Ned Kelly: Hero or Outlaw?
After dropping down the west side of the Great Dividing Range on a narrow, winding
road, I drove into the town of Bright, which had a pleasant name and seemed like a nice place so I got a
motel room there. After chatting with the friendly owner and checking in
to my room,
I walked around town and spent a half-hour at a pretty downtown park watching
some kids play in the river that cuts through town. On the way back to my
room, I stopped at a corner cafe to get some fish and chips, and that evening
watched the Winter Olympics on TV.
I really love the
Olympics, especially the smaller and more casual Winter Olympics and Salt Lake
City is only a two-day drive from Portland, so I wish I could've gone there to
watch the Olympics in person. I'm pretty familiar with Salt Lake City
since I've worked there over the past few years on their new Light Rail Transit
system, which they built partly because of the Olympics. Now that I think
about it, though, Salt Lake City isn't the most exciting place in
the world, so maybe it's just as well that I didn't go.
I was reluctant to leave
Bright the next
but I had to make tracks. An hour after leaving, I stopped in Beechworth, a
historic mining town in central Victoria. Beechworth
is in the heart of the Victoria gold mining country and reminded me of the California gold-rush towns that dot the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.
In fact, with the rolling foothills, golden grasslands, and scattered
trees, this whole area reminded me of the Sierra foothills. A lot of
miners from California came to Beechworth in the 1850s after the
California gold played out and, considering the surroundings, I bet they felt right at home here.
Beechworth is probably best known as the site of the 1880 trial of
Ned Kelly, Australia’s most famous outlaw, who was either a hero or a bandit
depending on whom you talk to. After the trial in Beechworth and one in Melbourne, the 24-year old Kelly was found
guilty of robbery and murder and was hung in the Melbourne Prison.
His legend grew shortly afterwards and about a week later, I'm sure, the first "Ned Kelly" t-shirts
and bumper stickers were printed up... a prolific marketing endeavor which
continues to this day.
A lot of
Aussies glamorize Ned Kelly, comparing him to Jesse James or Billy the Kid in
the U.S. That's not a very favorable comparison in my book, because those
two American outlaws were simply cold-blooded killers and there was very little
"noble" about them, despite the misplaced idolatry which lingers in their wake.
After visiting Beechworth for a few hours and visiting the court room where
Kelly was tried, I couldn't decide for myself whether Kelly was really a hero
unjustly accused for crimes he didn't commit or was simply a cold-blooded
killer. As you
might say, "The jury is still out."
leaving Beechworth, I stopped in the small town of Glen Rowan, which is where
Kelly was captured by the police during his last battle.
Glen Rowan really milks the Ned Kelly thing to death with lots of mugs,
t-shirts, and even a play about Kelly using computerized mannequins, which
performs every hour on the hour.
The Mannequin Play was pretty expensive and from the pictures it
reminded me too much of wax museums, which I generally detest, so I didn't see
Well, o.k., it
also looked pretty scary.
walking around Glen Rowan for a while, I headed back to my car when I heard “Waltzing Matilda” playing over the
loudspeakers of a nearby café. "Waltzing Matilda" gets me every
time so I popped into the cafe, chatted with the friendly owner, a woman in
her 50's, and bought the CD.
As the owner told me, the CD was recorded by a famous
Australian folk singer named
Lazy Harry (seriously, that's his name) who lives nearby.
For the next hour as I drove across the hot, flat farmlands of northern
Victoria, I listened to Lazy Harry belt out “Waltzing Matilda,” “Tie Me
Kangaroo Down, Sport,” “A Pub With No Beer,” and 22 other Australian favorites.
Above left: Beechworth is in the
heart of the Victoria Gold Country. The buildings here have been well
preserved and it's an interesting place to walk around.
Above center: Australia's most famous criminal was Ned Kelly who,
some say, made money the old-fashioned way: he stole it. After
being captured in nearby Glen Rowan, Ned was brought to trial in Beechworth in 1880.
Above right: A larger-than-life version of Ned Kelly in Glen Rowan,
complete with his famous helmet and body armor. During Kelly's last
battle, a short ways from here, he was shot 29 times by the police but thanks to
the armor he survived... only to meet his fate at the end of a rope.
Travels (2001-02) >
Story List >
Australia Stories > Ned Kelly:
Hero or Outlaw?