Bushranging Gazette #19

Thursday, 1 September 2022

Victorian Bushrangers at Geelong Gaol

On 7 August, A Guide to Australian Bushranging‘s Aidan Phelan gave a presentation at the Old Geelong Gaol about Victorian bushrangers. The talk ranged from an introduction to bushrangers to the lives and careers of several notable Victorian outlaws.

Among the stories told during the presentation were those of Bradley and O’Connor, Captain Melville, Harry Power and Thomas Menard. Menard has a special connection to the gaol as he was hanged there for murder and was buried in the grounds.

The event was well received and the venue proved to be suitably atmospheric, with replicas of the death masks of Thomas Menard, Ned Kelly and Captain Moonlite adding to the effect.

There is a strong probability that there will be more such presentations in the gaol, as there are plenty more stories to explore.

Aidan Phelan with replicas of the death masks of Thomas Menard, Ned Kelly and Captain Moonlite.

The Crisis of Captain Moonlite

On 23 August Dr. Matthew Grubits presented an online seminar conducted via Zoom for Melbourne Irish Studies Seminars on Andrew George Scott, alias Captain Moonlite. The focus of the talk was predominantly on Scott’s religiosity and faith, and how this influenced his behaviour throughout his life.

Grubits drew particular attention to Scott’s most highly valued traits, those being truthfulness, honour and manliness and how the philosophy of “Muscular Christianity” influenced his beliefs. This also came into play when discussing Scott’s most intimate relationship, being the one between himself and James Nesbitt. Grubits pointed to Scott’s unwavering Christianity and his profound grief as key factors in why Scott wrote about Nesbitt posthumously with such passion, imbuing him with the very traits he himself valued above all others. It was suggested that this may potentially be a more accurate way to contextualise their relationship and the way Scott expressed his feelings about it than a perspective that indicates it being sexual in nature, when looked at in the broader context of Scott’s life.

While the 1869 Egerton bank robbery and Scott’s subsequent running afoul of the law were covered, much of this was only touched upon due to time constraints. The emphasis was decidedly on Scott’s personality and beliefs, and less on his bushranging, which is an approach rarely taken when discussing the infamous former lay reader.

The seminar proved to be an enlightening and engaging exploration of Scott’s life and psyche that raised many questions that will hopefully be answered when Grubits manages to secure a publisher for his doctoral thesis. It is an indicator of very exciting things to come. Watch this space.

New Jessie Hickman book brings the Lady Bushranger to a new audience

With so much emphasis in recent years having been put on highlighting the stories of female bushrangers, and especially educating children about notable women in history, it seems odd that it has taken so long for the “Lady Bushranger” to get her own children’s book.

Wild Bush Days is a new children’s book from MidnightSun Publishing, written by Penny Harrison and illustrated by Virginia Gray that introduces you for readers to the bold Jessie Hickman through the eyes of two young adventurers. The book is aimed at three to six year-olds and features many charming, full colour illustrations.

Jessie Hickman was Australia’s bold, but little-known, Lady Bushranger. Raised in the circus during the early 1900s, she later turned to a life of crime and cattle hustling. She used her skills as a rough-rider and tightrope walker to elude police, often hiding in a cave, deep in the mountains.

Told through the eyes of two young, modern-day explorers who go looking for the bushranger’s cave, Wild Bush Days conjures the spirit of adventure, from a time when girls weren’t expected to be daring.

(Official blurb)

Wild Bush Days is now available from most book retailers.

The Legend of Ben Hall on Amazon Prime

Fans of Matthew Holmes’ 2017 bushranger epic, The Legend of Ben Hall, can now rent or buy the film to stream on Amazon Prime.

The film’s shift to streaming makes it accessible to an even larger audience, with DVD and Blu-Ray editions of the film having been out of print for several years.

While the film was shown on Australian free-to-air television on Channel Nine in 2019, the commercial broadcaster has not aired it since. The Legend of Ben Hall has also been available on other services, such as YouTube and HBO Europe, with every distribution to a new platform boosting exposure for the epic indie film.

Director Matthew Holmes is about to embark on a new project, Fear Below, a Jazz Era crime flick featuring a fearsome bullshark. It is his second feature since The Legend of Ben Hall, with upcoming thriller The Cost due to premiere in early December of this year. In the intervening years he has launched several unsuccessful efforts to gain funding for films about Ned Kelly and the Glenrowan siege, Frank Gardiner, John Vane, and a streaming series about bushranging in Victoria and New South Wales during the 1860s through to 1880.

Aussie Icons by Ian Coate

The keen-eyed may have seen garden sculptures popping up in Woolworths and Bunnings stores recently including a platypus wearing a very familiar suit of armour. Bushranger Platypus is part of a series of garden statues called Dinkum Aussie Icons designed by Australian artist Ian Coate.

