What Would Ned Kelly do?
It was freezing in Melbourne on Saturday. Slippery streets, cold drizzling rain, finger-numbing temperatures.
The Gregory Five were having a One Day/One Night cheap flight-n-hotel deal from Adelaide and joined us for Yum Cha, a wander around the city for a game of 'spot the weirdo' and a trip through the Old Melbourne Gaol.
I'd never been before and had resisted mostly because the reverence of bushranger Ned Kelly had always made me uncomfortable; the same deal for Phar Lap. After 80,000 years of Aboriginal culture and slightly over 200 of European settlement, all we have is a criminal and a horse to worship? And no, I've not studied or read about either hero in any detail, so I'll pre-empt any anger and ask that you direct all complaints to my alternative email address: kathwon'treadthis@couldn'tgivearat'sarse.net.au .
Arriving through the git shop (the 'git' was a typo when it should have said 'gift' but I'm leaving it in now), there were ice-creams and Ned Kelly snowdomes for sale. Noooice.
Not unexpectedly, the prison itself was dank, grim, forbidding, sad, silent and dark. In the tiny cells that were open to the public, each contained a story about a particular prisoner who was hung, with their death mask enclosed to enhance the atrocity. Their backgrounds were all particularly harsh and cruel - bar none - and it was a relief to hear a bell ring and the actress playing Ned Kelly's mother call us down to the ground floor for her next performance.
With her loud Oirish accent occasionally segueing into Glaswegian, she restlessly paced the flagstone floor, telling us the tale of Ned and her sons from her rather biased and naturally emotional point of view. Life was unmistakably pitiful and merciless when she was widowed and left to care for eight children on her own.
It was cold on those hard plastic seats and every time I moved to crouch a little tighter or rub my hands, she seemed to be upon me, finger jabbing as she made her point, eyes boring into mine. "He was my SON," she yelled, making the elderly couple sitting next to me flinch involuntarily.
Three rows ahead, a young man groaned. It was then I noticed that he was one of six adults with intellectual disabilities. The teenage girl to his left was rocking back and forth, fingers in her ears trying to drown out the angry lady's voice. Sobs were heard from the boy three seats away who raised his arms in the air every few minutes on his own, lonely rollercoaster ride. "Err, this might not have been the ideal choice for their outing," my friend Kent whispered.
Forty minutes later, the performance ended and I found myself still struggling to accept the continually force-fed idea of Ned as a bonafide hero. The disabled adults, on the other hand, were struggling to make their way out of the hall without overturning any of the chairs in their haste. What had their carers been thinking?
Exiting through the gift shop, I wondered what Ned would have been thinking about had he been exhumed and given a few minutes to roam the Git Shop, casting his worn eyes over the foam and nylon balaclavas carelessly assembled into his head gear that were on sale for $9.95 a piece, or the 'Ned Says it's Your Shot' spirit glasses, koala-like clip on mini-Neds, beer coasters, pencil sharpeners, stubby holders, mouse pads......
.....and pencil cases;
....not to mention the earrings!
Perhaps he'd ask for a fair split of the profits before insisting, "I give fair warning to all those who has reason to fear me to sell out and and do not attempt to reside in Victoria but as short a time as possible after reading this notice, neglect this and abide by the consequences, which shall be worse than the rust in the wheat in Victoria."