“Look Australia! Our bushrangers are far more interesting and complex than you realise!” – The story behind The Legend of Ben Hall

This week we asked film-maker Matthew Holmes, writer and director of The Legend of Ben Hall, to pen some thoughts about his passion for Ben Hall, bushrangers, film-making and how that translated into his award winning film. ~ AP

I’ve always had a love for Australian history and bushrangers were always part of that. I really didn’t know much detail about them beyond some broad knowledge of Ned Kelly, but I was fully aware of the mythos surrounding them – daring Australian highway robbers that held up coaches and fought it out with the police. But it wasn’t until 2007 when a friend of mine recommended that I check out a bushranger called Ben Hall.


When I began learning about Ben Hall, I was immediately hooked and began buying up every book I could find. Yet, my first introduction to Ben Hall was through the prism of folklore. A cursory investigation into Ben Hall will give you this romanticised version – a dashing, outlaw rogue who never killed a man; a poor victim of police corruption; a swaggering leader of men with a twinkle in eye; and of course, a martyr of police brutality. He is absolutely endowed with this ‘Robin Hood’ mantle of the noble bandit. Wikipedia, folksongs and the brief overviews of his life in bushranger books always give this impression of Ben Hall. And to be honest, I swallowed that romantic illusion completely – I loved it, and I thought this would make for a great film. It wasn’t until my books arrived in the mail and I began reading the real history that my perception of Ben Hall began to change.

I had ordered books by D.J. Shiel, Edgar Penzig and Peter Bradley and devoured them immediately with the full intention of writing a screenplay. Yet page after page, I began to realise something – Ben Hall was no Robin Hood. There was another whole side to his story. Things were not so cut and dry. The deeper I delved into the historical accounts – which included newspaper reports and police records – I began to discover a much darker tale surrounding Ben Hall – and a far more interesting one. The ‘romantic’ bushranger image began to dissolve away as the truth came forward. Ben Hall was far more complex than I could have ever imagined. This man was a plethora of contradictions and not at all like his public image. Gone was the charming, swaggering ‘Gentleman Bushranger’. Here was a broken man defined by heartache, rage, depression, regret and loss. It was almost like this man didn’t even want to be a bushranger, but found himself driven to that path by bad choices and circumstances. To me, this was no longer of story of black hat vs white hat; this was a story to be told in many shades of grey.

This is when Ben Hall’s story became even more interesting to me. I now realised that for so many years, filmmakers have been approaching these stories from two polarising viewpoints; bushrangers are the good, police are the bad – or visa versa. Yet the true history of these men and women cannot be defined so simply. I wanted to bring that truth to the big screen. I felt it was time for these social perceptions, myths and legends to be pushed aside, because the truth was far more interesting anyway. This is why I made a decided effort to make my Ben Hall film as historically accurate as I could. If I didn’t, I would only be adding more mythology to mix. I wanted to shake up the genre and say “Look Australia! Our bushrangers are far more interesting and complex than you realise!”


As a filmmaker, flawed characters are far more interesting and their stories more engaging. My goal was to humanise every character in these stories instead of branding them with a stereotype. Just because someone was policeman didn’t mean I was going to portray them as a moustache twirling aristocrat. Nor were the bushrangers going to be these loveable rogues with hearts of gold. I would portray them exactly as the history books revealed them, which at times was not very flattering – on both sides of the conflict. I wanted to help the audience understand why Ben Hall was this way. We didn’t have to agree with his choices, just understand them. We didn’t have to agree with the police gunning Ben Hall down, just to understand why it happened that way.

If I had set out to make a film that put Ben Hall on a pedestal and portrayed him a harmless rogue that was cruelly oppressed by the villainous police, it might’ve been a more accessible film as far as the marketplace was concerned – but it would’ve been completely dishonest. Yet, if I had made Ben Hall out to be an absolute villain – an irredeemable, heartless, mass-murdering thug – that too would’ve been completely dishonest. Neither of those perceptions of Ben Hall are accurate. He was many shades of grey, and when you get down to it – just a regular person like you and I, with positive and negative characteristics. Ben Hall was a man who would shoot it out with police and rob a hundred people at gunpoint on the highway, yet he would kindly play with the children of his enemies in their front yard. Ben Hall was known to break open a church poor box and take its coins, yet gave a sick woman some extra money on the road when he learned she was on her way to the doctor. He burned down people’s homes if they crossed him, yet he refused to let his gang execute policemen that they captured. It was exciting to discover a character so rich and complex, so I was determined that’s how I would portray him.


