With multiple film productions about Ned Kelly underway, it’s clear that bushrangers are becoming a popular topic once more. However, there are many bushrangers who deserve their own films as well and here are some of the great stories waiting to be brought to life. Some have been brought to the screen before in silent films that have since vanished, some were slated to be filmed but the projects never got off the ground and some just had bad outings in the past.
10. William Westwood: Few stories in bushranging are equal parts adventurous and tragic. William Westwood fills this to a tee. Westwood arrived in Australia as a teenage convict and soon became a highwayman, many oral traditions painted him as a gallant bandit who was courteous to women and more prone to larking about than committing robberies, his horsemanship considered second to none. However, the brutality of the penal system saw him lead a riot on Norfolk Island during which he murdered three men in cold blood. A film exploring just what causes a man not known to be violent to snap and commit a triple homicide would be gripping viewing and a tale that to date has never graced the screen.
Potential Casting: Tom Hughes (Victoria)
9. Teddy the Jewboy: Edward Davis aka Teddy the Jewboy was Australia’s only known Jewish bushranger. Starting out as a street kid in London, he was transported for a failed shoplifting and absconded from Hyde Park Barracks to become a bushranger. Thanks to his father’s connections he soon joined a gang of bushrangers and rapidly climbed the ranks to become their leader. This diminutive, heavily tattooed Jew with a penchant for pink ribbons began a campaign to punish the cruel superintendents who brutalised the convicts assigned to them – but never on a Saturday, according to the legends, as that was the Sabbath. No doubt a colourful character such as this would make for exciting viewing as well as highlight the cultural diversity present in Australia in the 1800s, even if it is within the criminal fraternity.
Potential Casting: Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter)
8. Dan Morgan: Morgan has been brought to life on screen twice already, the first time in a silent film that has since disappeared and the second in 1975’s Mad Dog Morgan starring Dennis Hopper. Why, then, does Morgan deserve his own film when so many bushrangers haven’t had even one film? In short the true story of Morgan is yet to be shown on screen. Mad Dog Morgan took frequent and somewhat bizarre liberties with the facts despite using Margaret Carnegie’s Morgan the Bold Bushranger as a source. Examples of the weird liberties taken in the ’75 film include: Dennis Hopper’s Irish accent; making John Wendlan and Sergeant Smyth recurring villains; turning Success from a prison hulk into a fortress prison; the inclusion of Billy, an Aboriginal bushranger; removing Morgan’s moustache to make him look more like Abraham Lincoln and references to the Tasmanian Tiger as an “extinct animal” despite the last Tasmanian Tiger dying in captivity in 71 years later. The true story of Morgan would make for an incredible Gothic Western or psychological drama with the gaps in the history making room for some artistic license to explain what made Morgan the man he was.
Potential Casting: Sam Parsonson (Gallipoli, Coffin Rock)
7. Jessie Hickman: Elizabeth McIntyre aka Jessie Hickman was commonly known as the “Lady Bushranger” in the Blue Mountains district. A former circus trick rider and champion rough rider, Hickman found herself in a life of crime, stealing cattle from the neighbouring farmers and hiding out with her gang of young men in her headquarters in the Nullo Mountain. Hickman was an amazing rider and master of disguise, she was a wild child who would rather give up her family than leave the bush. Hickman’s story is the subject of an in-development film entitled Lady Bushranger, so here’s hoping that production grows some legs so it can get up and running.
Potential Casting: Teresa Palmer (Hacksaw Ridge)
6. Matthew Brady: He may not be a household name now but at one time Matthew Brady was the bushranger’s bushranger. Transported to Van Diemans Land in the early days of the colony, he and nine other convicts stole a boat and rowed from Sarah Island to Hobart where they took to the bush and set the bar for all bushrangers that came after. They robbed travellers and farms but Brady also enjoyed grander gestures such as breaking into the prison at Sorell and releasing the inmates then locking up the redcoats who had been hunting him. His chivalry towards women was famous and in his condemned cell he received letters and gifts from dozens of female admirers. Brady’s life was full of adventure and drama – perfect for a big screen experience.
Potential Casting: Thomas Cocquerel (In Like Flynn, Red Dog: True Blue)
5. Martin Cash: Perhaps the best candidate for Tasmania’s patron bushranger is Martin Cash who is most famous for his memoirs, which were published in the 1870s. An Irish convict, he started fresh in New South Wales before a stock theft charge saw him flee to Van Diemans Land with his lover. After escaping from Port Arthur twice, he led the band of bushrangers known as Cash and Co. Cash is another character whose doomed romance forms a vital part of the narrative, his passion leading him to a long stint at Norfolk Island. Cash was handsome, cheeky, passionate and wild and with a good supporting cast to pad out the story it could very well be one for the ages.
Potential Casting: Paul Mescal (God’s Creatures, Carmen)
4. Harry Power: Harry Power was Victoria’s greatest highwayman, gaining a price on his head of £500 at the peak of his career. Best remembered as Ned Kelly’s tutor in crime, to date he has only been seen on screen as a bit part in The Last Outlaw played by Gerard Kennedy and will be seen again in the adaptation of True History of the Kelly Gang portrayed by Russell Crowe. Power, however, was an intriguing character in his own right with robberies, chases, romance and prison escapes all part and parcel of the highwayman’s tale. While his association with Ned Kelly is what most people know him for, that association only lasted a couple of months leaving so much more of the story untouched and ripe or the picking.
