// you’re reading...


Ian Jones interview continued

Ian Jones talks about his personal connection with Ned Kelly...

READERSVOICE.COM: What’s the big personal link between you and Ned Kelly you were trying to grasp?

IAN JONES: There’s a sort of funny psychic link there. People used to say, you know, “You’re very biased about Ned”. I said, “Hang on. You’re looking at a…I’m an Anglo-Saxon protestant, I’m a hanger, I believe in capital punishment. I’m a monarchist. And yet, you know, I’ve arrived this position of trying to find out the truth about this Catholic, Irish, police-murdering revolutionary.”
And, you know, I’m approaching it from the completely unbiased position, not a drop of Irish blood in my veins.
Well, it was all wrong because I had an Irish convict great-great grandfather who I knew nothing about until 1988. Now that, I think..

RV: ..explains a lot.

IJ: It does I think to me explain a lot. I’ve seen quite a few examples of this sort of thing at work, and most effectively at work when the person knows nothing about the, if you want to call them, ghosts who have been whispering in their ears all their lives. So I think that was a vital component.
The other vital component is that Ned Kelly introduced me to the concept of research. And the whole idea of getting back to primary sources. He introduced me to this wonderful, never-ending detective story, which you embark on when you tackle any historical subject.
Because you’ll never recover quite the whole truth about anything.

RV: For it’s own sake it’s a great thing, though, isn’t it?

IJ: It is. It’s been wonderful. As I said in my preface those two contrasted books about Ned Kelly: The Kenneally’s Complete History (Complete Inner History of the Kelly Gang and Their Pursuers), Chomley’s True Story (True Story of the Kelly Gang).
Those books are absolutely diametrically opposed. Each in their own way are very good.
At the age of ten, they were innocent days back then.
I mean you believed what you read. Cynicism was not rampaging through the countryside the way it is now and you believed what you read, and good heavens, suddenly I realised you couldn’t.

Oddly around about the same time, actually a little earlier, and it could have been a factor, I discovered oddly the same thing in my interest in the life of Jesus, which is another sort of subplot to the whole thing, when I found that at the age of seven that something I had believed implicitly from a book about Jesus I’d been given when I was five was simply not true, and that it was sort of a well-intentioned distortion. So, yeah, it all set me on a path of reaching towards what is true.
You’ll never really get there, but it keeps you going, it sure as hell keeps you going.

RV: There’s certainly a lot of parrallels between those two stories.

IJ: More than you could imagine, actually, Simon. Down to the most extraordinary details like being born into families almost exactly the same size. Their fathers were carpenters. They were both born on the southern slope of a large hill. (Laughs)
My friend Judge Pratt, in Brisbane, when I said I was.. told him I was writing a biography of Jesus after the biography of Ned, he said, “Jones, you’re consistent. Another book about an executed criminal.”

RV: Generally what are some of your favorite books?

IJ: For a big slice of my life my reading has been dedicated to a particular subject at a particular time. I’ve done I suppose in the course of my adult life remarkably little reading for relaxation or pure enjoyment…Going through my whole life, I think, without being corny, you almost hesitate to say it, my desert island books are truly The Bible and the works of Shakespeare.
Absolute cliche stuff. The Bible not for religious reasons, just because it has an amazing creation, unbelievable richness which is so much a foundation of so much that has happened since, so much that has been written since. You’ll never get to understand it, or sort it all out.
Weed out the myth from the historical fact.
So, it’s the ultimate holy grail as far as I’m concerned which I tackled in my biography of Jesus, (Joshua, the Man They Called Jesus, 1999) at least the New Testament.

RV: And the Shakespeare?

IJ: Shakespeare, just the Complete Works of Shakespeare, the Oxford edition, which my grandfather gave me on marvellous sort of rice paper and all packed into a very compact book you could take anywhere and after way way over 50 years it’s still going strong.

RV: You’ve read the lot, have you?

IJ: Yeah, oh, yes, I have.
I think there’s only probably, next to the Bible, there’s only one other book I’ve read as much as those two, and that’s the minutes of evidence in the Royal Commission of 1881, (an inquiry into the Kelly Outbreak and the actions of the police) which has err..600 foolscap pages of it.. They (The Bible and Shakespeare) are perennial delights. But in childhood my absolute favourite books were Hugh Lofting’s Doctor Dolittle books. I loved those. I read every one I could get my hands on.
But then a book which I enjoyed enormously I could never be totally objective about was Lorna Doone, by R.D. Blackmore.

RV: Ned Kelly’s favourite book.

IJ: Exactly. Well done. So that when I read it I was looking at it through Ned’s eyes, but it’s still a wonderful read. It’s a book with a wonderful sense of place. Terrific sense of place and written with a voice which is fascinating. It’s written in the first person. It’s written with a very well-placed voice in terms of Peter Carey’s amazing success with the True History (True History of the Kelly Gang), it’s very interesting.

RV: Do you think Ned Kelly modelled himself at all on the plot of Lorna Doone?

IJ: No, I don’t think so. I think he recognised the amazing resonances with his story.
Having a mother who had a house beside a stream, who took in travellers. He had a sister called Annie. He’d been a helper to a famous highwayman. He was a formidable fighter, a formidable man. Even at that point you’d say “Well, this fella’s had a life like mine. I can understand this fella.”
-continued next page