gruesome plan at Glenrowan really was? They see the Kelly armour and the gunplay, sanitised and theatrical, where everybody gets to go home with their souvenirs after the performance.

Marketing next steps

Re-imagining the Kelly Story is a July 2017 marketing directions paper commissioned by Tourism North East, Regional Development Victoria and four major north-east shires, Beechworth, Wangaratta, Benalla and Mansfield. The mission: ‘To re-imagine the Kelly Story in a way that will lift the profile of Victoria’s High Country and appeal to new markets’. ([21])

The authors of the directions paper sought comment from both sides of the Kelly debate, with the solemn assurance that all views would be considered as equally valid and incorporated in the final report. Despite this assurance, the status quo at Glenrowan and Beechworth will continue to prevail, with only a few ornamental changes. A ‘Big Ned’ style fiberglass statue of Sergeant Steele has been proposed and will probably stand opposite Ned. It is to be hoped that this addition will not enhance the Kelly myth, but the likelihood is that it will. A statue of Thomas Curnow, the real hero of Glenrowan, would irreparably puncture the romanticism of the Kelly myth, revealing Ned as the coldblooded criminal he was.

In Mansfield, it should be a priority to  remedy the placement of the ‘Ellen Kelly’ dedicated toilet and tourist restroom block, now inappropriately located opposite the Police Memorial Monument in the centre of town. Another priority should be reworking the entrance signage at the Mansfield Cemetery, where the three policemen the gang ambushed and murdered are buried. So far, Mansfield has resisted the temptation to follow in the crass commercial footsteps of Glenrowan and Beechworth. The town and its inhabitants are to be commended for this. As Mansfield is the gateway to Victoria’s High Country, celebrating a ‘Man from Snowy River’ motif would be more relevant to the town’s proud pioneer history than obsessing on the bushranging career of a horse thief and police murderer.

Redmond_BarrySir Redmond Barry, who presided at Kelly’s trial (Wikipedia). He died (of lung congestion and complications of diabetes) just 12 days after Kelly.

At the site of the Stringybark Creek police murders, however, something extraordinary is taking place, in large part due to the tireless work of Leo Kennedy, the great-grandson of the Sergeant Michael Kennedy murdered by Ned. ([22]) The scene of the murder of three policemen (and the lucky escape of another) is to be designated a memorial site honouring the police victims and not the criminal perpetrators. Here are the main proposed features of the site:

  • Three commemorative plinths containing a photograph of each policeman, biographical information and moving words from their descendants will stand inside a memorial stone circle, enabling visitors to reflect on what happened on that long-ago October day.
  • A meandering pathway complete with several stop-off points and primary source narrative boards will take visitors on a guided tour of the site, telling the story truthfully and without bias.
  • A marker showing where the police pitched their tent on the west bank of the Stringybark Creek.
  • The place the Kelly Gang confronted the police from ambush and shot dead Constable Thomas Lonigan and Michael Scanlan, neither of whom had a weapon in their hand.
  • The route travelled by unarmed Constable Thomas McIntyre who escaped on horseback.
  • Sergeant Kennedy’s journey on foot in a desperate 800 metre battle for his life.
  • The spot where Kennedy was brought down by Ned Kelly and, two hours later, shot to death ‘pleading for his life to spared for the sake of his wife and children’.
  • The camping ground, carpark and picnic facilities will no longer impinge on the memorial site as they do now.

This will be a Ned Kelly tourist destination free of Glenrowan and Beechworth hoopla and Kelly hero worship. There will be no Stringybark Creek Hotdog, no Kelly Cola and no shootout with computerised robots on the ground. It will be a respectful and reflective place to visit, with Ned and his gang’s murderous deeds condemned rather than celebrated.

The Stringybark Creek memorial site should serve as a template for other sites, not just those associated with Ned Kelly. It is time our history is remembered and recounted with unbiased historical accuracy, not simply seen as entertainment and an opportunity to cash in on a lucrative heritage market. Commercial opportunity has its place and so does historical re-enactment, but neither should override narrating the past honestly and truthfully.

Another Kelly movie – and some conclusions

In June of this year, a strapped-for-cash independent filmmaker launched a crowdfunding appeal to raise $2.5 million within a single month to make yet another Ned Kelly movie. The publicity campaign was aggressive, unrelenting and theatrically used the Kelly armour as its keynote logo. ‘The public, worldwide, are being encouraged to make pledges from as low as $5 and as high as $12 500 with DVDs, Blu-Rays, books, posters, memorabilia and on set visits on offer as rewards.’ The slick, hard-sell promotion promised: ‘Ours is a very different film to any Ned Kelly film in the past. We are interested in finally putting the true story of Ned Kelly on the big screen and stripping away the mythology.’ ([23])

This might sound like a breath of fresh air. However, the two screenwriters chosen by the producer to accomplish this myth-busting task, both said to have impressive credentials as a ‘Screenwriter and Historian’, turn out to be an actor from the filmmaker’s earlier Ben Hall movie and a ‘literature, media and drama graduate’ with a passion for Ned and his story. When the public appeal for funds closed on 30 June, the disappointing final tally was $121 164, less than four per cent of the $2.5 million anticipated!

