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Kelly judged a hero - Ben Hall still bad

11 APRIL 2004

A survey conducted by the National Museum of Australia during its current exhibition, Outlawed!, reveals that the popularity of bushranger Ned Kelly is invincible, with 60 per cent of visitors judging the controversial icon a hero.

After considering witness testimonies and cases for the defence and prosecution, just a third of museum goers labelled Kelly a villain, while about 10 per cent were undecided.

Visitors have just a fortnight to determine the fate of Kelly and five other national outlaw legends, before Outlawed! closes in Canberra and moves to the Melbourne Museum.

From the 18,000 votes already lodged, India's modern Bandit Queen, Phoolan Devi, is clearly the other most popular outlaw. Gunslinger Jesse James fares the worst, with 48 per cent judging him a villain.

'Outlawed! throws up a lot of questions about how social outsiders change from being law breakers to legends,' says curator Jo Duke. 'Australia still has a determined patriotism for the Kelly story, which has been told sympathetically through film and fiction in recent years. Despite the exhibition challenging some of the myths, they still live on!'

Voters are divided on bushranger Ben Hall, with 43 per cent saying he's a hero, 41 per cent judging him a villain and 16 per cent undecided. His story was last given a popular telling in a television series 30 years ago.

Outlawed! looks at the changing portrayal of the world's rebels, revolutionaries and bushrangers through popular culture in folklore, film, song and literature.

Exhibition consultant, outlaw authority and folk musician Graham Seal is hosting today a concert of bushranging balladeers at the National Folk Festival in Canberra.

'Outlaws continue to inspire folk songs and ballads around the world,' says Professor Seal. ' Usually they are portrayed as enemies of the rich and powerful and the friends of the poor. Australian bushrangers Jack Donohoe, Ben Hall and Ned Kelly defy the law, protest injustice and always die game in the many ballads about their exploits.'

Australians are invited to vote in the Hero or Villain component of the Outlawed! exhibition.

Outlawed! presented by Lockwood, is on show at the National Museum in Canberra until 26 April 2004 and Melbourne Museum from 10 June to 10 October 2004.

Entry is $8 adults, $6 concession, $5 children, $16 families.

For interviews, images or more information please contact Public Affairs Director Martin Portus on 02 6208 5351, 0409 916 481 or m.portus@nma.gov.au