“I lost my own father at 12 yr. of age and know what it is to be raised on lies and silences my dear daughter you are presently too young to understand a word I write but this history is for you and will contain no single lie may I burn in Hell if I speak false.”
In True History of the Kelly Gang, the legendary Ned Kelly speaks for himself, scribbling his narrative on errant scraps of paper in semiliterate but magically descriptive prose as he flees from the police. To his pursuers, Kelly is nothing but a monstrous criminal, a thief and a murderer. To his own people, the lowly class of ordinary Australians, the bushranger is a hero, defying the authority of the English to direct their lives. Indentured by his bootlegger mother to a famous horse thief (who was also her lover), Ned saw his first prison cell at 15 and by the age of 26 had become the most wanted man in the wild colony of Victoria, taking over whole towns and defying the law until he was finally captured and hanged. Here is a classic outlaw tale, made alive by the skill of a great novelist.
About the Author
Peter Carey lives in New York City.
Date of Birth:May 7, 1943
Place of Birth:Bacchus Marsh, Victoria, Australia
Education:Monash University (no degree)
Read an Excerpt
TITLE: TRUE HISTORY OF THE KELLY GANG
His Life until the Age of 12
National Bank letterhead. Almost certainly taken from the Euroa Branch of the National Bank in December 1878. There are 45 sheets of medium stock (8" 3 10" approx.) with stabholes near the top where at one time they were crudely bound. Heavily soiled.
Contains accounts of his early relations with police including an accusation of transvestism. Some recollections of the Quinn family and the move to the township of Avenel. A claim that his father was wrongly arrested for the theft of Murray’s heifer. A story explaining the origins of the sash presently held by the Benalla Historical Society. Death of John Kelly.
I lost my own father at 12 yr. of age and know what it is to be raised on lies and silences my dear daughter you are presently too young to understand a word I write but this history is for you and will contain no single lie may I burn in Hell if I speak false.
God willing I shall live to see you read these words to witness your astonishment and see your dark eyes widen and your jaw drop when you finally comprehend the injustice we poor Irish suffered in this present age. How queer and foreign it must seem to you and all the coarse words and cruelty which I now relate are far away in ancient time.
Your grandfather were a quiet and secret man he had been ripped from his home in Tipperary and transported to the prisons of Van Diemen’s Land I do not know what was done to him he never spoke of it. When they had finished with their tortures they set him free and he crossed the sea to the colony of Victoria. He were by this time 30 yr. of age red headed and freckled with his eyes always slitted against the sun. My da had sworn an oath to evermore avoid the attentions of the law so when he saw the streets of Melbourne was crawling with policemen worse than flies he walked 28 mi. to the township of Donnybrook and then or soon thereafter he seen my mother. Ellen Quinn were 18 yr. old she were dark haired and slender the prettiest figure on a horse he ever saw but your grandma was like a snare laid out by God for Red Kelly. She were a Quinn and the police would never leave the Quinns alone.
My 1st memory is of Mother breaking eggs into a bowl and crying that Jimmy Quinn my 15 yr. old uncle were arrested by the traps. I don’t know where my daddy were that day nor my older sister Annie. I were 3 yr. old. While my mother cried I scraped the sweet yellow batter onto a spoon and ate it the roof were leaking above the camp oven each drop hissing as it hit.
My mother tipped the cake onto the muslin cloth and knotted it. Your Aunt Maggie were a baby so my mother wrapped her also then she carried both cake and baby out into the rain. I had no choice but follow up the hill how could I forget them puddles the colour of mustard the rain like needles in my eyes.
We arrived at the Beveridge Police Camp drenched to the bone and doubtless stank of poverty a strong odour about us like wet dogs and for this or other reasons we was excluded from the Sergeant's room. I remember sitting with my chilblained hands wedged beneath the door I could feel the lovely warmth of the fire on my fingertips. Yet when we was finally permitted entry all my attention were taken not by the blazing fire but by a huge red jowled creature the Englishman who sat behind the desk. I knew not his name only that he were the most powerful man I ever saw and he might destroy my mother if he so desired.
Approach says he as if he was an altar.
My mother approached and I hurried beside her. She told the Englishman she had baked a cake for his prisoner Quinn and would be most obliged to deliver it because her husband were absent and she had butter to churn and pigs to feed.
No cake shall go to the prisoner said the trap I could smell his foreign spicy smell he had a handlebar moustache and his scalp were shining through his hair.
Said he No cake shall go to the prisoner without me inspecting it 1st and he waved his big soft white hand thus indicating my mother should place her basket on his desk. He untied the muslin his fingernails so clean they looked like they was washed in lye and to this day I can see them livid instruments as they broke my mother’s cake apart.
Tis not poverty I hate the mostnor the eternal grovellingbut the insults which grow on itwhich not even leeches can cure
I will lay a quid that you have already been told the story of how your grandma won her case in court against Bill Frost and then led wild gallops up and down the main street of Benalla. You will know she were never a coward but on this occasion she understood she must hold her tongue and so she wrapped the warm crumbs in the cloth and walked out into the rain. I
cried out to her but she did not hear so I followed her skirts across the muddy yard. At 1st I thought it an outhouse on whose door I found her hammering it come as a shock to realise my young uncle were locked inside. For the great offence of duffing a bullock with cancer of the eye he were interred in this earth floored slab hut which could not have measured more than 6 ft. 3 6 ft. and here my mother were forced to kneel in the mud and push the broken cake under the door the gap v. narrow perhaps 2 in. not sufficient for the purpose.
She cried God help us Jimmy what did we ever do to them that they should torture us like this?
My mother never wept but weep she did and I rushed and clung to her and kissed her but still she could not feel that I were there. Tears poured down her handsome face as she forced the muddy mess of cake and muslin underneath the door.
She cried I would kill the b-ds if I were a man God help me. She used many rough expressions I will not write them here. It were eff this and ess that and she would blow their adjectival brains out.
These was frightening sentiments for a boy to hear his mamma speak but I did not know how set she were until 2 nights later when my father returned home and she said the exact same things again to him.
You don’t know what you’re talking about said he.
You are a coward she cried. I blocked my ears and buried my face into my floursack pillow but she would not give up and neither would my father turn against the law. I wish I had known my parents when they truly loved each other.
You will see in time your grandfather were a man of secrets and what he said and done was different things though for now it is enough to know my mother had one idea about my father and the police the opposite. She thought him Michael Meek. They knew him as a graduate of Van Diemen's Land and a criminal by birth and trade and marriage they was constantly examining the brands on our stock or sifting through our flour for signs of larceny but they never found nothing except mouse manure they must have had a mighty craving for the taste.
