The Dashing Career Of Australia’s Forgotten ‘Gentleman Bushranger’
It seems appropriate that following the publication on A Guide to Australian Bushranging of James Erskine Calder’s account of the life and bushranging career of Matthew Brady that his story should catch the attention of more mainstream media.
Synchronicity saw Nine News publish a condensed account of Brady’s life online mere days after the Calder articles had rolled out on this website. The introduction makes reference to outlaw folk heroes Captain Thunderbolt and Ned Kelly before delving into the story of Tasmania’s greatest outlaw folk hero.
But as large as Ned’s helmeted shadow looms over colonial folklore, even he was hard-pressed to match a character largely forgotten now, whose execution was accompanied by tears and pleas for leniency, and who spent his last days in a jail cell surrounded by gifts of food and wine.
The article gives a decent account of he story in very broad brushstrokes, which hopefully inspires more people to investigate the story further.
Swiss-born composer Ronnie Minder recently made the entire score to 2016’s The Legend of Ben Hall available on his YouTube channel. The acclaimed score was shortlisted for an Oscar nod in the 89th Academy Awards, up against some stiff competition from hundreds of other contenders from around the world.
Matthew Holmes, director of The Legend of Ben Hall, was also interviewed by David Black for the Australian Short Film Network, which you can read here.
Papua New Guinean Bushranging
An intriguing article by Sinclair Dinnen and Grant Walton was released last month that discussed a man who is being referred to as “PNG’s Ned Kelly”. Tommy Baker is leader of a gang of bandits who have been on the run in Milne Bay since 2013 and have at least five murders to their names (two civilians and three police).
Baker and his confederates, of whom there seems to be enough to equate to a small army, seem to be living the life of some of history’s greatest outlaws, skillfully evading capture and enjoying enormous support from the ordinary people that harbour them. Born in 1986, as a teenager he began committing crimes with his friends, soon racking up charges of armed robbery, murder and piracy. Baker has also made an effort to shape himself as a champion of the native people against white missionaries, stating:
Our elders respect these white men, missionaries, families of missionaries, but we have grown and we do not like it. It’s time we Milne Bay (people) run our own province. This is our home, our land. We are Papua New Guineans.
Tommy Baker (attributed)
Baker has come to represent a struggle against a foreign power that denies the people self-governance, as well as overbearing and corrupted police who are known to treat people with excessive violence. Long-time enthusiasts of Australian bushranging history will be very familiar with these sentiments, as they very closely mirror the ideas that outlaws like Ned Kelly, Daniel Morgan, Jack Donohoe and Matthew Brady came to represent to large numbers of people of the lower and convict classes during the colonial era. This may even prove to be a real-time demonstration in exactly how these men gained their status and how it manifested in either outright sympathy or fearful compliance with the outlaws by the general public.
Like many popular outlaws, Baker has been described as being quite unlike the typical ruffian one would expect with such a reputation for violent crime. An anonymous pastor that knew Baker as a young man described him as:
A nice quiet man that could make friends easily, he does not chew, smoke or do drugs. He has a lot of friends and loves playing rugby.
The same source claims that Baker is aware that if he turns himself in he will be killed, which seems an accurate assessment when viewed in light of the fact that in late August of this year six members of his gang were killed in a gun battle with police near Rabaraba. One of the men killed was Baker’s right-hand man Mekere Yawi. Despite the enormous expense spent on the hunt for Baker and his gang, he continues to evade capture.
Learn more about this intriguing story by reading Sinclair Dinnen and Grant Walton’s article here and further articles from the Post Courier here, here and here.
“I’ll fight, but not surrender…”
September first marks the anniversary of the death of Jack Donohoe in a gunfight near Raby, New South Wales, in 1830. To commemorate, Julia Dąbrowska, long-time follower and contributor to A Guide to Australian Bushranging, has submitted an illustration depicting the outlaw’s final moments.
The gunfight at Bringelly brought an end to Donohoe’s wild and reckless career and was seen by some as a precursor to the infamous Bathurst Rebellion later that year. You can read about the battle here.
A Thunderbolt From The Past
In an article for the Sydney Morning Herald, Julie Power discusses genealogy and its role in not only preserving records, but also shedding light on forgotten stories. In particular, she highlights new details about boy bushranger Thomas Mason, one-time sidekick of Captain Thunderbolt.
After Mason’s father died, he and his brothers were orphaned. Thomas at sixteen was taken under the wing of Frederick Ward and eventually ended up in gaol over his foray into bushranging. New details about his history were uncovered when orphanage documents were being digitised for researchers.
That interest in the past has spiked demand by the public for digitisation of records, said Martyn Killion, the director of collections, access and engagement with State Archives and Records Authority of NSW. It recently digitised and loaded the records of 1000 boys placed at the Protestant Orphan School in Parramatta from 1850. Mr Killion said when staff searched through these records, they had hoped to find a tale of someone who rose to greatness. A premier, perhaps. Instead, the newly digitised records online, revealed details of Thomas Mason, orphaned at six, who went on to ride with the bushranger Captain Thunderbolt, born Frederick Wordsworth Ward.
The Ned Kelly story continues to capture the imagination of people around the world, and has now been immortalised in the pantheon of Scottish YouTuber Count Dankula’s “Absolute Mad Lads”. Dankula, the nom de plume of Markus Meechan, uses the series of videos to showcase figures in history that display often entertainingly extreme behaviours, ranging from war heroes to career criminals (and even an orangutan named Ken Allen). Meechan’s style is conversational and very tongue-in-cheek, but not to everyone’s tastes, especially if you are hoping for impartial and scholarly accounts. Long-time fans of the series have been putting Ned Kelly’s name forward as a candidate for some time and Meechan himself had hinted at the inclusion of Australia’s most infamous bushranger in an earlier video. As with all such media, there are some factual errors, and amusing mispronunciations of Australian place names, but there is more correct than incorrect in the recounting of the story and it makes for an entertaining interpretation.
