Saint or sinner, Ned Kelly laid to rest
One of the many folk songs that sprang up in the wake of the Kelly outbreak has a verse that goes:
Thirty policemen did outdo you,
In a hotel owned by Jones,
Then they captured and hanged you,
Nothing left you but the bones.
On Friday, at St Patrick's Catholic Church in Wangaratta, those bones - or, as they were described by Monsignor John White, the mortal remains of Ned Kelly - were given a Requiem Mass prior to his burial on Sunday in Greta cemetery.
As a convicted murderer, Kelly was denied a burial in consecrated ground after his execution in November 1880. His headless body was dumped in a pit and covered with lime to corrode the flesh.
Through his various siblings, Ned Kelly is believed to have about 450 descendants today. They took up the body of the old church and entry into that part of the church was rigorously monitored.
There was no eulogy in the service but the family members who read from the scriptures wore the green sash Kelly was awarded in his youth for saving a boy from drowning and which he wore again, beneath his armour, at the siege of Glenrowan.
Delivering the homily, Monsignor White said that ''of all Australians, Ned is no doubt the most famous although some would say infamous and therein lies a great divide. That divide is still simmering.'' The Monsignor said he had received a number of offensive communications from people objecting to Kelly receiving a ''public liturgy'' but said the focus of the service was not on the deceased but on a merciful God.
''We don't make the judgments. We don't know what goes on in people's hearts and souls and minds. God does that. Today we want to bring closure to what was denied his family and what was denied his mother, Ellen. Ours is a church of saints and sinners and we are not here to decide which side Ned falls on.''
The service ended with ''In The Sweet By and By'', the song Kelly is said to have sung in his cell the night before he was hanged. Once outside, the mood became a lot less restrained. People stepped forward to touch the coffin which lay beneath a wreath of Australian flowers and the ubiquitous green sash.