Biggest Ned Kelly lie exposed
BUSHRANGERS are part of Australia's folklore. And there was no bigger name than Ned Kelly.
While the man himself was hanged in the Old Melbourne Gaol on November 11, 1880, his legend has grown through the years. But the people who were left behind: widows and young children of victims he killed have largely been forgotten.
Sergeant Michael Kennedy was one of those killed on that fateful day 140 years ago. His great grandson Leo Kennedy has written a book about that time and the impact Ned Kelly's murders had on his family.
On October 26, 1878, 140 years ago yesterday, three policemen were murdered at Stringybark Creek. The Sergeant and two Constables were part of two groups of policemen sent in search of the fugitive Kelly brothers. Ned and Dan Kelly were wanted for horse theft and the attempted murder of a policeman. They had been on the run for months. The police parties were underprepared, under-resourced and ill-informed. Worse, the group of policemen from Mansfield who travelled to Stringybark Creek had already been given away. They were sitting ducks.
At 5pm, Constable Thomas Lonigan, a married father-of-four, was gunned down by Ned Kelly as he ran for cover. Lonigan's revolver was still in his capped holster; he had no chance to defend himself.
Forty-five minutes later, Constable Michael Scanlan was shot as he stood in his stirrup attempting to dismount his horse. He fell to the ground and was slain on his hands and knees.
Constable Thomas McIntyre saw the criminals shooting at his Sergeant as he got the Sergeant's rearing horse under control. McIntyre fled on the horse with bullets trailing after him.
The Kelly Gang then hunted the Sergeant through the bush. In a hopeless fight against four pursuers he was wounded twice, then captured. He was murdered two hours later.
He was a husband; he was a father-of-five. His name was Michael Kennedy. He was my great-grandfather. His death changed the course of our family.
The colony of Victoria, Australia and the British Empire were aghast at the murders of the policemen. The shocked and devastated community of Victoria remembered these men with a monument erected in their honour in Mansfield. They were good men killed in the performance of their duty; they were good men who were to never be forgotten.
On October 26 each year we remember him, our Michael; and Thomas Lonigan and Michael Scanlan. We reflect on the impact their loss at the hands of the Kelly Gang had on their families, and still has on us.
Over time something went wrong. Their story and their killers' story altered.
Writers and movie makers changed the victims from underprepared authorised law enforcers to heavily armed bounty hunters. The lone survivor of the Stringybark massacre, Constable Thomas McIntyre, has been branded a liar by Ned Kelly mythologisers. The families of the murdered policemen, still in mourning, were powerless to stop the rewriting. They became victims to the Kelly myth.
The human cost of distorting a family's history is far-reaching. The families did not cope with the myth making and character assassination of their husbands and fathers. Their widows never got closure. Their families suffered. They still suffer.
Sergeant Michael Kennedy's widow, Bridget, wanted to confront her husband's murderer, but was refused. Instead she endured a life coloured by other people's imaginings and the glorification of a "convicted criminal, a bully, a liar, a drunkard, a thief, a hostage taking killer".
The children of Sergeant Kennedy and Bridget did not know how to deal with the denigration of their father's good name.
Self-proclaimed Kelly experts have ignored and mocked both Kelly and Police descendants - effectively silencing them. The despair and depression rolled on through generations.
For 140 years we have been ignored while others have used Ned Kelly's image to make money.
They tell us - both Kelly and Police descendants - to get over it and get out of the way.
Over the decades various groups and writers have given him invented justifications and causes.
The real Ned Kelly was the harasser, not the harassed. He was not the champion of the poor. Many a poor family were among his victims. He was not a republican; he threatened tyranny.
Myths and errors haunt our families. Leather straps were invented and inserted to the police kit, and tourists were taken to the wrong side of Stringybark Creek for 25 years.
These are just two examples of the many falsehoods and errors that have warped history.
The myths inspired the smashing of the policemen's headstones and the memorial at Stringybark Creek. These acts broke our hearts; but not our spirit.
Today the truth is hard to find.
Our nationally accredited websites and tourist trails contain a concoction of fact and fiction.
Who needs myth when the truth is so horrible? No embellishment is needed. If only the families could tell their story.
It is time to blow away the myth and strip Ned Kelly of his iconic armour, the same armour that led to his downfall at Glenrowan. It is time to remember his victims. Today let's look at Ned Kelly and his victims with honesty and clarity.
The falsification of the lives, personalities and acts of the Stringybark Creek victims has caused great pain to the victims' families.
It falls to the descendants to set the record straight. Let the descendants tell our story. We simply ask that you hear it; and let us heal from the hurt of the myths and lies.
We want to be free to honour our families' heroes: the murdered policemen of Stringybark Creek, and their widows who wore aprons, not armour, and raised their families alone.
Australians, please look beyond Ned Kelly - find our real Australian heroes. Honour good men and women, not myths.
Leo Kennedy, great-grandson of Sergeant Michael Kennedy, is a lawyer and author of Black Snake: The Real Story Of Ned Kelly, published by Affirm Press, $35, out now.