NED KELLY: Hero or Villain… ‘Which portrayal is right… if there is one? ’ “I think it would be great to be famous”. Nothing unusual about that right? Not unless you wants to be like Ned Kelly after seeing a poster of him at a bustling book signing. Sure, after reading Robert Drew’s novel Our Sunshine one can see how Kelly has gone from a hard criminal outlaw to an iconic Australian symbol. But what about the other side of the story? Have people forgotten his actions and killings? Certainly not the Bulletin in 1880 with their poem Kelly the Murderer. As we continue further forward into the future it seems that our past becomes more distinct.
Ned can’t have become so famous with reason. So who is the real Ned Kelly? Which portrayal is right, if there is one? How could one person possibly be depicted as a hero and a criminal when he lived such a short life? You wait in line… posters and articles of the life of the Ned Kelly hang from walls. Picture books and thick novels sit on bookshelves… What a display! The Wild Colonial Boy played softly in the background, along with the sounds of the bush. If you close your eyes, it would seem as though you were standing in an old rural town in outback Australia.
For journalist and best friend, Grace Fernbush, ‘Our Sunshine’ raised many questions… How can one know Ned Kelly’s true self? Was he really the hero everyone speaks of today? Or was he just a vicious criminal out to commit massacres ‘as they said [he] did’1? Until the time Grace and I left the signing, we were going to be on a mission to find that out! The conversation moves to talking of the film of Ned Kelly’s life. You know the one. Heath Ledger? Orlando Bloom? Magnificent eye candy to get the audience interested! Who would believe that this would steal away from the truth? I think he was hunky! The way that Heath Ledger played Ned Kelly… oh! My hero! ” says an eavesdropper Madeline Brown, a film critic if recalled correctly. She had long black hair snaking down her back and eyes which were so piercing yet large – they seemed fitting for her job title. “They said he’d lost what it meant to be human, but I believe Ned Kelly was a legend and a brave and loyal man”, she went on… Explaining more of her opinions… “Heath Ledger’s portrayal of Ned Kelly is a fair one I do have to say, he manages to depict Ned’s anger, passion and heroic character rather well.
Orlando Bloom’s portrayal of the womanising Joe Byrne was nowhere near ‘Oscar worthy’, but still good. Naomi Watt’s character was unnecessary and seemed only added to provide a love interest for Ned. ” Just because the film portrayed him as a good looking legend and good guy, doesn’t mean that was who he was as a person – it’s only one half. It makes me think no one saw him as a criminal… That perspective could change yet. Many people are at the book signing… Gazing around the crowed room a poster stands out… It reads, “The Iron Outlaw”4. Grace keeps the place in line as I walk over and read it out loud.
A tall, very familiar man standing nearby, Mark Stinson – Australian poet – instantly comments, “Exactly how I would portray the bastard. ” Interesting coming from an Australian poet. When Ned Kelly is portrayed throughout ‘Our Sunshine’, his role of being a hero the “cold-blooded killer” side. “He attempts to justify himself by stating that ‘God gives [him] the strength’5 to kill”, he continues. Ned Kelly may have been seen as a legend to those of the lower class, but he has killed and stole – that cannot alter the feelings of those throughout media and society.
To an audience he could only act the hero. He didn’t like the thought of being labelled as the villain, but in truth, he was a villain. He killed people. He destroyed lives. He was a thief and a murderer. The justification behind the acts does not excuse the crime. The fact, he killed in cold blood, remains…