Nor was your grandmother as unfriendly towards the police as you would expect if solely instructed by her testimony she might of wished to murder them but would not mind a little drink and joke before she done the deed. There was one Sergeant his name O'Neil my mother seemed to like him better than the rest. I am talking now of a later time I must have been 9 yr. of age for our sister Kate had just been born. Our father were away contracting and our small hut were more crowded than ever now there was 6 children all sleeping between the maze of patchwork curtains Mother hung to make up for the lack of walls. It were like living in a cupboard full of dresses.
Into this shadowy world Sgt O'Neil did come with queer white hair which he were always combing like a girl before a dance he were v. friendly to us children and on the night in question he brung me the gift of a pencil. At school we used the slates but I never touched a pencil and was most excited to smell the sweet pine and graphite as the Sergeant sharpened his gift he were very fatherly towards me and set me at one end of the table with a sheet of paper. My sister Annie were 1 yr. older she got nothing from O'Neil but thats another story.
I set to work to cover my paper with the letters of the alphabet. My mother sat at the other end of the table with the Sgt and when he produced his silver flask I paid no more attention than I did to Annie & Jem & Maggie & Dan. After I made each letter as a capital I set to do the smaller ones such were my concentration that when my mother spoke her voice seemed very far away.
Get out of my house.
I looked up to discover Sergeant O'Neil with his hand to his cheek I suppose she must of slapped him for his countenance were turned v. red.
Get out my mother shrieked she had the Irish temper we was accustomed to it.
Ellen you calm yourself you know I never meant nothing in the least improper.
Eff off my mother cried.
The policeman’s voice took a sterner character. Ellen said he you must not use such language to a police officer.
That were a red rag to my mother she uncoiled herself from her seat. You effing mongrel she cried her voice louder again. You wouldnt say that if my husband were not gone contracting.
I will issue one more warning Mrs Kelly.
At this my mother snatched up the Sergeant’s teacup and threw the contents onto the earthen floor. Arrest me she cried arrest me you coward.
Baby Kate woke crying then. Jem were 4 yr. old sitting on the floor playing knuckles but when the brandy splashed beside him he let the bones lie quiet. Of a different disposition I begun to move towards my mother.
Did you hear your mother call me a coward old chap?
I would not betray her I walked round the table and stood next to her. Said he You was busy writing Ned?
I took my mother’s hand and she put her arm around my shoulder.
You are a scholar aint it he asked me.
I said I were.
Then you must know about the history of cowards. I were confused I shook my head.
Next O'Neil was bouncing to his feet and showing the full hard stretch of his policeman’s boots said he Let me educate you young man. No said my mother her manner now completely changed. Please no.
A moment earlier O'Neil had a stiff and worried air but now there was a dainty sort of prance about him. O yes said he all children should know their history indeed it is quite essential.
My mother wrenched her hand from mine and reached out but the Ulsterman ducked behind the 1st set of curtains and emerged to prowl in and out and around our family he even patted little Dan upon his silky head. My mother were afraid her face was pale and frozen. Please Kevin.
But O'Neil was telling us his story we had to quiet to listen to him he had the gift. It were a story of a man from Tipperary named only A Certain Man or This Person Who I Will Not Name. He said A Certain Man had a grudge against a farmer for lawfully evicting his tenant and This Person etc. conspired with his mates to kill the farmer.
I’m sorry said my mother I already apologised.
Sgt O'Neil made a mocking bow continuing his story without relent telling how This Certain Man did 1st write a threatening letter to the landlord. When the landlord ignored the letter and evicted the tenant This Certain Man called a select meeting of his allies to a chapel in the dead of night where they drank whisky from the Holy Goblet and swore upon the Holy Book then he said to them Brothers for we are all brothers sworn upon all thats blessed and Holy. Brothers are you ready in the name of God to fulfil your oaths? They said they was they swore it and when they done their blasphemy they descended upon the farmer’s house with pikes and faggots burning.
Sergeant O'Neil seemed much affected by his own story his voice grew loud he said the farmer’s children screamed for mercy at the windows but the men set their home alight and those who escaped they piked to death there was mothers and babes in arms the Sgt would not spare us either he painted the outrage in every detail we children were all silent open mouthed not only at the horror of the crime but also the arrest of the Guilty Parties and the treachery of This Certain Man who betrayed all he had drawn into his conspiracy. The accomplices was hanged by the neck until dead and the Ulsterman let us imagine how this might be he did not conceal the particulars.
What happened then he asked we could not answer nor speak nor did we wish to hear.
This Certain Man kept his life he were transported to Van Diemen's Land. And with that Sergeant O'Neil strode out our door into the night.
Mother said nothing further she did not move not even when we heard the policeman's mare cantering along the dark road up the hill to Beveridge I asked her what was meant by This Certain Man and she give me such a clip across the ears I never asked again. In time I understood it were my own father that was referred to.
The memory of the policeman's words lay inside me like the egg of a liver fluke and while I went about my growing up this slander wormed deeper and deeper into my heart and there grew fat.
Sergeant O’Neil had filled my boy’s imagination with thoughts that would breed like maggots on a summer day you would think his victory complete but he begun to increase his harassment of my father rousing him from bed when he were drunk or fast asleep he also needled and teased me whenever he seen me in the street.
He would mock the way I dressed my lack of shoes and coats. I were all knees and elbows and shy of any comment I couldnt walk past the Police Camp with my friends without him calling out some insult. I pretended to be amused for I would not give him the satisfaction of seeing blood.
It were during Sgt O’Neil’s hateful reign we heard Mr Russell of Foster Downs Station was to sell off a great mob of bullocks and cows in calf also a famous bull he was said to have brought from England for 500 quid. It were a much bigger event than we was accustomed to in Beveridge just a straggly village on a difficult hill reviled by all the bullockies between Melbourne and the Murray River. 1/2 way up the hill were a pub and blacksmith and portable lockup then farther west a Catholic school. That hill were too much effort even for the bitter winds which turned around and come howling back towards our hut below. West of the road the water were salt. Our side had good water but it were still known as Pleurisy Plains. No one ever come to Beveridge for their health.
The sale changed all that and suddenly there was squatters and stock agents come to visit even a veterinarian from Melbourne all these strangers set up camp beside the swamp between our place and the hill. There was gaffing & flash talk & grog drinking & galloping up & down the Melbourne road it were good as a circus to us boys to hang about the boggy crossing and see the fancy riding. Day by day Jem and me run the long way to school to see what new tents were set up at the swamp. We was on tenterhooks awaiting the beasts but it were not until dusk on the day before the Auction we heard that particular mournful bellowing on the wind it were a mob of cattle being driven over a track they did not know.
I told Jem I was going to meet them.
We wasnt finished tending to the pigs and chooks we did not care our feet was bare the ground were hard and rocky though we was used to it and run right through the Indian corn. Said Jem We’ll be whipped.
I don’t care.
I don’t care neither.
