By Rama Gaind
PS News Books
By Ian W. Shaw (Pan Macmillan, $34.99, softcover, 340 pages)
Australia’s fascination with the legend of Ned Kelly and the siege that shaped a nation cannot be quantified.
Kelly, one of the nation’s foremost outlaws, was a man who made too many mistakes in too short a time.
The siege of Glenrowan is more than just an Australian folklore. The 41 hours when the Kelly Gang took over Ann Jones’ Glenrowan Inn and held the police at bay have become a part of the Australian psyche.
Most people know the unadorned bones of the story, but few know the names and actions of some of those who literally made history over those two days.
Focusing on the final, bloody siege of Glenrowan, social historian Ian Shaw brings to life the characters who were involved through their own words and the annotations of those present.
The real heroes and villains took centre stage in June 1880.
There was the charismatic Ned – cunning, conceited and brave – leader of the Kelly Gang.
Ann Jones the struggling owner of the hotel and the railway guard Jesse Dowsett who took on Kelly in a face-to-face shoot-out; the soulful Joe Byrne who toasted the success of the gang one moment and bled to death on the hotel floor the next; Sergeant Arthur Steele, who was told he’d get shot if he kept trying to kill unarmed people; and Dan Kelly and Steve Hart who preferred to die rather than surrender.
Meticulously researched, Glenrowan is the story of an incident given historical significance by the actions of a number of individuals responding to a specific set of circumstances, “generated partly by social, political and economic inequalities that had grown and festered in colonial Victoria”.
The “legend belongs to Ned, but the story belongs to those people whose lives were changed” by the events in the little north-east Victorian township.
Edition 310, 24 April 2012
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