Overall, the reception to The Legend of Ben Hall has been overwhelming – from audiences. The authenticity is something everyone is picking up and appreciating. So many people find its approach to history refreshing and have thanked me for making it balanced. I’ve found the film has been less well received by critics, who tend to think I’m either glorifying a criminal or not providing enough reason for him to be this way. I think that’s because some critics, like many people, came to TLOBH with their own pre-conceived ideas of what a film about a bushranger should be. So when the film does something completely different, they blame the film for not being done correctly and meeting their expectations.

I have found the odd person on social media or YouTube condemning the film for being inaccurate. Or they believe I’m glorifying a criminal. I think its quite clear that the film doesn’t do this, but again – some people will be disappointed when the film doesn’t align with their preconceptions. I did notice on our tour of the film in regional New South Wales that many people who stayed for the Q&A’s always tried to pull me up on the film’s ‘inaccuracies’. They were in fact just referring to the myths they had been brought up believing, the same old oral tales passed down by novels, songs or TV shows. I had to carefully explain that, in fact, those were not true and why that myth has persisted. It’s amusing how many people assume that as a filmmaker, I had not done my research. But that probably comes from decades of Hollywood films messing around with the truth.

On social media, I will occassionally get an ‘Armchair Historian’ come at me with a bunch of poorly researched ‘facts’, once again lost in the mythology. But it really shows how much these tall-tales have become so entrenched in our social perceptions of bushrangers. My goal with Ben Hall – and any future bushranger films – is to take those ‘perception glasses’ off and allow people see these bushrangers and police for who they really were, warts and all. Because the truth is stranger than fiction and these stories are fabulous. Films are about entertainment, but there’s no reason they can’t educate and enlighten audiences at the same time. It’s time to let these stories speak their truths to us rather than us pressing our ideals onto the stories.


The Legend of Ben Hall will be released in the UK and Ireland for home entertainment July 2, 2018. So far it has been released on DVD and Blu-Ray in seven countries and its seen sold to television, cable and digital in over twenty-two countries.

If you would like to purchase a copy of The Legend of Ben Hall you can find one here.

Spotlight: Bushranger Yarn

The following article, published 21 November 1920, talks about an upcoming book release about Australia’s colonial days. Specifically it refers to the oral legends about Teddy the Jewboy and how they formed the basis of a novel called Castle Vane. If you are interested in reading the book you can access it free online here.
Bushranger Yarn
In his new book about pioneer life in the early days, Mr. Jack Abbott has got back to his old style and quality. The story is admirably told, and the interest is consistently sustained. Further, the novelist keeps reasonably close to the facts of history, and draws a picture that is obviously true to the life of the period he loves so well. Incidentally, he disposes once again of the Jewboy, and sees him satisfactorily hanged at the close of the last chapter. That is a- good thing. The tongue of calumny has often been busy with the Jewboy, to the great annoyance of many reputable living people named Davis. It has been roundly asserted that the Jewboy settled in a convict colony and founded a sort of first
family. All sorts of silly yarns have been put about. It is well, then, that the heartening truth should once again shine forth. The truth is that the Jewboy ended his life at the end of a rope while he was yet quite young, and that he left no progeny to pollute Australian earth. This will go on the shelf reserved for the good Australian novels that are of permanent value. Mr. Abbott works at times a trifle casually and at times he tires of
his characters before he can decently be done with them; but in this story nothing is cramped, and there are no traces of fatigue. The book is of especial interest to all folks who live in the fat lands alone the Hunter, where the Jewboy once roared and ravaged.
Castle Vane : A Romance of Bushranging on the Upper Hunter in the Olden Days, by J. H. M. Abbott. Australia, Angus and Robertson, 1920.
“Bushranger Yarn” Sunday Times (Sydney, NSW : 1895 – 1930) 21 November 1920: 25.