Other characters include Convict Crocodile, Swaggie Koala, Nurse Possum and Digger Wombat. Each is a cartoony Australian animal dressed like a figure from Australian culture or history. They are designed to educate and amuse, encouraging children to take an interest in Australian culture and nature.

I am delighted to announce the ‘DINKUM AUSSIE’ icons I designed have finally hit the shelves at Bunnings and Woolworths. We have just launched a website and Facebook page dedicated to these little Aussie characters and I would love for you to be the first to follow our Dinkum Aussie Page and join us for some ridgy-didge fun.

Ian Coate (via Facebook)

You can read more at Ian’s website: https://iancoate.com/aussieicons.html

Ned Kelly on Super History

While there is certainly no shortage of videos about Ned Kelly on YouTube, precious few could be said to be both informative and hilarious. Brian Pilchard recently released a short documentary from his ongoing Super History series on his YouTube channel, OK Champ, where he covers the Kelly story with an imaginative mash-up of dodgy costumes, excessive amounts of cardboard, green screen, pop culture references and hilariously bizarre re-enactments.

The Kellys in action

You can watch the video below:

A Fateful September Day by Julia Dąbrowska

The following is a piece penned by long-time follower of A Guide to Australian Bushranging (and contributor) from Poland Julia Dąbrowska in commemoration of the death of Jack Donahoe who was shot in a stand off this day in 1830. — AP

The setting sun shines through the branches of gum trees covered with thick leaves. The fallen twigs crackle under the boot heels of the bushrangers and the hooves of a packhorse. Jack Donahue walks at the head of the gang. He gazes at his mates, William Webber and John Walmsley, and at a horse carrying several sacks. Suddenly, John Walmsley stops, pointing at something.

“It’s a campfire,” he said. They have seen campfires in the bush many times before, so they didn’t pay any special attention to it.

Little do they know that the campfire is in the police camp. Jack’s anxiety is increasing. He realises that the policemen are following him and his gang.

He stands, waving his hat, shouting, “Come on, you bloody bastards! We are ready to fight you all!”

The bushrangers decide to abandon the packhorse and seek some hideout. The police party and the bushrangers were less than hundred yards apart from each other. A sound of shooting breaks the silence of the bush. The first shot finds its mark in the tree Webber hides behind. Jack continues to tease the policemen, encouraging his gang members to fight and not surrender. It’s getting increasingly darker. John Muckleston, the best marksman in the police party, notices the head of Jack Donahue, protruding from behind a tree. Not wanting to wait anymore, the trooper squeezes the trigger. One ball hits Jack Donahue in the back of the neck, another one in his left temple. Jack falls, shaking, dropping his weapon upon the ground. Blood stains his flaxen hair and white shirt. William Webber and John Walmsley decide to run away.

It’s completely dark now. Jack Donahue lay on the ground, shivering, barely breathing, with  his hair sticky with drying blood. Yes, he chose death in a battle over surrendering to the authorities. This is the death that any true Irishman would like to receive.

Illustration by Julia Dąbrowska


Conservators at Work

A photograph shared recently by the State Library Victoria shows a team of conservators working on the specialised display case for Ned Kelly’s armour.

Times have certainly changed since the days when the armour was displayed in the open on an old cockatoo perch in the old Melbourne Aquarium, and when it was worn as a costume during Australia Day parades.

The new case also contains Ned’s boot and a rifle attributed to him, and is climate controlled to protect the items from moisture and a risk of oxidisation. The armour is also occasionally removed for cleaning by the conservation team to remove any rust or decay.

Image via State Library Victoria

Bushranging Gazette #7

Wednesday, 1 September 2021

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.

Matthew Brady, James McCabe and Patrick Bryant

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.

9News Staff

The article gives a decent account of he story in very broad brushstrokes, which hopefully inspires more people to investigate the story further.

You can read the article here.

Ronnie Minder’s Legendary Score On YouTube

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.

You can listen to Ronnie Minder’s music here.

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)
Tommy Baker [Source]

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.

Anonymous Pastor

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.

Artwork by Julia Dąbrowska

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.

Julie Power

Read the full article here.

Absolute Mad Lad

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.


Moonlite’s Note

[Source: Public Records Office Victoria]

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

Christie’s Record

[Source: Public Records Office Victoria]

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.

Bushranging Gazette #2

Thursday, 01 April 2021

Welcome to the second issue of the Bushranging Gazette. There are plenty of interesting topics of conversation to delve into this month including Captain Moonlite’s inclusion in a LGBTQI+ event in Ballarat and the controversy over the new Kate Kelly book.

