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Stone the crows: Ned Kelly may have spoken Strine after all

George MacKay – a Brit (with an Australian father), who stars in the film, True History of the Kelly Gang – portrays Ned with a mainstream Australian accent.

It won’t please Keith Warren, an education officer in the Beechworth historic precinct who helps re-enact scenes from Kelly’s life every day.

British actor George MacKay as Ned Kelly.

British actor George MacKay as Ned Kelly. Credit:Stan

He reckons Ned had ‘‘a very strong Irish accent’’ and that to give him an Aussie accent would be ‘‘historically ridiculous’’.

‘‘His dad was from Tipperary and his mum was from County Antrim. They wouldn’t have got rid of the Irish in the family. He was very Irish. The Irish brogue they used to call it. Apples don’t fall far from the tree.’’

But Dr Bruce Moore, visiting fellow at the Australian National University school of literature, languages and linguistics, says Kelly probably had an Australian accent.

Dr Moore, author of Speaking Our Language: The Story of Australian English, doubts there was enough of an ethnic enclave where Kelly grew up and went to public school in the 1860s for Kelly to have maintained his parents’ accents.

Ned Kelly's childhood home in Beveridge.

Ned Kelly’s childhood home in Beveridge.Credit:Paul Harris

The pull to fit in with schoolfriends would have been too strong, he said.

‘‘It’s much more likely he spoke in the kind of accent his peer group was speaking. Which would have been the Australian accent. Which had been established in the colonies, I’ve argued, by about 1830.’’

Matt Shore, Kelly enthusiast and founder of the Ned Kelly Vault museum in Beechworth, said many actors playing Kelly, including Heath Ledger in 2003 and even Mick Jagger in 1970, favoured an Irish-accented Ned.

Mr Shore, however, believes the real Kelly had an Australian accent, but perhaps with Irish tinges.

‘‘I can’t see how a young boy being raised in a very large Irish family wouldn’t have picked up some of the Irish lilt.

‘‘But I just don’t think he would have had the thick Irish accent that’s portrayed in some films.’’

Mr Shore says ‘‘almost every aspect’’ of Kelly’s life is ‘‘rehashed or re-examined’’ and it won’t stop now.

The new film, regardless of what people think of it ‘‘will create an enormous amount of interest in the Kelly story, worldwide, as did the Peter Carey book that it’s based on [the novel True History of the Kelly Gang].’’

True History of the Kelly Gang is screening in limited cinemas from January 9.
It’s available on Stan (owned by Nine, publisher of The Age) from January 26.

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