I Am NED #1 (Review)


Bursting onto the indie comics scene is I Am Ned, a post-apocalyptic zombie story full of action and horror. The brainchild of Max Myint, it is like a mix of Mad Max, Dawn of the Dead, and Terminator: Salvation with a unique Aussie flavour. If you’re expecting a comic book about Ned Kelly you may be disappointed – this character is inspired by Ned but this is most assuredly not Victoria circa 1880.


The hero of the story is Ned, a nomad wandering the badlands liberating humans from farms set up by their zombie overlords. Yet, to the humans herded like cattle into large pens by the walking dead Ned is a legend – a fairy tale – but the faithful wear red bands adorned with an illustration of Ned’s helmet knowing he will come. This twisted dystopia is full of weird sentient zombies, some of whom have objects grafted to their bodies, and is depicted with a gritty, visceral quality that sucks you in. In issue #1 we are introduced to Kristy who is captured by zombies with a group of survivors including Nolan, a sceptic who has no faith in the legend of Ned. They are herded into a farm where zombies jostle and inspect them. Among the herd Kristy and Nolan encounter Koa, an Aboriginal man and staunch believer in Ned who lives in hope. Then, just when things are looking bleak Ned arrives…


As an introductory issue one could not ask for a more exciting, intriguing setup, though the story moves so fast that it really leaves you craving for more. The characters are visually appealing, Ned’s costume in particular seems tailor made for icon status. Fans of all things that rev will get a kick out of Old Mate, Ned’s vehicle of choice which looks like the Batmobile via Mad Max. The issue is punctuated with in-universe propaganda posters pertaining to the Zombie World Order and add a satirical edge to the proceedings. We see a fully fleshed out world opening up before our eyes and a tantalising hint of what’s over the horizon.

Myint’s writing is punchy and engaging, perfectly complemented by Zac Smith-Cameron’s artwork which is very evocative of the visual styles used in many edgier comics in the 1980s and 1990s, such as Mike Mignola’s Hellboy and in Frank Miller books such as Batman: Year One and Sin City. The creation of an anti-hero inspired by the armour of Ned Kelly was a master stroke and hopefully gets a bit more explanation in future issues. A great part of the book is the concept art at the end that shows how the look of the world evolved. We can see the effort put into designing the look of everything with sketches and notes from Max Myint. A personal favourite design is the zombies that have stilts for arms and legs so they can keep an eye on the humans.

If you’d like to grab a copy of I Am Ned yourself (or one of the incredible hand-made Ned maquettes) you can do so at https://ownaindi.com/creator/max-myint/

Spotlight: The Prison Bell

Owen Suffolk, the poet bushranger, spent many years in and out of prison, which enabled him to find a lot of inspiration. His depiction of prison life is mournful and tinged with melancholy. To Suffolk, the prison is the place where souls and minds are broken and every day is a reminder of the grim reality of that condition. To this end his poem ‘The Prison Bell’ captures the essence of the convict life and all its suffering.

The Prison Bell

By Owen Suffolk

Hark to the bell of sorrow! – ’tis awak’ning up again
Each broken spirit from its brief forgetfulness of pain.
Its sad sound seems to me to be a deathwail from the past,
An elegy for buried joys too pure and bright to last.
It haunts me like an echo from the dark depths of despair,
And conjures up the fiend-like forms of misery and care;
The saddest of the sorrowful, its tones bright dreams dispel,
For waking woes are summoned by the harsh-toned prison bell.
It tells me that I am not now what once I used to be,
A dearly loved and loving boy whose heart was light with glee;
It tells me that life’s coming years must be long years of pain,
And that my brow with innocence can ne’er be wreathed again:
That I must wander through this world all friendless and forlorn,
Unsolaced by affection’s smile, the thing of shame and scorn.
Those fearful tones, those dirge-like tones, what fearful tales they tell!
It rings the death of hope and joy, that sadly sounding bell.
How oft when some bright vision of the days of olden time
Comes o’er me like an angel dream from heaven’s own hallowed clime,
And beautiful and holy things – the bright stars and the flowers,
And childhood’s prayer – were dear to me as in life’s sinless hours.
How oft, too, when in such dreams I wander by the side
Of one fair form whom virtue might have won me for my bride,
They come, those tones so horrible, those drear tones through my cell,
And memory shuddereth to hear the harsh-toned prison bell.
That bell! – how many hear it sound who’ve ceased to struggle long,
Who, reckless of crime’s after doom, have linked themselves to wrong;
And heard it is with shuddering and tearful vain regret
By those who for one first bad act for years must suffer yet.
‘Tis also sadly heard by some strange-struggling beings who
Cling to the false and evil while they love the good and true;
And some – a few – all innocent, who’ve learned, alas! Too well
That man’s best judgement sometimes errs, may weep to hear that bell.
I’ve heard it when bright memories have crowded to my brain,
When hopes and aspirations high have whispering come again;
And it hath sought to crush each thought that fain would save from ill.
As wildly it hath chanted forth, ‘Despair; be evil still.’
But no, a prison oft hath proved a holy place of yore,
And if the heart yearns for the good, God will the good restore,
Then courage soul: let faith’s bright beams grief’s darksome shades dispel,
And days of joy may yet be thine far from the prison bell.


