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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Matthew Brady & Ned Kelly: Kindred Spirits, Kindred Lives (book review and interview with the author) [Sharon Hollingsworth]

Recently I did a blog post about a novel by Paul Williams called "The Shenandoah Affair" in which some of the real-life players in the Kelly saga were featured as they played a part in the Shenandoah Affair many years before Kelly's career began. You can read the post at Paul has another book out concerning Ned Kelly, this is a non-fiction one, called "Matthew Brady & Ned Kelly: Kindred Spirits, Kindred Lives" which I had also mentioned in that previous posting. Though it came out in 2007, it is still available through the publisher's website at

I have done a review of the book that can be found further down in this blog post after some information regarding the book and author from the book itself. I have also conducted a short interview via email with Paul Williams exclusively for the Eleven Mile Creek blog that will be at the end of the review.

Here is the blurb from the back of the book:

The young man stood on the scaffold. A Roman Catholic priest, bible in hand, stood to one side. Prayers were read. The signal was given, the drop fell.

So ended a bushranging career that had spanned the best part of two years. This man had left his mark, becoming a legend in his own time; a notorious bushranger who bailed up towns, with huge bounties placed on his head. Renowned for his support of the underdog, he had won a ground swell of supporters. women who fell into his hands as captives had spoken of his chivalrous conduct, but if he had ever experienced the intimate love of a woman in his life, it is unknown.

A traitor had been executed two days before he fought his last stand, where bullet wounds to the leg led to his final capture, trial, and sentence to hang.

This hanging took place in two separate years - 1826 in Hobart Town, then again during 1880 in Melbourne. Matthew Brady had been the first of the great Australian bushrangers and Ned Kelly, repeating history, the last.

To give a taste of what is inside the book and to whet the appetite here is a listing of the chapters:


1.  The Road to Purgatory

2.  First Blood

3.  Pursuit

4.  Homesteads Taken

5.  Towns Occupied

6.  Traitors Die

7.  Trust No One

8.  The Eagles Snared

9.  A Faithful Two Die

10. Justice Will be Done

11. Retribution



Here is the information from the book about the author:

Paul Williams graduated from the Swinburne School of Film and Television, Melbourne, in 1976. He became involved in animated film production as a writer, producer and director. His projects included The Steam-Driven Adventures of Riverboat Bill, The Black Planet, The Phantom Treehouse and The Silver Brumby. He has three children's books to his credit along with the historic novel The Shenandoah Affair and, for pure history, Little Bighorn and Isandlwana: Kindred Fights, Kindred Follies.

Now on to my review:

