Essay on Module C - History and Memory speech on History of the Kelly Gang and 2 related artworks

Submitted By hannahpinkerton
Words: 1563
Pages: 7

‘In this elective, a significant aspect of texts is their ability to challenge the reliability of representation.’

The truth; as we individually know it, is a site of contestation. It’s relationship between factual history and our collective memory has been challenged by texts ability to present different truths. All these texts are a form of historiography. They recognize that the construction of history is created with a purpose.

Good morning students and teachers, in this speech I will be focusing on postcolonial texts and their representation of individuals in history, and how these differing representations alter their reliability in our collective memory. Using the texts of ‘True History of the Kelly Gang’ by Peter Carey and the related artwork ‘Death of Constable Scanlon’ 1946 by Sidney Nolan, and William Kentridge’s animation artwork ‘Felix in Exile’ also from 1946. These three texts challenge the reliability of history and memory through their exploration of the effects of post-colonial regimes within justice for the individual. It is important to remember that these texts are made to appear as the truth, but in reality they are just one truth.

Firstly, within the text ‘True History of the Kelly Gang’, Irish author Peter Carey has constructed this post-modern text that contains factual sources and parcel descriptions, giving the text verisimilitude that seems like a claiming of truth. It presents this text as reliable, and if I wasn’t analysing it, I would probably have believed it myself. However, it is ultimately a fictional construction, which gives us another level on which we reshape our collective memory. To add to this technique of ‘verisimilitude’, Carey had carefully constructed his writing in mimic of Kelly’s Jerilderie letter, the letter he wrote to justify his crimes and argue police corruption for the protection of Australians against the British colonisation. The lack of punctuation and blending of cause and effect in Carey’s narration was deliberately similar to the style of Kelly’s Jerilderie letter as it was the inspiration for the style of writing. This verisimilitude is reinstated through his reinvention of Kelly’s representation as a paternal figure, directing these parcels to his fictional daughter, claiming in Parcel 1 that, “This history is for you and will contain no single lie.” This is Carey’s way of presenting his subjective history that will eventually present Kelly as a victim, evoking pathos and relieving Kelly of responsibility for his infamous criminal activity.

From Australian history in particular, Kelly has been perceived as a ‘folk-hero’. Carey’s ability to alter this representation in ‘True History of the Kelly Gang’ is through giving this fictional story of Kelly a sense of victimization as an antiauthoritarian Irish martyr against the British. Carey instructs in Parcel 1 that we can “Finally comprehends the injustice we poor Irish suffered in this present age.” Therefore, through this relation to the Irish history to show Kelly’s martyrdom, the first person narrator and emotive language challenges the audience’s cultural memory and glorifies the oppression of colonisation. So in this post-colonial era, the effect this representation had on this individual in history has effectively challenged our collective memory towards history.

In comparison to Carey, writing from the Irish perspective of Kelly, Australian artist Sidney Nolan painted a series ‘The Ned Kelly Series’ featuring multiple scenes involving the infamous Ned Kelly identity, about the mythological stories behind the Australian “collective memory” attached to him. I was drawn to the particular painting ‘Death of Constable Scanlon’ within the collection, painted in postwar Australia 1946. Nolan’s artistic practice takes us through the story of Ned Kelly, weaving biography and autobiography together through the use of flat enamel paint surfaces that create a shallow perspective in the painting,