Spotlight: Reckless Kelly at 25


Australia has produced some unique and often bizarre comedy – The Castle, Alvin Purple, Kenny – but few Australian comedy directors have the same stature as Yahoo Serious. Serious’ debut Young Einstein was a landmark comedy for its decidedly Aussie take on the rags-to-riches story of a Tasmanian apple farmer named Albert Einstein who invents bubbles in beer and rock ‘n’ roll. Serious followed up with a satirical look at gun culture using the cultural touchstone of Ned Kelly as a jumping off point.

Yahoo Serious’ Ned Kelly is a modern day bank robber who bails up ATMs and forcibly deposits the funds into the bank accounts of the poor. He’s obsessed with action movies but when he falls in love he’s prepared to chuck it all in. When Ned Kelly goes to Hollywood unscrupulous real estate agents swoop in to sell his traditional home to Japanese investors, but can a newly pacified Ned Kelly stop them before it’s too late?


On 8 April 2018 Reckless Kelly celebrated its 25th anniversary and its perhaps telling that many of the themes are still painfully relevant after all that time even if some of the jokes are a little cringe inducing now. With a soundtrack that included The Divinyls and Yothu Yindi and a cast that included the talents of Hugo Weaving and the incomparable Bob Mazza, Reckless Kelly is one of the most entertaining films to riff on the Kelly legend.


Spotlight: For Frank Gardiner

Owen Suffolk was a bushranger who spent more than a decade in prison for a range of crimes, particularly Pentridge Prison. Suffolk gained the moniker “The Poet” for his deftness with poetry much of which refers to the experience of convicts and bushrangers. Perhaps his most well-known is For Frank Gardiner. It is a bold declaration of defiance and desire for freedom at any cost, the sort of liberty the outlaw archetype represents free from the constraints of the law and the mores of society; a liberty denied Frank Gardiner when he was finally apprehended at Apis Creek and dragged back to New South Wales.

Frank Gardiner in prison

For Frank Gardiner
By Owen Suffolk

It is not in a prison drear
Where all around is gloom,
That I would end life’s wild career,
And sink into the tomb,
For though my spirit’s ever bold
Each tyrant to defy;
Still, still, within a dungeon cold,
I could not calmly die.

It is not that my cheek would pale
Within a lonely cell;
It is not that my heart would quail
To bid this world farewell.
For if oppressed by tyrant foe
I’d freely be the first
To give my life, and strike the blow
To lay him in the dust.

But place me in a forest glen
Unfettered, wild and free,
With fifty tried and chosen men
A bandit chief to be.
‘Tis there, when fighting with my foes
Amid my trusty band,
I’d freely leave this world of woes,
And die with sword in hand.



The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (Review)

Few Australian films have attracted the same degree of praise as The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith which has received its first ever Blu-Ray release thanks to Umbrella Entertainment. 40 years after its original release the team at Umbrella bring us a beautiful re-release of this classic award-winning piece of Aussie cinema and it’s just as relevant now as it ever was.

