Spotlight: “Bushranger Country”

While looking for information for my opinion piece on Dan Morgan’s grave, I discovered this gem of an article from The Canberra Times:

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How fantastic does that cast sound? Can you imagine it?

John Hargreaves as Frank Gardiner

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Jon English as Dan Morgan

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Mark Lee as Johnny Gilbert

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The mini-series by Robert Macklin, arts editor for The Canberra Times, was set to be a corker, with big names potentially attached in front of the camera and behind the scenes. Inspired by a trip to Binalong where he discovered the fascinating character of Johnny Gilbert, Macklin set out to explore the stories of other bushrangers in the Canberra region and discovered that the majority of bushrangers crossed through what is the Australian Capital Territory now as a matter of course. In “Traveling along with life’s little stop signs” published in The Canberra Times, 10 December 1989, Robert Macklin discusses one of the hurdles his mini-series faced when a potential American investor spoke to him about the US angle – “Young Guns Down Under” – needless to say that investor was not brought on board. In a later article “The life and crimes of Robert Macklin” in The Canberra Times, 14 January 1990, we find out that Bryan Brown had agreed to play Frank Gardiner in Bushranger Country. In “Our extraordinary bushrangers on parade” in The Canberra Times, 10 January 1993, Macklin goes into a bit more detail on the project stating that each episode was written by a different author (each paid the princely sum of $5000). Blanche d’Alpuget wrote the Ben Hall episode, with Peter Corris writing for Frank Gardiner, Jean Bedford for Captain Moonlite, Ian Moffitt for Johnny Gilbert, Gabrielle Lord for Dan Morgan, and Nicholas Hasluck for the Clarke brothers. In “ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT ‘Carmina Burana’ comes at a price” in The Canberra Times, 4 February 1995, Macklin reveals that Blanche d’Alpuget had an opinion of Hall that was nothing but complimentary. Unfortunately it seems that a number of factors scuppered Macklin’s magnum opus including corporate restructuring, investors having to pull out at the last minute and the bane of bushranger historians everywhere – the self-empowered and self-proclaimed moral absolutists and arbiters of good taste of our society – the Bunyip Aristocracy. Yes, it seems the enthusiasm for tales from the colonial era of Australian history bolstered by bicentennial fever in the late 1980s was dealt a decisive blow to the kneecaps by 1995 by a revisionist attitude that frowned upon the suggestion that larrikins and rogues could be considered worthy subjects for an enlightened and refined society. Thus Macklin’s project was shelved and the world was denied a potentially well-crafted, researched and enlightening document that would preserve many of the greatest bushranger stories on film for the first time in almost a century (or in the case of the Clarkes – ever).

All this gets me wondering who else they might have gotten on board. Could you imagine Ben Hall played by Brett Climo, Captain Moonlite played by Andrew McFarlane or perhaps the Clarke brothers played by John Orcsik and Steven Tandy? (Being someone who grew up mainly in the 90s I admittedly had to Google a lot of those chaps to see how they looked back in the 70s and 80)s.

With LAWLESS: The Real Bushrangers due out on Foxtel later this month, Justin Kurzel’s adaptation of True History of the Kelly Gang prepping after a ridiculously long gestation period, and director Matthew Holmes pitching for investors to help get his acclaimed script for The Legend of Frank Gardiner onto the screen, could we be seeing a new era of bushranging charging back into the public consciousness? Wouldn’t it be fantastic to see the outlaws of Australia’s past galloping on the silver screen again to packed audiences just like they did in the early 1900s? The Legend of Ben Hall has gathered a devoted Australian audience and been widely acclaimed overseas, oddly receiving, it seems, more support in America and Europe from critics, distributors and festivals than it did here. Surely this highlights an untapped market for Australian film-makers to get into with appropriate backing from the relevant funding bodies (Australia’s film industry is mostly funded by Screen Australia and its state and territory based counterparts rather than corporate money as in America).
We could, in the near future, be seeing more outlaws and the colourful forces of law and order that pursued them across screens big and small. Picture Dan Stevens as Captain Moonlite blasting away at gallant troopers at Wantabadgery Station; thick, oily smoke from a bonfire parting to reveal Jai Courtney as Patrick Kenniff; the villainous Morgan portrayed by Joel Edgerton; Luke Bracey as Frank Gardiner leading the explosive gold heist in the Eugowra Rocks; or perhaps Teresa Palmer rustling cattle as Jessie Hickman!

For your consideration, here is a trailer for LAWLESS and Matthew Holmes’ investors pitch:

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