Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Friday, March 26, 2010

Icons, history and thunderbolt

Hat tip to Canadian historian Christopher Moore for this one. Toffs and toughs

Every so often a story, photo or image becomes so much of an icon that the story of the story becomes the story.

This classic photo is a case in point because it has come to illustrate the English class system independent of the original story. In a fascinating piece, FIVE BOYS: THE STORY OF A PICTURE, Ian Jack explores the history of the picture.

I have two reasons for mentioning this story.

The first is that in my Armidale paper I spoke in part about the highly structured class system that emerged on the Northern Tablelands. I want to do some straight personal writing on this, exploring the complexities including the way it affected names and naming.

The second reason is the way that the bushranger Captain Thunderbolt has now entered the iconic class. Some might argue that he always was, but in fact (and this has always puzzled me) Fred Ward has been a poor cousin to the more famous Ned Kelly. Now this is changing.

Following a new book on Thunderbolt, the NSW Legislative Council has passed a motion requesting the NSW Government to release all documents relating to his capture, autopsy and inquest.

According to National's member Rick Colless:

“Greg Hamilton and his co-author, Thunderbolt descendent Barry Sinclair from Uralla, have tried repeatedly to gather this information from the police and were exacerbated by the Police Minister Michael Daley.

“The passing of this motion by the Legislative Council will bypass the Police Minister and guarantee the reConstable Walker shoots Thunderboltlease of any documents still in existence.”

The aim is to try to establish whether or not it was Thunderbolt who was in fact shot. The painting by Samuel Calvert (La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria) represents the event.

When you think about this, all this is quite remarkable. After all, Thunderbolt was meant to have been killed in  Kentucky Creek on 25 May 1870. That's a long time ago.

I have yet to read the latest book. Still, at one level I don't think that it matters. After a certain point, a story just runs and runs, with each repetition adding its own new gloss. The story is now the story in its own right.       

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