Hard to resist a snap of history

Ella Phillips.
Ella Phillips.

AS the bushranger’s wooden coffin sat in a silver hearse, an early crowd gathered in front of St Patrick’s Catholic Church on a piercingly hot January day.

Family members in their funeral clothes were there, along with curious onlookers with their iPhones and those who turned out because they felt a connection to Ned Kelly without understanding why.

The crowd was quiet, all but for the occasional hushed conversation.

Then people started to walk up to the hearse and with a click took a photo of the Kelly coffin, their modern postcard of a strange and historic day in an old Australian story.

Children were placed in front of the hearse for a portrait. Even some of Kelly’s relatives were ushered together to take their own family photographs.

It was no ordinary service.

After the Mass, Ned Kelly’s great-great-great niece Ella Phillips gathered with the rest of her smartly dressed family under the shade of a tree.

The 10-year-old delivered the second reading at the Requiem Mass in a sparkling silver dress chosen especially for the occasion.

Afterwards she was asked what the day meant to her.

“It’s special because Ned Kelly is finally laid to rest. He hasn’t had a funeral for a long time and he deserves it,” she said.

“He wasn’t always all bad, he’s done some good things. In a book that we read from the library he saved someone that was drowning.”

The Melbourne schoolgirl has picked up most of what she knows of her infamous great-great-great uncle from books, oblivious to any pain her elder relatives might have felt through the connection.

“When I found out I was related to Ned Kelly I was like ‘What you must be kidding’?” she said. “That’s good I guess.”

Some of the Kelly clan previously made it clear they wished just for a simple “family funeral”.

But of course, in the end, there was no way to separate “Edward” the man from “Ned Kelly”, someone loved and loathed in life and death.

To a group of leathered bikies who parked their Harley Davidsons on the footpath outside St Patrick’s, Ned Kelly represented rebellion against authority.

Seymour’s Dave Anderson has a tattoo of Kelly on his leg.

Buttoning up his black leather vest he declared “I think instead of hanging him they should have made him PM”.

As the last of the crowd started to disperse, Wangaratta’s Alana Clarke and Greta-raised Adrian O’Brien stood together at the gates of the church, two strangers united by a moment.

Ms Clarke wiped a few tears. She knew he shot people, but it was a different, harder world back then, she said.

Brendan Cooke represents the younger generation of Kelly relatives and yesterday Ned’s great-great-grandnephew fronted the media repeating a plea that his grave not become a shrine.

But again, there might be little the family can do to stop it.

“It’s going to happen, but it’ll be respectful I’m sure,” Alana Clarke said.

She would like to lay a flower, or perhaps a spur, on Kelly’s grave.