The infamous “Captain Moonlite” note that was written during the Mount Egerton bank robbery that eventually saw Andrew George Scott gaoled in Pentridge Prison, and immortalised his nickname:
I hereby certify that L W Bruun has done everything in his power to withstand our intrusion and the taking away of the money which was done with firearms. Captain Moonlite
The Victorian prison record of Francis Christie – better known as Frank Gardiner:
What we see from the record is that Christie was convicted in October 1850, sentenced to five years hard labour on the roads, and did time in Geelong and in Pentridge Stockade before absconding in March 1851.
He would later find himself on Cockatoo Island in New South Wales. A note in pencil states, “said to be Frank Gardiner the Sydney Bushranger”.
This Month on A Guide to Australian Bushranging
This month will see a range of Spotlights on various archival reports and items pertaining to Jack Donohoe, Martin Cash, William Westwood (and more).
This month’s feature will be on some of the lost relics of bushranging, particularly the death mask of Moonlite’s mate Thomas Rogan, which appears to have been mislabelled.
There will also be a review of the first three books in Jane Smith’s Tommy Bell series and R. B. R. Verhagen’s Alexander Pearce novel In the Company of Madness.
As always, there will continue to be more posts on Facebook and Instagram, as well as YouTube videos on the official channel for A Guide to Australian Bushranging.
Welcome to the inaugural issue of Bushranging Gazette. Here you will get a roundup of the month’s news, covering new discoveries, exhibitions, media releases and any other pertinent materials related to the topic of Australian bushranging.
Last month there was a brief hiccup when Facebook shut down the page for A Guide to Australian Bushranging as part of its protest against proposed legislation from the Australian government. This gazette is a direct response to having that outlet impacted on by external forces, restricting the reach of A Guide to Australian Bushranging and the spread of relevant information.
New Kate Kelly biography
Australian artist Rebecca Wilson has just released a new book about Kate Kelly, sister to Ned and Dan. This is the first proper, stand-alone book about the glamorous younger sister to the outlaws and her tragic life that isn’t simply a work of fiction. Wilson has an intimate connection with the story of Kate, and the associated folklore, having created various artworks on the theme over the years, with the book being something of a culmination of her investment in the figure of Kate Kelly.
The book has been getting much publicity and is featured in the Bathurst Writers Festival as the Great Festival Read, with the author slated to make an appearance there on a panel. A review of the book will be forthcoming later in 2021.
The Ned Kelly Vault museum in Beechworth closed its doors permanently and unceremoniously in 2020. Having been closed during the Victorian coronavirus lockdowns, many were eagerly anticipating returning to visit the one-of-a-kind collection once they got their liberty. Alas, mere days before the lockdown was finally lifted, allowing travellers to venture into the state’s northeast, the sudden, shock announcement that the museum would not be reopening its doors hit social media.
Since then the items have been gradually returned to their respective owners, with the Burke Museum reclaiming their pieces and the rest going back to private collections. There have been some developments in regards to a new purpose-built space possibly being incorporated into the Glenrowan AR/VR tower project, but it remains to be seen what will come of this. On 22 February, Matt Shore posted on the Vault’s Facebook page showing a quote from the late Kelly biographer Ian Jones, accompanying an update on the collection. Two days later he shared a news piece from the Wangaratta Chronicle on the Vault’s Facebook page regarding the developments (pictured below).
Whatever future the Vault has is unclear, but what is evident is that whatever incarnation the Vault takes on in future will be very welcome from the Kelly community who have seen a dramatic reduction in attractions in the region that they can visit to connect with the Kelly story.
Benalla Costume and Kelly Museum renovations
This month the Benalla Costume and Kelly Museum will be undergoing renovations. This will see the popular institution briefly closed, but upon reopening there will be new improvements to the familiar surroundings, including a new-look Kelly exhibition.
The museum has a small but significant collection of Kellyana, the pièce de résistance being the green silk sash Ned Kelly wore under his armour at Glenrowan in 1880. The museum also has a replica of Joe Byrne’s armour cast from molds made of the actual pieces, a bridle said to have been worn by Ned Kelly’s horse at Glenrowan, and the doors from the Benalla lockup upon which Joe Byrne’s body was photographed.
Joe Byrne author launches new Michael Howe project
Long-time readers of A Guide to Australian Bushranging will be familiar with the work of Georgina Rose Stones. For those who are not, Stones is the author of An Outlaw’s Journal and its Facebook adjunct Joseph Byrne: The Untold History, which aim to set the record straight on Ned Kelly’s wingman. In the time that Stones has been publishing her work on the life of Joe Byrne she has uncovered many things that had been overlooked or ignored by previous historians and made a name for herself through her creative pieces that breathe life into the historical figures she writes about.
Now Stones is endeavouring on a new project alongside her work on Joe Byrne called Michael Howe: Governor of the Woods. The website and its relevant social media are an outlet for her to share the results of her research into the much vilified Tasmanian outlaw. In only a brief span of time she has already uncovered facts from primary sources that completely shatter the long-accepted understanding of Howe’s life and personality.
Georgina Stones will be contributing an article on the topic later this month. If you would like to support her work, please visit the links below and follow her.
Writtenby Ian Knight, illustrated by Mark Stacey, published by Osprey Press.
It is always great to see new books coming out that can act as an introduction to bushrangers for younger and mature readers alike. Australian Bushrangers 1788–1880 does exactly that.
