Sunday, June 5, 2011

Our Sunshine - A Reflection

Easily the most famous (and most handsome) photo of Ned Kelly.
Taken 10 November 1880, the day before his execution.

It's kind of funny, really. After turning the last page of Robert Drewe's 'Our Sunshine', I didn't feel like I'd finished a book.

I felt like I had just listened to a man tell his life story; all the regrets, all the random tangents, the jumping from one time and place to another as it suits him...

Robert Drewe's Ned Kelly (and the real one for that matter) is a man who is a mass of contradictions. He is a murderer, but one with arguable justification. (Self-defence in our modern system can be used as a complete defence for murder in some cases.) He is depicted by many as a monster, yet was a man who would do almost anything to stop the suffering of his mother and sisters. (He offered to turn himself in, in return for the release of his mother, who was being held on questionable charges. It was denied by the Victorian government, who argued they didn't negotiate with criminals.*) He is a poor man, not particularly well educated, yet he is a wily wordsmith. (In another situation, he could have been a successful politician like Peter Lalor or even a respectable writer. You only need to read the Jerilderie Letter to understand his passion and command of powerful language.)

But he didn't. Instead, he became an outlaw, a hunted man and a monster in his own time; he would become a legend in another.

I'm not sure if Drewe's descriptive style really captured Ned's essence (none of us will ever truly know) but this book really cemented my fascination with the man and his myth. After telling Jeff Buckley that midnight swims are a BAD idea, this would have been my ideal TARDIS trip - an interview with an outlaw. The fact that we know so much, but know so little about Ned Kelly really makes me wish I could talk to him and find out once and for all whether he was a criminal, or just misunderstood.

I must apologise, this has been less of a review, more of a reflection on a life none of us can ever expect to understand. But I do appreciate Drewe's attempt to do so. It was an interesting read, and as I mentioned, further fired my interest in the subject matter.

Ned Kelly was only four years older than I am now when he was hanged by a system he had never been able to come to a truce with. As the book says, he was "barely a boy under these whiskers". To have a life cut off so short, and with myself personally feeling the passion of youth, the longing to change the world, it does strike quite close to the bone.

Whether you think Ned was a hero or a horror, this book really does remind us that the best way to stop people being violent and angry is to listen and try to understand what they're thinking and feeling. It's only then that we can fully comprehend what they're capable of.


If you've read this book, what were your thoughts? I'd love to hear them.

The next book is one I'm sure is going to be quite popular, but WILL take a LONG time for me to get through. Any guesses? Let me know.

Until next time, stay safe and cheerful!

- Noni Doll

*I couldn't find a source to prove this historically, but it happens in the book.