I've kept this blog, on and off, since 2006. In 2015 I used it to chart daily encounters, images, thoughts and feelings about volcanic basalt/bluestone in Melbourne and Victoria, especially in the first part of the year. I plan to write a book provisionally titled Bluestone: An Emotional History, about human uses of and feelings for bluestone. But I am also working on quite a few other projects and a big grant application, especially now I am on research leave. I'm working mostly from home, then, for six months, and will need online sociability for company!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Such is Life

Amongst the things we Australians remember on November 11 are Remembrance Day, and the dismissal of the Whitlam ("Well may we say 'God Save the Queen', because nothing will save the Governor-General") Government.

Here's the ABC broadcast of that fateful day: my act of cultural and political homage:

But we also remember the death of Ned Kelly. Most people agree that the famous bushranger's final words, as he was led to the gallows in 1880, were not "Such is Life", but rather, something more mundane like "So I suppose it has come to this".

So here's a little thought for Ned. When I was growing up, I could not imagine why Ned Kelly, a murderous thief, should be a national hero. Now that I am more interested in cultural history, and national stereotypes, and perhaps especially since I have read his Jerilderie letter, I am quite taken by this man, and when I read part of the letter at the Riverside conference on Saturday, could not help but channel a little of the Irishness of his accent. It is the most extraordinary document. Here's a sample of what I read:
those men came into the bush with the intention of scattering pieces of me and my brother all over the bush and yet they know and acknowledge I have been wronged and my mother and four or five men lagged innocent and is my brothers and sisters and my mother not to be pitied also who was has no alternative only to put up with the brutal and cowardly conduct of a parcel of big ugly fat necked wombat headed big bellied magpie legged narrow hipped splawfooted sons of Irish bailiffs or English landlords which is better known as Officers of Justice or Victorian Police who some calls honest gentlemen but I would like to know what business an honest man would have in the Police as it is an old saying It takes a rogue to catch a rogue and a man that knows nothing about roguery would never enter the force and take an oath to arrest brother sister father or mother if required and to have a case and conviction if possible any man knows it is possible to swear a lie and if a policeman looses a conviction for the sake of swearing a lie he has broke his oath therefore he is a perjurer either ways a Policeman is a disgrace to his country and ancestors and religion as they were all catholics before the Saxons and Cranmore yoke held sway since then they were persecuted massacreed thrown into martyrdom and tortured beyond the ideas of the present generation what would people say if they saw a strapping big lump of an Irishman sheparding sheep for fifteen bob a week or tailing turkeys in Tallarook ranges for a smile from Julia or even begging his tucker they would say he ought to be ashamed of himself and tar and feather him, But he would be a king to a Policeman who for a lazy loafing cowardly billet left the ash corner deserted the Shamrock, the emblem of true wit and beauty to serve under a flag and nation that has destroyed massacreed and murdered their forefathers by the greatest of torture as rolling them down hill in spiked Barrels pulling their toes and finger nails and on the wheel and every torture imaginable more was transported to Van Diemans Land to pine their young lives away in starvation and misery among tyrants worse than the promised hell itself all of true blood bone and beauty that was not murdered on their own soil or had fled to America or other countries to bloom again another day were doomed to Port McQuarie Toweringabbie and Norfolk Island and Emu Plain and in those places of Tyranny and condemnation many a blooming Irishman rather than subdue to the Saxon yoke were flogged to death and bravely died in servile chains but true to the Shamrock and a credit to Paddys land
This is amazing, yes? The letter was probably dictated to Joe Byrne, so it clearly bears traces of oral composition, but it does read something like Joyce's Ulysses, I think. Is "Cranmore" Cranmer here? There is so much that needs to be thought about here (not least the fact that I could not help channelling a vaguely Irish accent as I read).

Still, I was very pleased to find, when we finally got to Wooster at 1.30 this morning, to find a miniature of Ned Kelly on Tom's bookcase.

But I was talking about Ned Kelly with my father-in-law a few weeks ago, and found him expressing exactly the same view of Kelly that I used to hold. Interesting that my interest in medievalism has brought me round to re-think the nature of authority and the subversion of that authority. It's not that I have deep affinities with this model of Australia rebelliousness, but there is something about discovering Kelly as such a textual being (this was not the only letter he dictated; and he was also very fond of Lorna Doone, which I read on the plane coming over), as well as the easy anti-colonial sentiment, that is rather attractive.

I've had the laziest day, today. After getting in so late, I slept in this morning till after midday, lazing in as other people got up and went to work, and to school.

I've had a chance to think more about the conference, though. Stand out papers for me, because they made me think (in new and difficult ways) again about my own work, were talks by Aranye Fradenburg and Seeta Chaganti. The first was an extraordinary meditation on dreams, Freud, Chaucer and medievalism; and the second a suggestive account of the way medievalist dance (actually, Raymonda) can help us think about the way medievalist bodies move in time and space, and perform medievalism differently. Seeta also helped me think differently about the way Kelly's relics are preserved and venerated: that is, that it's the structure by which we view and treat his relics that might be one of the most medievalist things about the Kelly legend.


Dr. Virago said...

Welcome to the great state of Ohio, which this year finally swung the right direction in the presidential election!

Does the admiration for Ned Kelly have something to do with his Irishness? I know Irish-Americans who romanticize the IRA (to the horror, usually, of actual Irish people) and who still hate the English (or the Saxons as Ned has called them in his letter) on principle, even if they're generations removed from their Irish ancestors.

And yes, that letter is wonderfully Joycean. And the string of name-calling reminds me of a one-sided flyting. Fantastic stuff!

Stephanie Trigg said...

Thank you, Dr Virago; it's great to be here. The sun is shining, and I'm with my friends, and all's well with the world. Nice to be in the same time-zone as my American blogging companions, too!

And yes, absolutely: the Kellys were vehemently anti-English, and this is a very strong movement still in Australia. Resistance to authority is primarily anti-English and anti-colonial: hence the ridiculous pride we take in beating the English at anything we can, even if it's just sport. (Just sport? heresy!)

I should have said: that photograph is of Ben Cousins, a West Australian footballer with a dreadful drug-addiction who's been in rather too much trouble with the law. Too much money, too much fame at a young age.

Mel said...

I did some little research into Ned Kelly for a chapter of my MA thesis ("Ned Kelly Was A Bogan") and think it's worth mentioning another interpretation of the Jerilderie Letter: that Ned wasn't really waving a flag for anti-British sentiment, but was mainly pissed off that the cops had jailed his mum over a relatively trifling scuffle.

This is the same view that holds Ned to be a criminal opportunist who was practical and politically savvy and knew that pro-Irish sentiment would win him the popular support he needed to stay on the run from the cops.

Stephanie Trigg said...

Mel, I am definitely going to have to track down that thesis: sounds fantastic!

Yes, I could see that thing about his mother, but hadn't come across the view of the pro-Irish sentiment as manufactured. I wonder. I suppose you'd also have to argue that he thought the letter would have popular currency — and he did try to get it printed, from what I understand...