The text is punchy and easy to read, covering quite a lot of subjects but focused mainly on costumes and armoury. If you are expecting a deep dive into your favourite bushranger you will be disappointed, but this book never pretends to be anything of the sort. Instead, this provides a very good overview of bushranging history, including the social contexts, as well as military and police history. The very brief descriptions of the careers of various bushrangers helps to introduce readers to some of the more colourful characters of the past.
Where this text really excels is in how it focuses quite heavily on the armed forces that opposed the bushrangers, which is quite unusual for books on the subject. This will give readers an even better understanding of how law enforcement in Australia evolved in response to the bushranging menace.
Of course, the thing that many readers will gravitate towards is the section in the middle of the book with the full colour illustrations depicting bushrangers and law enforcement. These beautiful paintings are vivid and breathe life into these historical figures in a way that the archival images fall short in achieving.
In the interests of full disclosure, A Guide to Australian Bushranging was one of the sources utilised by the author, Ian Knight, while researching the material for the book. The article “Mode de Bandit” in particular provided much of the reference for the paintings of the bushrangers. It was a great privilege, and humbling, to have Ian, a writer and military historian of considerable experience, reach out while putting this book together. One could hardly be happier with the final result, which is highly recommended reading for long-time enthusiasts as much as newcomers.
This month’s articles on A Guide to Australian Bushranging
In the past few days the Australian government has been at the negotiation table with Facebook. The result is that Facebook is now lifting the ban on “news” on their platform. As a part of this, A Guide to Australian Bushranging‘s Facebook page has been restored.
Though I had lodged a complaint with Facebook over the move, to date I still have not received any response. In fact, it was followers of the page that alerted me to its return before I could discover it for myself. Though it was a relief, the intervening time had given me pause to rethink the way I approach this endeavour.
The Facebook page has been a vital part of what A Guide to Australian Bushranging is about – connecting people to the fascinating and incredible stories of bush banditry that Australian history is dotted with. This will continue, but there will be some changes in how things are done.
The first thing is that instead of posting direct links to news reports, announcements or events on Facebook, there will be a “gazette” posted on the website here that will discuss any news. These will be published on the first of each month, unless there is special news that requires a more timely reporting.
The second change is cosmetic. You may have noticed the new logo, which now features an image of Dan Morgan on horseback. This will henceforth replace the original logo that featured Frank Gardiner on horseback, which had been the site’s avatar since 2017. This change is to signify that A Guide to Australian Bushranging is starting to move into a new phase and develop. It will still be a resource for bushranger history, but things will be executed a little different.
Thirdly, there will be a lot more short form Spotlight articles on the website. There will be at least one Spotlight per month, and features will roll out on an infrequent basis. This is to ensure that the features have a proper gestation time before being rolled out in order to avoid factual errors as much as possible, while still providing new content.
Another thing that will become more frequent is videos on the YouTube channel. Because of the amount of work involved in making video content, the original plan to make videos to supplement the information on the website fell over somewhat. There will now be a more concerted effort to make video content, some of which may be in a “talking head” format, some of which will be travelogues or other formats, depending on what is easiest to produce, and enjoyable to watch.
Where possible I will be inviting more guest authors to volunteer something to be published on the website. This new series will be called “My Story”; wherein people can share their own stories of bushranger history, whether that be a personal connection, an interest in the story of a particular bushranger, or experiences working with the history for media or research. This is designed to give more of an insight into how bushranger history can connect with people, and how we in turn connect with history.
Another article series will be tentatively titled “Pop Gun”, which will look at the influence of bushrangers, and the associated history, on Australian popular culture. This will include reviews of books, films, music, art exhibitions and more, as well as analysis and retrospectives.
There will also be more articles highlighting places associated with bushranging, which may be used as a kind of tourist guide. In the wake of 2020’s Covid-19 shutdowns, domestic tourism has been identified as a major part of Australia’s economic recovery. I am not sponsored by any government or tourism bodies (though I wouldn’t object to it *hint*), but feel that attracting visitors to these places not only offers economic benefits, but may just be the most important part of keeping the history alive and relevant. If these articles assist in reaching that end, they’ve done their job.
Throughout the year some of the articles already published will be revised and edited to ensure that factual errors can be corrected as new information comes to hand. This is a one-man operation, and in the early days of the site I had set myself an unreasonable rollout schedule, which resulted in articles being published with errors in them as I rushed to meet the deadlines. As it turns out, having a set time and day for new content doesn’t actually result in any notable differences in the viewing figures, so instead of worrying about the quantity and frequency, I will be focused more on the quality.
June 26 is the anniversary of when this site and its related social media launched almost four years ago. It has undergone many changes in that time and continues to evolve. There are many more exciting things brewing for the bushranging world, so stick around to see what else is coming up.
Due to Facebook’s ham-fisted powerplay directed at the Australian government over a very poor piece of proposed legislation designed to line the pockets of selected media elite, the Facebook page for A Guide to Australian Bushranging has been blocked indefinitely. This means that new posts cannot be added and the three years worth of existing posts are no longer available to be read or viewed. Apparently a page about bushranger history counts as news media. Of course, this is not the only page to have suffered as such in this haphazard attempt at delivering a haymaker to the government. Official sources have suggested that non-news pages will be restored, yet they also specify that the sources restored will be pages relating to things like public health and the Bureau of Meteorology. If other pages are to be reinstated, very likely it will involve emailing the Facebook “team” and telling them they made an error, then they will review the decision. Given my previous experience dealing with Facebook behind the scenes I very much doubt they would be bringing my page back from purgatory.
So, the page is gone until further notice, meaning three years worth of work is effectively gone and my more than 1,700 followers are gone too. If it goes back up, great, but I’m not holding my breath. For all intents and purposes, the A Guide to Australian Bushranging Facebook page is dead. Sadly, this was a major point of contact for generating an audience that would then visit this website; now that point of contact is gone. The Bush Telegraph group is still functional, but with less than half the reach for posts due to the much smaller number of members.
