(MENAFN - AFP) Hundreds of descendents and fans of Ned Kelly bade farewell to the infamous Australian bushranger at a requiem mass on Friday, some 132 years after he was executed for killing three policemen, reports said.
Kelly's memory still divides the nation, with some believing he was a cold-blooded killer, while others see him as a folk hero and symbol of Irish-Australian defiance against British colonial authorities.
"Of all Australians, Ned is without doubt one of the most famous, some would say infamous, and therein lies the great divide in society," said Monsignor John White, who led the service at St Patrick's church in Wangaratta in Victoria state.
"That divide still is simmering today," he told hundreds of descendents and supporters who gathered to remember the armour-wearing outlaw, according to The Australian newspaper.
Kelly, who was hanged at Old Melbourne Gaol in 1880, was expected to be buried beside his mother Ellen in a private burial at the town of Greta on Sunday. His remains were thrown into a mass grave after the execution.
In late 2011 bones exhumed from Melbourne's Pentridge Prison were proven by DNA testing to be Kelly's and the government of southern Victoria state ordered their return to the family. His skull remains missing.
Many believe despite his crimes, Kelly was owed a dignified service.
Peter Norden, a former chaplain at Pentridge, said 60,000 signatures were collected to protest Kelly's execution at a time when Melbourne had fewer than 300,000 residents, with many thinking he did not receive a decent trial.
"There were serious grounds to argue that he shot in self-defence at the time, because there was a clear conspiracy by Victorian police... not to arrest him but to execute him," he wrote in a piece published by ABC.
"Commemorating Ned's death and giving a respectful and decent burial to his mortal remains reminds us also of the terrible denial of the value of human life that capital punishment represents in our world," Norden said.
The Kelly family has said the outlaw will be buried at a small cemetery at the town of Greta near Glenrowan, the scene of his final gun battle with police at which he wore his home-made plate metal armour suit and helmet.
Kelly's three accomplices, including younger brother Dan, were killed in the Glenrowan showdown which ended a 18-month campaign that saw the so-called Kelly Gang become folk heroes for stealing from banks in country towns.