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August 2005 Issue
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Castles' legacy lives on through Ned Kelly book


In much the same way Ned Kelly became an Australian legend following his execution in 1880, the primary author of Ned Kelly's Last Days: Setting the record straight on the death of an outlaw left an indelible mark on our judicial system.

But the cruel twist of fate strikes at awkward times, and after many years of intensive research for this book, Professor Alex Castles died suddenly in December 2003.

Although his daughter Jennifer has done an outstanding job in bringing the book to publication (it was published last month by Allen & Unwin), the former Professor of Law at the University of Adelaide's Law School was denied the opportunity to finally clarify events surrounding Kelly.

Alex and Jennifer, who took over the manuscript on her father's death, have pieced together a vast jigsaw of obscure records and unpublished material. It sets the record straight on the highly questionable judicial processes of the time leading to Kelly's arrest and execution, and sheds new light on the life and death of the most famous bushranger of them all.

For more than 30 years, Professor Castles was a formidable figure at the University of Adelaide. He exemplified the art of communication and however youthful in thought or idea, his students - and anyone else - always had his ear.

"Among his passions was Kelly," said his other daughter Dr Margaret Castles, a Senior Lecturer at the University's Law School.

"He had a yen for a conspiracy or corruption, seeing it in many aspects of law and governance. No more so than in the difficult times when the relationship between UK and Australia law was being developed in our early colonial history.

"It is this unravelling of the law and the role of law makers that so fascinated him with the Kelly story, and led him to explore the legality of what happened to Kelly in the end result.

"One would imagine, by now, that I have heard the Kelly story many, many times, in fragments, here and there. It is slightly eerie to read it in print and again hear the stories of family, legal conspiracy, and history that Dad used to tell with such enthusiasm," she said.

She added that her late father had a passion for historical detail, and for the minutiae of the lives of the people involved in historical events.

"His research on Kelly involved endless searching through newspaper archives, meeting the descendants of people who had been involved in the Kelly history, on both sides of the coin, and developing a living picture of society at the time," she said.

Dr Kathleen McEvoy, also a Senior Lecturer at the Law School, said she was awestruck by this extraordinary man, who later became a close friend and mentor.

"Alex viewed the Kelly story differently to others. To him, it had a deeper meaning than just a legend, and nothing pleased him more than talking about it," she said.

But more importantly, Dr McEvoy said, Professor Castles has left a great legacy in his scholarly work, especially in legal history and constitutional law.

"The most important is the sense in which he brought our law home to us. He showed us that our legal system and the content of our law is Australian, and that we Australians have made it so, from the very earliest applications of European law in this country," she said.

"He was able to show us - and wanted to show us, every time - that our law was our own, and we have made it that way, not just a transplanted European system operating in the Antipodes. Alex's scholarly work was revolutionary in the way it then enabled other legal scholars and lawyers to look at our law."

And as Dr McEvoy read and re-read sections of the book, she was constantly reminded of Alex's strong and brave values and instincts, which he lived by and shared with all.

Story by Howard Salkow

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<i>Ned Kelly’s Last Days: Setting the record straight on the death of an outlaw</i>

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