We had just gained the swamp bulrushes when the beasts come into view flooding down the smooth green hill of Beveridge like a breaking wave it were the gleaming wealth of all the nations pouring down towards us and the water. Cor look at them blacks said Jem.
Of the 7 stockmen 5 was blackfellows they rode ahead of the coming storm with flash red scarves round their necks and elastic sided boots upon their feet. Said Jem Look at them boots.
Damn them I said. Yes damn them said Jem we was raised to think the blacks the lowest of the low but they had boots not us and we damned and double damned them as we run. Soon we gained the rutted ruined Melbourne road where we passed Patchy Moran he were 16 yr. old rawboned and lanky but we was faster any day.
Wait you little b––––rs.
But we wouldnt wait for Patchy or no one else splashing through Boggy Crossing to the splintery top rail of the yard. Moran made no comment on our victory but lit himself a cigarette and the leftover beard of tobacco fell in glowing cinders to the earth. Look at them effing niggers.
We already seen them.
I heard the rattle of a bridle and turned to see my father’s tormentor had ridden up behind us Sgt O’Neil had his stirrup leathers so long the iron could be held only with the tip of the toes it were the English fashion. His horse was 17 hands he thought himself high and mighty but if you had give any of us boys a pony we would of left him in the dust.
Patchy Moran said Look at them niggers Sergeant did you see their adjectival boots how much would that cost do you reckon Sir boots like that?
O’Neil did not answer but leaned forward in his saddle looking down at me beneath the visor of his shako his eyes as watery as a jar of gin. Ah young Kelly he said.
Hello Sergeant said I so accustomed to his teasing that I thought Moran’s remark about the blackfellows’ boots would lead to comments about my own bare feet. Said I thats a mighty bull they got by Jove we heard he was worth 500 quid.
Said O’Neil I just saw your father. I knew from his lazy drawl he had something worse than shoes to hurt me with. He said I just seen Red Kelly galloping across Horan’s paddocks dressed like a woman can you picture that now?
I couldnt see the policeman’s expression in the failing light but he spoke so very conversationally. Patchy Moran laughed but stopped midbreath I looked towards poor little Jem he sat on the rail staring grimly at the ground his brow furrowed in a torture of confusion and my friends gone v. quiet around me.
Pull the other one Sergeant.
Your father was seen by Mr McClusky and Mr Willett and myself he was wearing a dress with roses on its hem can you ever imagine such a thing?
Not me but you can Sergeant its the very thing you just done.
You watch your lip young fellow do you hear? When your father saw us he galloped away down the north face of Big Hill. He can ride I grant him that but do you know why he would go that way?
Oh said the Sergeant he was off to be serviced by his husband I suppose.
I leapt upon his high armoured boot I tried to twist him off his saddle but he only laughed and swung his horse around so I was almost crushed against the fence.
Thus were the great day destroyed. I told Patchy Moran I did not come to see a nigger show Jem said he did not want to see one neither. We walked home together through the dark. We did not say much but was very melancholic. She’ll strop us won’t she Ned?
No she won’t.
But of course our mother had the razor strop laid out ready on the table she hit my hand 3 times and Jem once. We never told her what O’Neil had said.
I doubt I had the courage to repeat O’Neil’s slander to my father but I were anyway denied the opportunity for he had departed once again to shear the fat merino sheep for Mr Henry Buckley of Gnawarra Station. As it were spring he should of been engaged on his own land but couldnt afford it and on the way to Gnawarra he nearly died.
A vicious Sydney black by the name of Warragul had gotten a mob together made of the remnants of different tribes my father had done nothing against Warragul but when he arrived at the Murray River near Barnawatha a shower of spears sailed out of the bush and struck his donkey dead beneath him. My father dragged his carbine from its saddle holster and by careful use of his remaining powder were able to keep Warragul’s mob at bay until dark. Then he retreated into an abandoned hut he barricaded the door and windows and so imagined himself safe but in the early hours of the morning he woke.
The roof were on fire and the hut surrounded by shouting savages.
He used the last of his powder to shoot into the faces of blackfellows who was peering through the gaps between the logs but when the powder were gone he had nothing more to look forward to than death and begun to say his prayers while the blacks thrust their spears through the gaps. The roof were already burning falling in lumps when Father paused from praying long enough to realise the spears was only entering from the front. He removed the barricade from the rear window and with the blacks keeping watch on one side of his funeral pyre he made his way out the downwind side thereafter hiding in a hollow log for 2 days before he were discovered by Mr Henry Buckley himself and thus finally delivered to Gnawarra.
At the time my father had been battling for his very life Sergeant O’Neil’s slander spread about the Catholic school the source of this contagion being Patchy Moran.
I cautioned him. You say that one more time I’ll whip you.
Patchy Moran were a good foot taller his voice broken like a man. Said he You are an adjectival tinker you can’t give me orders.
And with that he punched me in the temple so I fell.
Regaining my feet I faced him again he hit me hard enough to push the pudding out of me. I were bent over wheezing to get my wind back he called out I were a sissy and the son of a sissy. He seemed a giant all hair and pimples I thought he soon would kill me but I closed with him on the barren ground beneath the peppercorn tree and then by skill or luck I got round his dirty neck and pulled him to the ground. How he hollered to be brung down how he kicked & bucked & twisted rolling me amongst the tree roots and the gravel. I felt a red hot sting on my back and rolled him over. There were a bull ant also fastened to his pimply neck.
I wouldnt let him go not even when I felt a 2nd bite myself I hope you may live your life without a bull ant bite for it is worse than any wasp or bee. Patchy howled in my arms cursing and pleading but I held his shoulders to the earth as he thrashed and drove his tormentors into greater fury still.
Take it back.
He bawled the snot run down his lip.
Take it back.
He said he would not take it back but in the end he couldnt tolerate the pain he cried Damn you damn your eyes I take it back. Brother Hearn heard his blasphemies so did 16 other scholars standing by the schoolhouse door observing us. No one said nothing they stood v. quiet and watched Patchy Moran rip off his shirt and britches the girls all saw his private skin.
I were soon ill from my great number of bites but no one said no more about my father from that time.
I thought my problems over and I once again imagined there were never a better place on earth than where I lived at Pleurisy Plains. I could not conceive a better soil or prettier view or trees that did not grow crooked in the winds. I were often in the swamp it were a world entire with eels and bird eggs and tiger snakes we tried to race them along the Melbourne road. Then one mild and dewy morning I went out to find some worms and discovered my younger sister Maggie seated on a cairn of them brown pitted rocks the ancient volcanoes had throwed around the plains of Beveridge. Our father often had us busy tidying the earth in this manner. This particular pile of rocks was in a thistlepatch near our back door and Maggie were using it as a throne while she squeezed milk from the thistles onto her warts. She asked would I please squeeze some on a difficult place behind her elbow.