The website is still up, evidenced by the fact that you are reading this post, and the Instagram account is still up (@australianbushranging). If you are interested in my work you can view it in those places. If the page is indeed gone for good, I won’t be starting a new one at this stage. It took three years to get to this point and I really can’t see the value in starting from scratch again, it’s just too much work to do all over again because of something I had no control over.
Since 2017, the Facebook page for A Guide to Australian Bushranging provided an important adjunct to the website. Here, short-form posts could introduce the audience to images, stories and historical figures relating to the content that this website addresses in a broader sense. It was also a hub where enthusiasts could keep up on the latest book releases, as well as movies, music, events and more. It was from the Facebook page that the charity art auction was held, which helped raise money for a range of worthy causes. For some people, it was the first time they had come across certain stories or images relating to bushranging history. Its absence will likely be felt by those dedicated followers that always engaged with the posts and helped to spread the word about what was there. A Guide to Australian Bushranging was a page that built a reputation for variety, respectful discussion, and rooting out some of histories forgotten tales of bush banditry. Gradually it even began to form a sense of community around it. Now the page lies dormant, its posts cleared away, it’s imagery vanished. It is like a digital headstone marking the place where the page once was. Perhaps one day the unexpected will occur and the page will be restored, but if politics continues to roll on the way it has, it is unlikely.
In 2017 Matthew Holmes’ dream to create a bushranging epic for the big screen was finally realised with the theatrical release of The Legend of Ben Hall. Though it was a limited release, it gained a strong following and has since added fans from around the world to its fanbase. Now the call to action has rung out as Holmes endeavours to create a new cut of the film that is closer to his original intention than was previously possible. However, in order to make this project come to fruition he has taken to Kickstarter to raise the funds needed. Those who have followed the journey of the film will know that it was crowdfunding and an army of volunteers that made it possible to make the original film. A Guide to Australian Bushranging sat down with Holmes to discuss this monumental project, what he hopes to achieve and how.
It’s been almost three years since The Legend of Ben Hall was first released, and since then it has been distributed on DVD, Blu-ray, and streaming all around the world and has met with a great reception. What made you decide to bite the bullet and have a crack at making the definitive version of the film?
Holmes – I was committed to the idea of a Director’s Cut while I was editing the Theatrical Cut in 2015-2016. It was clear that we were going to have to lose a lot of great material in order to bring the run time closer to 2 hours. After all, our first assembly edit was 3 hours and 40 minutes long. Because we only had the money to finish one version of the film, the theatrical release version took priority and any scene that had to go, I would say “that’s one for the Director’s Cut!”
Now three years since its release, the film has done really good business in the home entertainment market, especially in the USA. I pitched the concept to my distributor Pinnacle Films and they really liked the idea. So it seemed like the right time to try to get the Director’s Cut completed. Plus the fanbase has really grown and there definitely seems like there’s a demand for it. I ran a poll on Facebook last year and 500+ people said they would support a crowdfunding campaign, so that showed there was definitely interest in the possibility.
What will the director’s cut bring to the table that is different from the version that we’ve already seen?
Holmes – There will be around 30 new scenes and 48 expanded scenes in the Director’s Cut. Essentially it’s the same story as the Theatrical Cut, but there’s more stops along the way. The film will move at a less frenetic pace. In the Theatrical Cut, my editor Caitlin Spiller and I were editing each sequence within an inch of its life to bring down the overall run time. People thought were absolutely crazy for releasing a 139 min version as our Theatrical Cut and were telling us to cull it to 90 minutes. So a lot of great character moments and little nuances got lost in the edit simply for timings sake.
My plan with the Director’s Cut is to make a far more immersive and sensory film experience. It will cement the audience more in Ben Hall’s world and allow them to sit with those characters in the environment, rather just punching along to the next event. I think it will give me the chance to really play with sound design as well, to get a feeling of what it was like to live in the bush. The Director’s Cut will absolutely be one of those films you watch over the course of two or three nights, rather than all in one sitting. The experience of the two versions will be vastly different.
Are there any particular parts of the original screenplay that you wish you had been able to film?
Holmes – There are many historical moments I wanted to include, but couldn’t. I only wrote scenes that I thought we could achieve with our very limited budget. Some historical moments had to be scaled down or omitted completely. There’s a great moment where four brothers fought off the Hall Gang from the back of a travelling wagon – that would’ve been an amazing action set piece to include. But it would’ve taken three days to film and cost a fortune.
I did write an interesting scene where the Hall Gang pillage a camp of Chinese miners and we really see the cruelty and racism inflicted on the Chinese in that period. It showed Gilbert to be a really nasty piece of work – as he really was to the Chinese. But ultimately I just didn’t have the time or budget to do it. But I promise – if we get over $110,000 on the Kickstarter Campaign – I will film that scene and put it into the movie. So get pledging, folks!
To outsiders, it might seem strange that you’ve gone to Kickstarter to get the money together for the director’s cut when we see Hollywood movies getting director’s cuts of films all the time with no apparent fundraising. Can you explain why Kickstarter was the best option to enable you to make this new edition?
Holmes – The Legend of Ben Hall is in a totally different league to Hollywood films. Hollywood productions have the budget, time and resources to make both a Director’s Cut and a Theatrical Cut simultaneously. I really don’t think people realise how little we made The Legend of Ben Hall for. Our budget was barely a million dollars. For a film of that scale, that is unheard of. In the end, I was dipping into my own pocket just to complete it. For example, I paid for half of the miniature set build simply because we’d run out of money at that time. So the only way we can afford to produce a whole new version is if the fans support it. Raising money for films is even harder than it was when we filmed the movie back in 2015. People often assume that just because we made a film that we have this bottomless pit of money to draw on. It’s quite the opposite actually.