As today is April Fool’s Day, one of these articles is a fake – can you spot which one it is?

Kate Kelly Controversy

Early in March, with the release and publicity tour for Rebecca Wilson’s book Kate Kelly, came a spot of controversy due to claims published in the book.

Wilson has included in her text an unsubstantiated rumour that Ellen Kelly’s youngest daughter, Alice King, was in fact the illegitimate child of Kate Kelly and Constable Fitzpatrick, with Ellen acting as a wet nurse for her grandchild. This, naturally, raised eyebrows among those who are enthusiasts of the story and descendants.

The keen amateur historians were quick to lay out exactly why the rumour was nothing but a lie. Further, Ellen Hollow, a direct descendant of Kate, made clear her distaste for the blatant disregard for accuracy in a message to Brad Webb’s ironoutlaw website. She stated in part:

Look at the facts. The King children at that time were five, three, and a new born. Not impossible but highly improbable that Ellen Kelly/King became a wet nurse for Alice. Remember Ellen was taken to goal with Alice as she was nursing (breast feeding) the infant. Rebecca said she had done intensive research into Kate’s life, then how could she believe Kate would abandon her child for all the years until her death? That is not justice to Kate’s memory, which Rebecca says she has tried to achieve.

Ellen Hollow – 7 Mar 2021 [via http://www.ironoutlaw.com]

Unfortunately, as in most cases of such reckless reiteration of untruths, the horse has now bolted and many people who have bought the book, read it watched interviews with the author, or attended her class on writing and researching history, have already accepted her account as true and factual.

New Custody Centre Honours Bushranging Victim

On 13 March, Victoria Police unveiled a new custody centre at Glen Waverley Police Station named after Constable Thomas Lonigan, a police officer killed by Ned Kelly over 140 years ago.

In a gesture lauded by the slain trooper’s descendants, the Victoria Police are paying tribute to one of their own who was taken in a violent attack in 1878. This is not the only memorial to Lonigan; the memorial site at Stringybark Creek, where he died, was given an upgrade in 2018 in order to put emphasis on the sacrifice of the police officers, and take attention away from the outlaws. These new holding cells will keep the Lonigan name actively involved in law enforcement well into the future.

Captain Moonlite Rides Again in Ballarat

From 05/03 – 25/03, Child & Family Services Ballarat Inc. held the LGBTIQ+ event Captain Moonlite Rides Again, which featured art exhibitions, and projection installations. While the event could be visited in person, it was also partially delivered online via Facebook and on local broadcaster Channel 31 as a way of maximising participation in a Covid-safe format.

In recent years the suggestion that Andrew George Scott, aka Captain Moonlite, was homosexual has provided a very important cultural touchstone for the Pride movement in Australia. Regardless of whether or not he in fact was gay is by-the-by, the very notion of a gay bushranger offers LGBTIQ+ people a feeling of inclusion in the nation’s history. This highlights the very important role that historical figures play in fostering ideas of identity and unity, even if the ideas may potentially stem from a myth or pure speculation. The Captain Moonlite Rides Again event is not the first time that Scott’s image and alter-ego have been employed in the name of the Pride movement. One recent example is the musical Moonlite by Gabriel Bergmoser that was included in the Midsumma festival in 2018.

For more information on Moonlite’s inclusion in a study into LGBTIQ+ history in Victoria, check out this article written by Gabrielle Hodson.

Long Lost Letter Located in Library

Librarians cleaning out a store room in Eltham have accidentally discovered a letter written by infamous bushranger Robert Burke that had been donated many years ago by an anonymous individual. The letter was in a shoebox along with a collection of antique photographs of various locations in the region. A note pinned to the letter explains that the letter was found in a coat pocket when Burke was captured after shooting Henry Hurst in 1866. The letter had been claimed as a souvenir and handed down through the family of the light-fingered individual.

Sharon Stone, head librarian, claimed that the letter was written by Burke and addressed to his sister.

Burke writes that he is walking to Sydney where he will meet his sister so they can both travel to Queensland and establish a farm. He says he included a photograph of an actor he saw in Melbourne but the photograph seems to have gone missing. It really is an interesting insight into the famous bushranger and what he was doing up this way.

Sharon Stone – 17 Mar 2021 [via Eltham Gazette]

There are plans to display the letter in the library foyer so that locals can come and view this intriguing piece of local history.

Ben Hall Epic Comes to Apple TV

The Legend of Ben Hall is now available to view on Apple TV, in Australia. The 2016 film, which depicts the final months of Hall’s life, has been previously available on YouTube and Ozflix for VOD (Video On Demand) while the television rights were held by Channel Nine.

Nine only aired the film once, but now that it is finally coming to streaming it greatly increases the opportunity for the film to reach new audiences.