I were very fond of Maggie she were always my favourite sister as true and steady as a red gum plank. As I set down my worms and dripped the white sap over her warts she warned she had found something I would not like.
You’ll have to move them rocks.
I already moved them once.
You better do it again.
There were no more than 8 rocks Maggie helped me roll them to one side and I discovered the freshly broken earth beneath.
Its something dead.
It aint nothing dead.
From down amongst the thistles she produced an old gooseneck shovel with a broken handle.
I took it from her hand and dug until I uncovered something hard and black it were 3 ft. 3 2 ft. It were also deep so I levered and jemmied and soon dragged a battered tin trunk out to the light of day. It were inside that trunk I found the thing I wish I never saw.
It were a woman’s dress v. soiled along the hem the roses was exactly as Sgt O’Neil had said. There was also masks made of red paint and feather I hardly seen them it were the dress that made my stomach knot a mighty anger come upon me.
I heard our sister Annie calling and I whispered I would kill Maggie if ever she mentioned what we seen. Her dark little eyes welled up with tears.
Annie were demanding I bring firewood she come down the path in a mighty fret with her thin shoulders hunched forward and her hands upon her hips. If youse don’t come now you’ll get no adjectival dinner.
I split the wood all right but then carried it back to the thistlepatch and made a fireplace from the rocks.
What are you doing? You can’t do that you know it aint permitted.
Just the same she give me the matches I asked for. She were a worrywart she retreated back to the doorway while I burned the horrid contents of the trunk. By the time she come back I were poking the last bits of dress into the flames.
She asked me what I were destroying but all us children had suffered from O’Neil’s story and she knew the answer to her question well enough.
Said Annie You better bury that trunk. Her face were pinched her mouth set with worry she were only 11 yr. old but she must of already saw her future it were written on her face for all to see.
A 2nd time she ordered me to hide the trunk so I dragged it down the back and shoved it under the lower rail of the horse yard.
You can’t do that.
I pulled the trunk through all the manure into the middle of the yard.
You’ll get the strop said she.
I never doubted it would be worse than that and when our father come ambling up the track 3 days later I awaited my thrashing it were as sure as eggs turn into chickens.
At 1st he didnt see the trunk he were surveying his crop of Indian corn doubtless pleased he had not been speared or burned and had money in his pocket. But finally he saw his broken secret lying in the air and while the little children all run around crying for him to dismount he stared silently down at the blackened trunk his eyes small inside their puffy lids.
Where’s your ma?
Baby Kate took ill she’s gone to Wallan to the Doctor.
My father dismounted and then carried his saddle and bags into the hut I were waiting by the door to get my punishment but he never even looked at me. After a little while he gone up the pub.
I lost my own father from a secret he might as well been snatched by a roiling river fallen from a ravine I lost him from my heart so long I cannot even now properly make the place for him that he deserves. Forever after I unearthed his trunk I pictured him with his broad red beard his strong arms his freckled skin all his manly features buttoned up inside that cursed dress.
Up to that point I had been his shadow never losing a chance to be with him. In the bush he taught the knots I use to tie my blanket to my saddle Ds also the way I stand to use a carpenter’s plane and the trick of catching fish with a bush fly and a strip of greenhide these things are like the dark marks made in the rings of great trees locked forever in my daily self.
I don’t know if my mother realised what were hidden in the trunk she never said nothing and it were left to lie in the middle of the dusty yard and when it rained the horses drank from it.
A rich man driving his buggy past our home might see the tin trunk in the yard and the pumpkins growing on the skillion roof but he would never imagine all my father’s issue the great number of us packed behind the curtains breathing the same air snoring farting blind and deaf to each other as a newborn litter.
I had long taught myself to be deaf to my parents’ private business but after digging up that trunk I would stay awake at night listening to my mother and my father talking.
I learned not a thing about the dress I discovered it were land my parents whispered about and in particular the Duffy Land Act of 1862 it gave a man or widow the right to select a block between 50 and 640 acres for £1 per acre part payable on selection the rest over 8 yr. My mother were for it but my father were against it he said the great Charles Gavan Duffy was a well intentioned idiot leading poor men into debt and lifelong labour. He were correct as it happened but when my mother abused my da for cowardice the terrible turmoil in my heart were somehow soothed. Only a simpleton she said would try to farm 20 acres like my da were doing. I thought yes you must be a mighty fool.
This debate about the Land Act were life or death and my mother enlisted her family who was presently our neighbours but in the midst of buying land far away in the North East.
The Quinns was purchasing 1,000 acres at Glenmore on the King River they was Irish and therefore drunk with land and fancy horses all the old hardships soon to be forgotten. The Quinn women come visiting with soda bread and surveyor’s maps the men was tall and reckless they cursed and sang they fought anyone they did not like and rode thoroughbreds they could not afford to buy. My uncle Jimmy Quinn were a man by now there were a dreadful wildness in his eyes like a horse that has been tortured. The Quinns would of tossed my father down the well if they had seen the dress but they chivvied and joked and finally prevailed upon him to sell everything he owned in Beveridge he got a total of £80.
But when my da finally had the cash put in his hand the thought of giving the government so large a sum were more than he could bear and when the new owners arrived to take possession he borrowed a cart and shifted us to rented land on the outskirts of the township of Avenel. So while my mother’s brothers and sisters went on to farm 1,000 virgin acres at Glenmore my father transported us 60 mi. to a district of English snobs and there to my mother’s great outrage he slowly pissed away the 80 quid on rent and booze. I were his flesh and he must of felt me draw further away but he were proud and did not try to win me back.
The question of our lost opportunity were now always present my mother could not leave it alone my father would sit solid in his chair and quietly rub the belly of his big black cat. I am thinking now of one night in particular when he broke his silence.
Your family arent bad fellows said he at last.
If you’re planning to speak ill of them you can stop right there.
Oh I aint got nothing against them personal.
Of course not they was always good to you.
I’m sure the land will do the job. Them rocks aint nothing but the land can’t touch this land Ellen.
And us with no meat but the adjectival possums.
We aint got beef its true.
Not even mutton.
But do you notice we aint got no police? Now thats an interesting thing I wonder why that is do you imagine your family is as lucky up at Glenmore?
Oh no not this again.
Well you must agree the Quinns attract the traps as surely as rabbit guts will bring the flies.
My mother shrieked a plate or cup were dashed against the wall.
Well Ellen said he I know you’re very low about your farm but I would rather die than go to prison.
You great galoot no one wants to put you in prison.
So you say.
No one she cried her voice rising. Are you mad?
And why was the traps always visiting us do you imagine?
You have been a free man 15 yr. they don’t want you back again.
The Quinns bring attention its the truth.
O you adjectival worm.
