For as much as I talk about Australia being a seething hellhole of awesome and its people being more balls-out than a male pornstar with a malfunctioning zipper, I've somehow yet to feature the country-continent's greatest folk hero – the head-fuckingly-hardcore bushranger Edward "Ned" Kelly and the ridiculously-sweet suit of homemade Plate Armor of Bullet Resistance +1 that turned him from a local folk hero into the Predator and then into a national legend. Being recognized as one of the toughest guys to ever whip asses through the Outback is no small feat in a land packed full of poisonous trees, murderous jellyfish, and Aussie-rules football players, but, as the picture above might indicate, this guy was no ordinary badass. He was next-level shit.
As the British so often love to point out, the island of Australia was originally set up as a penal colony where the English could dump off all the undesirable dirtbags of London and forget about them forever. The entire country was basically like a real-life Escape from New York - once you go in, you don't come back out, and the entire countryside was apparently just a freak-out of murder and lawlessness that made the dystopian future of Road Warrior look like that Disney movie with the talking cars. Being a cop on an island full of Snake Plisskens probably wasn't exactly a goddamned picnic by any stretch of the imagination, but in the mid- to late-19th century the rural police in Australia really seemed to get a kick out of fucking people over just for the sake of being raging assholes. At least, that's what the Kelly family claimed (repeatedly). The Kellys were deported from Ireland to Australia in 1843 as a result of some trumped-up pig-stealing charges, and Ned's dad, either through police dickheadery or legitimate criminal behavior, somehow constantly found himself getting fist-humped by the long arm of the law. Mr. Kelly was arrested a few dozen times, fined, beaten up, and died an early death as a result of a few decades' worth of hard livin', pig thievin', and near-constant incarceration in a variety of hard labor penitentiaries.
It should come as no surprise that young Edward Kelly (pictured above with his awesome beard and equally-rad hairstyle) wasn't exactly breaking down the doors of the governor's office asking to be put on the waiting list for the incoming class of the Victoria County Police Academy. Having your dad busted by the cops every couple weeks tends to have that effect on a kid. It probably also didn't help that Ned himself ended up getting arrested several times before he was even out of his teenage years including one assault charge in 1869 for punching a guy that was hilariously-named Ah Fook (rumor has it the guy yelled out his own name while being jacked in the face), and another time when he mailed a set of cow balls to his neighbor's wife and then fought the guy when he came around to bitch about it. When he was 16, Kelly was seen riding around town on a horse his buddy lent him and some dork cop tried to arrest him for horse thievery. When the police reinforcements showed up to help apprehend Neds, they found Kelly riding the cop through the streets like a horse.
As entertaining as these tales of civil disobedience may have been, things took a far more serious turn in 1878, when some drunk-ass, power-mad constable came to the Kelly house and started talking shit to everyone and being a total jacknut. The Kellys tolerated this for a while, but when the hammered officer tried to get fresh with Ned's sister Kate, Mama Kelly whipped out a fucking shovel and cracked the guy across the knuckles with it. No longer capable of groping anything with his busted-up hand, the constable ran crying back to the police station and told his buddies that the big, bad Kelly Gang assaulted him and kicked his ass. A posse of cops returned to Kelly's house that night – Ned and his brother got out of there in time, but several members of his family were arrested and a warrant was issued for his capture.
From that point on, Ned Kelly decided he was going to dedicate the rest of his wild life to fucking authority in the mouth. He escaped into the bush of rural Australia, where he used his toughness and resourcefulness to live off the land Albert Johnson-style. He hunted for food, drummed up support from the local populace (who were also apparently sick of the Victoria Police's bullshit) and probably spent his free time riding crocodiles, crushing Foster's cans on his beard, and going down to the batting cage to prove his nut-tacular fortitude by letting a bunch of 80 mph baseballs ricochet off his sack like they were hitting a cement wall.