Among the rewards on Kickstarter are brand new books about the film and the weapons used by the bushrangers and their pursuers. Can you talk a little about what pledgers should be expecting from these books?
Holmes – The weapons book will cover many of the unique guns that feature in the film, which are different than your average Western. Because it’s set in 1865, the guns were a little older than those you’ll typically see in Clint Eastwood films. The guns used in Australia at the time were largely from English gunsmiths rather than from America. I think The Legend of Ben Hall may be the first film to show someone using a Tranter Revolving Rifle. I’m certain it’s the first Australian film to ever show the Tranters being used on screen.
The A Visual Journey book will be filled with images. No text. We have so many amazing photographs from the movie, they deserve to be in a coffee-table style book. Like the Director’s Cut, that book will be an immersive piece.
Why did you choose Kickstarter over similar crowdfunding websites like Pozible and GoFundMe?
Holmes – I’ve run several campaigns in the past and the ones that succeeded were on Kickstarter. I prefer their website and the way they do things. They also have better international reach.
I don’t approach my crowdfunding campaigns as a charity. I’m offering a product to my fans, I’m not asking for a handout. That’s where most crowdfunded film projects get it wrong; they treat their film like a charity cause and beg for people to help realise their dream. Their focus should be on what the pledgers stand to get out of it. With my campaign, the pledgers are essentially pre-ordering the Director’s Cut before it hits the shelves.
In the last decade we’ve seen a big increase in independent Australian genre films such as Occupation, Arrowhead, Wyrmwood, and Stringybark getting off the ground thanks to crowdfunding. These are films that frequently get overlooked by federal funding bodies, yet there’s obviously a demand for them, especially as some of them even got sequels. Do you think that it’s a sign that the Australian film funding bodies need to evolve to meet the demands of the audiences?
Holmes – Crowdfunding has been a saving grace for many indie filmmakers like myself. It allows us to go straight to our audience. When you have government funding bodies standing between you and your audience, that’s a no-win situation. They hold the keys and their opinion of the market (and your film) will dictate if you get their funding or not. Crowdfunding allows filmmakers the chance to bypass them, which I love.
The Legend of Ben Hall would not exist if it wasn’t for those wonderful people who pledged on my Ben Hall short film campaign back in 2014. That was the catalyst that ignited the feature film. Screen Australia was never going to get behind a Ben Hall feature film, and certainly not one directed by me. When we approached them to help us with some post-production funding, they refused to support the film even after it was shot and edited.
Also, the funding bodies typically avoid genre films in favour of whatever is socially or politically popular at the time. So sci-fi, horror, western, action, comedy – or any combination of those – are not going to be looked at favourably. Most of Australia’s most interesting, upcoming directors have had to launch their careers outside of the government funding system. Crowdfunding is a big key to doing that.
At around three hours, it’s going to be quite a long film.
Holmes – Yes, but it’s not going to be abnormally long. Wyatt Earp, Dances with Wolves, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Once Upon a Time in America – these are all very long films. Perhaps too long for theatrical release, but perfect for the home entertainment scenario where you can pause the movie, get a cup of tea and snacks and come back.
We’ve seen that films like the Avengers films and the Lord of the Rings trilogy increasingly have hefty run-times that people are happy to sit through. Do you think that this signifies a return to movies being a kind of event rather than the disposable entertainment that has flooded the market in recent times?
Holmes – I believe an invested audience is happy to sit through a longer running time. In the case of The Avengers or the Lord of The Rings, those films have a hardcore, established fanbase who want as much as you can give them. The Legend of Ben Hall has such a fanbase that is, of course, more niche but no less enthusiastic. People will binge 3 or 4 episodes of television in their homes, so I don’t see a 200 minute movie as being any different.
The Director’s Cut is not being made for the regular film goer; this is absolutely one for the fans or for those who love these types of sprawling, historical epics. Impatient or casual viewers should stick to the Theatrical Cut! Personally, this will give me the chance to make The Legend of Ben Hall the way I always wanted it to be, which is not very commercial. This version will let history play out rather than be driven by movie conventions. Not having to argue or debate with anybody as to what should stay or go gives me full creative expression as a filmmaker, which I felt I lost making the Theatrical Cut.
I believe people will find the Director’s Cut a very different movie because of that.
Adapting history for film is not easy; how do you go about selecting what gets shown and what is left out?
Holmes – In my case, it came down to budget and what I could afford to show. But I also knew that the film had to focus on Ben Hall’s inner journey as much as his outer journey, so I selected historical moments that had a profound impact on his personal life. That was my best guide as to what should stay and what should go. In the end, a film is about characters, not plot. I focused the scenes more on the characters rather than worrying about the external narrative drive. Sure that made it more episodic, but I don’t think that’s something to be criticised. Many of my favourite films are hugely episodic, yet they are considered modern classics.
One of the more noticeable changes that you made that history buffs would notice was that you merged the characters of “Old Man” Gordon and John Dunleavy. Was that always the intention or was it a matter of practicality come production time?
Holmes – That is something I wish I could go back in time and fix. Adding John Dunleavy to the First Act would’ve added another character in an already burgeoning cast and I was forced to make some cuts due to our constricted budget.
If you were able to, would you do a “George Lucas” and digitally insert an actor portraying Dunleavy into those scenes retroactively, or indeed use digital magic to add shots that you had not been able to first time around?
Holmes – Absolutely. If we over-finance on the Kickstarter campaign, I’ll magically weave John Dunleavy into the Director’s Cut – that’s another promise! I’d pay Jack Martin and Andy McPhee to reprise their roles and actually film some bonus scenes to make that work. It’s entirely possible if I have the funds for it. So get pledging, folks – the sky is the limit! The more money we raise, the better the Director’s Cut will be. In fact, I might make Dunleavy’s appearance and the Chinese Miner scenes as Stretch Goals.
