How are Australian convicts dressed

The real story of Ned Kelly and his gang

Every child in Australia knows the legend of the bandit Ned Kelly, who came into conflict with the law, fled the police, formed a gang, fooled his persecutors for a long time, gave gifts to the poor, stole from the rich, and punished corrupt police officers until him delivered cowardly treason to his captors and sentenced to death and hanged after an unfair trial. Ned Kelly is the Australian Robin Hood of the wild, undeveloped hinterland, the outlaw of the outback, a secret hero who has been the sympathy of many Australians since the end of the 19th century to this day. The Australian writer Peter Carey was attracted by his story: Ned Kelly as a symbol of liberation from all subliminal rumbling feelings of inferiority:

I mean, from the moment Ned Kelly came into public consciousness with three very nice bank robberies and became a media celebrity almost overnight, people understood that a convict's son was smarter, braver, and generally more decent than any cop than anyone who tried to catch him and was caught up in the idea of ​​the convict brood. He also escaped the police and that's still pretty popular in Australia. In any case, people looked at him and said: he is clearly a prisoner of the circumstances he would never have gotten into if he had not had this background.

It was not least the enormous popularity of the rebel against the crown, at least in Australia, that long prevented Peter Carey from addressing his story. When someone is in control of the public imagination, there is little room for a writer to come up with his own version. The fact that he dared to tackle the subject a good four years ago, he says, is due to an exhibition by the Australian painter Sidney Nolan. His picture series about Ned Kelly had inspired Peter Carey 20 years earlier in Australia.

Many years later, when I was already living in New York, the Kelly paintings came to town and I went to the opening, a little nervous because I love the paintings and feared they couldn't cope with the cultural alienation. But the opposite was true. They looked extraordinary, and I took my downtown Manhattan friends there to show them and tell Kelly's story. When I kept reading it, I thought to myself, now I would really like to write a novel about it.

In addition, Peter Carey kept a copy of a letter that Ned Kelly himself had written to the newspapers in his country in his folder, in which he collects all sorts of ideas that might one day be used for a book, to commemorate his actions justify. The pure, unadulterated language of the farmer's son, her natural poetry, had always fascinated him. He was also familiar with her, after all, Peter Carey, born in 1943, comes from a small town in New South Wales, grew up less than a hundred miles away from the scene, and heard simple people with no schooling talk like that in his childhood.

There is a whole culture, a whole class, all the anger in that language. It's a wonderful poetry. You can read that and then you think, 'My God, if I could just inhabit that voice, this man would rise up from the earth and walk around again. That was one thing. But I also returned to my beginnings, to what literature had first attracted me, to the idea of ​​creating literature from the voice of an uneducated person, giving voice to the speechless - even if that sounds a bit melodramatic. But the book that had impressed me the most as a young, rather unsuspecting reader was Faulkner's 'When I Was Dying', this wonderful, poetic language, nothing but monologues by characters, about whom uneducated would be an understatement. That, above all, led me to literature and so it was deeply satisfying for me to do it myself. Interestingly, after I finished the book, I suddenly realized the tremendous impact on me of all the things I first read back then, when I began to dive into literature. 40 years later you can now see the result of this special reading.

That Peter Carey came to literature in the first place and later even started to write himself, he owes in principle to a car accident. Actually, the young man was fascinated by the natural sciences. But a student affair kept him from seriously studying. He failed all exams and had to find a job. He came to an advertising agency. That was his great luck, because half of the team consisted of left-wing artists who, in addition to their work, painted pictures and wrote novels. They initiated the son of a used car dealer into literature. Inspired by the greats of fiction, the 19 year old began to write himself. He tried his hand at a novel three times and failed three times. Thereupon he renounced the big form disappointed and began to write short stories. However, they were equally well received by friends and critics. In 1974 the first volume of short stories was published, which was widely praised and sold well. A second collection of short stories, 'War crimes', followed in 1979. Peter Carey even received a literary award for it. The way forward seemed to be mapped out, had it not been for his London agent playing fate. In order to be able to sell the short stories better, she told the English publisher that the Australian was currently working on a novel. The lie animated Peter Carey to actually try his hand at a novel again. 'Bliss' came out in 1981 and gave him his literary breakthrough. Since then he has remained loyal to the novel, publishing a new work every three years. They all show him as an exceptionally resourceful narrator who is never short of crazy ideas. For example, his second novel Illywhacker is a furious tour de force through Australian history over the past 139 years, told by a talkative, cunning old man, a notorious liar. The third novel, the melancholy and futile love story of 'Oscar and Lucinda', the Anglo-Anglican clergyman and the Australian glass factory owner, is bursting with imagination again. The title hero, although a pastor an unrestrained gambler, tries with the help of the entrepreneur, who is also addicted to gambling, to transport a church made entirely of glass on an Australian river inland in order to proselytize the natives. A crazy idea, told grandiose, which brought the writer the most prestigious English literary prize, the Booker Prize, in 1989. Since then he has been considered one of the most important voices in Australian literature. His exceptional position is underlined by the fact that last year he was only the second author in the history of the Booker Prize to receive the prestigious award again, this time for his 'True Story of Ned Kellys'. Rightly so, because even with this historically established topic, Peter Carey has once again shown a great deal of ingenuity and, for example, interwoven Irish mythology such as the unusual legend of men in women's clothes:

Among the paintings by Sidney Nolan, there was a rather strange picture of one of the gang members, Steve Hart, sitting sideways on the saddle wearing a pretty dress. Actually, I wasn't particularly interested in that, because I was more interested in finding out which folk and religious customs had survived the transport from Ireland to Australia. On the other hand, there is the Australian mania of simply looking at all of these things as typically Australian because we have forgotten and not investigated what is actually Irish about them. I then read something from the Irish historian Roy Foster about the rural outlaw groups who set out to threaten unjust landowners, for example, and he talks about the characteristics of these groups, the choice of their captains, their boils and their transvestism. Hello, I thought, this is very fascinating, so I called Roy Forster and found out a lot more about it. I finally came to the conclusion that this custom was not created with the intention of disguising themselves or because they were transvestites in the sense we understand it, but that when these men went out to kill someone they put on clothes as Signs that all normal rules of society had been overridden. I decided to use that because it allowed me to deal with all the questions of lost memory and lost culture.

It is noticeable that all of Peter Carey's novels pursue certain ideas and socio-political issues beneath the surface of a dramatic story. In a sense, he has a concern when he sits down and writes a new book. The now 59 year old has not lost the political commitment of his youth:

People in this country tend to say that socialism is dead. I then ask: for how long? Do you think there will never be socialist ideas again, not even in 5,000 years or in 200? Sure, we've done a lot of bad things in the name of socialism and I'm also thinking of my own willful blindness to all sorts of things, only I found myself in the advantageous position of not being able to cause too much damage. Still, the ideals still seem very attractive to me and if you find traces of them in Ned Kelly, then I think you will see the same thing in them as I see. This novel is full of politics because it is filled with persecution, injustice, the desire for freedom and it is about political classes.

Peter Carey cleverly knows how to stir up anger and anger in the reader against arbitrariness and oppression, to show his rebel against the authorities a lot of sympathy, even if, as everyone knows, it comes to a bad end with him. As certain as 'The True Story of Ned Kelly' is an adventure novel, it also celebrates the humanity of an outlaw as naturally. World literature is richer by one unwilling hero.