Edward Ned Kelly was Australia’s most famous bushranger; regarded by several as a hero who fought “for the rights of the battler.” Whether or not Ned Kelly was a hero, however, has been debated throughout Australia’s history. Some consider him to be a folk hero while others condemn him as a cold-blooded criminal, making it a controversial topic to talk about. The representation of Ned Kelly in poems and stories, however, is overwhelmingly negative, possibly because many people have the impression that Ned Kelly is a cultural icon only because the government pushes a biased, sympathetic view of the Bushranger, while there are also other false representations of Kelly to put him in a negative light. Taking into consideration the 2003 movie “Ned Kelly” and the poem “Lonigan’s Widow” by Shel Silverstein, it is evident that some try to justify the acts of Ned Kelly, while others see him from a skewed and negative perspective. Ned Kelly’s story was depicted in many movies, one of which premiered in 2003. Ned Kelly, represented in the movie by another esteemed Australian icon, Heath Ledger, which shows what happened to Ned Kelly and what he had to suffer in his time. The movie seems to suggest that Ned Kelly was an unfortunate product of his time, a social misfit who turned to crime because the nefarious police force forced him into it.
The director, Gregor Jordan, cleverly uses the technique, of creating a montage, by putting many frames from two different scenes next to each other to create a contrast. This is done at the end of the Siege at Glenrowan, during the final shootout. Jordan juxtaposes two polarising situations, at once highlighting Kelly’s innocence and naivety in one moment, and how that was all stripped away far too quickly the next, courtesy of the police. In the first situation, Ned Kelly was saving the boy from drowning. There were happy skies, clear and bright, happy people, no guns, a beautiful green and gold sash that Kelly had received for his good deed, symbolic of Australia and the good he had done in the name of Australia and there were people congratulating him. Then the camera veers to people opposed to Kelly; he’s been shot and is alone, covered in filth and blood, wearing his damaged armour, one of him against a thousand policemen. He looks disheveled and is struggling to survive. No one is congratulating him. The contrast of these scenes shows that Kelly was once innocent. He wasn’t born a criminal. No one is born a criminal. It is the influences, the people around us, the experiences we have, that shape us to be who we are. And Ned Kelly, unfortunately, had a family that was always having run-ins with the police who oppressed and discriminated the Irish his entire life, Criminal life was what he was forced into by the police and all he could resort to. But still, through this, he had strong, good morals. He saved lives, he helped people, and he still retained some of that good-hearted, happy-spirited young Ned who did what was right. He wasn’t all bad. And this juxtaposition of the two completely different frames shows how the police who were always opposed against his family essentially broke him. This definitely induces sympathy in the viewers. We feel for Ned in his time of darkness. We are reminded, that he was once a sweet and good-hearted boy and are proud to have him included in our national identity, displaying the Australian morals and characteristics. At the same time, we are being positioned to condemn the police for ruining his life, and the lives of his family as such. Together with the movie, there have also been many written debates about Ned and the Kelly Gang, some of which exaggerated the events of what happened to justify the point of the text.
One piece of text, a song made by American singer-songwriter Shel Silverstein, known as Lonigan’s Widow is a good point in case. The poet emphasizes and nit-picks the cruelty and cold-heartedness that Ned Kelly had, even though details were missed out and others were amplified to make him sound like he was, in fact, a villain. Silverstein manipulates the rhythm and uses a pause after the line “a shout and a cry and a crack of a gun” and then says “Lonigan staggers and Lonigan’s done” pausing after “Lonigan staggers”, which places great emphasis on constable Lonigan’s death. This is clearly a move on the part of the writer to evoke sympathy for Lonigan, making it seem like he did not deserve to be murdered by Ned. However, he did miss the fact that it was proven that Lonigan fired at the Kelly Gang first, even though the gang gave them a chance to surrender and spare their lives. The text proves that writers do use poetic license in order to get their message across, which shows the biasness of the poet and the inaccuracy of historical events that the piece of text can contain. In conclusion, it can be said that the representation of Ned Kelly in “Lonigan’s Widow” seems over-exaggerated, calumniating Ned Kelly by using specific word choices and manipulating the rhythm of the song to evoke empathy in viewers. Could it be because the song was created for a film soundtrack, where the songwriter adapted the lyrics to move the story along, rather than make an actual attempt to defame Ned Kelly? Nevertheless, the representation of Ned Kelly in the film from 2003 seemed to sit on the other end of the spectrum, being more inclined to paint him as a victim of society and make him seem like a hero, which was evident in countless scenes from the movie, including the one at the end of the Siege at Glenrowan by putting Kelly up against what seemed like an endless amount of police officers.