For anyone unaware of the controversies and uncertainties about the historical truths of the life of Ned Kelly, this book will be an enjoyable read, as the story is well told and the details and embellishments do indeed liven it up. However, the story of Ned Kelly has been told many many times, almost universally in sympathetic terms, so one immediately has to ask, why another one? What new angle is he going to adopt? I read Fitzsimons book "Eureka" and found it enthralling. He set the story in the widest possible context of Victorian pioneering and political and social life in the mid 19th century and so I was hoping he would do the same for the Kelly story. My hopes were raised further by pre-publication advertising for the book, claiming Fitzsimons would be "weighing in on all the myths legends and controversies generated by this compelling and divisive Australian Rebel"
In fact the book does nothing of the sort. It is unfortunately just another sympathetic and very long recounting of the same old stories everyone already knows, with a noticeable absence of any discussion of any number of the critical "myths legends and controversies": and almost nothing that is new other than Fitzsimons own embellishments designed to "bring the story to life'. For example he doesn't mention or comment on the allegations of the kellys that Constable Fitzpatrick groped Ellens 14 year old daughter Kate, the supposed trigger for the entire "outbreak"; the uncertainties about George King and his fate are not mentioned, the forensic evidence relating to the numbers of wounds and bullets in the bodies of the dead policemen at Stringybark Creek isnt discussed, there is almost no mention of the entire "Republic" conspiracy so beloved of Fitzsimons mentor Ian Jones, and so on. It would appear that the author was trying not to offend anyone on either side of the ongoing debate about Kellys legacy - good or bad - and inevitably has produced something which neither offends nor excites. The "elephant in the room" in my opinion is his failure to read and list among the 60 or so books in his bibliography, arguably the most important and original work on the subject in the last twenty years, Ian MacFarlanes "The Kelly Gang Unmasked". Fitzsimons has said that the reason he didnt read The Kelly Gang Unmasked was because Ian Jones "hated it".This failure reduces the books authority, emasculates the story somewhat, and relegates Fitzsimons book to "just another sympathetic Kelly story" In my view its not good enough to displace Ian Jones "Ned kelly : a short life" from the top of the pro-kelly reading list.