Ellen: A Woman of Spirit, by Noelene Allen

EllenEllen Kelly’s main claim to fame is her relationship to Australia’s most well-known “Bushranger”. It would have been understandable if her biography had been overshadowed by the presence of her son Ned, but that isn’t the case. The familiar story of Ned’s criminal exploits leading up to the deadly Glenrowan seige, are dealt with very briefly.

Ellen was serving a three year sentence in Melbourne Gaol at the time of Ned’s crimes, with a conviction related to the (alleged) attempted murder of a policeman who had visted her home and paid inappropriate and unwelcome attention to her young daughter Kate. She seemed to know very little of Ned’s situation until he was captured and also imprisoned in Melbourne Gaol.

While Ned’s doomed conflict with the law doesn’t take centre stage, the social and legal conditions that influenced his path are portrayed very clearly. Perhaps by sidelining Ned, and taking the focus away from whether he was a hero or a villain, Allen shows how others (including the rest of the Kelly family) were affected by those conditions. Others who suffered out of the public eye without returning harm for harm, violence for violence.