With all of that out of the way, I would like to give my thoughts on Matthew Brady & Ned Kelly: Kindred Spirits, Kindred Lives. In short, I really enjoyed it! Before reading this, I knew practically nothing about Matthew Brady beyond the fact that he was an early bushranger. As a funny aside, when I had first begun to get interested in Ned Kelly and bushrangers in general and had heard the name Matthew Brady, I was under the false impression that he was the very famous American Civil War photographer of the same name (except later I found that the photographer spelled his name with only one t). My husband said he also thought that was who the book was about when I showed the cover to him! But no, this about the "prince of bushrangers" who died in the early 19th Century long before the American Civil War.
Mr. Williams has a very lively literary style that practically transports you back to the era of which writes. I found myself being drawn in to the narrative, I felt like I was not just a reader but was almost an onlooker to history! He had the same style with The Shenandoah Affair. He has that very rare talent to make history come alive!
I was quite fascinated with Brady's life and career as laid out by Mr. Williams. What a saga and I learned so much! The Ned Kelly portions of the book was like preaching to the choir to me as I basically know the story chapter and verse. (I only found one or two slight errors in the Kelly portion such as Nicolson being spelled as Nicholson, and it being said that Mrs. Barry lived with Aaron Sherritt and her daughter when she would just come up there from her own home in the evenings to visit, and so forth, so you really can't go wrong with this for your "neducation."). This book serves as a good primer for those who may not be familiar with the lives and careers of either or both of these men. Matthew Brady & Ned Kelly: Kindred Spirits, Kindred Lives is laid out nicely in that each chapter has alternating sections on Brady and Kelly. To indicate where each separate narrative begins there is a very clever use of line drawings of Brady's and Kelly's heads to show you who is being spoken of.  It is interesting how the two bushrangers had such parallel lives and Mr. Williams was quite astute in making the connections he presents in the book. There were so many uncanny coincidences laid out, I won't give away all as you need to read the book for yourself, but some of them (other than what is listed on the back cover blurb) are that both were described by others as being good candidates for military generals and they had both bailed up traps, locked them up in their own cells and wore their uniforms to fool the populace. Then there were times that the traps who were in pursuit of both gangs were in civilian clothes, leading to traps challenging traps and sometimes firing on "brother officers" in the confusion. There were mysterious weapon misfires that saved the lives of both of the bushrangers. There were many more instances given. Of course there were differences, the Kelly Gang was always four in number (with maybe a "fifth Beatle" type relationship here or there such as with Tom Lloyd), whereas Brady's gang was in constant flux, at times having up to a dozen or so members, but with many of them lost due to attrition (death, capture, etc) and some gained along the way. Brady and gang would rob travellers on the road, something the Kelly gang didn't do. There was a bit more violence involved with Brady's gang overall (Stringybark Creek for the Kelly's notwithstanding), but he had some really nasty folks on his crew for a time. But Brady himself seemed to always "save" people from his gang. In the first chapter there was a very telling bit about how Brady stepped between an innocent doctor and an escaped convict set on flogging him. Brady himself had suffered terrible and frequent floggings at the hands of the authorities and this very doctor was the one who tended to him afterwards, so he felt loyalty to him and would not let him suffer as he had. Another bit that was really imaginative was where Brady and his gang rigged up a bushranger scarecrow complete with wooden "gun" as a decoy that fooled some pursuers.

All said, this book was really good and thought provoking and I guarantee that anyone who picks this up will not be disappointed. These two men truly did lead kindred lives and shared a kindred spirit and we can be grateful to Paul Williams for chronicling so well the careers of these dual flames who were extinguished far too early.

My interview with Paul Williams:

[Sharon Hollingsworth]  Paul, you put the pieces together so well as concerns the similarities between the two bushrangers Matthew Brady and Ned Kelly. Tell us about when you had first started recognising the "kindred spirits" of these men and what prompted you to write about it. If I may add, I am glad you did share your findings with us in "Matthew Brady & Ned Kelly: Kindred Spirits, Kindred Lives" rather than just "sitting on them" like so many others do!


[Paul Williams] I originally took an interest in Matthew Brady when I read, many years ago, a piece about "The Prince of Bushrangers" in a book about Australian crime. I was surprised his name was not better known like Ned Kelly and Ben Hall. But it seems that bushrangers of earlier convict times have never attracted the same glamour as those of the gold rush/late 1800s era. Being basically a filmmaker, I originally started researching Brady with a TV dramatised documentary in mind. The original trigger for the noting of similarities was both bushrangers executing a traitor just two days before they fought their last stand, and then I noticed both being captured and hanged because of gunshot wounds to the leg. I thought this was a remarkable coincidence so naturally started looking for other similarities and they quickly fell in place, such as both being Catholics of Irish descent, and on and on it went. I soon realised that the only way this topic could be fully treated was in book form. When you actually start writing the focus is intense and other similarities fell into place which would go unnoticed to the casual reader. I wrote this book just before starting on another duplication of history Little Bighorn and Isandlwana; Kindred Fights, Kindred Follies, currently available at for anyone interested.

[Sharon Hollingsworth]  Looking in Brian McDonald's "What They Said About Ned!" I see that you had authored a children's book out in 1990 called "The Adventures of Black Ned" which Brian describes as "A children's picture book depicting a knee length helmeted Ned, who uses the idea of of the Wooden Horse of Troy to rob the local bank. Constable Fitzpatrick attempts to arrest Ned with his weapon, a giant can-opener."

I have to chuckle at that bit regarding Fitzpatrick and the can-opener!

It sounds like you have a long term interest in Ned Kelly what with the children's book, the Matthew Brady & Ned Kelly one and even the mentioning of of all the future Kelly saga players in the fact based novel "The Shenandoah Affair." Tell us a little bit about that interest.