There’s dialogue in the Theatrical Cut where Johnny Gilbert explains that he would dress in women’s clothing as a disguise. Given that this is something that he was known to do, was there ever any thought to finding a way to include Gilbert in a dress in the film?
Holmes – We actually had a scene written with Gilbert disguised in women’s clothing. We even had a yellow dress picked out along with a silly bonnett. But on the night we planned to shoot it at the Maldon Historical Village, a huge storm blew in and rained us out. It shut production down for several hours, so we had to abandon the scene. It was at the head of the ‘Forbes Brothel’ scene (which will be restored in the Director’s Cut.)
Gilbert often dressed in women’s clothes when going into a populated town, as 2 or 3 flashy young men riding down the main street would catch the attention of local police. Dressing as a woman to disguise oneself was common practice amongst bushrangers in those days. There was nothing more to it than disguise and practicality. I find it very silly that a certain other bushranger film has attempted to make wearing dresses out to be a bigger deal than what it was.
Father McCarthy is a character that plays a significant role in the story of the gang, historically having directed John Vane of the original Gilbert-Hall Gang to turn himself in to Superintendent Morrisett. He was included in early promotional material for The Legend of Ben Hall, but didn’t make the final cut. Are you glad you have the opportunity to reinstate those scenes?
Holmes – I’ll be hugely excited to see that scene reinstated. I always felt it was a pivotal one. It was one of the last and one of the hardest scenes to delete, because it carried so many of the film’s central themes: choice and the consequences of it. It had so much foreshadowing and let the audience see what was driving Ben Hall’s decisions, to understand the difficult position he was in. It was heart-breaking to remove, but we were being heavily pressured to get the first act moving faster. I know actor Peter Flaherty, who played Father McCarthy, is very happy about its return, as he gave a wonderful and earnest performance. And he really nailed the Cork accent.
The theatrical cut of The Legend of Ben Hall tended to show Hall as essentially a good man who is driven to change his ways because he realises the consequences of his own behaviour and doesn’t want his son to think of him as a villain. Will the director’s cut explore that aspect any further?
Holmes – The Director’s Cut will show a much darker side to Ben Hall, that’s for sure. There were certain moments and lines of dialogue that were lifted from the Theatrical Cut because we had feedback that viewers were losing empathy for Ben Hall, particularly during the middle of the film. I showed Hall to be quite ruthless at times and revealed that war between good and evil raging in his soul. Personally, I loved that aspect of the character and Jack Martin showed both sides of his personality really well. I wanted to show Ben Hall as he was – torn and conflicted. But that doesn’t bode well with those who are used to having their movie protagonists portrayed as squeaky clean. For the Director’s Cut, I won’t have any of those restrictions. That will be liberating and I think will make for a far more complex and engaging character.
Has there been any movement regarding the other films in the proposed “Legends” trilogy?
Holmes – Just in the last two months, we’ve received some really solid interest from the USA in the first prequel film The Legend of Frank Gardiner. Ironically, there’s been no interest from Australian investors or funding bodies. I also have two new producers onboard who are working on sourcing the finance and attaching cast. That film will introduce three new lead characters – Frank Gardiner, Sir Frederick Pottinger and Kitty Brown, Biddy’s younger sister.
If that film goes ahead, many original cast members will be reprising their roles such as Jack Martin, Jamie Coffa, Joanne Dobbin, Nick Barry, Angus Pilakui, Gregory Quinn, Adam Willson and Tom Beaurepaire. It will be an absolute dream come true if Gardiner happens. We’ll be able to show things that weren’t possible in the first film. Plus we are also planning to film it all up in Ben Hall country in the Central West of New South Wales. So fingers crossed!
When will the Kickstarter campaign be winding up for those looking to make a pledge?
Holmes – Our Kickstarter ends on March 29th, 2020. I’m running it longer than usual because it’s a big target to reach. If we don’t reach $90,000, the Director’s Cut won’t ever happen – it’s that simple. That would be a tragedy, because I believe this Director’s Cut will be a superior film to the Theatrical Cut in every way.
But in the end, it really is up to the fans. But that’s the way it’s always been with this film. The fans kickstarted The Legend of Ben Hall back in 2014; I just hope five years on, the fans are still with me for one last ride. We shall know in a few weeks time!
To learn about the rewards on offer and make a pledge to the Kickstarter campaign for The Legend of Ben Hall Director’s Cut, follow this link: http://shorturl.at/fnuPY
We could be getting a three-hour director’s cut of The Legend of Ben Hall
by MATTHEW EELES
The Legend of Ben Hall will become an even bigger spectacle with the possible release of a three hour director’s cut if things go to plan for the filmmakers behind the ambitious bushranger epic.
On December 4, The Legend of Ben Hall director Matthew Holmes posted to the film’s Facebook page asking fans if they would support a crowdfunding campaign for an extended director’s cut which would restore almost an hours worth of unseen material back into the film featuring thirty new scenes and forty-eight expanded scenes.
“If we get 500+ votes for ‘Yes’ then we have a real shot at making it become a reality!!!,” the post read.
Twenty days later Holmes’ dream to release his original vision for the film came one step closer to reality with another Facebook post announcing he had received over 500 votes in support of his ambitious venture.
“In early 2020, we will be launching a crowd-funding campaign so we can make the definitive director’s cut of this film,” the post announced.
The Legend of Ben Hall is based on the true story of Australian bushranger Ben Hall, played by Jack Martin, who reforms his old gang with newcomer John Dunn in tow. After killing two policemen in a botched holdup the government declare the gang outlaws and they’re now outrunning do-gooders eager to fill them full of bullets in return for an attractive cash reward.
