True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey

1. First lines. 2. Published Penguin Random House Faber and Faber (First published 2000 University of Queensland Press) 3. Photograph of the map inside the book. 4. Ned Kelly the day before his execution [Public Domain] via Wikimedia 5. Handwritten transcription of bushranger Ned Kelly’s detailed written justification of his actions. [CC BY 3.0] Held in the National Historical Collection of the National Museum of Australia.
Not entirely true. Peter Carey wrote his imagined version just as Ned Kelly wrote the Jerilderie Letter – sprawling and rambling. Carey said: “My thanks to all my publishers who did not try to add a single comma.

The author has imagined that the Australian bushranger Ned Kelly has given an account of his life for the daughter he hasn’t met. It begins with accounts of his early life in country Victoria, and ends with his description of the siege at Glenrowan where he was captured by police, put on trial, and sentenced to death. He died by hanging in Melbourne on 11th November 1880 at the age of 25.

“I lost my own father at 12 yr. of age and know what it is to be raised on lies and silences my dear daughter you are presently too young to understand a word I write but this history is for you and will contain no single lie may I burn in Hell if I speak false.”

“She had a mother and father and brothers and sisters but in the end she were a poor widow and she had 7 children and all of them was alarmed and unsettled by their lives.”

“Let me give you a very rough idea of the territory it is not an easy bit of land to learn so 1st I will give you a simple picture you must imagine a great wedge of pie with a high ridge around its outer crust they call that ridge the Great Dividing Range. At the apex of the wedge is the river town of Wangaratta and you might imagine the Ovens River running along the eastern side of the wedge. It would be simplest to say the Broken River makes the western side of the wedge thats a lie but never mind. The King River is more obliging cutting right down the centre of the wedge to join the Ovens River exactly at Wangaratta.”

~Quotes from “True History of the Kelly Gang” by Peter Carey
  • The Guardian: “This tour-de-force of storytelling, Carey’s great gift, is a postmodern historical novel, a quasi-autobiography, narrated in the Australian vernacular with primitive grammar and scant punctuation, a dazzling act of ventriloquism, in a style inspired by an extraordinary fragment of Kelly’s prose known as the Jerilderie letter.”
  • Booker Prize comment:True History of the Kelly Gang is the song of Australia, and it sings its protest in Ned Kelly’s voice. Carey gives us Ned Kelly as orphan, Oedipus, horse thief, farmer, bushranger, reformer, bank-robber, police-killer and finally, his country’s beloved Robin Hood. By the time of his hanging in 1880 a whole country would seem to agree that he was ‘the best bloody man that has ever been in Benalla’. Carey skillfully makes art from his country’s great story and helps us all to understand the measure of that ‘best bloody man’.”
Other editions.

Notable awards: Winner 2001 Man Booker Prize (UK); Winner 2000 Colin Roderick Award, Best Australian Book; Winner 2001 QLD Premier’s Literary Awards, Best Fiction Book; Winner 2001 VIC Premier’s Literary Award, The Vance Palmer Prize for Fiction; Winner 2001 Commonwealth Writers Prize, South East Asia Region, Best Book for Region Award; Winner 2001 Commonwealth Writers Prize, Overall Best Book Award; Winner 2002 Festival Awards for Literature (SA), The Premier’s Award; Shortlisted 2001 Miles Franklin Award; Shortlisted 2002 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award

Adaptations: 1. “True History of the Kelly Gang” is a 2019 film based on “True History of the Kelly Gang” by Peter Carey, and starring George MacKay, Essie Davis and Russell Crowe. 2. “Ned Kelly” is a 2003 film based on “Our Sunshine” by Robert Drewe, and starring Heath Ledger, Orlando Bloom, Naomi watts, and Geoffrey Rush. 3. “Ned Kelly” is a 1970 film starring Mick Jagger.

Author website: Peter Carey

Historical note: On 11th November 1880, 25-year-old Australian bushranger Ned Kelly was hanged after being tried and convicted for murder, bank robbery, and a number of other crimes. He had been captured at Glenrowan, Victoria where he and a number of supporters took the townspeople hostage in the Glenrowan Inn with the aim of confronting police who had been pursuing them. From a young age, Ned Kelly had been influenced by family members and a network of their friends, many of whom were law-breakers. His first conviction was for horse theft at the age of 16. The Kellys felt downtrodden by local squatters and persecuted by the police. At the time, they were in the minority as poor Irish Catholics, in a region where wealthy squatters took up vast areas of good land, using their influence with the government to maintain their status. Ned Kelly felt this keenly, as evidenced in a 56-page letter (known as the Jerilderie Letter) in which he attempted to explain his crimes as being the result of unfair treatment of him and his family. More information: National Museum Australia; State Library of Victoria; Visit Wangaratta; Benalla Costume and Kelly Museum.

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