Ned Kelly’s life, and all that it represents, has always been high profile. As a bushranger he was the most well known man across all levels of society in Victoria and New South Wales. Today his larrikin, anti-establishment attitude and defence of the under privileged and disadvantaged are firmly part of the Australian psyche. The ironclad Ned Kelly has been the subject of interpretation and recreation in all forms of media whilst he has been mythologised and elevated to the status of an Australian cultural icon. One such reconstruction, Peter Carey’s True History of the Kelly Gang, is the story of the voiceless trying to find a voice.
We are presented with the voiceless on an historical, cultural and social level. Cary gives Ned Kelly a voice, and within as a result he gives a voice to the poor and underprivileged and voice to colonial Australia. True History of the Kelly Gang presents its self as being Ned Kelly’s truth, the only truth. Ned Kelly’s purpose it to tell his own story to his daughter, rather than leaving it to be told through a sea of lies and misrepresentations. ‘… (It ) will contain no single lie may I burn in hell if I speak false. ‘ (pp. )
Ned Kelly is aware that he has been misrepresented in the media and he knows that his daughter will never know the truth about him unless he tells it to her. True History of the Kelly Gang is, fundamentally, the story of one man trying to find a voice. True History of the Kelly Gang is presented in a strong social, historical and cultural context, dominated by the quickly establish Irish Catholics versus English and Anglo-Irish Protestants nature of the society that he lived in.
It is one of Ned’s purposes to expose ‘… the injustice we poor Irish suffered in this present age. ‘(pp. ) while he shows that the religious divide extends far beyond personal dislike into society’s institutions. Protestants dominated the Government, education and justice systems, as well as having the pick of the land. ‘Them scholars was all proddies they new nothing about us… They new our patter were in the logs and when we come to school each day they learned form Mr Irving that all micks(Catholics) was a notch beneath the cattle. ‘ (pp. 29). As a result of this discrimination, the Catholics were left with the dregs that society had to offer and turned to crime, alcohol and promiscuity.
This further entrenched the voiceless nature of the Irish Catholics as it gave the institutions of society evidence to support their prejudices. Kelly is giving the voiceless a voice, not just by exposing the injustices and discrimination that his class faced, but by also exposing their drinking, promiscuity and crime for what it really was, desperation. By giving the impoverished Irish Catholics of colonialism a voice, Ned Kelly tells the story of greater colonial Victoria. He exposes the nature of the society he lived in, the harshness of the land and the economic and social situation.
He exposes the extreme poverty that many people faced, the high infant mortality rates and nature of a living off the land. Colonial Victoria is a hard place, its landscape is untamed and unpredictable and its people have been made tough by long voyages and physical labour. All people of all classes must work hard to make a living in the unfamiliar climate of droughts, extreme heat and extreme cold. ‘… there were no choice for their wives but move out there immediately and set to clearing and fencing and performing all the backbreaking tasks… ‘ (Pp. 9)
The landscape and climate is a great symbol of its people’s life. Ned Kelly is able to tell the story of a new colony, the problems people faced establishing western civilisation in Victoria, and thus gives the voiceless founders of Australia a voice ‘… the town (Beechworth) fed off all the sweat and labour of the miners and the poor selectors on the plains below but in those grand stone buildings they could bankrupt you or hang you as the you pleased. ‘ (Pp. 50) It is not just on a large scale that True History of the Kelly Gang is story of the voiceless trying to find a voice.
We are presented with the background of Ned Kelly, the struggles that he and his family faced on a personal level. His mother, brothers and sisters are all given a voice that we have not been presented with before. Ellen Kelly, Ned’s mother, is presented as a promiscuous lady but there is no moral judgement made; she is a widow who must make sacrifices to provide for her family. Kelly is able to give his mother’s turbulent life and extreme sacrifices a voice, ‘… you have never heard such grief she ever suffered it contained Bill Frost and George King all them lost children every loss and hurt she ever suffered it would wrench your guts. (Pp. 257)
The background voice of each member of Ned’s family is an integral part of True History of the Kelly Gang. True History of the Kelly Gang is the story of the voiceless trying to find a voice on every level. Ned Kelly is a voiceless man who, through letters to his daughter, is able to tell his own story. Within this story, Ned Kelly is able to represent a voiceless class within a voiceless British colony. True History of the Kelly Gang is a complex social and historical commentary that is extremely significant to Australian literature and broader cultural identity.