Additionally, fans of the film will be interested to check out Rogue Radio’s podcast Folk Lore with Richard Glover, which includes an interview with director Matthew Holmes.

The film is also included in an article on Australian Westerns for True West magazine, which you can read here.

Tales From Rat City: Captain Moonlite, episode 3 – Moonlight at Dawn

After many months of hard work, the team at Tales From Rat City have released the third, and final, installment of their special mini-series on Captain Moonlite. The Tales From Rat City podcast is well-researched and demonstrates a respect for Australia’s history and culture that is often lacking in many such podcasts. The journey to research and capture the dramatic story of Andrew George Scott has clearly been very rewarding for the team and you can tell that by listening to the discussions of the story. The story is brought to life by passages that are dramatised like a radio play, helping to create a great sense of immersion.

If you would like to hear the podcast, you can access the three installments via the below links:

Moonlight in Egerton – Part I

Moonlight In Prison – Part II

Moonlight At Dawn – Part III

‘Bluey’ Shelton

Ian ‘Bluey’ Shelton has passed away after a long illness at the age of 81. Shelton, a former star player for the Essendon Football Club, was a descendant of Richard Shelton, the boy that Ned Kelly famously rescued from drowning in Hughes Creek, Avenel. For this act of bravery, Ned was given his green sash, which he later wore under his armour at Glenrowan.

Read more about the late Mr. Shelton here.

Glenrowan Tourist Tower

After months of whittling down the proposed designs to two, then getting community feedback, a design for the new tower in Glenrowan has been chosen.

The tower, originally planned as a “VR tower”, is intended to enhance the tourist experience in Glenrowan by offering views overlooking the battle site, from which you can use a mixture of media including augmented reality software to recreate the buildings and the battlefield. The project currently has $4 million funding and is hoped to become a major tourist attraction for the area.

Read more here.

The approved tower design

This month’s articles on A Guide to Australian Bushranging

A Guide to Tasmanian Bushranging: An exploration of some of the locations in picturesque Tasmania and their connections to bushranging.

Port Arthur [Photograph by Aidan Phelan]

Fact vs Film – Joe Byrne: An examination of how Kelly Gang member Joe Byrne is portrayed in Ned Kelly (1970), The Last Outlaw (1980), Ned Kelly (2003), and True History of the Kelly Gang (2019).

Did you spot the April Fool’s Day entry in this gazette?

The Director Speaks: Matthew Holmes Interviewed

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.

Jack Martin as Ben Hall

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. 

Jamie Coffa as the “flash Canadian”, Johnny Gilbert

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.

Jack Martin and Zane Ciarma as father and son, Ben and Henry Hall

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!

Ben Hall (Jack Martin) and Mick Coneley (Adam Willson) in a deleted scene from The Legend of Ben Hall

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” — via Cinema Australia

We could be getting a three-hour director’s cut of The Legend of Ben Hall


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.

via We could be getting a three-hour director’s cut of The Legend of Ben Hall — Cinema Australia

The Legend of Ben Hall: an analysis

The Legend of Ben Hall is an interesting entry in the history of bushranger films for a number of reasons. Chiefly, it is the only standalone theatrical bushranger feature that has put particular emphasis on historical accuracy in every level of production. Yet, it manages to tell the story accurately as well as artfully. While on a surface level the film can be taken as merely a portrayal of an exciting and intriguing part of history, on closer inspection what we see is a dissection of the character of Ben Hall. What emerges upon deeper examination is that the film’s title is the key to understanding what it is truly about: what is the legend of Ben Hall?

Despite what the papers encourage you to imagine, this life you want is not easy. We do this because we have no recourse left.

A key part of the artifice of the film is in the effort to replicate the costumes, weaponry, buildings and so forth of the period. Director Matthew Holmes spent months looking for available locations that were a close match for the arborial, geological and topographical features of Ben Hall Country in 1865. By portraying these things as close to history as possible, the film immediately positions itself in such a way that we understand that we are not being told what to feel and think through interpretation. Rather, we are being asked to immerse ourselves in this world in order to understand it and find the answers to the questions ourselves, without being skewed in a certain way by the director.