Potential Casting: Philip Quast (Hacksaw Ridge, The Brides of Christ, Picnic at Hanging Rock)
3. The Clarke Gang: Of all the bushranging gangs that held Australia in a state of tension and fear, few can truly compare to the Clarke Gang who roamed New South Wales in the mid 1860s. Stock theft, robbery, raids and murder are plentiful in the story of their brief and violent reign of terror that concluded on the gallows of Darlinghurst Gaol. To date this incredible story has never been brought to screen and perhaps is far too epic to contain in one standalone film, lending itself better to a mini-series given how numerous the depredations of the gang were. The Clarke story is one of family, lawlessness and the dark side of human nature.
Potential Casting: Hugh Sheridan (Packed to the Rafters, Boar)
2. Frank Gardiner: Few bushrangers earned their place in the pantheon of bushranging like Francis Christie aka Frank Gardiner. Gardiner introduced many of the greatest bushrangers to the game including Johnny Gilbert, John O’Meally and Ben Hall. Gardiner’s greatest claim to fame was the robbery of the gold escort at Eugowra Rocks which was one of the largest gold heists in history. Gardiner’s ill-fated romance with Kitty Brown (Ben Hall’s sister in law) makes for brilliant drama and no doubt the mix of romance, action and sexy outlaws on horses would be a great combination. A film version of Gardiner’s career titled The Legend of Frank Gardiner by Matthew Holmes, the man behind The Legend of Ben Hall, has been in development for a time and would be a fantastic opportunity to bring this fascinating story to life.
Potential Casting: Luke Arnold (Black Sails, INXS: Never Year Us Apart)
1. Captain Moonlite: Few bushranger stories have the potential to tug the heart-strings like that of Andrew George Scott aka Captain Moonlite. The tale of a well-educated pastor’s fall from grace into infamy is gripping, full of drama, humour and the highest profile LGBTI+ romance in bushranger history. From his romances in Bacchus Marsh and his alleged robbery of the bank in Mount Egerton with subsequent playboy lifestyle in Sydney to his grueling prison sentence in Pentridge full of misadventure and the desperation that led him to Wantabadgery Station, Scott’s story would captivate audiences. Throw in his love affair with fellow bushranger James Nesbitt and you have a scandalous and topical tale of forbidden love to boot. A Moonlite film by Rohan Spong went into production several years ago but was never publicly released, so as we reach the 140th anniversary of his hanging it would be nice to see him get some love.
Ideal cast: Dan Stevens (Beauty and the Beast, Legion, Downton Abbey)
There are far too many bushranger stories to bring to life as standalone films, which makes a list of ten extremely difficult to choose. Here are some of the bushrangers who almost made the cut.
* Captain Thunderbolt and Mary Ann Bugg: The story of Frederick Wordsworth Ward and his family is perfect for a film. A loveable rogue with his tough and resourceful wife who frequently sacrificed her own freedom for his. It’s a love story and a tragedy.
* Captain Melville: The gentleman bushranger Captain Melville is one of Victoria’s most Infamous. From being a convict to a notorious brigand to getting busted in a brothel and beyond Melville is a colourful character who will keep audiences entertained.
* The Kenniff brothers: The tragic tale of Queensland’s most infamous bushranging family would make for a brilliant and gripping film. A movie that portrays the intense legal drama that unfolded at the turn of the century to prove that Paddy and Jim Kenniff murdered Albert Dahlke and Constable Doyle then incinerated the remains while trying to recreate what really happened would be incredibly moving and memorable.
* The Ribbon Gang: The uprising known as the Bathurst Rebellion led by Ralph Entwistle is epic and dramatic. Kicked off after Entwistle was unfairly punished for skinny dipping, it became one of the most incredible outbreaks of bushranging in history with Entwistle’s gang rumoured to have exceeded 100 men all raiding, pillaging and murdering in the district before a series of battles with the military saw the bushrangers vanquished, ten bushrangers meeting their end on the scaffold.
* The Gilbert-Hall Gang: The last days of the Hall gang were portrayed in the award-winning The Legend of Ben Hall, but aside from a long forgotten TV series from 1975 and several missing silent films, the glory days of the gang have not been committed to film – and none ever portrayed accurately. Hall and Gilbert with John O’Meally, John Vane and Mickey Burke were once the most formidable bandits in Australia, bailing up Canowindra and Bathurst multiple times and committing countless highway robberies. Few bushranging tales can compete with this one for sheer adventure, drama and tragedy.
* Henry Maple: The story of Henry Maple, the boy bushranger, would make for a tragic and spellbinding story. A taut and suspenseful film could track the brief, wild period that Maple struck terror into rural Victoria in the 1920s with his sidekick Rob Banks, culminating his fatal standoff against an armed posse in the bush. Unlike other bushranger stories it would have the unique aspect of modern technology such as automobiles and the startling youth of the lead character to make for a bushranger film unlike any other.