If the crowdfunding campaign is to meet its target, it wouldn’t be the first time for Holmes. In 2014 the director launched an ambitious Kickstarter campaign to raise $75,000 for a short form version of The Legend of Ben Hall. The film went on to raise over $145,000 using crowdfunding. Six months later the project had secured an international sales agent, an Australian distributor and multiple private investors, including state funding and The Legend of Ben Hall was expanded into a two hour feature film.
In September Holmes received public support to release a digitally remastered version of his sophomore feature film, Twin Rivers. That campaign saw $7906 pledged of a $4000 goal.
Unfortunately, not all of Holmes’ crowdfunding campaigns have been realised. Glenrowan, a feature film about the infamous last stand of Ned Kelly with Walking Dead actor Callan McAuliffe tipped to star, was not successful. The project is now being developed into a 6-part mini-series.
As one of Australia’s most eager filmmakers, Holmes is also working on a remake of Blue Fin based on Colin Thiele’s story of tuna fishing in Port Lincoln. Holmes is also developing a new horror film called The Artifice, based on his short film of the same name. You can watch that short film here.
Keep an eye on Cinema Australia and The Legend of Ben Hall’s Facebook page for more announcements regarding the 2020 crowdfunding campaign.
Cinema Australia wishes Matthew and his team all the best.
It’s no secret that films related to bushranging are rare as hen’s teeth these days, though once they were the lifeblood of the Australian movie industry. For this reason, any time a new film comes out that fits the “bush western” genre it’s very exciting. Here are all the current updates related to upcoming releases.
After a limited cinema release earlier this year, The Nightingale is rolling out across streaming and home video. Jennifer Kent’s follow-up to her breakout film The Babadook is set in the convict era and follows the story of a young convict woman who goes bush in pursuit of revenge. While not a “bushranger” film in the most easily identifiable sense, it most certainly presents elements that pertain to the early bushrangers and promises viewers a harrowing experience of Van Diemens Land in its formative years. Starring Aisling Franciosi and Baykali Ganambarr, The Nightingale is currently available on Hulu, Amazon Prime in the US, and will be available on VOD (video on demand) via Transmission films from November 27 and DVD and Blu-ray in Australia from December 4.
True History of the Kelly Gang
Already looking like a controversial flick, Justin Kurzel’s interpretation of Peter Carey’s novel of the same name will be getting a limited theatrical release in Australia from January 9 until its streaming service debut on Stan on Australia Day (January 26). The film was given mostly positive reviews when it was show in Canada earlier in the year but there was a profound radio silence thereafter. It wasn’t until Stan threw together a trailer for its summer programming that we got a first glimpse at clips from the film. No word has been announced regarding DVD or Blu-ray release.
News on Ben Head’s Stringybark has been slow coming since it’s premiere in Lorne, but it has now been given an official rating, which brings it a step closer to release to a wider audience. It was revealed during a podcast interview that Ben Squared Films are looking at a limited theatrical release, which will most likely come to fruition at some time in 2020.
Two Tone Pictures continues to pursue various bushranger projects including a proposed documentary about “bush westerns” where various directors, writers, actors etc. would help to tell the story of the last 50 years of Australian movies like Ned Kelly, Mad Dog Morgan, The Legend of Ben Hall, and The Proposition.
When more updates become available, be sure to keep an eye on A Guide to Australian Bushranging on Facebook and Instagram where they will be posted as they come to hand.
The most anticipated project at present is Justin Kurzel’s adaptation of True History of the Kelly Gang. The Booker Prize winning novel has had an awful time reaching the screen as detailed in previous articles. With this outing by the Assassin’s Creed director, there has been very little news since production wrapped in 2018. Repeated attempts by A Guide to Australian Bushranging to contact the production and distribution companies connected to the film to gain any information was been met with resounding silence. However, on 24 July we finally got a release date and the first official images from the film.
According to reports, the film will premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2019. This means that it will have been over a year since production wrapped when audiences first get a chance to see it. It also means that Australian audiences will have to wait even longer to see the film, which naturally has some people scratching their heads. Whether Canadian audiences will respond to the film will be interesting to see.
Available information for the film states that it remains in post-production. For months, rumours abounded that it would premiere at Cannes, which it did not as it was not ready in time to qualify, then more recently it was speculated to be premiering at the Venice Film Festival. What is clear is that regardless of where it was to debut, it was always intended to play to international audiences at a film festival first. There is still no word on the release date for general audiences or if it will be a limited release.Oddly, the film has already been nominated for best film adaptation at the 52nd AWGIE awards, despite not having been screened or released, which begs more questions than it answers. Shaun Grant’s screenplay seems to only have one other contender – another as-yet unreleased Essie Davis vehicle in Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears – to duke it out with, so that remains a curiosity.
Essie Davis, who will be playing Ellen Kelly, has mentioned the film several times in interviews about her latest project, Lambs of God. Davis in one interview talks about how a scene in THOTKG saw her thrashed about and bruised, while in another interview she talks about having to keep her hair during the making of Lambs of God because of her role as Ellen. This makes one curious as to what scene could possibly see Ellen thrashed around and beaten.
Another cast member that has spoken of the film in interview is Sean Keenan, who was asked about the film on The Project while promoting his stage production of Cosi. During the brief and awkward interaction Keenan described filming on the snow, Winton Wetlands and in Wangaratta. He also confirmed that he is playing Joe Byrne and that the film is a “contemporary mix” and “modern retelling” of the story.
Artwork used on sites associated with the film’s production and distribution around March appeared to depict something of a concept for the poster design. With a pink colour scheme, the only graphic was an assortment of half-naked young men holding firearms and wearing dresses or ladies underwear. None of the faces of the men Were shown, indicating that these are not the actors from the film, but rather stand-ins. It is unlikely that this will reflect the final poster design.