Compare this to other bushranger films such as Mad Dog Morgan, Ned Kelly (1970) and its 2003 namesake. These films take liberties with the art design to account for budget and artistic vision. Ned Kelly (2003) is the most notable in this regard. Whereas Mad Dog Morgan tries to be authentic, if somewhat inaccurate in execution, Ned Kelly approaches the same things through the lens of portraying what is artistically relevant, what is symbolic, in order to convey to the audience how to feel. For example, at Glenrowan Ned is dressed in mostly black to symbolise the more serious tone of the events unfolding. His clothes reflect the mood the director is conveying, rather than anything historic – especially given that Ned Kelly wore a very colourful outfit at Glenrowan in actual fact. The Legend of Ben Hall portrays character through costume too, but rather than molding the character through the costume design, the costumes are reflective of how the characters fit into the world they inhabit. Johnny Gilbert’s flashness is shown through his wearing rings and luxurious fabrics like silk and brocade. In comparison, Ben Hall is dressed pragmatically for the rough lifestyle, only allowing a little hint of the larrikin through by wearing sashes and portraying his strong self-interest with a preference for handsomely cut clothing. Jim “Old Man” Gordon is shown wearing clothes that are frayed to the point of barely holding together, reflecting a careless personality that results in the ambush that opens the film. Yet all of what we see these characters decked out in is historically accurate to the styles of the time and place. The historical accuracy enhances the portrayal of character and story rather than artificially conveying an idea.

A unique artistic flourish is how each major act of the film is punctuated with dream sequences that give an insight into Hall’s mindset as well as reminding us of the end that is approaching him. Ben Hall was notoriously aloof in life and while this quiet, contemplative aspect to his character created an air of mystery, it makes it difficult to understand how he thought for a screen narrative. As the dreams evolve through the film, we see an emphasis placed on Jim Taylor, the homewrecker who tore Hall’s family apart (at least in his eyes). Having failed to remove his son Henry from Biddy and Taylor, then failing to follow through on his threat to “put a bullet in [Taylor’s] wicked hide”, Hall becomes tormented by the man who stole his family.

In each successive dream we also see the murky, wraith like figures of troopers getting closer and closer until gun muzzles are thrust in our face, indicating not only Hall’s increasing fear of capture, but also a metatextual foreshadowing of things to come. With the severity of the crimes escalating as events roll on, Hall becomes ever more conscious of the likelihood of fierce reprisal from the police. Each dream acts as the Greek chorus, cementing the themes and preparing the audience for the grim conclusion.

You think you’re innocent in all this? You think you ain’t got no blood on your hands?

The character of John Dunn provides a cipher for the audience as he cuts his teeth as a bushranger. More importantly, Dunn provides an important role in challenging Hall throughout and mirroring, to some extent, Hall’s own rise to infamy. Initially Hall tries to discourage Dunn from signing up as a bushranger, having lost many friends to imprisonment and death in the lead up to where we pick up the story. However, it doesn’t take much to convince Hall to accept Dunn. Later, Hall will actually rely on Dunn’s advice to recruit a new gang member in the form of Daniel Ryan, showing the development of the two characters. As Dunn settles in as the “beau ideal of the modern bushranger” he serves to remind Hall of how culpable his actions are. Were it not for Hall’s recklessness in engaging police at Jugiong after they were already retreating, Sergeant Parry would not have been killed; had he listened to Dunn’s fears about police arriving at Collector rather than ignoring them, Constable Nelson would not have been shot; had Hall not allowed his temper to get the better of him at Binda, Christina and Ellen would not have been arrested for assisting them in the burning of Morriss’ store. In the end, Dunn outlives his colleagues but it’s only a matter of time before his own crimes catch up with him.

Dunn also shows the most growth as a character. Whereas Hall and Gilbert have already undergone the growth from becoming bushrangers, we see Dunn go from being naive and unsure of himself to “tipping the velvet” with Peggy Monks, being able to keep a crowd under control on his own and being able to stand up and question Hall’s plans. Perhaps the best indicator of his development is in how he goes from referring to his leader as “Mr. Hall” to “Ben”, showing he gradually reaches equal footing with Hall in the gang.

I am not underestimating this man Sergeant. Out here, this is his world.

The subplot of the film is the police efforts to finally capture the bushrangers. The police pursuit is something akin to a metaphorical hydra; many-headed and nigh on unstoppable, where you can take out one head and two more will take its place. When we begin, Hall narrowly escapes an ambush by a party led by Sergeant Condell. At the end, this same party is doubled with two heads in the form of Condell and Davidson. The relentless Detective Pye acts as something of a free-floating menace, forever nipping at the gang’s heels. Pye is driven by an unquenchable desire to bring Hall and his gang to justice at any cost, demonstrating the desperation that the forces of law and order are experiencing. He will do whatever it takes to get his man, even arresting an entire pub full of people.

