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Ned Kelly
Kelly the day before his execution

The greatest Folk Hero of Australia, Edward 'Ned' Kelly was a bushranger in colonial Victoria and New South Wales. Of Irish descent and an impoverished background, he seems to have taken to a life of crime out of equal parts of a lack of better career options and revolutionary idealism. But unlike most poor Irish in Australia, Kelly aspired to something beyond merely petty crime (although that too had a place when money was tight).

The Kelly Gang, which consisted of Ned, his younger brother Dan, Joe Byrne and Steve Hart, terrorised Victoria between 1878 and 1880. He and his gang first went on the run after Kelly supposedly shot a policeman who was making improper advances on one of his sisters. Shortly thereafter, they got into a shootout with the police pursuing them at Stringybark Creek. The gang escaped, killing three of the policemen, and were soon declared outlaws in the state of Victoria. After that, they mostly robbed banks, usually with relying on a mixture of fear and courtesy (Kelly in particular could really turn on the charm) to get the job done without violence.

In 1880, Kelly conceived of an audacious scheme to ambush the police and strike a blow against the authority they represented. Forging medieval-like armour out of stolen ploughs, Kelly and his gang captured the town of Glenrowan in north central Victoria, and took over the local pub as their headquarters. But the ambush was short circuited by an escaped hostage, who warned the police before the trap could be sprung. A tense siege lasting more than a day ensued. Kelly was captured after police shots brought him down (he had neglected to armour his legs), Byrne was killed by a stray bullet, and Steve and Dan chose to commit suicide rather than surrender to the police.

Kelly was taken to Melbourne, where he was nursed back to health, and a trial date was set. The actual charges laid against him mostly concerned the killings at Stringybark Creek - since murder carried the death penalty, lesser charges were deemed irrelevant. He was found guilty, and hanged on November 11, 1880. His last words were reportedly "Such is life."

Tropes that apply to Kelly

Kelly in Popular Culture

  • Ned Kelly and His Gang, made in 1906 and one of the earliest full length films.
  • Ned Kelly, 1970 film with Mick Jagger as Ned.
  • The Last Outlaw, iconic 1980s television miniseries
  • Reckless Kelly, 1993 comedy featuring Yahoo Serious as Kelly's grandson.
  • Ned Kelly, 2003 biopic starring Heath Ledger as Ned.
    • Adapted from the Robert Drewe novel Our Sunshine
  • Tinhead Ned in Terry Pratchett's The Last Continent is an obvious Expy of Kelly.
  • The Swagman from Grant Morrison's Batman is visually based on Kelly.
  • The Victorian state cricket team is called the Bushrangers, and their logo is a cartoon version of Kelly, wielding a cricket bat.
  • When Kiss first toured Australia, they did so in November 1980, a hundred years after Kelly's death when Australia was in the grip of Kelly fever. For the occasion, the band members forewent their usual bandanas, and instead wore cardboard version of Kelly's helmet to conceal their faces (they also amused themselves by firing cap guns at journalists. Aussie fans loved them for it).
  • Peter Carey's novel True History of the Kelly Gang is presented as Ned's autobiography, smuggled out of Glenrowan by one of his hostages.
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