As any good marketing analyst will tell you, overexposure of a product is the kiss of death for dependable and steady sales. Buyer fatigue sets in, interest wanes and profits plummet. Hard sell crowdfunding, the lure of rewards and even the romanticism of the Ned Kelly legend, coupled with an appeal to tell the true story, failed and failed spectacularly to bring in the dollars for a new Ned movie. Has the public finally reached a plateau of Ned Kelly fatigue, where less is more? The north-east theme park with its publicity-linked tourist precincts, farcical animatronic voices from the past, ‘costume and beards’ street theatre re-enactments, Ned and more Ned ad infinitum, verges on the simply ridiculous.

A_strange_apparition_Ned_Kelly's_last_stand‘A strange apparition’ at the Glenrowan siege (Wikipedia)

There is an important lesson here for the custodians of our national heritage and the Ned Kelly profiteers. The recreation of the past should not be a profit-driven enterprise; nor should a turbulent past be turned into fantasy and entertainment. To do so is to trivialise past people’s lives and debase scholarly research in the eyes of the public as no more than showbiz amusement.

The ‘Kelly myth underdog’ version of history is not a good account of Ned’s story. It misrepresents the past and leaves out far more than it seeks to explain. There is a moral obligation on tour operators and heritage providers to be trustworthy in their dealings with the public. Sadly, when it comes to Ned Kelly and money-making, the Kelly myth matters more than historical truth.

* Doug Morrissey is author of  Ned Kelly: A Lawless Life (edited by John Hirst, Connor Court, 2015) which was shortlisted for the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards (reviewed in Journal of Australian Colonial History 2016 by David Kent, pdf supplied by Dr Morrissey), and of ‘Time to bury the Ned Kelly myth’ (Quadrant Online, 2017). Morrissey’s 1987 Ph. D dissertation at La Trobe University was Selectors, Squatters and Stock Thieves: A Social History of Kelly Country.


[1] The following items were taken at random from the eBay auction website: . Ned Kelly ‘collectibles’ on sale range from the tasteful to the simply ridiculous.

[2]  is part of a federal government public information website that should be unbiased in its presentation of historical material. Earlier this year, when the many inaccuracies and misrepresentations of the Ned Kelly entry were pointed out by letter, no reply was received and the entry remains unchanged.

[3] .

[4] .


[6] Cranbourne Leader, 15 August 2017:

[7]  media release, 19 October 2016; Border Mail, 20 October 2016. The author comments: .

[8] ; .

[9] Border Mail, 17, 22 June 2017.

[10] .

[11] Argus, 23 July 1881: .

[12] .

[13] Review comments taken from  website.

[14]  .

[15] The Beechworth Historic and Cultural Precinct tourist brochure 2017. See also

s-l1600 (3)Ned Kelly outlaw motif for T-shirts (Blackmax)

[16]  . The Ned Kelly Vault is part of the Burke Museum Historic Cultural Precinct.

[17] .

[18] . There is another Ned Kelly Walking Tour at Benalla, including the local Court House and Kelly’s blood-stained sash: .

[19] Review comment taken from  website.

[20] .

[21] Re-imagining the Kelly Story. Directions Paper, July 2017. Tourism North East, Regional Development Victoria and the Shires, of Beechworth, Wangaratta, Benalla and Mansfield.

[22] Stringybark Creek Interpretation Strategy, Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning prepared by Nature Tourism Services, August 2017. I have been privileged to work with Leo Kennedy previously and on this occasion assisted him with historical advice and words of encouragement. The Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning is pleased with the proposal as it prepares for a public showing.

[23] Sydney Morning Herald, 3 June 2017; ; .

Click here for all items related to: , ,
To comment or discuss, Log in to Honest History.
5 comments on “The heritage marketing of Ned Kelly
  1. Leo Kennedy says:

    Doug’s article is well researched and points out a number of flaws in the Kelly myth and the money making ventures around it that have misled people and hurt the descendants of the families involved for many decades.

    I am humbled that you have taken note of my work on Stringybark Creek which I undertook for two reasons. The policemen’s families refuse to go there anymore. It has been hard for us to view the cannibalisation of the main site and surrounds at Stringybark Creek; the loss of solemnity and the natural state. The families feel the area has been desecrated and turned into a ‘self defence’ memorial to three ugly murders. Visitors do not get any appreciation of what occurred there, nor of the character of the devoted family men who lost their lives at the hands of the Kelly brothers and associates.