My mother were now sobbing Maggie also I could hear her little rabbit noises on the far side of the curtain. Then my mother said my father would rather his children starve than take a risk and beside me Jem pulled his pillow tight across his ears.
The land were very good at Avenel but there were a drought and nothing flourished there but misery I were the oldest son I thought it time to earn my place.
There were no dam or spring upon our property each day I took the cows to water them at Hughes Creek. In a good year it would of made a pretty picture but in the drought that creek were no more than a chain of sandy waterholes. It were across this dry river bed that Mr Murray’s heifer calf come calling out my name I were very hungry when I heard her and knew what I must do. I had never killed nothing bigger than a rooster but when I saw the long line of the heifer’s crop above the blackberries I knew I could not be afraid of nothing.
Reading Group Guide
The introduction, discussion questions, author biography, and suggested reading list that follow are designed to enhance your group's reading of Peter Carey's True History of the Kelly Gang. We hope they will provide you with new ways of thinking and talking about a novel that vividly re-creates the life of Australia's most famous and most fascinating outlaw.
1. In Australia, Ned Kelly is so revered as a national icon that his image was placed on center stage during the opening ceremonies of the Summer 2000 Olympic Games. Though his legacy is still controversial and some regard him as a criminal and murderer, he is widely seen as a champion of the oppressed and a forerunner of Australian nationalism. What aspects of Kelly's character and actions might be responsible for his heroic status? What heroic feats does he accomplish in the novel? In what ways does the novel present a realistic rather than mythic or romanticized portrait of the man?
2. True History of the Kelly Gang is fiction, yet most of the characters in the novel existed as real people and many of the events are based on historical fact. What complications arise from using fiction to tell the truth? Can a factually based imaginative reconstruction present a truer or more accurate account of people than straightforward nonfiction can? What distinctive pleasures does the historical novel afford?
3. Ned Kelly begins by writing that his history "will contain no single lie may I burn in Hell if I speak false" [p. 7], and much in his narration is concerned with setting the record straight. Is Kelly a reliable narrator? Why should his history be more "true" than other versions of these events? What aspects of Kelly's voice and character convey a feeling of authenticity?
4. Why does Ned Kelly address his history to his daughter? What effect does he hope it will have on her? What are his motives for writing?
5. Throughout the novel, Ned Kelly represents himself as a person who was pushed into the life of an outlaw by forces beyond his control. "What choice did I have?" he asks, when he kills Strahan at Stringybark Creek. "This were the ripe fruit of Constable Alexander Fitzpatrick" [p. 250]. What are the forces, individual and political, that influence his fate? In what ways is Fitzpatrick responsible for this killing?
6. What effect does Harry Power have on the young Ned Kelly? What does Ned learn from him? In what ways does Ned define himself against Harry Power?
7. Looking back on the moment that Harry Power told him that he had killed Bill Frost, Ned thinks: "Now it is many years later I feel great pity for the boy who so readily believed this barefaced lie I stand above him and gaze down like the dead look down from Heaven" [p. 123]. At what other points in the novel is Ned betrayed by the dishonesty of others? What does his willingness to trust suggest about his character? Why would he liken this recollection to the dead looking down from Heaven?
8. How are the Irish in general, and the Kelly family in particular, regarded by the English in Australia? What methods do the police use to intimidate and control them? In what ways can the novel be read as an indictment of English colonialism?
9. When Tom Lloyd is arrested for the shooting of Bill Frost, Ned returns because, as he tells his mother, "I can't let Tom do my time" [p.140]. By what ethical code does Ned live? Where else does he refuse to violate this personal code of honor? How do his own ethics contrast with those of the police, squatters, and judges who are arrayed against him? What are the consequences of Kelly's strict adherence to his code?
10. What do Ned's relationships with Joe Byrne, his mother, his brother Dan, his wife Mary, and their child reveal about the kind of man he is? Why is it impossible for him to flee with Mary to America? How has his relationship with his fatherand his father's historyshaped him?
11. Ned Kelly claims that his gang had "showed the world what convict blood could do. We proved there were no taint we was of true bone blood and beauty born" [p. 337]. To what extent is Ned Kelly aware of himself as an actor on the historical stage? To what extent should he be regarded as a revolutionary? What events lead to his growing political consciousness?
12. Though possessing little formal education, Ned Kelly was in fact a remarkable writer, as evidenced by the 1879 Jerilderie letter, which Kelly dictated to Joe Byrne and which survives today. What aspects of Kelly's writing, as Carey represents it, seem most distinctive? How is his writing regarded by others in the novel? What does he hope his writingin the letter to Mr. Cameron and in the pamphlet he tries to publishwill accomplish? In what ways does Peter Carey's novel fulfill this hope?
13. True History of the Kelly Gang is preceded by an epigraph from William Faulkner: "The past is not dead. It is not even past." How does this quote illuminate what happens in the novel? In what sense do both English colonial history and Ned Kelly's personal past affect the events in the novel? What does this epigraph, and the novel itself, imply about similar contemporary conflicts in Ireland and elsewhere?
14. After his capture in 1880, Ned Kelly said, "If my lips teach the public that men are made mad by bad treatment, and if the police are taught that they may exasperate to madness men they persecute and ill treat, my life will not be entirely thrown away." In what ways does Kelly's life, as it is presented in True History of the Kelly Gang, serve as a warning about the consequences of injustice and persecution?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Ned Kelley and his gang are a powerful myth in Australia. In the 1870s Ned Kelley an Irish youth reluctantly takes up a life of crime and becomes in effect a huge media story. A Robin Hood type character. He finds himself in the middle of the culture clash and resentments caused by the cruel and discriminatory English rulers Vs the downtrodden Irish bush farmers. In a country that was founded by convicts one wonders why Kelley takes on such a mythic statue. This book, a novel, goes a long ways to offer up motive for Kelley in Australia¿s ruthless history of class warfare. Carey has taken a 50 page letter written by the real Kelley with it¿s long run on sentences, no commas, change of subject mid sentence and incorporated this style into his fictional Kelley¿s voice. The book's structure is the discovery of many other parcels of text written (Chapters) all written in the first person by our fictional Kelley, all in this fast paced run on style without punctuation. A few years ago I tried to read the book and just found it¿s lack of punctuation to difficult to keep up with. I¿m not a patient enough reader to take on the reading text written in this fashion. I put the book down in frustration. Then recently I discovered, in the Library, a fully unabridged audio version on CDs. I listened to the first 200 pages on a recent round trip drive to Las Vegas. The reader, Gianfranco Negroponte does a marvelous job of reading, inserting the commas; the dialog comes alive with his performance, as does Ned Kelley¿s voice. The reading has the feel your sitting around the campfire hearing a tall tale told by the practitioner. I finished listening to the tapes while following along with the book's text and some sections I just read without the audio. But it was the audio translation I am reviewing here and recommending to you. A marvelous way to enjoy what I found to be an awkward book to read. The recording also has an interesting hour-long interview with Peter Carey on the last CD, well worth a listen as he explains why he structured the book the way he did, and how much of the story he fictionalized (quite a bit actually).
