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Ned Kelly - Australian Legend

Updated on June 24, 2014

The Legend of Ned Kelly

Ned Kelly is Australia's most famous bushranger, a folk hero who became a legend during his own life.

Ned has been memorialised by painters, writers, musicians and filmmakers. Books have been written about him, and songs sung in his memory.

Why is he remembered? Ned is part of the mythology of 'the bush' - the perceived cradle of mateship, equality, and the masculine virtue of fearless strength. So there you have it, a myth.

From the Ned Kelly Collection, Sydney Nolan, National Gallery of Australia

A self-educated man, Ned was extremely articulate, known for his poetic turn of phrase and sharp wit.

Much has been made of his ironic statements and colourful language but it doesn't take an academic degree to have the gift of the gab, much less a passion for freedom.

Ned Kelly's trademark - the Suit of Armour

Made in a Bush Forge

Designed to protect him from gunfire, Ned Kelly's suit of armour has become one of Victoria's most treasured historical icons.

The armour was made of heavy iron mouldboards from farmers' ploughs, mostly donated from farmers in northeastern Victoria.

The mouldboards were heated in a makeshift bush forge, beaten straight over a green log, cut into shape and riveted together as breast plates, back plates and helmets.

The armour was designed for gunfire protection whilst fighting. It was flexible enough to be worn whilst riding a horse, but was primarily calculated to be worn whilst on foot.

The Kelly Armour

The Kelly Armour
The Kelly Armour

Ned at Glenrowan - Ned kelly still stands guard


These days you'd be ill advised to hold up the Glenrowan Post Office. Standing guard outside is a six-metre high Big Ned Kelly, depicted just as he appeared when he was captured near the town, in June 1880, in his trademark charcoal armour and heavy mask, rifle in hand

Ned Kelly's Last Stand

Ned Kelly's Last Stand : Buy at AllPosters.com

The Kelly gang bailed up the little town of Glenrowan, cut the telegraph wires and forced the railway workers to rip up the line.

More than sixty hostages were taken during the day as the gang waited for the arrival of the police's special train. Following a tip-off from the local school teacher the train stopped at the station and a bitter gun battle took place with the police laying siege to the hotel.

In the nine and a half hours which followed, the building was burnt to the ground, three of the gang members were killed, and Ned, badly wounded was arrested.

Ned was taken to Melbourne, patched up, hurriedly tried and sentenced to death. On November 11th 1880, Ned Kelly was hanged in the Old Melbourne Goal.

The Jerilderie Letter

Another legacy from Ned Kelly

The 8000 words long Jerilderie Letter, written by Ned Kelly about 1879, is an extraordinary document in Australian history. It's been described as Ned Kelly's 'manifesto'.

The following, an extract from the original letter, is remembered for the description of the Victorian police.

"Is my mother not to be pitied also who has no alternative only to put up with the brutal and cowardly conduct of a parcel of big ugly fat-necked wombat headed big bellied magpie legged narrow hipped splaw-footed sons of Irish Bailiffs or English landlords which is better known as Officers of Justice or Victorian Police who some calls honest gentlemen but I would like to know what business an honest man would have in the Police."

"It is an old saying 'It takes a rogue to catch a rogue' and a man that knows nothing about roguery would never enter the force."

My brothers and I played endless games of Kelly Gang versus Cops giving us the chance to joyfully rattle off Ned's description of the Victoria Police. Declaiming these two paragraphs was an integral part of the game.

Kelly Country

There's more to Kelly Country than you think

Take a drive a trip up the Hume highway out of Melbourne and you'll get to Glenrowan, where the Kelly gang made its last stand in 1880 at Anne Jones' hotel.

The pub is no longer there, but the museum is worth visiting. Close by, at Benalla, you can see Sir Sydney Nolan's "Siege at Glenrowan" tapestry in the art gallery.

In the Benalla Costume and Pioneer Museum is a portable cell once used to hold Kelly, and the green sash presented to him for bravery when, aged 11, he saved a boy from drowning in a creek.

Ned's accomplice, Joe Byrne, is buried in the local cemetery. Ned's family made regular appearances at the Benalla courthouse, while the boot shop in Arundel Street was the scene of one of his many fights with the police.

You need to get off the beaten track to see Kelly's bush haunts ,but you're never too far from good wine and food when you're in Kelly Country..

Ned Kelly 2004 - Affable Outlaws come to a stricky end

Ned Kelly is wrongfully imprisoned for stealing a horse and, when he returns to the bosom of his large Irish family, finds that the police won't let him go straight. After being accused of a crime he didn't commit, Kelly is left with no option but to go on the run.

Accompanied by his gang he robs banks to survive and also to gather the money to free his family from prison.

Ned Kelly Movie Trailer

This Ned Kelly t-shirt is titled Such Is Life and features a portrait style pic of Ned with his armour on one side, a noose on the other - his birth and death dates also appear in the design.

