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Ian Jones tells a great story, and this an immensely readable and enjoyable work of biography. However its now 25 years old and many of the central claims made in it are now regarded as fanciful, particularly the claims that Kelly was a political rather than criminal figure, that he and his family turned to crime becasue they were persecuted and hounded by police, and that the planned police massacre at Glenrowan was about establishing a Republic of NE Victoria. Close scrutiny of the historical record shows these claims to be unfounded.
This must be the definitive biography of Ned Kelly. Ian Jones has carried out decades of minute research and this, his lifetime oeuvre has been updated many times. This is the book Peter Carey relied on for its historical detail for his own individual account of Kelly's life. Through interviews, documents, official reports, court accounts and fieldwork Jones has created an almost blow-by-blow narrative of the bushranger's life and times. Although in many respects Jones is extremely even-handed, his deep admiration of Kelly the man and hence a slight bias shine through. Yet even the reader cannot help but be swayed to sympathy and understanding of the outlaw's grievances. Although Kelly's final actions were damning and his defence inadequate, the reader is drawn to conclude that he was, partly thanks to his own character and predisposition, partly owing to the socio-historical difficulties of his day, the right man in the wrong place at the wrong time. With a better education, in a fairer society he could have been a great and inspiring leader. It is the pathos of Kelly's fate which makes Jones's sensitive biography so affecting.
A more detailed and academic read for those, who like me, have been fascinated with Ned since reading "The History of Australian Bushrangers" as a child in the 1960's, Peter Carey's "True History of the Kelly Gang", and other Ned Kelly works and movies. I found that the additional layers of information in Jones' book around Ned's famous exploits tended to make him more human and less heroic. Though Jones takes a sympathetic view, sometimes I was saddened by having my former black & white, good-guy vs. bad-guy ideals shattered. Ned made many poor decisions and in some cases simply committed criminal acts then rationalised them. It is sometimes confronting to read these facts about a heroic figure who clearly also possessed kindness and conscience. Ian Jones' own conclusion - that the greatness of the story is in its own capturing of the imagination over so many generations is the best summary. Having read the book I feel much better educated and able to understand the complex moral arguments on both sides of this tragic and exciting saga.