Travel Back In Time This Weekend With Grantlee Kieza’s Mrs Kelly

Travel Back In Time This Weekend With Grantlee Kieza’s Mrs Kelly

Reviewed by Jack Cameron Stanton

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Mrs Kelly: The astonishing life of Ned Kelly’s mother by Grantlee Kieza is a staggering accomplishment that can’t be missed by history buffs and story lovers alike. Recently, the right history books have enjoyed serious commercial success – the likes of Richard Fidler’s Ghost Empire, The Silk Road by Peter Frankopan, and even Sapiens by Yuhal Noah Harari spring to mind – and Grantlee’s latest is a welcome addition to the tribe.

Ellen Kelly comes to Australia from Ireland and almost immediately experiences the brunt of life’s cruelty, turning her to morally murky ways of keeping her family afloat (and out of prison) – although she quite often fails at the latter.

And Mrs Kelly’s misfortunes are indeed vast: she loses children to her violent criminal world, to sickness and injustice, and after her husband Red Kelly dies from drink and melancholy it’s up to her only son Ned (aged twelve) to become the man of the house. But it doesn’t last. At such a young age he soon joins the notorious bandit Harry Power to rob and pillage the bush tracks, drifting in and out of prison numerous times before his eighteenth birthday and engaging in bloody fistfights in the forgotten back rooms of dusky pubs, and all the while building his reputation – for all the wrong reasons. The rest, as they say, is history.

But Mrs Kelly is fatalistic about her son’s grievances. The world has offered her no sanctuary from its harshness: she sells contraband liquor to get by; has never made enough money to feed her starving family; and the criminality of her son seems, at best, a logical conclusion. Without any moralising or judgment, Grantlee guides us through the unforgiving Australian penal system, the vicious wrongdoing of Ned Kelly, and the terrible atmosphere of fear and violence that fostered such madness – and the best part is, I feel, how readable it all is.

Grantley Kieza

It’s hard, having finished reading the book, to imagine Ned Kelly as the rose-tinted Australian antihero that he often appears to be in our minds, or bush poetry, or beer cans, especially after witnessing the extent of murder and carnage the good old bushranger was responsible for, which included petty bush heists, reckless police assassination, and armed bank robbery.

It’s during these moments of tension when it doesn’t matter whether you’re reading fact or fiction; it’s nail-biting all the same. The story has great energy and focus, never straying too far from the Kelly family but giving enough scope to understand the world they inhabit.

But it takes a special kind of writer to breathe life into history, and Grantlee Kieza has once again demonstrated his prowess as an historian and storyteller. Ellen Kelly lived an extraordinary life, confirming that old adage about truth being stranger than fiction, and Grantlee’s witty, economic writing captures every moment without the foggy uhms and ahhs often found in history books.

And if you’re anything like me then this is the kind of history you’ll love. For the longest time I couldn’t read history books simply because I lacked the patience and pedantry to absorb fact after fact, detail after detail. But thankfully Grantlee has done the hard yards for us and written precisely what we all desire: a story complete with a flair for drama, suspense, and twists.

This book is emotional, perceptive, and exhilarating all at once – using the Kelly family’s descent to criminality through the oppressive forces of colonial Australia’s injustices, heavy-handed police forces, and, of course, the outlaw escapades of her renegade son, Ned, to quite cleverly trace Australia’s origins and evolution toward modern society.

Within these pages is a portrait of a stoic, courageous, extraordinary woman who championed a world of misery by tackling it head on, totally unafraid. I’m seriously impressed by Grantlee’s storytelling power and guarantee you will be, too.

Click here to purchase a copy today, start reading the opening pages, or read our Q&A with Grantlee Kieza!

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                  Publisher details

                  Mrs Kelly
                  Author
                  Grantlee Kieza
                  Genres
                  Australian History, Biography and Memoir
                  Released
                  20 February, 2017

                  Synopsis

                  While we know much about the iconic outlaw Ned Kelly, his mother Ellen Kelly has been largely overlooked by Australian writers and historians - until now, with this vivid and compelling portrait by Grantlee Kieza, one of Australia's most popular biographers.When Ned Kelly's mother, Ellen, arrived in Melbourne in 1841 aged nine, British convict ships were still dumping their unhappy cargo in what was then known as the colony of New South Wales. By the time she died aged ninety-one in 1923, having outlived seven of her twelve children, motor cars plied the highway near her bush home north of Melbourne, and Australia was a modern, sovereign nation.Like so many pioneering women, Ellen, the wife of a convict, led a life of great hardship. Born in Ireland during a time of entrenched poverty and sectarian violence, she was a mother of seven when her husband died after months in a police lock-up. She lived through famine and drought, watched her babies die, listened through the prison wall while her eldest son was hanged and saw the charred remains of another of her children who'd died in a shoot-out with police.One son became Australia's most infamous (and ultimately most celebrated) outlaw; another became a highly decorated policeman, an honorary member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and a worldwide star on the rodeo circuit. Through it all, 'the notorious Mrs Kelly', as she was dubbed by Victoria's Assistant Police Commissioner, survived as best she could, like so many pioneering women of the time.By bestselling biographer Grantlee Kieza, Mrs Kelly is the astonishing story of one of Australia's most notorious women and her wild family, but it's also the story of the making of Australia, from struggling colony and backwater to modern nation.About the AuthorAward-winning journalist Grantlee Kieza has held senior editorial positions at The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph and The Courier-Mail. He is a Walkley Award finalist and the author of twelve acclaimed books, including the recent bestsellers Bert Hinkler: The Most Daring Man in the World, Sons of the Southern Cross and Monash. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BOEfH3pLItM
                  Grantlee Kieza
                  About the author

                  Grantlee Kieza

                  Grantlee Kieza is a prizewinning writer for The Courier-Mail and Sunday Mail newspapers in Brisbane. He has previously written for  Sydney's Daily Telegraph, Sunday Telegraph, The Australian and The Sun-Herald, covering assignments as diverse as adventure races in the Adirondack Mountains of New York, anti-apartheid activism in Soweto and boxing matches everywhere from Melbourne, Mexico, Manchester and Manhattan ' and many other places that don't start with M. He was a finalist in the 2011 Walkley Awards for Excellence in Journalism.

                  Books by Grantlee Kieza

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