Tommy Lewis as Jimmie Blacksmith

Set just before Australian federation, this tale is the trials and tribulations of a young half-Aboriginal man trying to find his way in a world of oppression. Jimmie (Tommy Lewis) is coached by his uncle Tabidgi (Steve Dodd) in the ways of his people but raised by a white pastor (Jack Thompson) who discourages him from mixing with his Aboriginal kin. As he reaches maturity Jimmie becomes alienated. Repulsed by the alcoholism of the Aboriginals who take his earnings for booze and bullied by the whites who deny him his earnings and constantly abuse him, Jimmie is trapped between two worlds that both hold him back. Being a half-blood he belongs to neither world and spends his days fighting against his instinct to rebel against them both. The racial dichotomy of The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith speaks to the struggles faced by Aboriginal peoples in the wake of the arrival of Europeans who brought with them the destructive forces of disease and alcohol as well as their prejudices, treating the Aboriginals as sub-humans worthy of nothing more than scorn and domination. It also highlights the difficulties faced by mixed race individuals who were frequently outcast from both white and Aboriginal societies. At a time when being of a mixed race was cause for almost universal scorn Jimmie Blacksmith tries to push ahead with optimism. He joins the police but is pushed to the edge by the evil acts he is forced to be complicit in by the repulsive Farrell (Ray Barrett) and flees. Becoming a fencer, Jimmie is a skilled craftsman who is again and again denied his rightful earnings by racist employers. Taking a job with the Newby family things begin to look up. He falls in love and marries Gilda (Angela Punch McGregor), a promiscuous white woman, and builds a hut for them to live in. Members of his Aboriginal community stay with Jimmie, declaring his marriage to a white woman is a bad totem. This in turn raises the hackles of Jack Newby (Don Crosby), the station manager, who refuses to pay Jimmie until he clears his relatives away. When his family is denied food he snaps and goes on a murderous revenge spree taking his brother Mort (Freddy Reynolds) with him. Jimmie becomes the most wanted man in the country, the most infamous bushranger since Ned Kelly.

Armed with little more than an axe, Jimmie Blacksmith declares war on white men.

The film is based on the book by Thomas Kenneally which is a fictionalised account of the life of Jimmy Governor. Closely following the real Governor story, while departing in aspects the film is still very faithful to the history in comparison to some films and books about historical figures. The screenplay is soulful, skillfully weaving humour and pathos throughout to highlight the themes of colonialism, disenfranchisement, racism and the plight of the Aboriginal people at the turn of the last century (which was just as relevant in 1978 when the film was first released). The light-hearted moments at the beginning soon evaporate into a harrowing tale of racial hatred and revenge zig-zagging between the world of whites and Aboriginals. You sympathise with Jimmie as he does all he can to succeed but is constantly knocked down but your sympathies are tested when he finally snaps and does the unthinkable. Fred Schepisi, who also adapted the screenplay from the novel, directs with deftness and intelligence, which is greatly facilitated by the superb cinematography of Ian Baker and the heart-wrenching score by Bruce Smeaton. Featuring stellar performances from newcomers and old hands such as Tommy Lewis, Freddy Reynolds, Steve Dodd, Ruth Cracknell and Peter Sumner, the film is gripping from beginning to end. Lewis in particular is remarkable, his charming, youthful naivete giving way to a scintillating rage that leaves the viewer with a heavy feeling in the pit of their stomach as the injustices of Jimmie’s life result in the inevitable retaliation.

Gilda (Angela Punch McGregor) tries to comfort Jimmie after a heart-breaking revelation.

The restoration of the print is absolutely glorious with rich colours and crisp details often sadly lacking in the majority of such releases. It would be easy to think in some instances that this was a film made only in the last few years with its vibrant colour palette and epic cinematography. The Blu-Ray transfer means that you can now blow it up on a home cinema to soak it all in without the fuzziness that comes with the usual DVD format or indeed some Blu-Ray re-issues. The special features are fantastic and include such gems as an interview with the film’s director Fred Schepisi and cinematographer Ian Baker that discusses a lot of the history of the film industry they emerged from and how that related to the making of The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith; a report from Willesee at Seven showing people’s reaction to the premiere; a wonderfully detailed making of retrospective and a feature about the Aboriginal actors. Overall this is a complete package for film buffs.

Jimmie (Tommy Lewis) and Mort (Freddy Reynolds) become bushrangers.