Peter Carey will win a pulitzer in the next 10 years. The man can weave a tale and his character development and understanding of humanity is almost hemingwayesque.
Ned Kelly starts off as any one would think a kid would. Young, reckless, and free to do what he wishes in life. In the beginning, he tells you what is happening, but he is speaking to his daughter. Each letter held a part of his life and how it was hard for him and his family to live. It seems in the story, troubled and Ned go together just like a puzzle. He tries to be like a man, even after his father¿s death. With each letter, you travel deeper into his mind and life, until the end.
I was rather pleased with this story. It kept me on my guard when you would not think possible. You never knew if he was lying, even if he said he would not lie in the beginning of the novel. I had a little troubled reading the story, for Ned has ¿troubled¿ with his grammar. The word year was shortened to yr. and other words seemed to form to his speak he spoke. I do recommended this book to other that enjoy a blast from the past and maybe you might find some dirt on the bottom of your shoes from the story its self, for that¿s how far into the book I felt.
I had never heard of Ned Kelly before Peter Carey's book. But, from the very first line, Ned Kelly comes vividly to life. And, though it seems so far removed from the comfort most of us have today, it's fascinating and real. What he's striving for, acceptance, a better life, love, family ties, something to leave behind after, are all universal. His language, especially, is so entertaining, I would recommend this book just on that. I loved it.
As a long-time student of Ned Kelly as historical personage, it was with great trepidation that I read this book; knowing how historical novels hardly ever grasp the 'meaning' of a person or an event. All to often they seem to add invented dialouge to a well-known story and HOPE to capitalize on the actual story to carry the book thru. Here we have what a historical novel SHOULD be. As Kelly appeared thru the morning mist that June day in 1880 to battle the police, so he has risen up again and again to lumber thru the consciousness of whoever has the good fortune to stumble onto his tale, for, right or wrong, he's IS a powerful tale. But it is the concept behind this novel that really struck me as unique. Here was Kelly the son, the man, the lover, and the outlaw, and yet the 'meaning' comes down to Kelly the father. And it is here that, as a divocred father seperated from MY kids, the real power and tragedy of Carey's novel strikes home: the desire of people, regardless of gender or social status and standing, to have our voices heard and our tale told. Here, for once, in this wonderfully imagined way, IS (to use a cliche) 'The man behind the myth.' What is so wonderful is that Kelly has survived as a historical character, and he has appeared as subject for fine art (The Nolan paintings), as cinematic subject matter numerous times, and, now, as a subject that has long deserved and finally received his worthy status as subject fit for fine literature. Bravo to Peter Carey for slipping into Kelly's armor
Though over a century has passed since the Australian authorities hanged him, Ned Kelly retains a mythical hold on the minds of individuals who romanticize a criminal with an honorable moral fiber. In 1879-1880, Kelly and his cohorts elude the police for about twenty months, desperately doing daring deeds that capture the soul of a nation. Yet in the end he fails to achieve his goal of winning the approval of his mother, but Ellen betrayed her family and Ned whenever it was convenient. This is an exciting biographical fiction that brings to life a country and its people in the late nineteenth century. Although one-sided by turning Kelly into a glamorous heroic victim of society and his family, he retains all the allure that makes him an epic hero. The story line is well written and grips the reader from start to finish with the action adventure of a Zane Gray western tale. Award winning Peter Carey shows why he is one of the best authors with this uncanny novel that brings forth a legendary man. Harriet Klausner
I tried this book for no other reason than I liked the title and premise. For a story where every reader knows the inevitable outcome, it manages to be both absorbing and fresh, with a unique voice in the form of Ned Kelly's narration. There's just enough taken from history, and enough extrapolated from bits and pieces of known correspondence and journalism, to make it feel like you are reading a historically-accurate (though clearly subjective) document - which, while not quite true, comes a lot closer than most "fictionalized history" novels. It isn't thrilling, because nothing recounted in the form of letters is ever thrilling, but it exerts its own kind of hold that keeps you constantly wondering what choice Ned will make next, and either cheering for him or wanting him to hold back. That's the sign of great characterization, and will keep me on the lookout for more novels by this author.
I decided rather quickly not to finish this. It's written in a sort of semi-literate 19th-century Australian vernacular that was just going to take more work to negotiate than I wanted to invest, though I've like some of Carey's earlier work, especially Oscar & Lucinda.
Although Ned Kelly is one of Australia¿s enduring folk heroes, I previously knew nothing more about him than a few stereotypes and simplicities still lurking in my brain from my primary school days, just like Captain Cook and the Eureka Stockade and Simpson¿s donkey. (There was also Ned, a comedy that errs too far towards slapstick and toilet humour, but nonetheless also contains a good deal of genuine wit.) Sometime in my days of contrary adolescent authoritarianism I concluded that Ned Kelly, despite his folk hero status, was a thief and therefore a bad person.True History of the Kelly Gang turned me around somewhat. I know it¿s just fiction, but it¿s well-researched fiction that seems to ring true to real life. Most of it is told from the perspective of Ned Kelly himself, in the form of a memoir he is writing to his (fictional) child, and Carey has instilled him with a wonderful narrative voice: lacking commas, expletives censored out, a general rolling conversational style that I couldn¿t help but hear in an Irish accent. The story is an account of Ned¿s life all the way from his childhood to his famous last stand at Glenrowan, and explains how and why he became the man he did.Ned Kelly, like many settlers in 19th century Australia, was Irish. The upper class ¿ the landowners, the magistrates, the governors and the police ¿ were largely English. From the very early days of his life, Ned¿s family was abused and oppressed and tormented, as were his friends and neighbours, the conflicts of the old country exported to the new. This was crucial; Ned quite explicitly considered himself to be a political rebel, rising up against the English ruling class, wanting nothing more than land and freedom for himself and his family.It is, of course, a novel, but the one real surviving piece of Kelly¿s writing ¿ the Jerilderie letter ¿ outlines the same motives and desires. Furthermore, when he was captured at Glenrowan, he was in possession of a document outlining a proposed declaration of a republic in north-eastern Victoria. As somebody who is both Irish and republican, I find my sympathies leaning towards Kelly. He was still, of course, a thief and a killer, and not somebody whom I¿d like to share a milkshake with, but I understand now why many Australians revere him.I found it particularly interesting to read this directly after Howard Zinn¿s A People¿s History of the United States. Towards the end of True History, a character opposed to the Kelly legend says:What is it about we Australians, eh? he demanded. What is wrong with us? Do we not have a Jefferson? A Disraeli? Might we not find someone better to admire than a horse-thief and a murderer?I¿ve sold my copy of Zinn¿s book, so I can¿t quote directly, but in the interview towards the back he talks about how we shouldn¿t always look to great leaders and heroes ¿ the Lincolns, the Churchills, the Roosevelts ¿ but should instead rely on ourselves, the people, to pull us through harsh times. Ned Kelly is obviously a hero and an icon as well, but he¿s about as close to a hero of the people as you could ever get.So, the book taught me a lot about Ned Kelly and changed my attitude towards him. Is it a good book? Yes. Not a fantastic book, and another Booker-winner that must have been the product of a slow year (like The Blind Assassin), but nonetheless a solid piece of Australian literature and something I¿m glad to have read.Incidentally, my copy was published in the United States, and the blurb makes this idiotic statement: Exhilarating, hilarious, panoramic, and immediately engrossing, it is also ¿ at a distance of many thousand miles and more than a century ¿ a Great American Novel.How? How is this Australian novel about an Australian historical figure written by an Australian and set in Australia even remotely a ¿Great American Novel?¿ Either the publisher didn¿t think Americans would read a book that wasn¿t somehow related to America, or Americans really won¿t read a
