Australia's most famous outlaw, Ned Kelly, is the centre of a fascinating exhibition currently on show at the Geelong Gaol Museum.
To many Australians, Ned Kelly, the son of poor Irish Catholics, was a heroic anti-establishment figure who fought corrupt British colonists in the 19th Century. To many others, he was a vicious thug who murdered three police officers.
A bushranger that has long divided a nation, Ned Kelly and his gang of outlaws lives on in Australian culture through art, books, films and music, ensuring Kelly’s position as a symbol of Australian identity. Love him or hate him, Ned Kelly is one of the most recognisable figures in Australian history.
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One incredibly compelling way the story of Ned Kelly and his Gang is being brought to life is at Geelong’s iconic Gaol Museum, where an exhibit ‘Saga Behind The Armour’ lies.
Spanning two rooms, the Ned Kelly exhibition takes a unique angle on the story, looking at it through the eyes of the Geelong people involved in the story. With strong connections to Geelong, you’ll find stories about Harry Power who launched a fifteen-month bushranging career and help forge the bushranger path for Kelly, Isaiah ‘Wild’ Wright who was a Kelly sympathiser, and of course Alexander Fitzpatrick, the policeman who was the cause of the Kelly Outbreak.
Right at the heart of the exhibition is a replica of Ned Kelly’s original death mask, created by Maximillian Kreitmayer in 1880 and placed on display in the Waxworks in Bourke Street Melbourne. Bringing guests face to face with the famous outlaw, a death mask was taken after a prisoner had been hung so the brain could be examined to determine what caused them to do criminal things. The original death masks sits at Old Melbourne Gaol where Kelly was hung in November 1880.
Another massive drawcard in this exhibit is the display of the Armour of the Kelly gang. Almost a famed as Kelly himself, infamous armour was used only once, by the Kelly gang of bushrangers in their battle with police during the siege of Glenrowan on June 28, 1880.
In 1879, Australian bushranger and outlaw Ned Kelly devised a plan to create bulletproof armour and wear it during shootouts with the police. Legend has it that Kelly and other members of the Kelly gang—Joe Byrne, Steve Hart, and brother Dan Kelly—had their own armour suits and helmets crafted from plough mouldboards, either donated by sympathisers or stolen from farms. The boards were heated and then beaten into shape over the course of several months, most likely in a crude bush forge and possibly with the assistance of blacksmiths. While the suits successfully repelled bullets, their heavyweight made them cumbersome to wear, and the gang debated their utility.
Within this Ned Kelly exhibition, exact replicas of all four armours – of Ned, Joe, Steve and Dan – stand side by side in a truly mind blowing visual and sensory experience.
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Well worth a visit, even if you’re not a Ned Kelly enthusiast, the exhibition of this historical figure is housed in an equally historical building. The Geelong Gaol opened its doors in April 1853 and continuously operated in one form or another for 138 years being the longest continually operated gaol in Victoria.
Since its closure in 1991, it has been used as the location of a number of films and television series. Between 1995 and 2019, it was run as a museum hosted by the Rotary Club of Geelong. The Geelong Gaol Museum started in June 2019. If you’re looking for something different to do, head on down to the Old Geelong Gaol and explore the history of Victorian crime. If you like investigating old haunted buildings, they do run tours.
Geelong Gaol Museum is open daily between 12pm – 5pm. Find out more here.