Once again the Greta-Hansonville Hall saw droves of Kelly buffs arrive for a day of presentations exploring the history and culture pertaining to Ned Kelly. This year saw a new element added into the mix – a dinner portion held in the evening. The event, which was held on 22 February, proved to be a much grander affair than in previous years but no less of a community affair.
From the moment one entered the hall the tone was set. As usual it was decorated appropriate to the theme; this time featuring a mannequin in trooper’s clothes and display cabinets featuring items on loan from Adrian Younger, Steve Mayes, Tony King and Noeleen Lloyd pertaining to policing and the Kelly story. The auction table was laden with goodies to bid on and there was a table where books by independent authors were being sold. Morning tea was laid out and attendees munched away and had drinks (the tea and coffee variety; harder stuff came later) while awaiting the time to take their seats.
The first presentation was from Noeleen Lloyd and it detailed her journey as she tried to locate the site of the Greta police station. Along the way she gave a fascinating insight into the history of policing in the town and the men that took on the unenviable role of law enforcement there. Noeleen’s gift as a public speaker made the history digestible and relatable. Whether describing the conduct of policemen like heavy-handed Edward Hall, the venerable Robert Graham, or the trials and tribulations of establishing a functional police station in Greta, every topic of discussion was treated with respect and even-handedness, setting the tone for what ensued.
The second cab off the rank was Dean Mayes who presented a condensed version of the life of his ancestor Joseph Ladd Mayes who had been one of the officers involved in the hunt for Ned Kelly. Mayes was an exemplary policeman whose reputation as a disciplined and effective officer of the law was well earned. Though his involvement in the Kelly story was minor compared to some more well-known police, it was clear that there was still a lot to tell, especially where Constable Fitzpatrick was concerned. Dean Mayes painted a portrait of a man driven by the desire to do the right thing at all times to the best of his ability, but who was also a man of action who wasn’t afraid to get dirt under his nails. It was clear from the way that it was spoken of that this history is precious to the family, with two generations thus far collecting as much of it as possible while they still can. The story of J. L. Mayes can be found at Dean’s dedicated blog (here) and is always expanding as new information comes to light.
A delicious spread was then eagerly tucked into for lunch during the break. It provided an opportunity for attendees to mingle and bid on the silent auction items that had been donated to help raise funds. Members of the NKS group posed for a group photo outside the hall to commemorate the event.
After the break, retired police Chief Inspector Ralph Staveley presented a talk on 19th century policing in Victoria. It was a very important insight into the difficulties faced by not only the police force as an organisation, but also into the typical lives of policemen of the period often due to political and systemic factors. The way this impacted on the hunt for the Kelly Gang was also explored, putting the cost both in monetary and human terms succinctly. Staveley’s easy manner of speaking and relaxed demeanour made his presentation a stand-out for many attendees who had not expected such a candid and fair approach to police history, especially in regards to the Kelly story.
The final presentation was by Alice Richardson on visual representations of Sir Redmond Barry and the trial of Ned Kelly. It was a fascinating delve into the evolution of public perception of the famous judge. Looking through official portraiture to cartoons and modern art, Alice demonstrated a keen awareness of the use of symbolism in the images as well as a very powerful analysis of the factors that have morphed Barry over the decades from the wise and righteous judge into Ned Kelly’s nemesis. Perhaps the most shocking aspect for many in the audience was a legal analysis of the trial, which discussed the validity of many criticisms of Barry as judge and of the trial as a whole, challenging long held ideas of what had happened in a way that was not based in opinion, but rather in law. That it was able to bring some of Barry’s most dyed-in-the-wool critics to reconsider their stance is a testament to Alice’s insightful and unbiased approach to examining this monumental historical figure as much as her formidable range of knowledge.
With the conclusion of the first half of the event, tongues were wagging about the things picked up from the presentations and attendees discussed in a most civil manner their perspectives on what had been demonstrated by the speakers. Each presenter had allowed time for questions at the end of their presentation and remained approachable throughout proceedings, happily mixing with the crowd. Far from there being outrage or backlash about focus on the police and Judge Barry, or indeed a decided lean away from the largely pro-Kelly views held by many attendees, the predominant vibe seemed to be one of a newfound appreciation for the “other side” of the Kelly story and an embracing of these new people to the, for want of a better word, fraternity. It was a brilliantly positive outcome that was declared to have been unlikely or impossible by commentators from certain circles – of whom, strangely, there seemed no representation at the event insofar as the crowd were concerned. Surely, the fact that the sort of person who wears Ned Kelly on their shirt or skin, decorates their car with Ned stickers and accoutrements, and refers to themselves as a “sympathiser” can appreciate, welcome and embrace the opportunity to learn about the opposite side of the story is a sign that for the majority of hardcore enthusiasts on this topic it is history that is the most important thing, not digging their heels in and butting heads over the tired “hero or villain” debate.
After a long break to allow set-up, the majority of the attendees returned for the final portion of the event, which consisted of dinner, a presentation and the auction results. Sadly, the tyranny of distance had its casualties and not everyone was able to make it back after going off to find things to do during the recess (something that could ideally factor into next year’s event). The hall was now decked out with long tables stocked with wines for people to drink with their meal. The food (spit roast with salad and vegetables) prepared by Two Chefs and a Cook Catering of Wangaratta, was delicious, filling and well-received by the hungry attendees.
Due to unexpected illness, there were slight changes to Billsons Brewery’s contribution, though they did still send staff to sell drinks both soft and a not-so-soft (which were a hit with the crowd). The intended presentation on the brewery had to be filled in at the last minute with Brad Webb talking about his website Ironoutlaw. Most people who have been involved with the Kelly community will be keenly aware of Webb and his website (Webb-site, if you will), which has been online since the mid-1990s and consistently gets high volumes of traffic – no mean feat in the modern era of social media dominating the information superhighway. Webb described the background of the site and explained much of the nitty gritty detail of website development and management, which was not to everyone’s tastes but was informative all the same.
With the auction winners getting their items and the thanks being delivered it was time to head off into the night with full tums and little showbags full of all kinds of stuff including promotional materials from businesses that had supported the event and booklets by Chester Eagle. Overall it was yet another roaring success, and deservedly so, and it seems the biggest question on everyone’s lips was: what’s next year’s theme?