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Saturday, November 15, 2014

My review of The Iron Fists of Ned Kelly (the latest in the Fight Card book series) [Sharon Hollingsworth]

I recently ran across a new series of books at, (also available at, called "Fight Card" in which several authors write under the shared pen name "Jack Tunney" (which is culled from the famed American boxers named Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney).  Some in the series are available as a kindle e-book, some in paperback and some in both formats. According to the Fight Card website "The books in the Fight Card series are monthly 25,000 word novelettes, designed to be read in one or two sittings, and are inspired by the fight pulps of the '30s and '40s...."

The one I have previously read and enjoyed featured Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson involved in a mystery in the shadowy underworld of Victorian London's bare-knuckled fighters with Holmes himself going a few rounds with former champs. Good stuff!

I got really excited when I saw that there was one in the series entitled "The Iron Fists of Ned Kelly" (based on the 1874 brawl between Ned Kelly and Wild Wright) that was released in e-book form on November 11, 2014, a very fitting launch date. See now that it is available in print, will definitely be ordering that. The cover art is fantastic, really evocative of another era in publishing made to look like a well-thumbed and somewhat yellowed, musty (or musky?), perhaps cigarette smoke infused book featuring Ned and Wild battling it out. I would actually love to get an enlarged poster of this cover!

These links give some background information on this title and an image of the cover.

The gentleman who takes a turn as Jack Tunney for The Iron Fists of Ned Kelly is David Foster. He does a wonderful job bringing the young Ned Kelly to life. Actually, Ned is more real here while being part of "speculative fiction" than he has been portrayed in many works of straightforward fact. When I got to the end of this book, I was like "Whoa! Wait!!! I want more, more, MORE......" But, it seems I am putting the cart before the horse, best if we go to the beginning and see how the story begins and progresses. No worries about me giving spoilers, because if you know the Kelly story, then you know the basic plot line. I duly note that this is a work of historical fiction and that dialogue has been invented, some characters and situations have been invented and so forth. I accept that. I applaud that. Just me being me, though, I like to point out some things that are not exactly in keeping with the known facts so anyone new to the Kelly world might gain proper insight.

As the book opens, we first encounter Ned in his cell at the Old Melbourne Gaol on the night before his execution. He is thinking back of what has led him to this place in time. During the course of this Father O'Hea stops by to visit with Ned to offer comfort. Ned reaches into the back of his copy of Lorna Doone and gives O'Hea two letters written for his mother and sister Maggie and asks him to see that they get them. Ned soon begins to tell Father O'Hea about some of the events of his past with emphasis on one escapade in particular. His tale begins in 1870 when a hawker named Gould had a wagon bogged in mud and sought help in getting it out. The ever obliging and industrious young Ned goes to help and soon has it extracted from the quagmire. Within a short while a horse appears before them having bolted away from a rival hawker, Jeremiah McCormack (actually McCormick, but it was spelled as McCormack in the Jerilderie Letter so I see why it was used). Gould recognises it as McC's horse and Ned offers to take it to town and see it gets back to its rightful owner. When Ned does this, the ill tempered McC is rude and abusive and grabs the wrong end of the stick, jumping to all sorts of ill-conceived conclusions, and starts a fight with Ned. Later McC goes to Constable Hall to make a complaint against the young ruffian saying Ned assaulted him and stole his horse's blanket. (supposedly it was Jim Kelly who took the horse to town to give back to McC. McC went to the Kelly homestead and fussed at Gould who was staying there until the roads dried up about how Gould had used his horse, etc) A bunch of stuff goes down, none of it good, with the main one going down Ned Kelly! Throughout all this no mention was made of the note and calf's testicles that really got things going. So, Ned was off to gaol for a while.

Fast forward a little while to the next year, 1871. In Beechworth, Ethan Rogers (actually was Edward Rogers) was the owner of the Imperial Hotel. He bemoaned the fact of how he had to keep making repairs to his barroom a little too often than he would have liked because Isaiah "Wild" Wright would inevitably bust the place up when he was in his cups. We are treated to a fun little episode/exercise/romp wherein two young rubes are apparently not acquainted with Wild's reputation (as the unofficial bare knuckle champion of the North East, no less) and refuse to get out of his way when he wanted to belly up to the bar. During the melee, which Wild easily wins even against two opponents, he "unleashes his trademark punch - a rugged haymaker - or a wild-right, as the locals called it." The two lads went down for the count and Wild was still ready to fight! After a bit of drinking and carousing he was making his way home on foot and comes across a welcoming sight - the postmaster's horse grazing by the side of the road so he decides to "borrow it." Alarm bells should be ringing about now for all Kelly enthusiasts!