    Over the years I have ventured to Stringybark Creek with a number of people to hear their theories and see their work, gone solo; or with other family members. I recently participated as spokesman for the murdered policemen’s families in a documentary – The Real Bushrangers – Ned Kelly and Stringybark Creek at the Stringybark Creek site. That documentary airs on 24 Oct 2017 and is a most thorough scientific work with a professional archaeologist and other experts involved; and consulted. I have trawled through many documents to help understand Kennedy family oral history and have compiled a lot of material on Michael and Bridget’s lives. I have pieced together the most thorough and referenced picture I can of them and of the events at Stringybark Creek.

    When the Stringybark Creek archaeology report is released later in the year; it will, I feel sure, confirm the locations as closely as possible to where the three policemen lost their lives on the west bank of the Stringybark Creek – where Constables Lonigan and Scanlan were situated when gunned down; the location of the burnout hut near where the police tent was pitched; and where Sergeant Kennedy was murdered a quarter of a mile north west after the pursuit by the assailants from the police camp site. The identified remains of the burnt out hut is the anchor point to establish all of the other sites.

    The families are comfortable with the current Stringybark Creek review and the memorial works proposed. Works that will honour the policemen and provide visitors with an authentic historical insight into the events that took place there. Visitors will be able to better appreciate the sad plight of the policemen and walk the ground to get a proper understanding of the tragedy that unfolded.

    It is not about any one individual taking credit for a process that has been in operation and progressing for many years, it is about acknowledging ambush, murder and the criminality of the murderers. Above all, it is about telling the truth and honouring three policemen who lost their lives protecting the community.

  2. Bill Denheld says:

    Hello Doug, I have admired your book ‘A lawless Life’. I’m sure you know Leo Kennedy and I spent hundreds of hours discussing how to get the truth told about Stringy-Bark Creek. On several occasions on site we ventured into the bush to establish the most likely spot where Sgnt Kennedy was murdered and eliminated all but one site that needs more investigation. We need an opportunity to present our case to experts in their fields, archaeology and photo forensics etc. In your article you honour Leo for his tireless work to have the sites properly dedicated. But are you aware that the Police H.U., via DELWP are proposing to direct all visitors coming to SBC will be led astray up the garden path so to speak away from where things actually happened? This proposed plan as you item in ‘bullet points’ 3 and 4, where the police pitched their tent will not be the actually site of Const.Lonigans Killing? It being hundreds of metres south from where they plan to errect a signpost marker dedicated to the man. Point 7, supposedly the spot where Sergeant Kennedy “was brought down, and shot to death”, is totally dishonest as well because the sergeants body was found on the East bank of SBC and not as the plan shows on the west bank of SBC but hundreds of metres SW. Its going to be a pretence location all round where nothing ever actually happened ! Whose ever plan this is, it’s not honest in any way and a farce for all visitors to SBC, and Leo knows that as well. So perhaps you have not been aware or Leo has not informed you of our work together. But how can ‘Honest History’ be honest. May I propose that you and or anyone interested come on a site tour at SBC where I can show everyone pinpointing where Lonigan was shot dead, and Doug and Leo, maybe also perhaps give some acknowledgement to my efforts to unravel SBC since 2002. Bill Denheld

  3. Dee says:

    The answer to your question ‘has the public finally reached a plateau ofNed Kelly fatigue?’ is a most definite YES. Had you not noticed that what you’ve described as “the premier north-east Ned Kelly event” the Ned Kelly Weekend at Beechworth was not held this year or last year? Did you not notice that all the tourist attractions in Glenrowan have been on the market for years and nobody wants to buy them, or the disrepair at all those sites in Glenrowan? Did you know that the Ned Kelly Centre also ran a crowd funding campaign aimed at raising several million dollars and attracted just over a thousand? Did you notice that all the pro-Kelly websites are deserted? I think the mythology is in its death throes and a tiny noisy mob of Kelly idolators are doing their best to pretend it isn’t. The TRUE history, when people get to hear it is at least as fascinating, as is the entire phenomenon of Kelly worship.

    And one other question : your book A Lawless Life was promoted as the first of a trilogy. When will we see the other two?

  4. StewieD says:

    Great article. One of the biggest Kelly myths is the endless presentation of Ned Kelly’s version of the Fitzpatrick Incident as fact. For a full reconstruction, corroboration and vindication of Fitzpatrick’s testimony, google “Redeeming Fitzpatrick” and download the free PDF. To find out what Ned Kelly’s actual last words were (hint: not ‘such is life’), google “ned kelly’s last words dawson”. To see how the Kelly myth wrongly blames the police for the death of labourer George Metcalf in the Glenrowan siege, google “george metcalf dawson”. Metcalf was shot in the face before the siege by Kelly, who then kept him prisoner. A string of pro-Kelly writers have deliberately and knowing continued to recycle the false tale. These are free PDF academic articles written in plain English for the normal interested reader.

Leave a Reply