Ned Kelly - The Outlaw Who Divides The Nation

Is Ned Kelly really represented as the merciless monster society has depicted him as? Throughout literature, Ned Kelly has been portrayed by historians, journalists, poets and songwriters as a barbarous outlaw who personifies extortion, merciless killing and the glorification of crime. However, after intricate analysis of the 2003 “Ned Kelly” film directed by Gregor Jordan and the poem “The Bushrangers” by Edward Harrington, it is clear to me that these texts have accurately incorporated the integral components of Australian folklore. These texts demonstrate Ned’s intrepid but compassionate characteristics through various cinematic and literal elements such as music, cinematography, and various poetic techniques. This is demonstrated in several scenes from the movie, the first being in the beginning of the film, where Ned greets his family after returning home from jail. The second being the scene that shows Ned handing over a sack of stolen money to several men, and the third being a scene towards the end of the movie where the Kelly gang, excluding Ned, is being fitted into their steel armour. So the aim of this essay is to delve into the controversy surrounding the cultural icon as we analyse some of the most well-known representations of Ned Kelly.

Incidentally, one of the most famous depictions of Ned, and the Kelly gang, is the 2003 film. This movie illustrates his life and true intentions of defending himself and his family from the corrupt and vicious Victorian police through cinematic techniques such as framing and the use of emotive background music. In the beginning of the film, we see Ned Kelly, Joe Byrne and Aaron Sheritt appearing over the arid hills of Glenrowan, accompanied by heroic music that adds depth and gives purpose to the characters actions through the increase of dynamics and the building of the orchestra. It also helps to invoke a sense of valiance and bravery to the characterisation. Moreover, Ned Kelly’s placement in the focal point of the frame helps to emphasise his role as the protagonist and engage the audience, capturing a picturesque moment in the film. We also see the close bond the Kelly family share, which invites the audience to empathise with them, sharing their exuberance.

In another scene, towards the middle of the movie, we see Ned and Joe Byrne galloping over a hill towards, what appears to be, four impoverished men. After having robbed a bank in Euroa, we see Ned hand over the money and stolen goods, which allows the audience to see his selfless and kind-hearted personality. When Ned Kelly is in frame, the audience’s attention is drawn to this benevolent action, oblivious to the mise en scene.

The final scene that will be analysed today, is towards the end of the film, before the bloody siege at Anne Jones’ Inn where the Kelly gang is being fitted into their famous steel armour leading into the battle. In this scene, the camera briefly shows an elderly man staring in-awe at them as he utters the phrase “knights in shining armour!” referring to the intrepid stance of the men in their metal suits. This is a great example of the Kelly gang’s character arc, as at the beginning of the movie, Ned is delineated as a criminal misfit within the village from his conflict with the authority. This line invokes an emotional response from the audience, considering the circumstances of the anticipated battle. In this scene, we also see a more emotionally drained side to Ned which suggests that his growing sense of discontent at the social injustice surrounding him, has caused him to feel partly defeated. The director effectively uses this cinematic element of character development to rightfully portray Ned as the legendary Australian icon he truly is.

“The Bush rangers,” by Edward Harrington, is a poetic representation of Ned Kelly and has rightfully encapsulated him as a daring and courageous individual, through the use of poetic techniques such as emotive language and repetition. In the third stanza, the author writes, “Oh! Never were bandits more reckless and bold” referring to the robberies that took place in the town. This emotive language portrays the gang as audacious individuals which is intriguing to the audience. Moreover, the repetitive line “Ned Kelly, Dan Kelly, Steve Hart and Joe Byrne” at the end of the first, second and fifth stanza emphasises the central message of the poem, consolidating their legacy.

To conclude, it is evident in these literary and cinematic representations, that Ned’s portrayal as a barbarous outlaw has led many to believe that his legacy was merely that of a callous individual who left a trail of destruction and misery in his wake. However, it is abundantly clear from this in-depth analysis, that Ned should be regarded as a stoic icon and an integral part of Australian identity.

16 December 2021
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