19 October 2022

Discriminating Awareness

Everyone loves a good story. What follows is one of the best, that is then garnished with a particularly fine piece of political spin. But is comes too with a caveat that is worth pondering, so this week, enjoy a great story and what it has to offer, but first

Thought for the day

The teachings of the Buddha are skilful means; 

They are not absolute truth. 

The Buddha said,

“My teachings are a finger pointing to the moon. 

Do not get caught in thinking that the finger is the moon. 

It is because of the finger that you can see the moon.”

JUDY Rudd, is an amateur genealogy researcher in southern Queensland and has been doing some personal work on her own family tree. She discovered that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's great-great uncle, Remus Rudd, was hanged for horse stealing and train robbery in Melbourne in 1889.

The only known photograph of Remus shows him standing on the gallows at the Melbourne Gaol.

On the back of the picture Judy obtained during her research is an inscription: 

Remus Rudd, horse thief, sent to Melbourne Gaol 1885, escaped 1887, robbed the Melbourne-Geelong train six times. 

Caught by Victoria Police Force, convicted and hanged in 1889.

So Judy emailed Prime Minister Rudd for information about their great-great uncle.

Believe it or not, Kevin Rudd's staff sent back the following biographical sketch for her genealogy research:

Remus Rudd was famous in Victoria during the mid to late 1800s. 

His business empire grew to include acquisition of valuable equestrian assets and intimate dealings with the Melbourne-Geelong Railroad.

Beginning in 1883, he devoted several years of his life to government service, finally taking leave to resume his dealings with the railroad.

In 1887, he was a key player in a vital investigation run by the Victoria Police Force. 

In 1889, Remus passed away during an important civic function held in his honour, when the platform upon which he was standing collapsed.

Sounds believable; almost appealing...

But then, there is truth, there is political spin, and there is fake news.

Sad to say, this story comes under the heading of fake news. Much as we might like to think dear Mr Rudd would spin a story about an errant ancestor, it just ain’t true.

Although the man in the picture was indeed a train robber, his name was not Remus, nor was he Australian. Thomas “Black Jack” Ketchum was a train robber in America, hanged in 1901 in Clayton, in the US state of New Mexico. 

The photo became famous partly because, according to a Colorado Encyclopedia entry none of his executioners were experienced at hangings, which led to Ketchum’s decapitation when his body fell through the gallows.

While Ketchum did have siblings it is unlikely he is related to any of the politicians that this long-running internet hoax has linked to the photo of his hanging.

So a great story. Not a true story, but a great story; and all the better as it can provoke us to reflect upon how readily we might take a story to be true, to be spun or to be false. 

Separating fact from fiction... Discriminating awareness.


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