Sub-Inspector Davidson is perhaps the most intriguing personality of the pursuers. During a campfire scene it is revealed that he seems to be the only one without some form of acquaintance with Hall – something he is deeply embarrassed by. Davidson soon finds his leadership challenged by the irascible Sergeant Condell and has his orders ignored when police open fire on Hall. His respect for his opponent seems to result in a lack of respect for him from his peers. Davidson has a healthy respect for Hall and this is what motivates him to speak truthfully about what happened to Hall at Billabong Creek. It is also why he doesn’t keep the locket belonging to Hall, recognising it as something of sentimental value and returning it to his fallen foe. Again, this has a Greek tragedy vibe, where the moral lesson appears to be about the importance of respect.

I was right to leave you. Look what you’ve become.

One of the most important motifs is Hall’s locket containing a photograph of Biddy. Photographs in The Legend of Ben Hall provide a window into the past, reminding us of who Ben Hall was before everything fell apart. The carte de visite that opens the film is the very image Hall gives to Henry at the end to remind him who his real father is – not Jim Taylor and not a violent outlaw, but a young squatter filled with optimism, a respectable man worthy of remembering. Similarly, Ben’s locket reminds him of the life he lost. Biddy’s desertion cut deeply and was a key factor in Ben throwing away his respectable life. The locket reminds him of who he was and the life he wishes he had, which gives him motivation to escape Australia and start again. His pursuit of Biddy, it eventuates, is not really for revenge for her leaving with his son as he initially believes. Deep down, Hall realises that there is something in him that drove her away and he needs to figure out what it is and atone for it. He needs to make amends for the wrongs he has committed in the past and he can only do that by making his peace with Biddy.

We ride again, we do so for one purpose: to get enough to skip the country for good.

The reappearance of Johnny Gilbert represents a turning point for Ben Hall. These two go back many years and have endured despite the best efforts of the police to take them. Hall needs to find a way out of the country and out of nowhere Gilbert returns to provide him that chance. It is through the actions of Gilbert that Hall begins to truly understand what he has become. As much as he tries to deny it, Hall enjoys the thrill of being a highwayman just as much as Gilbert and Gilbert has no issue reminding him of that. When Sergeant Parry is murdered during the botched highway robbery at Black Springs, Gilbert makes a point of telling Hall “This is who we are. This is what we do.” After the failed escort robbery Hall reveals that the money he has had stashed at Mick Coneley’s could be enough to get them out of New South Wales, much to Gilbert’s and Dunn’s disgust, the pair having by now evolved into desperate men longing for escape. In this moment we can see that Hall’s true desire was never to leave the colony, but that he wanted the glory days of when he and Gilbert were kings of the road back. Hall’s selfish need to be in control, to maintain his dubious distinction of being the most notorious highwayman in Australia, to chase the thrill of bigger and bigger scores, led the three of them down an irreversible path to desperation and destruction, leaving blood and ash in their wake.

I would never have broken your heart the way she did.

The impact of Hall’s selfishness is further driven home when they return to Coneley’s hut. Coneley has become afraid of what will happen to him if people find out that he has been helping the gang, pushing him to secretly provide information to the police to help them capture Hall and company. We also further see how oblivious Hall has been to the feelings of those around him when Mary Ann reveals how upset she was when he married Biddy, highlighting comments made by Gilbert earlier in the film. Ben Hall is his own worst enemy, a man who will throw away happiness and security in pursuit of a thrill, no matter who suffers as a result and will ignore the insight of those with clearer vision if he doesn’t want to believe the truth. Mary Ann’s tender kiss seems to finally make Hall realise the man he has allowed himself to become – a realisation that leaves him shaken.

When we finally reach the conclusion of the story we realise that the journey has been one of self-discovery and redemption. When Hall gifts his son a portrait of himself as a younger man and leaves £500 for him, we see that he has finally shed the selfishness that had led him to abduct Henry then threaten Taylor. He has realised that by making the issue about his own hurt feelings he has ignored the needs of his son. Being a father is more than blood, it’s about putting your child’s needs before yourself. Hall’s reward is an apology from Biddy and a reconciliation but he discovers that even though he has wanted that the whole time, he doesn’t really deserve it and he is ashamed of himself for wanting it. As he rides away from Biddy and Henry, Hall has finally learned his lesson.

Unfortunately for Hall his apotheosis has come too late and the wheel of fate has spun before he even makes it back to Billabong Creek. The ambush on May 5 is the final step on his journey from being Ben Hall the bushranger to being Ben Hall the legend. Thus we return to that original question: what is the legend of Ben Hall?

The legend of Ben Hall is that a man who has fallen from grace into a life of sin can discover the path to redemption. As Sub-Inspector Davidson places Hall’s locket upon his chest the journey to redemption is completed. Hall has atoned for his misdeeds and though his life has ended, his soul has been saved. In contrast, Johnny Gilbert is not afforded the same closure. He is snuffed out suddenly and without mercy, paying the ultimate price for his crimes. Dunn however has his own small journey of atonement that ends on the gallows. This is story about how in the end, our crimes always catch up with us, but we all have the ability to make peace with our past.

