LAWLESS – The Real Bushrangers: Ned Kelly

LAWLESS – The Real Bushrangers

Ned Kelly

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1 hour

Tuesday 24 October at 8.30pm AEDT

LAWLESS – The Real Bushrangers can be linked directly to the following subject areas of the Australian National Curriculum:

  • Year 9 History, Year 9 and 10 Science
  • Relevant Content Descriptions for Year 9 History
  • Relevant Content Descriptions for Year 9 & 10 Science

LAWLESS – The Real Bushrangers blends science and history to deliver powerful documentaries that will have an impact and an enduring legacy. This series will change how Australians see their folk heroes, and themselves.

At the core of this series is a bold vision to investigate Australian colonial crimes and mysteries using modern day science and technology. Hosted by respected journalist Mike Munro (himself a descendant of bushrangers) we fol- low investigations into the past and deliver the findings in the present to living descendants of both bushrangers and those who fought against them.

The brutal gun fight between Ned Kelly’s gang and Victorian policeman on the banks of Stringybark Creek is the pivotal event in the Ned Kelly story, transforming Kelly from a petty thief to wanted outlaw and eventually a national icon. But were the killings an act of self-defence as Kelly later claimed? Folklore holds Ned Kelly to be a hero, endlessly mythologised. But what if he was a clear- eyed killer?

Our team embarks on the first ever archaeological and scientific investigation of the events at Stringybark Creek to answer the questions. Using the latest cutting edge survey technology (LiDAR 3D Laser Scanning), traditional archaeology and forensic ballistics testing together with new historical evidence, the team put conflicting claims to the test. Finally, we bring descendants from both sides of the story together for the first time to hear the team reveal their findings. Controversial and highly provocative, this investigation challenges the legend that has shaped our national identity and aims to change how Australians see their most famous folk icon: the hero of the underdog.



Prior to viewing this episode, students should brainstorm their existing knowledge, ideas and questions about Ned Kelly. Consider the following:

• Do you view Ned Kelly as a hero? Why/why not?
• What are the conventional accepted stories and images associated with him?
• What is his legacy today?
• Why do you think he is so important to so many Australians?
• What do you expect to learn about him from this episode?


ACTIVITY – The Scientific Method – Identifying and Answering Questions


What’s something you would like to know about Ned Kelly? Write a question and consider how you would go about answering this question.

“Who’s the real bushranger that many Australians hold up as a national hero?” asks Mike Munro in the introduction to the first episode of LAWLESS, “Ned Kelly.” This provides a clear aim for the investigation, but is it sufficiently specific to frame a scientific investigation?


  • Is the above quote from Munro a ‘scientific question’? Why or why not?
  • What kind of questions are suited to scientific inquiry? Identify examples of questions that are – and are not – framed in such a way to accommodate a scientific investigation.
  • What distinguishes a scientific investigation from an ordinary investigation?
  • Later in the episode, [00:07:52] the team clarifies the question as “So what really happened? Did Kelly shoot in self-defence, or was it cold-blooded murder?”
  • Is this a clearer question than Munro’s aforementioned question? Does this make it ‘more scientific’?

Evidence and Analysis – Download & Print PDF – STUDY GUIDE



Throughout the episode, the experts are careful with how they frame their conclusions based on new evidence. Examining historical evidence [00:19:23], historian Dr Kiera Lindsey says “There was no conclusive evidence to verify that there had been a shooting, but there was an injury.” After considering a test with a pig carcass shot with a replica of Kelly’s gun: “I don’t think we can discount the fact that you can get multiple holes from one shot.”


  • Why do the experts use language like this? How could you incorporate this approach into a class scientific report? Discuss as a class.
  • Does the LAWLESS team come to a clear conclusion at the end of the episode? Why, or why not? How is this supported by their evidence.
  • Are there any limitations associated with the LAWLESS team’s investigation and conclusion?
  • Suggest further scientific inquiry that could be conducted to answer Mike Munro’s original question: “Who’s the real bushranger that many Australians hold up as a national hero?”



• As a class, discuss whether this episode challenged any of the pre-existing ideas students had about Ned Kelly.

Using information from this episode, as well as your own research, students are to produce a hard copy or digital biography of Ned Kelly. Information to include:

  • Family background and early life
  • Death of his father and the impact of this on Ned and his family
  • Initial run-ins with the law
  • Actions as a bushranger
  • Ambush at Stringybark Creek
  • Trial, sentence and legacy

If creating a digital biography, students can use tools such as glogster ( or padlet (https://

Please note, when conducting research on Ned Kelly on the internet: students may discover many websites and resources that are ‘pro-Ned Kelly’. It is vital that students question the source, reliability and objectivity of these sites.



Based on your own research and the findings of the team in this episode:

    • Do you think Kelly’s actions show him as an heroic figure who was unfairly harassed by police and simply fighting in self-defence, or as a murderous outlaw?
    • Why do you think Ned Kelly still excites such controversy and interest in Australia today?
    • Can you understand the anger regarding the glorification of Kelly’s actions in relation to murdering three policemen?
    • How do you think this issue could be best dealt with in terms of the way that Kelly is portrayed in Australian his- tory and folklore?
    • Ned Kelly – hero or murderous villain?

Debate as a class.



Useful, interesting, challenging, materials can be found at the websites below.


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