book cover Ned Kelly's Jerilderie Letter
by Carole Wilkinson

Illustrated primary source | 64 pp | Years Years 24

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[Learning for life | Overview | Editor profile | Useful websites | Focus questions]

Learning for life

There can be many different perspectives of the same event, depending on the beliefs and values you hold, and the role you played.
Honesty can be influenced by perception and position.
There are many shades of grey between black and white.
People from the past can influence the present and the future.
Actions and activities are determined by the times we live in, and the beliefs and values we hold.
Asking quality questions to elicit information is as important as answering them.


More than 125 years after his death, Ned Kelly remains one of this country's most controversial characters. Despite having a record reward on his head and being executed for robbery and murder, the debate about whether he was a hero or a hoodlum continues, millions of words are written about his life, and tourists flock to that area of Victoria known as 'Kelly Country'.

During one of his notorious bank robberies - this time the Bank of New South Wales in Jerilderie - Kelly dictated a 56-page letter which was transcribed by gang member Joe Byrne, in which he explained his grievances, made demands and supplied a defence for his behaviour.

Although the original letter was a 'raving, rambling rant', in Ned Kelly's Jerilderie Letter, editor Carole Wilkinson has simplified the contents - putting the events into chronological order, deleting the repetition and ramblings, and tightening the grammar, spelling and punctuation.

There are now hundreds of books and websites about the deeds of Ned Kelly, but this book allows the reader access to Kelly's perspective and an insight into his thinking and feelings. It is an opportunity to hear the other side of the story and develop a more informed opinion of the motives and deeds of the Kelly Gang.

Editor profile

Carole Wilkinson was born in England, immigrated to Australia as a teenager and now lives in inner-city Melbourne. After trying a number of jobs, she ended up as a laboratory technician working mainly with blood and brains. Fifteen years later, she started writing and finds the process of researching her books fascinating, sometimes having to force herself to stop the research so that she can start writing. It is this attention to detail that gives her stories a realistic quality.

Carole has won several awards and published a number of books, and she has written scripts for both television and planetariums.

You can find out more about her at her website

Useful websites

Focus questions

Before you read

  • Who was Ned Kelly?
  • What was his place in Australian history?
  • Why might a letter he wrote be the subject of a book?
  • What might be the reason the pages in the front cover illustration have a section cut from them?
  • What is your current opinion of Ned Kelly?
  • Why do you hold these beliefs?
  • Do you think your opinion could be changed as a result of reading this book?
  • Why is Carole Wilkinson identified as the editor rather than the author?
  • How does this change the purpose and tone of the book?

As you read

  • What reasons does Kelly give for turning to 'wholesale and retail horse and cattle dealing'?
  • Why was he so opposed to, and angry about, the activities of squatters?
  • Why was stealing cattle or horses considered such a serious offence that it attracted a jail term?
  • Where is Jerilderie?
  • Why was the Kelly Gang there?
  • Why did Ned Kelly feel the need to write a letter to promote his point of view?
  • Why does Kelly write 'A policeman is a traitor to his county, ancestors and religion'?
  • Why does he have such a hatred of the police?
  • What are some of the phrases he uses that indicate this hatred?
  • How does the tone of the letter change from the beginning to the end?
  • Why might this be so?
  • Could Kelly's life have ended in any other way?
  • How do the photo-like illustrations contribute to your understanding of the life and times of Ned Kelly?
  • Of all the criminals in Australia's history, why has Ned Kelly become such a legend?
  • How does he continue to influence our lives almost 130 years after he was executed?

© Curriculum Corporation 2006