You cannot believe anyone else’s version of an event. You must search it out yourself. – Ian Jones
With the passing of Ian Jones on 31 August, the world of Ned Kelly buffs was shaken. Jones had dedicated the best part of his life to recording and popularising the story of the Kelly Gang and for a considerable number of people in the community they had never been in a world without Ian Jones. His masterpiece Ned Kelly: A Short Life, released in 1995, remains a must-read for all people interested in the story. On top of this, his work on Ned Kelly (1970) and The Last Outlaw (1980) helped entrench Ned in the Australian popular culture.
Beyond his contributions to Kelly scholarship and culture, Jones is best remembered for his work in film and television, for which he was awarded the Longford Lyell Award in 2006 by the AFI. He began his career as a journalist for the Melbourne Sun News-Pictorial before moving into broadcasting. His first work in television was on the broadcasts of the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne for HSV7 and later a foundation director at Channel Seven in Melbourne. But he soon moved into other programming such as Consider Your Verdict and Video Village. In the 1960s he began working for Crawford Productions and in 1964 was the first writer and director for the classic Australian crime drama Homicide. For Crawfords he also worked on The Sullivans, Matlock Police, Hunter, The Bluestone Boys, Bluey, Division 4, Ryan and The Box. But perhaps his most popular work at the time was Against the Wind, a 1978 drama set in the convict era starring Jon English that gained a devoted fanbase around the world. He created the series with his wife Bronwyn Binns, with whom he would go on to create The Last Outlaw.
Ian Jones was also a military historian with a passion for the Australian Light Horse Brigade and in 1987 wrote and produced The Lighthorsemen starring Peter Phelps and Sigrid Thornton. The film depicted the actions of the 4th Light Horse Brigade in the Battle of Beersheba, a key event in WWI and a major victory for Australian forces in the war.
Jones credited his love affair with all things Kelly to a gardener named Tom Maine who would tell him stories about Ned Kelly when he was ten. The obsession began when he read conflicting accounts of Ned Kelly and determined to find out the truth. His fascination with film meant that it was destiny that he would create what is widely considered to be the definitive on-screen depiction of the story. His first attempt during his time as a university student did not pan out as expected resulting in an empty bank account and an injured foot. His experience as co-writer on Tony Richardson’s Ned Kelly film, seeing how it was tampered with after his own involvement ceased, led to him going over all elements of The Last Outlaw with a fine-toothed comb. In 1992 he released his first book on the subject, The Friendship That Destroyed Ned Kelly: Joe Byrne and Aaron Sherritt (later re-released in a revised edition as The Fatal Friendship: Ned Kelly, Aaron Sherritt and Joe Byrne) and was finally able to immortalise some of his own research in print. After the release of Ned Kelly: A Short Life in 1995, Ian Jones cemented his place and became a celebrity to aficionados of the Kelly story. Whenever Ned Kelly was in the news his would be the opinion everyone would seek, even only a few months ago in relation to a controversial work by Stuart Dawson refuting the idea that Ned Kelly was attempting to create a republic – one of the key ideas Ian Jones had popularised after learning of it in his interviews with descendants. Jones was instrumental in the creation of the Ned Kelly Vault in Beechworth, a museum dedicated to the story with an eclectic collection of artifacts spanning the history and the cultural legacy of the story. He never wavered in his high opinion of Ned Kelly, championing the outlaw as an inherently fine man who found himself falling foul of the law after years of oppression. As Ned Kelly appears to be regaining a foothold in the Australian collective consciousness after a lull it seems almost poetic that Jones has departed now, his success in helping to preserve the story for future generations now assured.