Ned Kelly rides again in pounds 42m battle

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The Independent Online
Ned Kelly would probably be amused. The infamous 19th- century Australian bushranger, or outlaw, has reached from beyond his grave to spark a court battle in which descendants of six Aboriginal trackers are claiming pounds 42m over their ante-cedents' roles in Kelly's capture.

The money represents accumulated interest and damages over the sum of pounds 50 to which the trackers were entitled from the pounds 8,000 reward for Kelly's capture in 1880, but which their relatives claim they never received.

"This is about justice and reconciliation," said John Lee Jones, 64, a distant relation of the trackers, who has launched a writ against the state governments of Victoria and Queensland in the Queensland Supreme Court. Mr Jones comes from Fraser Island, off the Queensland coast, where Victoria's authorities recruited Aboriginal trackers to help them hunt down Kelly and his gang as they shot, looted and robbed their way across the state in the late 1870s.

Victoria's own Aboriginaltrackers, it seems, were too sympathetic to the Kelly gang, and led the police in circles.

The court case has assumed something of the spirit of Ned Kelly, who remains an Australian folk hero over his resourcefulness and refusal to be bowed by authority.

Covered from head to toe in 100lb of armour, Kelly made his last stand at Glenrowan, Victoria, in June 1880, and was hanged in Melbourne five months later.

"Give me a short life and a happy one," he is reputed to have said on the gallows. His life inspired Australia's first feature film, The Story of the Kelly Gang, in 1906, and an ill-fated version starring Mick Jagger as Ned in 1970.

Mr Jones has filed the claim on behalf of the descendants of Jack Noble and Gary Owens, two of the original trackers who, the families say, died in poverty after never being paid the promised pounds 50 for their part in Kelly's capture. One relative, May McBride, 80, remembers her mother complaining constantly about the money.

Mr Jones says he has documentary evidence to prove that the money was not paid. If his claim succeeds, the money will be paid into a trust for education, housing and health care for the trackers' descendants. Did he think pounds 42m was excessive? "No. The government still has a duty of trust to living Aborigines. And our economy is based on the discharge of debt."