A bit difficult to read, puntuation etc but well worth it
The life story of Ned Kelly, Australian Bushranger and Outlaw, as told through his fictional diaries. Wow, this was an amazing book. From page two I was hooked on the story and the life of this man. I found myself absolutely intrigued by him and since I started the book I have been reading about him online as well. Since the story is told through Ned's point of view we come to feel for him and root for him, perhaps as the Australian people themselves did at the time. This was a wonderful book, you really can't ask for more in a novel. The one negative comment I have is about the lack of punctuation. I don't feel it added any authenticity to the story at all but instead showed the author's own arrogance. The lack of sentence structure made this a very slow read. My reading speed decreased dramatically. I would often have to read a 'sentence' 2 or three times to understand and this particularly happened when people were speaking as the lack of quotations in the book leaves the reader unsure of who is speaking at many times. However, this should not be a deterrent to reading the book. As I read the last page I closed the book and spoke aloud to the empty room, "Wow, that was good." This book will be certainly be a contender for my best book of the year.
This book was the winner of the Booker Prize and is an amazing historical fiction of a criminal and popular hero in 19th century Australia named Ned Kelly. The story recounts, in Kelly's first person voice, his life from childhood until his untimely death. The book is packed with action, drama, trumped up crime and real crime. The protagonist is completely likeable, ethical, and a swirling mess of characters, motives, governments and relationships conspire to put a group of men against the law but not the populace. I would highly recommend this book.A note on style and punctuation. To add character to the story, the author is presenting the story with details as if truly written almost as a diary, and embellishing the presentation. (If the author could, I suspect he would have bound the book as it would have been in the 1800's). As such, being particularly accurate includes the punctuation that Ned Kelly would have used writing this himself. Which is to say none. I found this practice added to my experience of the book. Perhaps only twice or thrice did I find myself having to re-read a sentence again to get the break point. Once the reader plunges into the 'voice' of the reader and gets into it, it makes the book more real and the experience more vibrant. As an aside, I did feel the book got a little ribald at times which was my only and very slight complaint.
The Old West comes alive on the pages of Peter Carey¿s new novel True History of the Kelly Gang. That¿s right, pardner, there¿s a whole passel of bank holdups, horse rustling and highway robbing going on. But would it surprise you to learn I¿m talking about the Old West of the Australian Outback, circa 1875? Carey¿s felonious protagonist is Ned Kelly, a historical figure who has become a legend in Australian lore¿sort of like Billy the Kid, the Down Under version. Being a Yank (born in Pennsylvania, raised in Wyoming), I¿d never heard of the notorious Kelly until I picked up Carey¿s novel. Somehow, I¿d missed the 1970 movie starring Mick Jagger as the outlaw (and music by poet Shel Silverstein!). Apparently, Ned¿s the stuff of Robin Hood legends in the former British penal colony. Here¿s a thumbnail sketch of the true history, for those as ignorant as I was: Born in 1854 to Irish immigrants, Ned begins by telling us he was left fatherless when he was 12 (¿raised on lies and silences¿). Forced off their land by poverty and circumstance, the Kellys (Ned, his mother and several siblings) moved to another district. But times proved hard there on the new farm and the teenage Ned was apprenticed to a highway robber (or ¿bushranger¿) named Harry Power. Young Ned learned the art of stick-ups (or ¿bail ups,¿ in the novel¿s slang) and it wasn¿t long before he landed in jail¿his most frequent place of residence in the years to come. After doing hard labor, he was released from prison and returned home to find his family farm depleted and his mother persecuted by the local constabulary. He vowed to take his revenge on the local law for the injustices he perceived; and so, he and a small gang (which included his brother Dan) started horse thieving. Then, in 1878, a constable named Fitzgerald moved in on the farm¿supposedly to arrest Dan, but as it turns out he wanted to see their sister Kate. One thing led to another, Kate was assaulted, Fitzgerald was wounded and embarrassed and he vowed to get retribution from the Kellys. A bounty was soon on the gang¿s head and a posse was formed. This, in turn, led to a deadly shootout¿deadly for the police, that is. Three constables were killed at a gun battle near Stringybark Creek, elevating the Kelly gang¿s notoriety. Then banks were robbed, trains held up and more people murdered. As the noose tightened around Ned, he came up with a harebrained scheme to outwit the authorities: he built the first bullet-proof suit, an entire outfit made of iron (including a pot-like helmet with a slit cut out for the eyes). Unfortunately, in the gang¿s final confrontation with the law, the 97-pound suit of armor proved only slightly impenetrable. A shot to his legs crippled him and he was captured. On November 11, 1880, Ned Kelly was hanged until dead. Those are the ¿facts¿ as I¿ve been able to glean them from skimming the internet. Read the jaunty novel by Carey (author of Oscar and Lucinda and Jack Maggs) and you¿ll get a slightly narrower view of things¿mainly because the entire rip-roaring tale is told in Kelly¿s own voice, set down as a series of narratives to his daughter (a fictional license¿the real Ned never married or fathered a child). Presented as a series of ¿packets¿ whose contents have been hastily scrawled on bank letterhead and envelopes, the story comes to us smelling of unwashed grammar and rip-snorting vernacular. But because he¿s writing to his daughter, Ned writes tenderly, avoiding unsavory language (the word ¿adjectival¿ is substituted for most four-letter oaths). The unpunctuated and run-on result is something that could be coming ripe off the pencil of Jesse James or Black Bart. Here, for instance, is a particularly memorable robbery scene where Ned and Harry have bailed up a stagecoach and the volatile Harry starts arguing with the driver: I told him said the driver there aint no adjectival gold. I¿m Harry Power cried Harry and I say there is. I don¿t care if you¿re the Duke of Glouceste
I knew the basic legend of Ned Kelly before I read this book, but that's about it. I enjoyed the author's take on the story behind the legend, which he brought to life using Ned's own voice. Grammatical errors and lack of punctuation caused a bit of confusion at times but I think overall made the story more believable and easier to identify with Ned as its author. The story of a hard-working boy born to a poor Irish family in late 19th century Australia, dealing with the cheating ways of the ruling English Australians makes the reader empathize quite a bit with Ned. I felt less empathy for the Kelly family as a whole, as they often were the cause of their own problems. I don't think the story places Ned in the role of hero, but it does try to make the reader understand what may have led to his criminal acts and subsequent legendary status. I enjoyed the book, although it felt a little long towards the end, where I anxiously awaited the bank robbery and armor-clad shootout.
