Such Is Life: Wild Ned Kelly

Not everyone likes this man.

He killed more than his fair share of humans, mostly police.


Maybe not.




Here’s an opinion from a newspaper, the Australian, dated Thursday, August 22, 2019

No doubt you already know the story of Australia’s favourite son. Harassed by the colonial police, this heroic Irish-Australian was a nineteenth-century Robin Hood who fought against the British oppressors and the greedy banks. He used lethal force, but only against those who would have killed him first. A champion of Victoria’s downtrodden selectors, ‘Our Ned’ personified mateship, egalitarianism, and the larrikin streak. Right?

Wrong. Contrary to the apologist tosh you will read in many of the numerous Kelly biographies, he was a ruthless, self-aggrandising murderer and a parasite who stole from both rich and poor. Like many a narcissist, he had an entrenched sense of entitlement and victimhood, and was a pathological liar. To write admiringly of this cop-killer is to sully the reputations of the three brave officers who the Kelly Gang murdered at Stringybark Creek in 1878 — Sergeant Michael Kennedy, Constable Michael Scanlan, and Constable Thomas Lonigan.

– Oz Mocker

Will the real Ned Kelly stand up?

Well, no. He was executed by hanging in 1880…


Among other things, he dictated two manifestos, both of which show examples of “Our Ned”, as well as the “ruthless, self-aggrandising murderer and a parasite who stole from both rich and poor.”

So why is he so iconic?

It might be his disputed last words, “such is life”.

It could that the world’s first dramatic feature-length film, 1906’s The Story of the Kelly Gang, was released to massive international success, though it was also banned in many parts of Australia.

But in the end, I think it was the look.

Yes, the look.

Because the Kelly gang did something unique:

They made bullet proof armor.

Their armor was effective at deflecting bullets but was also heavy and cumbersome.

But the look?



Ned Kelly’s armor on display in the State Library of Victoria. The helmet, breastplate, backplate and shoulder plates show a total of 18 bullet marks. Photo by Chensiyuan – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,


Celebration of this look possibly found its culmination in a series of paintings by noted Australian artist, Sidney Nolan. Painted between 1946–47, Nolan’s paintings are considered highly important to 20th century Australian culture.

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Sidney Nolan Ned Kelly, 1946 National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. Gift of Sunday Reed, 1977
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Sidney Nolan The trial 1947 National Gallery of Australia, Canberra Gift of Sunday Reed 1977


So, what’s the takeaway?

Folk hero or dangerous wild man, as far as Australians are considered, Ned Kelly is still present, nearly 120 years after his execution.

You can find him on t-shirts, paintings, several books and a new movie every decade or so.

Some glorify him, some revile him.

All I know is he looked pretty…


Ned Kelly the day before his execution, public domain.

One thought on “Such Is Life: Wild Ned Kelly

  1. It would seem that one of the talented MythCrafts team has found a spare moment to write about some of the Australian literature. A welcome expansion of their purview.

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