The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith is not a film to be entered into lightly. The violence is hugely impactful, the rampage in the Newby household in particular noted for its impact on audiences. The depiction of racism in the film is potent and was considered to be very raw when the film was released. It must be noted that when The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith reached cinemas Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders had only been able to vote in Australia for thirteen years, only recognised by the census and Commonwealth laws for eleven, the governmental bodies that had facilitated the removal of Aboriginal children, known as the “stolen generation”, had only been dismantled for nine years, and the first Aboriginal parliamentarian, Neville Bonner, had gained a seat only six years before. Thus The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith was truly a product of its times. This film will break your heart, fill you with horror and rage at historical injustices and keep you spellbound by the absolute beauty of its visuals. For lovers of Australian stories and cinema it is a must have.

The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith is available now from Umbrella Entertainment. You can order your own copy here.

The Romance of Robbery (Opinion)

Everyone loves a good crime story. Most of the world’s most enduring stories relate to criminals, renegades and assorted rogues and their notorious exploits. But what is it that makes these figures so appealing? What is it about the brigand that captures the imagination? Why is it always the outlaws that sell the story and never the victims or the forces of the law?


This fascination with crime seems to be deeply ingrained across cultures and languages and places. Perhaps it comes down to a fixation on rules and order and what happens when the established rule of law is challenged. In the bible there is an attempt to explain such problematic behaviour with Eve and Adam eating the forbidden fruit whereupon they procure the knowledge of good and evil and introduce sin to the world and thereafter we are told the story of Cain slaying his brother Abel among other morality tales to educate the masses about morality. While this attempts to explain the existence of lawlessness, they’re not exactly historical accounts. Even as late as the middle ages myths were being created to portray outlaws and rogues rather than referring to specific real world instances. Robin Hood is of course the archetype of the noble rogue who opposes corruption and protects the little guy. Debate still rages around whether he was real or not, but it is likely that the stories were at least inspired by actual criminals. To us as enthusiasts of the bushranger stories it is a familiar premise that a band of outlaws who reside in a forest robbing travellers and disrespecting the forces of law and order become heroes to the underdog by dispensing the proceeds of their crimes among their supporters. To reduce the notion down in such a way really highlights how outlaws like the Kelly and Clarke gangs were able to remain at large as long as they did – though the actions weren’t exactly altruistic, as is assumed to be the explanation for Robin Hood, the formula still applies in a bare bones manner. Such myth making highlights the desire to have a hero that challenges and upsets the establishment when it oversteps the mark into tyranny. To this end, some will cling onto the first thing that resembles such a figure.

A medieval woodcut of Robin Hood circa 1510 (Source)


The desire to not only make heroes of villains but to try to become associated with such perceived greatness is commonplace. In London just about everyone knew the Krays or knew someone who did. In America everyone seems to have photographs of outlaws like Billy the Kid and Jesse James floating around in their attic. In Australia it seems like everyone is related to a bushranger in some capacity. How often have you heard phrases like “I’m related to Ned Kelly” or “my great, great grandmother danced with Ben Hall”? Of course this sense of connection can be dubious at times but it helps people ground their beliefs in something tangible (which incidentally is why there’s a market for Ned Kelly tyre flaps). There is also no denying that the general public’s fascination with the lawless of our society is prominent and profitable. A perfect contemporary illustration can be seen in Mark Brandon Read, aka Chopper. When asked by Andrew Denton why, if he didn’t want young people to follow in his criminal footsteps, he wrote nine sequels to his first book glorifying and exaggerating his crimes he replied “Because they sold well.” In fact, Read is the epitome of the glorified criminal. By his own standards he was basically a typical street thug no more worthy of recognition than any other hoodlum, yet he is viewed by many as a hero and all round top bloke largely thanks to his unique appearance and flair for the theatrical. He comes across to many as the terrifying ogre with a heart of gold – like Shrek with a butane torch. His rhetoric about punishing drug dealers, child molesters and any other criminal that attacks the defenceless is perhaps the key to his characterisation. People want to believe the idea that a criminal can act as a defender of the weak and helpless against other crooks because of the desire to see “bad” people redeemed irrespective of their stance on the law and a belief in the innate goodness of the average person (most popular crooks coming from humble, working class or impoverished backgrounds).

Chopper Read poses with one of his paintings that depicts himself with a Ned Kelly helmet.


