Resurrecting Ned Kelly

Lyn Innes


In a review of Peter Carey’s True History of the Kelly Gang, the poet Peter Porter commented that the three most potent icons in Australian popular history were Ned Kelly, Phar Lap, and Donald Bradman. Of these Ned Kelly has the longest history, and has undergone numerous revivals and reconfigurations. One might also argue that he was the least successful of the three; he was a man who saw himself as a victim of empire, class, race, and the judicial system. At least that is how Kelly presents himself in The Jerilderie Letter, and many of those who have written about him affirm that this view was justified. So the question is why and in what ways Ned Kelly has become so potent; why cannot Australians let him die? And what does he mean to Australians, or indeed the rest of the world, today? This essay will glance briefly at some early representations of Kelly, before discussing in more detail Peter Carey’s revival of Kelly, and considering the significance of that revival in the present.

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