Ned Kelly Such is Life shirt

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The "Kelly Outbreak"

How it started with a drunken, groping policeman

What happened on that Monday morning in 1878?

It started when Constable Alex Fitzpatrick rode up to the Kelly property outside of Greta on April 15.

Fitzpatrick was apparently inebriated, he was well known for being drunk on duty, many a complaint had been issued of his behaviour which was "generally bad and discreditable to the force", and for his "rough and rude" manner to women.

There was a scuffle with young Kate Kelly. Her mother belted the constable with a cooking pan. An indignant Fitzpatrick swore an attempted murder charge.

The outcome was the arrest and incarceration of the pregnant Mrs Kelly. Warrants were issued against Ned and Dan Kelly who disappeared into the mountains of North Eastern Victoria.

Fitzpatrick was later dismissed from the police force as 'a liar and a larrikin', but Ned and Dan Kelly were, from that day on, outlaws.

Image from the Ned Kelly Collection the National Gallery of Australia, Sidney Nolan 'Constable Fitzpatrick and Kate Kelly ' 1946 .

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This Ned Kelly t-shirt is titled Such Is Life and features a portrait style pic of Ned with his armour on one side, a noose on the other - his birth and death dates also appear in the design.

Ned Kelly Such is Life shirt

Leave poor old Ned a note ..

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    • profile image

      Oosquid 5 years ago

      Very interesting and enjoyable. I learned a thing or two about Ned Kelly, thanks for making the lens.

    • flycatcherrr profile image

      flycatcherrr 5 years ago

      I've read a Ned biography or two, and of course followed the news about his exhumation when it was in all the papers, but I didn't know there was a movie of his story; I shall have to see it now!

    • profile image

      Helene-Malmsio 5 years ago

      Good thing they have finally exhumed his bones and given him a private burial.

    • punkgrinder profile image

      punkgrinder 6 years ago

      Excellent lens and a really interesting read, thanks and thumbs up!

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 6 years ago from Colorado

      Thank you for introducing me to Ned Kelly. Quite the folk hero and fascinating chap. I will have to see the movie. Of course, I would rather visit Australia and learn more live and in person. :-)

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      how much people were in the ned kelly gang?? someone please tell me omg

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Good onya Susanna, maybe one day Sadists will no longer be selected to enforce our laws in Australia. One would assume a bit of psychological profiling would weed out the scum. I have the greatest respect and admiration for honest decent Police who work for communities, It's sad the minority leave us shaking our heads...

    • profile image

      Tony2Stark 6 years ago

      Australian Iron Man! :)

    • profile image

      ohcaroline 7 years ago

      I'd never heard of him before...but it sounds like he was a good "legend" prospect. I like the way you told his story.

    • cdcraftee profile image

      Christine Larsen 7 years ago from South Australia

      I love this lens Susanna - have lensrolled to mine - let me know if not OK with you.

      What a character - love your choice of the Heath Ledger 'Ned' - he brought so much heart and soul to the legend (but hated the Mick Jagger 'wannabe' interpretation - some 'stars' should be heard and not seen).

      Also, cannot get over the fact that our dear old farmhouse was built in the same year Ned died.

    • drs2biz lm profile image

      David Schroeter 7 years ago from St Kilda, Victoria, Australia

      Great to hear about this iconic figure on Squidoo. I lived in Benalla, not far from Glenrowan, for about 17 years and enjoyed the stories of his life. Two things that impressed me about him were that he was extremely proud of the sash that was given to him for saving a boy from drowning, and he loved the country and the people in it as evidenced by his protection from the police by the local citizens. His "Robin Hood" reputation was evidenced by him donating much of the gang's loot to the poor. Finally, he gets my vote as the first Australian to push for a Republic by drafting a document proclaiming the "Republic of North-East Victoria" which was found in his pocket when arrested by the police. Thanks again for this great lens, Susanna!

    • Margaret Muir profile image

      Margaret Muir 8 years ago from Tasmania, Australia

      Did you know that Ned's dad learned some of his bushranging traits in Tasmania?

      That was in the days of the infamous Van Diemen's Land bushrangers.

      I've just set up a new lens on MATTHEW BRADY - the Tasmanian 'gentleman' bushranger.

      Though less well known than Ned Kelly, Brady's story is certainly worth reading.

    • GilWarzecha profile image

      GilWarzecha 8 years ago

      I didn't know anything about Ned before reading your lens. This is really interesting!!!!!

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      As everyone says he was a hero who was concerned about everyone's lives.Great job Ned

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      hi i think ned kelly is a hero

    • draik profile image

      draik 8 years ago

      Thanks for joining Famous People Group.

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      nice work

    • profile image

      scss 8 years ago

      Love your work, Ned was a true rogue!

      Helene Malmsio

    • Leo9 profile image

      Leo9 8 years ago

      Great lens Susanna. Greetings from Perth!