Glenrowan, Victoria, home of Ned Kelly: Australia’s Billy the Kid

If you ever happen to be driving from Sydney to Melbourne (or visa versa — or looking for a day-trip from either), Glenrowan, the location of Ned Kelly’s final standoff with police, is a must see.  If you’ve never heard of him, Edward “Ned” Kelly (1854 – 1880) is a central figure in Australia’s ideology of self. At a relatively young age he became one of Australia’s last, and still to this day best known Bushrangers; he was also a cop killer, and ultimately the leader of his own gang — although he’s best known for inventing a suit of bulletproof armor to wear during a shoot-out with police. IMG_2011Every book that I read on Australian history (that covered that time period) before coming to the country (I’m that sort of traveler) talks about him, and he’s about to have the 11th movie made about him go into production in the coming months (and if you move very quickly, you could be in it).

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Portraits of Ned, his mother (who is a central figure to his story), and his sister

My travel partner on this trip and I were driving from Melbourne to Sydney (it was a really pretty day…

[NOTE: That said, I’m writing this blog post well AFTER my visit. In spite of the fact that I was in I came here on February 25, 2018… a month after my accident that had resulted in a sever concussion, by the end of day’s travel I wasn’t mentally able to mentally focus enough to do any write ups … At the time an outing like this one left me exhausted and more often than not next day was spent just resting … but as I’m currently holed up in the Chicago area (i.e., my home base) doing things like doctor’s visits — including some related to the post concussive syndrome which I am STILL suffering from (albeit very mildly at this point, thankfully) and the fact that I hit the ground so hard that I dislocated my jaw (requiring some expensive visits to my dentist who is trying to fix the damage) —  I am taking the opportunity of being back on my home turf to rectify that lapse.]

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When we passed this sign, which he felt was really funny, and a good example of Australian humor (that an offical sign would look like this)… I didn’t get the joke

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So he explained that it kind of looks like Ned Kelly holding up a wine bottle… and that we were about to drive by the town of Ned Kelly a famous bushranger, and then he started to explain to me who he was. I stopped him and told him that not only did I already know… I had read about him in two different Australian history books, but that I was also about midway through a book devoted to his story (that had won the very prestigious Booker Prize), and could we please stop because I would really like to see the place… and anyways we needed to have lunch.IMG_2007

I had the “house made Pikelets” in large part because it would be something new (I learned while researching for this piece that they are Welsh in origin, and are often referred to as the ‘poor man’s crumpet’) but upon eating them, they tasted indistinguishable from pancakes — just small ones. I also had the pumpkin soup (which in Australia is served savory with a lot of pepper… never sweet, the way it is in the US) and a cup of tea … 

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Then we went to the museum dedicated to Ned Kelly’s story. So for instance I knew from the book I was reading that when Ned was very young, he became the town hero by saving the life of the son of one of the richest families in town (who almost drowned). As a reward Ned was gifted by the father with a purple sash. You’d think since he was very rich and Ned’s family very poor it would have been something more tangible, but it’s almost a symbol of inequality with which Irish immigrants …

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That said, the sash was deeply meaningful to Ned and a treasured possession that he chose to wear under his metal armor on his last day when he knew he would be facing impossible odds, and might well die.

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Mrs. Kelly, Ned’s elderly mother was a major element in his life. Ultimately she was arrested and thrown in prison, unjustly, as a way to capture Ned. He fought to have her freed, including writing a manifesto letter that he tried unsuccessfully to have printed, trying to make people aware of the injustice but failed. All that was printed were annotated summaries that distorted it’s meaning in a way that made the government look good and Ned look bad were printed.

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What happened is long and complicated, but the part that all Australians remember was the final showdown where he wore the armor, but was ultimately captured.

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Inside the museum were a large collection of collected object about Ned or his family, including a selection of items that were supposedly owned by them. My friend and travel buddy, was overwhelmed by seeing a plate that supposedly had belonged to his sister. As a child, he had learned about Ned in part by reading a book written from Ned’s sister’s point of view… so seeing something as simple as a plate, that she had actually, was an emotional experience for him.

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Behind the museum was a reconstruction of the Kelly Homestead, filled with the sorts of items they were known to have owned. The actual homestead is located about 9km away from Glenrowan and still owned by the Kelly family, and NOT open to the public. I remembered reading in the book about the walls covered in newspaper.

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Behind the house were some pet Cockatoos, pictured here because they’re cute

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