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Ian Jones interview continued – Page 2

Ian Jones talks about Kelly Country...

READERSVOICE.COM: Is the Kelly country similar in any way to the country of the 1880s?

IAN JONES: Very little of it. It’s changed a hell of a lot. Although you can find places where you get very very very close to it.
Places like around Beechworth. Places like Byrne’s Gully. Very much as it was. Open bush without much undergrowth. Rock outcrops. And still the incredible thing was, when I was first there you could still see the remains of fences that Aaron Sherritt had put up. You were that close to it. I found the remains of his hut which have virtually vanished now.
And only not three years ago we took some horses into a place where Joe and Aaron used to hide their stolen horses, and these great sort of bush riding enthusiast friends of mine from the area, they took three horses up into it and one of the party found what is almost unarguably the shovel that Joe and Aaron had used to dig a water supply for their horses, tucked under a bolder. That really ruffles the ears back when you experience that sort of thing.
Now, another place where you can get very close to it is up in the Wombat Ranges around Bullock Creek, which is now Kelly’s Creek, where the gang had their gold mine, and until a few years ago you could still see their clearing. You’d be going through dense bush and then suddenly you’d come onto this park-like area which was the 20 acres Ned cleared back in 1878.

RV: I read somewhere they found a gun at Glenrowan under a tree. [The town of Glenrowan was the scene of the climactic siege where the Kelly Gang had waited to ambush police arriving by train. Ned wore his iconic metal helmet and body armour in the subsequent gun battle. Joe Byrne and Dan Kelly, Ned’s brother, died, probably by suicide, while holed-up in an inn which was subsequently burnt down by police. Ned Kelly was shot, arrested, later convicted for the murder of a police officer, and hanged aged 25 in 1880 in Melbourne Gaol.]

IJ: Well, they found a revolver in a ditch. Somebody could have dropped it during the siege of Glenrowan but it wasn’t a police revolver. You could say one of the police had had it, it could have been a private purchase job.

I mean police were at liberty to carry any sort of revolver they wanted. You had a reporter running around the place with a revolver for example. Joe Melvin of the Argus, he had his own revolver with him. Well, he didn’t drop his. He’s photographed with it the day after. But almost anyone could have dropped it.
But you still, I mean I found, on Bullock Creek I found bits of Ned Kelly’s whiskey still in 1968.
It was an incredible fluke, if you want to look at it like that. It had been smashed by police and the pieces, of course, had just got covered with leaves, eventually dirt. It would have ended up six inches underground, and then rooted up by feral pigs, just in time for me to find one… It’s in my collection and was on display in an exhibition last year and will be on display at another Kelly exhibition this year.

RV: I suppose people have been all around Glenrowan with metal detectors?

IJ: People have got…they’ve got quite a few bullets from Glenrowan. Not a great deal else. A woman, lady who lived under Mrs Crawford, she found a stirrup in the bush near Glenrowan, which is a stirrup of the Kelly period, not your ordinary modern stirrup.
You find there are odd things there, but unless you find them yourself, and then unless you can put the pieces together very clearly, a lot of this stuff doesn’t mean a lot. You get the most bizarre stories about Dan Kelly staying at a hotel, and they knew he was Dan Kelly because after he’d gone they found a revolver under the pillow. I mean, come on. Dan Kelly leaves a revolver under a pillow? That doesn’t work.

RV: What was it like when you met the nephew of Ned Kelly back in the sixties?

IJ: Oh. Absolutely extraordinary. A mate and I, my mate Ron Shaw who just died a couple of months ago actually, went up to see what we could do about preserving the Kelly homestead, which had just, the front wall had collapsed and it was in a very parlous state, and of course it just disappeared over the next ten years.
But, yeah, we ended up at Black Jack Griffiths’ place.

He talked to us. He didn’t open his flywire door, but he talked to us. And that was incredible. I was looking at a man, it was like talking to Ned Kelly at 60. Very very strong family resemblance.
He said one thing that hit very very hard when I realised..we didn’t quite realise who he was when we first spoke to him.
There was a bit of confusion with Charlie Griffiths who was his cousin. And when I realised who he was I said, “You’re Grace Kelly’s son, aren’t you, Mr Griffiths?”

And he just stared at me for a moment and said, “Yes.”

So I said something corny like, “I honestly envy your links with the Kelly family”, and he looked at me and he said, “Look, I know you mean it, young fella, but,” he said, “you don’t know what I’ve suffered being Ned Kelly’s nephew”.
And you couldn’t convey the amount of bitterness that he crammed into those few words.

RV: Why do you think he’d suffered so much being Kelly’s nephew?

IJ: Oh, some people because, you know they’d think he was rubbish because of it.
Some people would think, oh, you think you’re tough because you’re Ned Kelly’s nephew etc etc. No two people would have exactly the same reaction but you could see a lot of potential pain coming from that.
Over the period when he’d grown up, you see, he’d been born round about the turn of the century, and attitudes to the Kellys were very very different then, and in fact were very very different for the next 30, 40 years. It took a long time for the tide to change in terms of general opinion. And that change is still working through society. It hasn’t worked it’s way right through it yet. You’ll still get people to whom the name Ned Kelly is just a, it’s a bang under the knee and up comes the foot.

Ned Kelly, a Short Life, by Ian Jones, is published by Lothian Books.