The idea of these dangerous offenders coming from a place of oppression and exerting power over their oppressors and furthermore using their might to protect the oppressed is the height of power fantasy. This notion of the faceless and oppressive “Man” is usually how the status quo is perceived at any given time by any amount of people owing to the propensity for figures of authority to exert power over others, frequently with little regard for the values or well being of many communities. A figure like Ned Kelly appeals to those who have felt bullied or persecuted in their life. The armour becomes a symbol of defiance and resilience, much like Chopper’s sunglasses, tattoos and moustache became symbolic of dominance and intimidation. In folklore Ben Hall is a tragic anti-hero, forced into crime because external forces broke his life apart (again, the police are portrayed as oppressors by burning his house down and even being personified as Jim Taylor who is in many colloquial accounts a former policeman). He breaks free of the oppression of the law by taking to the bush and ridiculing the police. Similarly, Dan Morgan was seen by many as heroic because he menaced unsympathetic managerial types in the name of the labourers that were in their employ and perceived as being ill treated. The bushranger becomes a beacon to those with an oppressed mentality; that is to say that those who have experienced or are experiencing oppression in some form identify with the romance of a life lived in opposition to oppressive forces. To this end it could reasonably be argued that the fascination with bushrangers is intertwined with a passion for social justice – that is a desire to see justice doled out equally among the adherents of society irrespective of the laws.

Fearless, free and bold: Figures like Frank Gardiner challenge authority, something many people feel unempowered to do themselves.


In the end the fascination with crime and outlaws will never falter while there exists a division between the lawful and the lawless and while there exists a distinct form of inequality or oppression in society. Looking up to an outlaw can say just as much about our strong moral character as our detesting the same can. By ascribing a morally superior motivation to crime it can speak to a desire to see justice carried out in spite of oppressive laws. By admiring an outlaw’s stance against a corrupt authority or their using their power to give hope to those being oppressed it can highlight social justice values that can’t be fed by other figures. In short, the romance of robbery is the desire of the downtrodden, an escapist ideal that places personal integrity as being more virtuous than compliance and seeks a hero to be the mouthpiece of those without a voice.

Sources and further exploration:

Interview with Chopper Read on Enough Rope (Source)




Spotlight: Fan Art February 2018 round-up

fan art february

The first A Guide to Australian Bushranging Fan Art February was small but had good participation from our followers. A winner in the give-away has been chosen, but first here’s a re-cap of the artwork that was included…

Les Tritton 1.jpg
“Untitled” by Les Tritton

Les Tritton 2.jpg
“Untitled” by Les Tritton

The first two pieces were submitted by Les Tritton and depict Ned Kelly in his armour. The first is a drawing of Ned on his own with a rifle, the second is a painting of Ned in front of the Glenrowan Inn with a motorcycle to drive home the rebel/outlaw motif. The image of Ned in his armour is something that really appeals to a wide variety of people for a range of reasons. Much like a superhero mask that completely hides the identity of the wearer (Spider-Man for example) the helmet allows people to project their own ideas onto the figure in a way that they can’t with the face of the man himself.

“Edward” by Graham Bray

The next piece was a little bit unusual. Graham Bray’s Edward is a leatherwork patch made of cow hide tanned with vegetable oil and trimmed with two-tone dyed kangaroo leather lacing. This leatherwork patch displays an excellent grasp of a rarely seen skill in the modern day that resembles very closely the art of etching that was used to create images for newspapers in Ned Kelly’s day. This kind of “old world” crafting skill is perfectly suited to portraying such iconic historical images.

“Ned Kelly Street Art” by James McLean

“Oz Day” by James McLean

Art can take on many forms and one of the most contemporary forms of artistic expression is street art. Street art takes on many styles but is bound by one common goal – individualised and free-form expression. Some street art is hyper-realistic while other street art can be very abstract. Emerging artist James McLean’s Ned Kelly Street Art is very stylised and whimsical and is complimented by his incorporating Nolan-esque imagery in Oz Day, which portrays a collection of Australians on a beach in a very modern abstract way with cubist overtones. Sidney Nolan’s almost monolithic portrayal of Ned Kelly in his paintings has helped create the visual shorthand for Ned Kelly and bushrangers in general ever since and it can be readily observed how much this has influenced artists from various backgrounds and artistic persuasions.

