Dig for history exhumes more Kelly ghosts
WHEN Tony Robinson came from the UK to Victoria to front the ABC documentary Ned Kelly Uncovered, he was concerned the show would reveal, well, nothing at all.
Robinson (right), who played dimwitted Baldrick in the classic British comedy Blackadder and hosts Worst Jobs in History and Time Team, says there was a risk the first scientific archeological excavation of the site of Kelly’s last stand would tell us little we didn’t already know about the hanged outlaw.
But the doco delivers more information about the Kelly gang and the infamous siege in 1880 than Robinson dared imagine. There’s fresh insight into the debate about whether Kelly was a hero or villain, but the most staggering revelations emerge from the soil where Glenrowan Inn— site of the last stand — once stood.
Bullets found at the site have been matched to a gun that was long thought to belong to Ned, but the greatest find was human remains.
Asked what she can tell from burnt bone at the site, an archeologist in the doco says: ‘‘Given it’s in the known location where Dan (Kelly) and Steve (Hart) were last observed before the fire took over (the inn) and that it’s (bone) in the burnt deposit in the siege material, I think this could be the physical remains of (gang members) Dan or Steve.’’
Ned was badly wounded, despite his armour. As he was taken to the police station, Dan and Steve remained hiding in the inn. The police then set fire to the building before reportedly pulling their smouldering remains from the ashes.
There had been rumours that Dan and Steve escaped the fire by hiding in a cellar which led to a tunnel through which they fled.
Alex West, whose Renegade Films produced the doco, says the bone fragments remain with the Institute of Forensic Medicine. The institute’s involvement in Victoria’s bushfire tragedy has delayed analysis.
Robinson says he was left ‘‘bloody exhausted’’ by the shoot.
‘‘I came here for this thinking there was a good chance we’d find nothing, because it’s a corner site and it’s been built on twice in the 20th century,’’ Robinson says.
‘‘Normally what happens when you build on a site is that you just take all the soil away and you remove all the evidence. Your only hope is if the evidence is sufficiently low down in the footing and, in this case, it was.
‘‘Looking at Ned, it’s like the Jesse James story, isn’t it? You look at it and think the guy was a dysfunctional nutter. If he were busted in Melbourne today nobody would have a good word to say about him, yet he’d have been on the front page of the papers along with the grieving gangland mother.’’
On November 11, 1880, five months after his arrest, Ned Kelly was executed.