Bushranging Gazette #3

Saturday, 1 May 2021

The past month has been much quieter on the news front than in previous months, but there are still new things to report and a little bonus feature at the end.

New film about Sgt. Kennedy in development

Filmmaker Darren Hawkins of Lonely Hill Films is attempting to get a feature film about Sergeant Michael Kennedy off the ground. The project, titled Michael, is described as “a dramatic retelling of an often forgotten side of the iconic Ned Kelly saga, told from the perspective of one of the murdered police, his family, his community and the repercussions that still echo today.”

The story of the police killings at Stringybark Creek has been retold on film many times, beginning with 1906’s The Story of the Kelly Gang, and most recently being the subject of 2019’s Stringybark. Where this film will differ from previous versions, according to Hawkins, is that it focuses on the Kennedys but is not designed to be a take-down of the Ned Kelly legend.

Hawkins explains, “It’s told from the perspective of one of the murdered police, his family, his community and the repercussions that still echo today. It’s core narrative is from one of the turning points in the Kelly saga from a side that is so often overlooked. We’re not about tearing apart the Kelly story or legacy, rather, about addressing an imbalance.”

The decision to make a film about Kennedy has been met with great enthusiasm from his descendants, especially Leo Kennedy who is the slain sergeant’s great grandson. Kennedy released a book, co-written with Mic Looby, in 2018 titled Black Snake, which tells the story of Michael Kennedy and his family, as well as attempts to tear down popular perceptions of Ned Kelly.

“Michael was an exemplary policeman; and an all round good man. Telling his story will set the record straight on many accounts,” says Kennedy, “We hope this movie – Michael – will play a huge part in achieving that.”

Hawkins is currently raising funds online to create a short feature that can be used as a proof of concept to help gather funds for an eventual full-length feature film. Donations can be made via the Australian Cultural Fund with all donations over $2 being tax-deductible. The campaign will run until May 31, 2021.

You can donate here.

Ned’s armour back on display

With the Covid-19 restrictions in 2020, the State Library of Victoria took the opportunity to do some renovations. One of their projects was to create a space for their most popular exhibit: the armour worn by Ned Kelly.

The armour is on display in a purpose-built cabinet that controls the climate and environmental conditions in order to preserve the contents. The cabinet, in turn, is on display in a designated space that is dedicated to the Kelly story.

Eagle-eyed viewers will have noticed that a piece of the armour is missing – the left shoulder plate. This piece is owned by Museums Victoria, who had loaned the piece to the library for display with the armour. With the arrangement expiring, it would appear that either the piece has been reclaimed by the museum, who are in the midst of redesigning much of their interior and displays, or has been respectfully withdrawn from display by the library until another agreement is made.

Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy Box Set

This month a box set of Jane Smith’s first four Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy books is slated for release.

The historical fiction books, aimed at audiences aged 6+ and illustrated by Pat Kan, focus around a time-travelling boy who crosses paths with some of history’s most renowned bushrangers such as Ben Hall, Frank Gardiner and Captain Thunderbolt, and have been published by Big Sky Publishing since 2016.

In the first box set are the books Shoot-out at the Rock, The Horse Thief, The Gold Escort Gang and Outback Adventure.

In addition to this popular set of chapter books, Jane Smith has also published multiple non-fiction books on bushrangers. For children she has published Captain Thunderbolt (shortlisted for an ABIA 2015), Captain Moonlite, Ben Hall, Frank Gardiner, and Captain Starlight. For older audiences she has also published Captain Starlight: the strange but true story of a bushranger, impostor and murderer.

Teaching notes for all of the children’s books can be downloaded freely from the author’s website: https://www.janesmithauthor.com/teaching-notes.html

You can find out more about the books here: https://www.janesmithauthor.com/books.html

Australian Bushranging Podcast

On the A Guide to Australian Bushranging YouTube channel there is now an ongoing podcast. Though it is only two instalments in, there is much fertile ground to be covered in upcoming episodes. You can listen to the first two podcasts below.

This Month’s Articles on A Guide to Australian Bushranging

– An interview with author of Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy, Jane Smith.

– An interview with Darren Hawkins and Leo Kennedy about the in-development film Michael.

Mini-Spotlight

Canaries and Magpies

Convict uniforms at Port Arthur

At the beginning of the British occupation of Australia, convicts wore the same clothes they were transported in. It wasn’t until the early part of the nineteenth century that there were calls for a standard issue of clothing for convicts, along with other penal reforms.
The first convict uniforms consisted of a linen shirt, white duck trousers, stockings, a blue kersey wool jacket and a woollen cap. As time went on, however, uniforms changed and were generally used to distinguish between classes of convict.

Throughout New South Wales the majority of convicts were dressed in “slops” — uniforms cut to a single, standard size and made of white duck, which was stamped with broad arrows. These uniforms did not weather well, and had to be replaced frequently. Many transportees were made to wear their slops through the duration of the transportation process and into their sentence once they reached Australia. Ticket-of-leave men were allowed to wear civilian clothing, and eventually convicts that were educated but still had much of their sentence to endure wore grey woollen uniforms.

Van Diemen’s Land was given its own classes of convict uniforms. From 1833 onwards, as soon as convicts arrived in Van Diemen’s Land they were given their “punishment suit”. For the regular convicts was the “canary” — a woollen uniform with side-buttoning trousers (to allow removal while wearing leg irons) that was dyed bright yellow. The colour allowed the convicts to be easily spotted in the bush or amongst crowds. They wire a grey woollen cap in the winter months and the rest of the time wore leather caps with large side flaps that could be tied up, and when let down formed a brim to keep the sun off.

In 1814, Government Macquarie devised the “magpie” uniform, which had the same design as the canary, but instead of being completely yellow it comprised juxtaposed black and white panels that were inspired by a harlequin costume. These punishment suits later became available in black and yellow and yellow and grey. In Van Diemen’s Land these were worn by the worst offenders and recidivists. They not only made the wearer even more noticeable, but acted to humiliate the wearer.

In order to stop the illegal trade in repurposed uniforms, the government stamped broad arrows onto every part of the uniform. Often, convicts would salvage the good parts of the fabric, recondition it and trade it. Very often, as a further punishment, convicts were made to wear their uniforms until they had completely rotted away, shoes included. For this reason, very few original examples remain today.

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