“Untitled” by Erin Hutchinson

Photography is a medium often overlooked as an art form, yet the advent of digital photography has enabled people to not only create stunning images as an amateur but also comes with access to a whole range of tools that can enable artists to add whimsicality to their work. Erin Hutchinson’s photograph of Ned Kelly’s death mask perfectly encapsulates this by adding a comical filter to the image. With Ned surrounded by stars and dolled up in make-up and fake lashes it is at once absurd yet strangely apt as many Kelly enthusiasts approach Ned Kelly as this highly glamourised figure shrouded in this veneer of celebrity or stardom. By showing this in a humorous way subtly reminds us that a lot of our perception of Ned is just, in essence, a filter of glamour.

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“The Capture of Ned Kelly” by Robert Weston

As we’ve seen, no other bushranger captures the imagination like Ned Kelly in his armour at Glenrowan. For many, this is where they were introduced to bushrangers and started a long time interest or even obsession. The cylindrical helmet with singular eyeslit was such an obvious symbol that it inspired artists like Sidney Nolan and Albert Tucker to use it as a motif in their paintings. Robert Weston portrays Ned having succumbed to his wounds and resting against a log like a worn out boxer resting on the ropes of the ring – an apt simile for such a legendary battle.

“Tell ’em I Died Game” by Mark Perry

The most prolific set of entries was from Mark Perry, a familiar face in the Ned Kelly community. They demonstrate a passion for the Kelly story and all of the assorted paraphernalia that connects to it.

“Stop at Glenrowan. The Kelly Gang Did” by Mark Perry

Somehow these images capture a real sense of what it feels like to ramble through Kelly Country and encounter the bizarre and kitsch merchandise and the various places that will slap a Ned helmet on anything to tie it in to the history.


“For One Night Only.. The Greta Mob” by Mark Perry

The cartoon depiction of the Kelly gang performing a concert is whimsical and amusing. To see the gang juxtaposed as figures of mirth and entertainment despite carrying weapons and ammunition really speaks to the way that the story has been reframed in the popular consciousness.

“Untitled” by Mark Perry

One thing that really defines the Kelly story is the sheer number of players in the saga. A collage of these faces would surely be a daunting task, yet here we have a very unique collection of people from both sides of the law illustrating the complexity of the Kelly saga while also demonstrating the very reason that the folklore needs to be challenged – it affects so many people directly and indirectly.

“Untitled” by Mark Perry

This untitled piece by Mark Perry is like a window into the mind of a Kelly buff. The iconography and the country the story played out in is all there, mixed together in a gumbo of legend and life. The detailed buildings, the maps and road signs connecting all of the imagery together, punctuated with that all too familiar helmet.

But now it’s time to select the winning piece…



“Ned Kelly at the Movies” by Mark Perry

The decision on a winner came down to audience reaction and Mark Perry’s “Ned Kelly at the Movies” got the most enthusiastic response out of the entries. It creates a sense of nostalgia for a variety of eras by incorporating imagery from the cinematic legacy of Kelly films and stage productions. Mick Jagger and John Jarratt are depicted in among retro poster designs and promos. This image was the most liked on social media, clearly striking a nerve with the audience who no doubt got that lovely rush of nostalgia.

Congratulations to Mark Perry, you will be receiving a copy of Bushrangers: Australia’s Greatest Self-Made Heroes by Evan McHugh. And a massive thank you to everyone that contributed to Fan Art February and made it possible, it has been an absolute thrill seeing what you have come up with and hopefully it’ll just get bigger and better from here. All going well there will be another Fan Art February in 2019 which should give you plenty of time to get your creative juices flowing.

Fan Art February 2018


It’s Fan Art February at A Guide to Australian Bushranging. Do you have a sketch, painting, sculpture, photograph or cosplay that you’d like to share? Perhaps a drawing based on your favourite bushranger film or a Lego set based on a historic building or event?


Email australianbushranging@gmail.com with the subject line “Fan Art February” and provide your name, the name of your piece and any images you would like included. The pieces will be shown on Facebook and be included in the blog as part of a retrospective. If you have a website or blog for your art include a link and it will be included in the post.


Get creative and share your work with the world for Fan Art February!

fan art february