Melita Rowston’s 6 Degrees of Ned Kelly

Accompanied by grainy film footage, comedian Melita Rowston bursts onto the stage wearing the all-too-familiar metal helmet, waving two toy pistols. Her t-shirt reads ‘Such is life.’ Over the next sixty minutes, Rowston not only illustrates, but gently teases and, ultimately, illuminates the poignant and more-often-than-not bizarre world of Kelly-lore in this light-hearted look at the legend of Ned Kelly.

6 Degrees of Ned Kelly is a personal story, but it is also universal, as these kind of stories often are. Rowston’s mother’s great-great-great-grandmother ran a pub in Kelly country in the 1870s, and was apparently the only person Kelly was scared of her. In 1929, Rowston’s grandfather nicked Ned Kelly’s bones from Old Melbourne Gaol. Or so the stories go. What Rowston does here, is not so much try to verify or debunk these family stories, but rather try to explore how they came about – exactly why are Kelly stories so prolific, varied, and, well, strange?
Using nothing but a trusty slideshow presentation – gently proclaiming ‘Shit Tourism’ in the bottom-left corner – and her skills as a natural storyteller, Rowston takes us deep into her family’s history, and deep into the heart of Kelly country, where psychics and souvenir merchants compete with towering fiberglass statues, mechanized robots, and historical reenactments, whilst featuring some of Australia’s finest log-art (which really has to be seen to be believed). What is simultaneously alarming and heartening is the earnestness with which Kelly obsessives share their stories.

An irreverent enquiry into why Kelly still resonates so hypnotically with us today as much as our fascination with mythologizing outlaws and creating legends from underdogs, by the time Rowston finishes her comic-lecture you’ll probably be convinced that every family has their own Kelly story.

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