Literature Opinion

Hanging Ned Kelly: A glimpse into the underbelly of Colonial Victoria

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A new book on the life and crimes of Ned Kelly goes deeper into the history surrounding the legendary bushranger, with parallels to modern-day Australia, writes Joe Lenzo.

AUTHOR Michael Adams implies in his preface that his book, Hanging Ned Kelly, is going to be interesting.

If the book dealt specifically with the hanging of Ned Kelly, something covered more often in Australian biographical literature than any other topic, then he would be telling us a lie.

In reality, this book has less to do with Ned Kelly and a lot more to do with the brutal colonisation of Australia and the prevailing attitudes of its imperial overlords. We can still see this legacy of colonial cruelty today with the negative slathering over the Indigenous Voice to Parliament.

 There is little hope for the freedom of Indigenous Peoples and our natural worlds in a state where our future continues to be imprisoned by ongoing colonialism.

Hanging Ned Kelly points out with clarity the brutality of colonisation imported and embraced from England, all based in Christianity. It depicts the imported brutal penal system and penalties from England and even though many suffered from them, they continued to implement the system.

In the new colony of Australia where the Union Jack and the Christian Cross were raised, gallows and lashings were not far off.

Focusing primarily on the seedy underworld of colonial Victoria, the book does drag on a bit as all of the hangmen were despicable men, drunkards, paedophiles, murderers and rapists — basically the dredges of society. After reading about a couple of them you can pretty much anticipate the others. 

The men actually committed hangings while in gaol on charges, but were let out to do their dirty deeds. They were so hated, they were hunted by angry mobs. As one writer asked: ‘Who shall hang the hangman?’

Of course, few Aboriginals were hung as it was legal and easier to just shoot them.

Looking at Australia today, we can still see the reach of colonial hostility; locking up 10-year-olds in adult prisons in isolation 23 hours a day; the rescue of one White woman in flood waters while ignoring at least 300 First Nations women who have either gone missing or been murdered or killed in suspicious circumstances since 2000.

We will likely never know the true scale of how many First Nations women have been lost over the decades, because there is no agency in Australia keeping count and there is no standard way of collecting this important data in each state and territory.

To wit, the legacy of Australia today which is still entangled in the opaque colonial tentacles of the United Nations has suspended its tour of Australian detention facilities and accused the country of a “clear breach” of its obligations under the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture.

Overall, it was an interesting and easy read, quite informative and puts the modern day in perspective. I would recommend it as a way of looking at the parallels between then and today.

Hanging Ned Kelly is available from Booktopia for $27.25 (paperback) RRP.

This book was reviewed by an IA Book Club member. If you would like to receive free high-quality books and have your review published on IA, subscribe to Independent Australia for your complimentary IA Book Club membership.

Joe Lenzo is a former corporate executive from the U.S.

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