The production images are not very specific in what they depict but there are perhaps some clues as to the style of the film, it’s attitude to the source material and some of what we can expect to see in the film. It is a little strange that for a film titled True History of the Kelly Gang there are no images of the eponymous bushrangers. It is also strange that Nicholas Hoult, one of the bigger international stars in the film, is not included while two of Russell Crowe were despite the former likely having a more significant role.
Meanwhile, Ben Head’s short feature Stringybark debuted at the Lorne Film Festival on 26 July. The film, centred around the ill-fated Mansfield party rather than the bushrangers, has had an interesting production history; starting out as a student film then getting a huge boost from crowdfunding that allowed the team to get closer to their vision. After an investor screening of the film, things went quiet while the team tried to tee up screenings. Several official photographs from the film were released as well as a trailer, giving audiences a good sense of what to expect ahead of time. Beyond its Lorne premiere there is no further word yet on when there will be other opportunities for people to see the film on the big screen or via streaming, but according to Ben Squared Films they are currently looking at independent cinema screenings in the next few months.
Matthew Holmes’ Glenrowan remains in development, but is now being pitched as a six-part mini-series, intended for streaming. This will allow the story to expand to include elements previously unable to be included due to time constraints. Whereas the original screenplay focused almost entirely on the actual siege, the expanded format will include more of the prelude and aftermath, including an entire episode to open the series based on an expanded version of the short feature screenplay Blood and Thunder, and more emphasis on Aaron Sherritt and the politics that led to the formulation of the Glenrowan plot. The new format also allows more focus to be put on the people outside of the outlaws and the police such as Ann and Jane Jones, the Kelly sisters and key sympathisers like the Lloyds and Harts. It follows the structure and content of the novel that was written parallel to the development of the initial screenplay (by yours truly) more closely than was previously possible.
As details come to hand about any films or other bushranger related productions, you will be able to find them at our Facebook page.
Stuck on what to get that special bushranger lover in your life? Here are some things to look at that might give you some ideas with links to buy online. Just remember: if you see a portly old man with a big white beard carrying a sack full of goodies it may just be Harry Power…
You cannot believe anyone else’s version of an event. You must search it out yourself. – Ian Jones
With the passing of Ian Jones on 31 August, the world of Ned Kelly buffs was shaken. Jones had dedicated the best part of his life to recording and popularising the story of the Kelly Gang and for a considerable number of people in the community they had never been in a world without Ian Jones. His masterpiece Ned Kelly: A Short Life, released in 1995, remains a must-read for all people interested in the story. On top of this, his work on Ned Kelly (1970) and The Last Outlaw (1980) helped entrench Ned in the Australian popular culture.
Beyond his contributions to Kelly scholarship and culture, Jones is best remembered for his work in film and television, for which he was awarded the Longford Lyell Award in 2006 by the AFI. He began his career as a journalist for the Melbourne Sun News-Pictorial before moving into broadcasting. His first work in television was on the broadcasts of the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne for HSV7 and later a foundation director at Channel Seven in Melbourne. But he soon moved into other programming such as Consider Your Verdict and Video Village. In the 1960s he began working for Crawford Productions and in 1964 was the first writer and director for the classic Australian crime drama Homicide. For Crawfords he also worked on The Sullivans, Matlock Police, Hunter, The Bluestone Boys, Bluey, Division 4, Ryan and The Box. But perhaps his most popular work at the time was Against the Wind, a 1978 drama set in the convict era starring Jon English that gained a devoted fanbase around the world. He created the series with his wife Bronwyn Binns, with whom he would go on to create The Last Outlaw.
Ian Jones was also a military historian with a passion for the Australian Light Horse Brigade and in 1987 wrote and produced The Lighthorsemen starring Peter Phelps and Sigrid Thornton. The film depicted the actions of the 4th Light Horse Brigade in the Battle of Beersheba, a key event in WWI and a major victory for Australian forces in the war.
Jones credited his love affair with all things Kelly to a gardener named Tom Maine who would tell him stories about Ned Kelly when he was ten. The obsession began when he read conflicting accounts of Ned Kelly and determined to find out the truth. His fascination with film meant that it was destiny that he would create what is widely considered to be the definitive on-screen depiction of the story. His first attempt during his time as a university student did not pan out as expected resulting in an empty bank account and an injured foot. His experience as co-writer on Tony Richardson’s Ned Kelly film, seeing how it was tampered with after his own involvement ceased, led to him going over all elements of The Last Outlaw with a fine-toothed comb. In 1992 he released his first book on the subject, The Friendship That Destroyed Ned Kelly: Joe Byrne and Aaron Sherritt (later re-released in a revised edition as The Fatal Friendship: Ned Kelly, Aaron Sherritt and Joe Byrne) and was finally able to immortalise some of his own research in print. After the release of Ned Kelly: A Short Life in 1995, Ian Jones cemented his place and became a celebrity to aficionados of the Kelly story. Whenever Ned Kelly was in the news his would be the opinion everyone would seek, even only a few months ago in relation to a controversial work by Stuart Dawson refuting the idea that Ned Kelly was attempting to create a republic – one of the key ideas Ian Jones had popularised after learning of it in his interviews with descendants. Jones was instrumental in the creation of the Ned Kelly Vault in Beechworth, a museum dedicated to the story with an eclectic collection of artifacts spanning the history and the cultural legacy of the story. He never wavered in his high opinion of Ned Kelly, championing the outlaw as an inherently fine man who found himself falling foul of the law after years of oppression. As Ned Kelly appears to be regaining a foothold in the Australian collective consciousness after a lull it seems almost poetic that Jones has departed now, his success in helping to preserve the story for future generations now assured.