Meanwhile in the book Ned Kelly has been released from gaol and has a long hard slog home, arriving to find a celebration in progress. It was not for him, though, because they did not know he had been released. This was an engagement party for his sister Annie and a young man named Alex Gunn (actually, they were wed in 1869). At the party Alex introduces Ned to his good friend Wild Wright. Wild says that his horse had strayed and was wondering if he could have use of one of Ned's horses until his could be found (hopefully by Ned) and they could do the exchange. With Alex vouching for his friend, Ned agrees not realizing that the horse in question was a stolen one. (actually this event took place 3 weeks after Ned got home, not the first day, but I suppose the narrative had to be quickly and neatly moved forward).

Having found the mare, Ned decided to ride it around a while, still blissfully unaware of her stolen status. Constable Hall, who played a large part in him being sent to gaol before, saw him and decided to arrest him for horse theft. Even though Ned kept saying that the horse belonged to Wild Wright, Hall was having none of it and attempted to murder Ned right there in the street, thankfully the gun misfired three times. What ensues next is a battle between Ned and Hall with Ned delivering "a brutal uppercut that caught Hall on the point of the chin." The true story is that Ned did not hit Hall, remember in the Jerilderie Letter where he said "I dare not strike him or my sureties would lose the bond money." However, he did grab him by the collar and trip him. Ned said "I threw him on his belly I straddled him raked both spurs into his thigh." That doesn't really sound like riding him like a horse as the book says, but it makes for a jolly good read and mental image. Anyway, it all ended up with Hall getting the better of him after Ned was grabbed by Lonigan of all people (this was just to drive the plot along because Ned would not meet Lonigan or have any dealings with him whatsoever until 1877) and another trooper and Hall beat him about the head with the butt of his revolver.  Ned goes away again after not being free for long. He was given 3 years gaol time, Wild was given 18 months and though the book says Alex for his part in it all got 18 months it was really 3 years also.

The story proceeds with Ned having a fuss/set to with some cranky prisoner inside the gaol and for the first time he gets to meet Father O'Hea acting in capacity as gaol chaplain.

After serving his time he heads home again in 1874, finding that during his absence that his brother Jim had been gaoled for 5 years and that his sister Annie had died in childbirth. The child on Ellen Kelly's hip is said to be Annie's but we know that Annie's baby by then was buried alongside her and this was Ellen's baby from an illicit affair with Bill Frost. Ned starts to take on responsibility and works hard and is well on his way to making something of himself. One day he stopped by the Imperial Hotel to have a drink with his cousin, Tom Lloyd, when in walks you-know-who. Ah, yes, the current unofficial bare-knuckle champion of the North East was in the house and due for some major payback from our young hero. They were about to mix it up right there but publican Rogers stepped in and suggested they stage a match outside (hoping to save his bar from being demolished and maybe profit from the wagers, too, no doubt). They accept and the time is set and bets are placed. This is where the book really earns it's Fight Card distinction.

Over the course of several pages we are given a quite literal blow by blow (pun intended) account of how such a fight might have ensued. Both men gave and took tremendous hits that would have felled lesser men in a short time. It was exciting and the dialogue between them and others really moved the story along. We had Lonigan there mouthing off to Ned trying to make him madder than he was to get him off his game and then Lonigan slithered over to Wild to try and bribe him to get Ned good! Of course, Wild hated the traps as much as Ned, so he rebuffed the surprised policeman, earning Ned's respect. Of course, Lonigan didn't do any of this in reality, but it makes for a bit of lively banter and fun and a show of solidarity between the two young combatants. Eventually, Ned wins the coveted title of champion (even if unofficial) from Wild and goes in the bar to have a drink, soon he is sharing one with Wild and a friendship born in blood and sweat was firmly cemented.

We are then taken back to Ned in gaol as he winds up his tale to O'Hea and the rest of the story plays out very quickly.

As stated above, I wanted more!

I highly recommend this book. The action was great and the dialogue crackled. The price for the e-book is very reasonable, too.

A bonus is that the name of Fitzpatrick does not appear at all. Thank God for small mercies!

Friday, November 7, 2014

A Review of Ian Jones's 2014 publication The Kellys and Beechworth [Sharon Hollingsworth]

Earlier this year it was announced that author Ian Jones would be launching a new Kelly book during the 2014 Beechworth Ned Kelly Weekend. A swirl of excitement and conjecture promptly ensued. Many hoped it would be the long-rumored and hoped for memoir of Jones's "pursuit" of Ned Kelly throughout much of the 20th century and into the 21st. Eventually, word filtered out that it would be a "short" book (or, rather, a booklet) on the Kellys and their Beechworth connections.
 I wondered if it would be a combined and possibly expanded version of his papers written for the “Ned Kelly: Man & Myth” symposiums in 1967 and 1993 entitled “The Kellys and Beechworth” and “The Kellys and Beechworth Revisited.”
No one who got a copy of this new publication that weekend seemed to be keen to report on what exactly was between the covers. All I read was that it was part of a series of booklets from the Burke Museum in Beechworth and that it was 62 pages long.