But the Governor of Victoria wasn't about to let Ned get away with criminally being present while some asshole cop deservingly got the shit kicked out of him with a shovel. The Gov already had Kelly's number, and Ned was formally accused of having shot the officer in the hand with a pistol and publicly declared an outlaw. A trio of marshals headed out to the Wombat Ranges to hunt down Ned and his brother, but those guys were incompetent idiots and couldn't have tracked down the Kelly gang if they'd lojacked them. When the dumbshit cops decided to take a break from their incredibly-well-planned manhunt to shoot handguns at wild parrots, the Kellys got the drop on them, ambushing them near Stringybark Creek and holding them at gunpoint. The lead cop immediately went to turn his revolver on the Kelly Gang, so Ned in turn smoked all three officers.
I'm certainly not a proponent of cop killers, but this is kind of insane. From this point on, these guys immediately became the bushranger Aussie equivalent of Jesse James or Cole Younger - folk hero outlaws on the run from the cops. From that point on, unable to return to civilized life, the Kellys went on an insane bank robbery spree, declaring war on authority everywhere they could find it. Their actions, while obviously illegal, earned Ned a reputation as something of a Robin Hood-like character – sure, he was taking hostages, robbing banks, and stealing all the cash for himself, but in the banks that they robbed the Kellys would pull all the mortgage deeds out of the bank vaults and set them on fire, absolving oppressed homeowners of their debts to the bank. Ned and the Kelly Gang gained local support, built a network of accomplices to help hide them from the law, and pissed off the local cops worse than the Dukes of Hazzard County.
As is the case with nearly every pirate, outlaw, and public enemy in history, however, Ned Kelly's hurricane of destruction needed to abruptly come to an ultraviolent end at some point, and for Ned that time was June 1880. He and his gang got a little too overexcited one day, took a bunch of hostages in a pub in Glenrowan, and then tried to blow up a passenger train full of cops. When the train didn't explode the way he hoped it would, Ned Kelly soon found himself completely surrounded by armed police, holed up inside a crappy little pub with no escape. Not one to go down without a totally badass last stand, Ned Kelly opened the pub door and whipped out one more surprise that the cops never saw coming:
Ned Kelly fucking Army of Twoed it, busting through the door in a suit of full plate armor he had constructed himself out of plowshares, bolts, and the blood of Yetis he strangled to death with his bare hands. He and his gang, each wearing 96 pounds of homemade Killdozer, rushed out, guns blazing, fighting a hopeless last battle against an entire county worth of police officers.
In the carnage that ensued, every member of Kelly's gang was killed, and Ned was shot nearly a dozen times in the arms and legs. Yet, somehow, he continued to press on – shambling forward Frankenstein-style, firing his rifle with one arm, until he was finally (and understandably) dropped by a close-range shotgun blast to the knees. He somehow survived this as well, but was captured, arrested, and thrown in the dock.
His armor is now in an Australian museum.
Ned's battle with the cops made headlines across the country the next morning, and Kelly was instantly catapulted to national celebrity. This armor-plated madman's story was so insane that 30,000 people went out that day and signed a petition calling for leniency and mercy for this misunderstood psychopath. They didn't get it – he was convicted of murder and hung from the neck until dead. Allegedly, his last words were, "Ah well, I suppose it has come to this... such is life."
I can't tell you how much I love the idea that his last words were basically, "eh, fuck it."
Despite the fact that he was an outlaw bushranger, Ned Kelly is now revered in Australia as a national hero and one of the most badass motherfuckers to ever live. He is the subject of dozens of Australian folk songs and artwork, was the subject of the world's first feature film, and even appeared on a postage stamp in 1980. To this day, particularly hardcore Aussies self-identify as "Neds".
Coolest statue ever?
Brown, Max. Australian Son: The Story of Ned Kelly. Network Creative, 2005.
Seal, Graham. Encyclopedia of Folk Heroes. ABC-CLIO, 2001.
Seal, Graham. The Outlaw Legend. Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996.
Thomas, Paul. Outlaws. Black Rabbit Books, 2002.
White, Charles. History of Australian Bushranging. Angus and Robertson, 1903.