Last minute gift ideas! (2018)


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…




Black Snake by Leo Kennedy and Mic Looby [Review]

Teenage Bushranger by Kerry Medway [Review]

Ned Kelly: A Short Life by Ian Jones

Australian Heist by James Phelps

The Clarke Bushrangers: A Clash of Cultures by Judy Lawson [Review]



Lawless: The Real Bushrangers

Lawless: The Real Bushrangers [Review]

The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith [Review]

The Tracker [Review]

Mad Dog Morgan

The Legend of Ben Hall

“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: Portrait of Mick Coneley

Mick Conolly2.JPG

It would be easy to reference the Biblical figure of Judas turning Jesus over to the Romans for a bag of silver when examining Mick Coneley – in fact there is a book about his actions that directly makes that parallel in its title, The Judas Covenant. History will remember Coneley as the man who sold Ben Hall.

Coneley was a farmer with a property on Goobang Creek where he resided with his wife Mary Ann and their children. Like many farmers in the district he was on friendly terms with the bushrangers, especially Ben Hall who was a childhood friend of his wife. This friendliness wasn’t permanent however and as Ben Hall’s gang became more dangerous, adding murder to their list of crimes and bringing about the Felons Apprehension Act, Coneley was determined to put an end to the outlaw’s career and make a pretty penny out of it for himself.

In late April of 1865 Hall, Gilbert and Dunn were making plans to flee the colony but had loose ends to tie up first. They camped at Coneley’s run and ‘Goobang’ Mick was only too ready to oblige. What they didn’t know as they split up to attend to their last bits of business before taking leave of New South Wales was that Coneley had taken the opportunity to notify Sub-Inspector Davidson of the gang’s movements and the date they were expected to return to Goobang Creek. In response, Davidson took a party of police with him to camp out near Coneley’s hut in the bush and await the return of the bushrangers.

When Gilbert and Dunn were spooked by a party of stockmen from the Strickland’s property (Coneley’s in-laws) they took off and decided Coneley was not trustworthy. Unfortunately they weren’t able to give this information to Ben Hall. When Hall returned to Goobang Creek and camped Coneley notified the police and directed them to Hall’s camp. On the morning of 5 May the police party gunned Hall down.

When Davidson drew up a map of the scene of the shooting he deliberately left the Coneley farm off the map to conceal the informant’s identity. Coneley received £500 for his trouble that was deposited into his bank accounts in installments to avoid suspicion. Soon Coneley’s marriage fell apart and he disappeared into the mists of time.

Black Day at Black Springs


Between Gundagai and Jugiong in New South Wales lies Black Springs, an area with rolling hills and girt by dense scrub. It was here that Johnny Gilbert, the flash Canadian bushranger, would cement his reputation as a violent criminal. The Ben Hall Gang, consisting of Gilbert, Hall, and John Dunn, were at the peak of their success at the end of 1864. Always game to push the limits of their capabilities they chose Black Springs to perform their most audacious robbery yet.

On 18 November the gang were ruling the roost, having taken a number of men and women captive on the outskirts of Jugiong at a place known as the Black Springs. Among the growing collective were Mr. And Mrs. Hayes, Mr. Body, Mr. Johnson, Mr. Whitton, and thirty Chinese men and ten European men. Earlier in the day there was a brief clash with Constable McLoughlin who was escorting a pack horse along the road in advance of the mail coach. Without warning Hall and his confederates charged down the hill and attempted to bail the policeman up. McLoughlin was no pushover and immediately let go of the pack horse and went for his colt revolver. McLoughlin unloaded every chamber of his revolver in the ensuing skirmish, the bushrangers hardly knowing what hit them. When his ammunition was expended Dunn closed in on the constable as he retreated into the scrub to reload. With his horse wounded and his revolver unloaded, McLoughlin surrendered and was added to the throng on the other side of the hill. Gilbert proclaimed McLoughlin to have been the finest man in the shape of a constable he’d ever encountered.

As the morning rolled on Ben Hall kept watch over his growing collection of captives, pacing slowly and lordly with his horse with Gilbert and Dunn keeping the group covered with their revolvers. In the afternoon heat came the soft clomping of hooves in the dry earth and the rattle of coach wheels. The mail coach on its way from Gundagai to Yass rattled along with two police, Sergeant Edmund Parry and Sub-Inspector William O’Neill, a safe distance behind as escorts. Inside police magistrate Alfred Rose sweltered in the heat and up top Constable William Roche sat with the driver. Hearing the arrival Hall spurred his men into action and they rode up to the crest of a hill overlooking the track. No doubt Gilbert flashed his trademark grin as he clapped eyes on their quarry. The bandits cocked their revolvers and pounded down the hill to the coach. Blocking the road, Hall bellowed “Bail up!” while training his weapon on the coach driver. Constable Roche was encouraged not to use his rifle with the expert persuasion of Gilbert and the presentation to his person of six chambers of instant death. Rose wasn’t quite so ready to let the coach be plundered and with a cry of “Bushrangers!” he signaled to Parry and O’Neill by waving his hat out the window of the coach. Digging their spurs into their mounts the escorts thundered towards the coach.


