Cookson, 27 08 1911

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27 August 1911

(full text transcription)



(Specially written for the "Sun" by BW Cookson)

If it be admitted that there are two sides to every question - that no matter how strongly facts and inferences may point one way in an event or a controversy - there is always something that may be said for the other side; then, even at this late hour, and after a lapse of 32 years, it may not be amiss to present something of the as yet unheard side of one of Australia's greatest tragedies.

It is now 32 years since four men, whom strong sympathy in mutually adverse circumstances had brought together in a common bond of adversity, conceived the desperate resolve of defying law and authority, and of giving full vent, whither so ever that which was evil in their nature might lead them, to individual qualities that, directed in legitimate channels might have made them most useful and excellent citizens. For 32 years the names of Ned Kelly, Dan Kelly, Steve Hart, and Joe Byrne have been execrated by the whole people of Australia, who have become used, long and unchallenged custom following upon universal popular condemnation at the time, to regard those names as synonymous with everything that was vile and had - an deslgting. In fact, a quartet of monsters whose abnormally vicious and criminal natures were devoid of even the suggestion of one small redeeming quality. With that dreadful verdict of popular execration passed upon them, and their works in the course of their two years' outlawry, the members of the notorious Kellygang of bushrangers went to their doom. They are all dead, long agone. And if there were no other participants in that doom than the misguided men themselves nothing more need be said. They transgressed, and they paid the inevitable penalty. They defied the law - but succumbed to it in the end. Their many big crimes and minor transgressions they have most fully expiated. In their case the supreme majesty of the law has been vindicated. The dignity of the authority that they defied has been re-established. Which is all right, and proper, and quite as it should be.

But though nothing material is to be gained now as far as the outlaws themselves are concerned by opening up the question of their defence so to speak though it may not be worth while to attempt and vindication of the conduct for which these men have died - there still remain other considerations which, to an unbiased mind, must weight mightily in the discussion of any suggestion for hearing the other side. Because there are many people still living some of them long ago believed to have been dead - who are yet suffering the consequences of the misdeeds of the Kellys and their associates. And most of these people are putting up brave fights in the endeavour to live down the opprobrium that has become attached - by conformity to popular prejudice and thereafter to custom - to the memories of the outlaws themselves and the names of all - who were associated with them, no matter how remotely.

Justice has been meted out to the dead. Justice owes it to the living to discover what there is that may be said in the defence of the outlaws. For it is not to be supposed that men possessed of such courage and resource, men associated so strongly by mutual loyalty and devotion to themselves and their people, should be destitute of all that was good or commendable. Atrocious as their misdeeds may be called, these bold bushrangers were in many ways men. They were by no means all bad, nor were they without provocation in the matter of the initial step from which all their subsequent crimes must be counted - that one false step that spoilt their lives and brough undying infamy upon their names. Times may be when these names will be canonised in the heart of Australian boyhood. For the English people dearly love a bold and successful robber, have he anything of chivalry or courtesy about him. But in the meantime let that which may be said in the favour of these notorious outlaws, and for the amelioration of the unhappy lot of those who were principally associated with them in their outlawry and its punishment, be said.

(27/8/1911 continued)

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the next day . . . BW Cookson in the Sydney Sun index