 I remained curious along with many other Kellyphiles. I know of more than one person who has been trying in total vain to procure a copy via mail order from the Burke Museum. Perhaps one will turn up on ebay at some point.
I was lucky enough to eventually receive a copy thanks to Brian McDonald. He has been a very kindly benefactor to me, a virtual knight in shining armour who has come to my rescue more than once! He is something of a bibliophilic godfather because when it comes to anything to do with books, Brianmac is THE go-to guy!

Ok, here we go with a report of what the booklet is all about for those who have been wondering. First up, as noted above, the title is "The Kellys and Beechworth" and it has a nicely illustrated cover and glossy pages and measures 5 and a half by 8 and a half inches in size. Also, as stated earlier, it is 62 pages long.
For those wondering, there is nothing new in it for the seasoned Kelly student/researcher/aficinado, it is more of a distillation of Jones's "Ned Kelly: A Short Life" and "The Fatal Friendship" than anything else. There is a smattering of info throughout emphasizing the Kelly connection to Beechworth, but, again, there is nothing new to me. Still, this is a good little booklet to have in hand for those visiting Beechworth who are interested in the Kellys but have not made a major and involved research endeavor prior to their journey. As usual, with anything to with Ian Jones, it is well written and presented. It is also good to obtain for those of us who are completists (Brianmac being the classic and quintessential example and one we should all strive to emulate even if only in our dreams).
The introduction gives us the background on Beechworth and the gold rush and lightly touches on the Kelly connections to be delved in to deeper within. The first chapter tells about Ned's Beechworth connections from 1868 to 1877, detailing court cases, Harry Power, the Ben Gould adventure, the Wild Wright stolen horse debacle, Constable Hall's attempted murder of Ned, Ned's imprisonment, his honest years, the fight with Wild Wright, as well as trouble with the squatter Whitty. That was a lot to cover in 9 pages. Chapter two is all about Joe and Aaron and their backgrounds, their friendship, the Chinese connection, imprisonment and the falling in with Ned in the wholesale and retail horse business.

Chapter three features Constable Fitzpatrick and his foolishness and how it started the whole outbreak. Chapter four very quickly gives us info on the Stringybark Creek episode and start of the gang. Chapter Five details the "Charge of Sebastopol" wherein the police raid the Sherritt household and Aaron is recruited as a spy. 
Chapter six touches on the Euroa and Jerilderie robberies, the arrest of the sympathisers, and letters written by Ned. Chapter seven touches on Aaron and the cave parties. Chapter eight covers July 1879 to June 1880 with Joe visiting Aaron and trying to recruit him and then Aaron and his brother Jack having various and sundry escapades and then Aaron getting married.Chapter nine covers June 1880 with the killing of Aaron, the siege of Glenrowan and Kelly's last stand, this covers 8 pages.
 Chapter ten starts with Ned Kelly in the dock of the Beechworth court house and briefly touches on the Melbourne trial and execution. The chapter ends with a few paragraphs summing everything up about the Kellys and Beechworth with the final paragraph being a really evocative look at how the feel of Beechworth now is the same as when the Kellys roamed there back in the 19th century. 
 There are 28 photographs and illustrations in the pages, too, but, again, there are none that are new to me.
All in all, get it if you can, but it is not an absolute must, especially given how difficult it will be for those not traveling to Beechworth to obtain or who are not as well connected as I am.

Oh, yeah, before I close,  you know me, I had to find at least one error, and there was one on the back cover. They have an attribution of the cover illustration of the Kelly gang (which is taken from The Eagle Book of Amazing Stories 1974) as being by Fortunino Matanja. The correct spelling of this wonderful artist's name is actually Fortunino Matania. Google him for some splendid illustrations, particularly his wartime ones.

A very nice review of the Eleven Mile Creek blog

The Eleven Mile Creek Blog has received a very nice review from Dee over at her new blog at

For the record, I am not personally acquainted with Dee at all and I did not even know she had a blog, I only found out when Brian alerted me to the review. I used to read one of her former forums, but had never contributed there.

I would like to profusely thank her for her kind words of appreciation for all that Brian Stevenson and I have done with this blog. Both Brian and I have not been very active this past year due to several reasons, not the least of which is that we both have had family tragedies occur, so you can imagine that regular posting on a blog would be the least of our concerns.

I do have a couple of reviews coming up, though, so stay tuned and I am still considering bringing some of my old articles from the now defunct glenrowan1880 website back to life. I just need to get motivated.

To answer one of the things in the review, no, Brian and I have not met in person, though we have been very good friends since 2005 after having met on a Kelly forum. He has traveled to the USA  since then to visit family but that was a few thousands of miles from here. Perhaps one day we will get to meet up! Never say never!

The direct link to the review can be found at: