Ned Kelly
Updated May 30, 2003

Ned Kelly

In the forth-coming months a number of Kelly books are set to be released or re-released. We will be doing reviews and keeping you updated as to when the books hit the stands. For a extensive list of reviews, we recommend ironoutlaw.

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Books Ned Kelly Black Snake

BLACK SNAKE The Daring of Ned Kelly
by Carole Wilkinson
Shortlisted for a Children's Book of the Year Award (the Eve Pownall Award for Information Books) 2003.

Geared towards upper primary/lower secondary aged kids/young adult, Black Snake is a blend of fact and fiction that puts people in Ned's shoes and explores his ongoing legend.
Publisher: Black Dog
RRP: $15.95 (paperback)
Publication: Available in book stores now.


"He (Ned) was a criminal but he fought against injustice and never gave up. The fact that he failed and is still considered to be a hero is a uniquely Australian sentiment."

Black Snake is a well-written mostly factual account of the Kelly story that, by and large, is historically accurate. It is aimed at juvenile readers and does an excellent job at giving a good overview of Ned's life. It is unlikely to be dismissed by kids as a 'history textbook', although it could confidently be taken into the classroom. It is certainly interesting enough for leisure time reading. The author Carole Wilkinson is a children's writer, not a 'purist' Kelly scholar, therefore the historical accuracy in the book is to be particularly applauded.

The Kelly story has not been addressed very much in the past within this genre, which is surprising considering the wide interest in Ned Kelly by Australian children. Previous factual works had their limitations and are now well and truly out of print anyway, (e.g. Frank Clune's 1970 Ned Kelly book and Ken Little and Dee Huxley's book published in 1978). Black Snake is more thorough than previous books, and is appealing in its easy to read but factual style, without presenting too much information for kids to absorb. It is sympathetic to Ned, yet tries to balance the story, mostly by not omitting Ned's negative actions. It does not make villains of the police either, instead objectively reports their sometimes incompetent actions.

Each chapter was introduced by a "What if you were there" section, which is a great innovation. Written from the point of view of a various eyewitnesses, these short scripts are an interesting and personal introduction to the events covered within the chapter. Although works of fiction, these compelling letters, based on fact, are very plausible.
Included throughout the book is useful information for the novice Kelly reader in the form of short inserts appropriate to the text. In the boxes are such things as, excerpts from the Jerilderie and Cameron letters, along with interesting, relevant historical facts and details.

As the book was predominantly factually correct, the few minor errors we found
(such as the claim that all four sets of Kelly armour had shoulder guards when in fact only Ned's had them) are very forgivable. The sources used for the book's research were limited, but fortunately chiefly reliable. (Incidentally, the author has particularly noted only two 'main' sources, and the influence of one of them, Ian Jones 'A Short Life', can be seen very evidently throughout the book.)

A terrific time line is included at the back of the book. Only one small bugbear - unfortunately this author has fallen into the same trap as many others in the past by claiming an actual month and year date for Ned's birth, without any conclusive proof. Without his baptismal record showing his birth date and place of birth, no one can say for certain when or where Ned was definitely born. Many authors do forget this detail however and seemingly feel more comfortable declaring a specific date. Over time a number of various dates have been presented, which becomes confusing to Kelly students, particularly when his birth date is not known with any sort of factual certainty. (I believe it would be more appropriate to tell the reader 'We do not know the actual date, however some historians believe it was xyz.')

There is a 'Kelly sympathiser' tone in the book, nevertheless there is ample impartial information for the reader to make up his or her own mind as to whether Ned's life reveals him to be a villain, a hero, or both. The content was predominantly accurate and the style flowing and interesting.
One does not have to be a prior Kelly enthusiast to enjoy this book. It will appeal to not only the juvenile reader, but also anyone wishing to gain a quick basic understanding of the story without having to wade through piles of books containing conflicting information. Hopefully the school-aged kids who read Black Snake will be prompted into a more in-depth study of the Kelly legend.

I highly recommend Black Snake.

Review first published 12th of October 2002

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