Had I done the slightest bit of research before starting to read this book, I would have known that Ned Kelly and his "gang" were true historical figures and considered by many Australians as folk heroes. As it was I thought that Peter Carey was very clever to invent this fictional character and present him to us through a series documents supposedly written by the infamous Kelly himself. Of course, Carey did in fact write a fictional story since Kelly¿s exact actions, thoughts and intentions will never be known to us and had to be made up based on historical documents. Ned¿s first person account of his life story begins when he was a young boy living with his mother, six siblings, and occasionally with his father too, who was an outlaw and was repeatedly incarcerated. If we are to believe this fictional Ned¿s version of the events, he became an outlaw because circumstances forced him to adopt that way of life although he was not in the least the hardened killer he was made out to be by the government and the media, and it¿s hard not to feel sympathetic toward his cause. In any case, it¿s an entertaining story with good guys that are bad and bad guys that are actually good, lots of horses, guns and shooting and a detailed description of what living as a poor farmer in Australia in the late 19th century, or being apprentice to an experienced bushranger (Australian outlaw) must have been like. It¿s all made all the more colourful thanks to Ned¿s simple "adjectival" prose which is riddled with the suggestion of expletives, although Ned¿s obviously gone through pains to keep things as clean as he knew how since the raison d'être of these documents is for his daughter to one day have a true account of the events that led up to her father¿s death.
Sort of the Australian version of the James gang from the American west. It even happened around the same time. This is a novel, although it may be based on fact - I didn¿t realize this until I read the acknowledgments at the end. It¿s written in the form of a journal by Ned Kelly, an account of his true history addressed to his daughter.Which is part of the problem I had with the book. Kelly didn¿t know how to use commas, or, more correctly, the author chose that Kelly should write that way. Not only commas, but the usual things that an author would use to show that his narrator is uneducated. Makes the novel a little difficult to get interested in, and hard to read, and wearing. I almost gave up around page 200 - it was just more of the same, but I slogged all the way to the end.It won the Booker prize, but I was not that impressed.
Tried to get through this one...couldn't.
I quite enjoyed this book, but it took me a loooooong time to read! It's not one that I could pick up and read a100 pages in a night. Peter Carey does a really great job of bringing Ned Kelly to life.
Audiobook....Book Club book.....The initial third of this book had me totally engaged. Ned Kelly's childhood was incredible, as was the family he was born into. I also learned about the status of the Irish in Australia in the 1800s, only above the aborigines in the social structure of the times. The second third of the book became just plain annoying with trauma after trauma. Is it really possible to be bored in the face of such a tragic tale, you ask? Yes, it is. While. Listening to the audio version with a friend while on vacation, we repeatedly looked at one another and exclaimed," Oh....come ON!"The final third was an improvement over the middle. Enough said. Wait...one more thing....if I hear the word "adjectival" one more time I will have to screech!
Thoroughly engaging story that should be required reading for both police and people working with families trying to overcome the impossible.
Ned Kelly was an Australian outlaw bushranger in the 1800s. His Irish father was convicted of a crime and sent to Van Diemen's land. The family settled in Australia after his release. Ned was forced into adulthood at an early age, and was sent to be an apprentice to another bushranger at the age of 15. From there he fell into a life of crime, and gained notoriety by consistently eluding capture. However, he also remained fiercely loyal to his large family, especially his mother and brother.Peter Carey recounts Ned's life story in Ned's own voice, complete with the grammatical anomalies and lack of punctuation that might be expected from a semi-literate young man. The story is compelling and the character development, wonderful. Ned Kelly is a violent criminal, and yet very likeable. I actually found myself cheering him on in his escapades with the police.True History of the Kelly Gang reminded me of other "outlaw" tales, like the story of Jesse James, or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. This is not a subject that I'm particularly interested in, and I only read this book because it won the Booker Prize in 2001. I was not disappointed; in fact, I found this book absolutely delightful and difficult to put down. Peter Carey is one of only two authors to win the Booker Prize twice (the other is J. M. Coetzee). Now I can't wait to read his 1988 Booker winner, Oscar and Lucinda.
This "true history, " is a fictional autobiography of Australia's most notorious folk-hero and bushranger. The story of the scourge of the government of the Colony of Victoria is vividly told by native Australian Peter Carey in a primitive and compelling style inspired by Kelly's own prose.This is one adjectival effing good book, mate!
Here is the story of Ned Kelly, as told in his own words. Or at least that is the novel's conceit. In True History of the Kelly Gang Peter Carey channels Australia's most famous outlaw, relating his tale in powerfully rich, though semi-literate prose. Anyone who's familiar with Ned Kelly's legend (don't worry, you don't need to know anything about Ned Kelly to enjoy the novel) will expect this book to be largely about the so-called Kelly Outbreak, but that is not the case. In fact we don't reach the Kelly Outbreak until about 2/3 of the way through the novel. Instead we are treated mostly to Kelly's early years, his family's struggles to eke out an existence, and all the injustices which would make Kelly the man he later became. Toward the end of the book a character asks if Australians have no one better to look up to than a horse thief. Accurate account or not this novel vividly describes why we tend to romanticize murderers and thieves like Ned Kelly or Billy the Kid; why even in their own time outlaws like these were seen by many of the common people as heroes rather than villains. Whatever their motivations for doing so they stood up against the agents of injustice; the police and magistrates who applied the law however they saw fit, the rich landowners and bankers who took whatever they wanted without fear of reprisal. All Ned Kelly ever wanted was for his voice to be heard, but no one was willing to listen. I've seen some complaints about the prose in this book, and that baffles me a bit. As I said earlier this novel is written in Kelly's own voice, complete with all the run on sentences and errors in grammar you might expect from an uneducated man in the late 19th century. While I admit that the prose takes some getting used to (after 5 or 6 pages you should have little problem with it), it's really the prose which elevates this novel to something more than just another retelling of the Kelly legend.