[Paul Williams] The first time I ever heard of Ned Kelly was aged about 6 when my father mentioned his name. He seemed surprised that I didn't know all about Ned, and briefly described the Glenrowan affair. I was in the public library a few years back where Ned's armour was on display and much to my surprise a school teacher with a bunch of very young children had to explain who Ned was. I think in Australia he is so ingrained in our folklore you are expected to actually be born with a knowledge of Ned Kelly.

  The children's book The Adventures of Black Ned was actually based on a cartoon film I made on 8mm before I became a professional filmmaker. It won the 1975 Melbourne International Amateur Film Festival. Now the reason I chose Ned for a topic at that time meant that I could have Ned talking in his helmet without worrying about synchronizing speech and lip movement! I used that film to get government funding for a second Kelly cartoon and also to get into the Swinburne Film School which launched my professional filmmaking career, so I have a lot to thank Ned for.     
  The mentioning in my novel The Shenandoah Affair of people also connected with Kelly is simply because they are seen in their correct historic context, being policemen, politicians etc. who were actually around for both dramas.

[Sharon Hollingsworth] As I have stated over and over again, I loved your novel "The Shenandoah Affair." You had mentioned to me in email that you had actually visited the United States to do research for that book. I see in the bibliography for Matthew Brady & Ned Kelly that you had gotten information from a variety of locations from Sydney to Melbourne to Hobart. Did you actually get to visit the North East of Victoria at some point to walk where Ned Kelly boldly strode over a hundred and thirty some years ago?  For what it's worth he not only strode across the land but left some pretty big bootprints across the landscape of our minds, too, didn't he?

 [Paul Williams] Yes, being a Victorian resident I have visited the Kelly sights; Glenrowan, Stringybark Creek etc. and actually sat on the jury in a re-enactment of the Kelly Trial during a Ned Kelly weekend at Beechworth a few years ago. A period "policeman" asked me if I would like to sit without knowing the book was about to come out and naturally I jumped at the chance. It was good to be a participant.

  Ned certainly has left a big footprint on our minds regardless of the degree of interest. Every adult Australian knows about him and seems to have an opinion, hero or rogue, the Robin Hood and Rob Roy of Australian culture. I personally see Ned as a flawed hero. No one can doubt his bravery and leadership skills, but the shooting of a defenceless Aaron Sherritt on his orders I see as a blotch on his career. Other less violent means could have drawn the police train from Melbourne. As for Stringybark Creek, the police had the option of "bailing up" but chose to fight and suffered the consequences. What does surprise me is Ned's honesty (or naivety!) in admitting he executed the dying Sgt. Kennedy. There were no witnesses and he could simply have said the final shot was exchanged as part of the gun battle. No one would have been the wiser.

[Sharon Hollingsworth] In the blog posting I did about The Shenandoah Affair, I mentioned (and linked) about how there was a proposal on the table to make that book into a film (with you as screenwriter, naturally). Can you give us an update on how things are progressing on that?

[Paul Williams] The Shenandoah movie is listed by Inov8entertainment as a future project, but they are preoccupied with other films at the moment. It would be nice to see it on screen in 2015, the 150th anniversary of the ship's arrival in Melbourne.

[Sharon Hollingsworth] Would you like to give us any heads ups about other book and film projects you are currently working on so we can be on the lookout for them?

[Paul Williams] I've been working on the script for a feature film to be shot in Australia early next year, all things going well. The film, Rockin' Ricky Roberts is best described as being about an eccentric 50s retro rock singer with a sci-fi twist. Also, back in the 1980s, I made an animated telemovie called The Black Planet which was distributed in the USA and elsewhere. It was a comedy about the energy crisis and the space race. I've been working on an updated script as a new live action musical version, along with writing and illustrating a few children's books.

[Sharon Hollingsworth]  Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer these few questions for me, Paul. Any closing thoughts re Ned Kelly or anything else you would like to mention?

[Paul Williams] No, I think I've said enough, and thanks for the interview, Sharon, a trip down memory lane.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for posting this very interesting review and interview, Sharon, and thanks also to Mr Williams for taking time out to answer your perceptive questions. I don't know a lot about Brady, and was totally unaware of the parallels between his life and Kelly's, and I am glad to note that this interesting take on a well worn subject (Ned, that is) is now added to the creaking Kelly bookcase.


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