Australia Bids Farewell to Ned Kelly after 132 Years
Hundreds of descendants and supporters of Ned Kelly bade farewell to the infamous Australian bushranger at a requiem mass on Friday, some 132 years after he was executed for killing three policemen.
His memory still divides the nation, with some believing he was a cold-blooded killer, while others see him as a folk hero and symbol of Irish-Australian defiance against British colonial authorities.
"Of all Australians, Ned is without doubt one of the most famous, some would say infamous, and therein lies the great divide in society," said Monsignor John White, who led the service at St Patrick's church in Wangaratta in Victoria state.
"That divide still is simmering today," he told hundreds of people who gathered to remember the armour-wearing outlaw, according to The Australian newspaper.
Kelly, who was hanged at Old Melbourne Gaol in 1880, was expected to be buried beside his mother Ellen in a private burial at the town of Greta on Sunday. His remains were thrown into a mass grave after the execution.
"Today, we're righting that wrong," said White, who revealed he had received offensive emails and calls over his decision to conduct the funeral but justified it saying Kelly was entitled to the service as a baptised Catholic.
One of bushranger's descendants, Joanne Griffiths, said she was not surprised the priest had been criticised for carrying out the mass.
"The family has suffered that type of negativity for generations, which is why they don't usually speak out," she said.
"We're very relieved to have given (Ned) what he wished for and what he asked for," she told reporters outside the church.
"He might be an Australian icon, but he's family to us."
In late 2011 bones exhumed from Melbourne's Pentridge Prison were proven by DNA testing to be Kelly's and the government of southern Victoria state ordered their return to the family. His skull remains missing.
Peter Norden, a former chaplain at Pentridge, said 60,000 signatures were collected to protest Kelly's execution at a time when Melbourne had fewer than 300,000 residents, with many thinking he did not receive a decent trial.
"There were serious grounds to argue that he shot in self-defence at the time, because there was a clear conspiracy by Victorian police... not to arrest him but to execute him," he wrote in a piece published by ABC.
Asked why Kelly was such an iconic figure in Australia, Norden said in some ways it was because he represented "the battler against the establishment".
"He just had an enigma to him," he told Agence France Presse.
"I think it caught the imagination, of something of the Australian spirit, the sort of frontier spirit."
The Kelly family has said the outlaw will be buried on Sunday at a small cemetery at the town of Greta near Glenrowan, the scene of his final gun battle with police at which he wore his home-made plate metal armour suit and helmet.
Kelly's three accomplices, including younger brother Dan, were killed in the Glenrowan showdown which ended a 18-month campaign that saw the so-called Kelly Gang become folk heroes for stealing from banks in country towns.