Ned Kelly, in life and myth

Ned KellyToday’s announcement, that the remains of Ned Kelly have been identified using genetic analysis, brings me to step back into our August theme, of Australian biographies.  Ned Kelly’s case is an interesting one, because he’s one of the few early criminals who left an autobiographical explanation of his actions.

If you’ve not read The Jerilderie Letter, and you’re interested in the period and have forty minutes, it’s an extraordinarily powerful document. It’s a letter which Kelly wrote, likely with the assistance of Joe Byrne, and demanded be published in the press. The letter was suppressed, on the basis that it’s effectively what we would now call a manifesto from a terrorist.

The Jerilderie Letter was the source material for an award-winning novel by Robert Drewe, called Our sunshine. This was, in turn, the source material for the Heath Ledger movie Ned KellyOur sunshine is not a true biography: it’s a fictional reimagining that is meant to lie close to its source material. Reading them together, Drewe’s work as author is possibly too obvious, so it might be best to pick one, then pause for a few weeks before sampling the other.