“There’s a bloody lot of traps,” said Hall as he spotted the incoming lawmen and the gang quickly turned tail and galloped back up the hill as if retreating. Any relief the lawmen and the coach driver must have felt was short lived as the gang paused and Gilbert was heard to say “There are only two of them; Come on, let’s rush the bastards!” turned back and charged like cavalry at the mounted policemen screaming “Fight us like men!” with a revolver in each hand, their supreme horsemanship on show as they steered their mounts with their bodies like fearsome centaurs. The police were game and began to reel of shots at their opponents and calling on them to surrender. Constable Roche leaped from his perch and scurried into the scrub with his rifle. The police escorts were separated with Dunn aiming for O’Neill who fought like the devil firing a shot at Ben Hall who effortlessly dodged the bullet. O’Neill’s horse, spooked by the gunfire careened into a tree, the branch striking O’Neill and injuring his hip. Reeling in pain two shots struck him, one in the right shoulder, the other tearing at the left flap of his tunic. In desperate pain, an impotent click from his revolver informing him that he was out of bullets, O’Neill drew his carbine and tried to aim it at the approaching bushrangers. Hall unwisely came in close to O’Neill and received a bash on the skull with O’Neill’s carbine almost pushing the bandit out of the saddle. Dunn then attempted to wrestle the carbine away from O’Neill. Dunn and Hall finally cornered the sub-inspector and leveled their guns a him.

Meanwhile Gilbert had drawn Sergeant Parry away from the others and the two dueled on horseback spitting curses at each other until a blast from Gilbert found its mark. The shot struck Parry across the back of the head, but was not enough to subdue him. Bleeding from the head Parry came at Gilbert to entreated him to surrender. Parry screamed over the thunderous din of his horse’s hooves “I’ll never surrender to a bushranger, not while I have a shot left!” Gilbert was impressed by the recklessness of this lawman, which is why, in Gilbert’s mind, it was so unfortunate that he had to shoot him. Gilbert raised his pistol and fired. The bullet struck Parry in the breast and perforated his body straight through. He slumped in the saddle and tumbled lifeless to the ground. Riding over to his fallen foe Gilbert turned the body over and examined his handy work. “He’s got it in the cobra…” he said to nobody in particular. Dunn and Hall took Sub-Inspector O’Neill back downhill to the coach and demanded the mailbags from the driver. Not in a position to argue, the driver complied. Tearing the bags open Dunn and Gilbert rifled through the letters and took all they desired. As the others worked Ben Hall dragged magistrate Rose out of the coach and threatened to shoot him for signalling the police. Rose, O’Neill and the coach driver were added to the gang’s collection of captives over the hill. Gilbert sauntered up to Constable McLaughlin and scowled “How would you like a cove like me after you?” McLaughlin was unimpressed. Gilbert pressed the point, “See what that bloody fool has got for not standing? He’s the first man I ever shot; I don’t like to shoot a man, but I can’t help the unfortunate man now.” McLaughlin asked if he could attend to Parry and see if anything was to be done and Gilbert allowed him to go, fully aware that it was pointless.

Constable Roche was soon uncovered by the gang, cowering in the undergrowth nearby. His carbine was confiscated and he was forced to walk back to Yass. Before the gang left Hall proclaimed that the police would need a bigger troop than what they’d mustered that day for the gang planned to stick up an escort the next day. The gang shot off into the expanse leaving behind their bewildered captives and the body of Sergeant Parry. Parry’s body was taken into town and buried in Gundagai cemetery the next day.



“INQUEST ON SERGEANT PARRY.” The Goulburn Herald and Chronicle (NSW : 1864 – 1881) 23 November 1864: 3.

“GILBERT, HALL, AND DUNN AT JUGIONG.” Queanbeyan Age and General Advertiser (NSW : 1864 – 1867) 24 November 1864: 4

“THE STIRRING DAYS OF YORE.” The Gundagai Times and Tumut, Adelong and Murrumbidgee District Advertiser (NSW : 1868 – 1931) 12 September 1899: 4.

“JOHNNY GILBERT like lightning with a gun” The World’s News (Sydney, NSW : 1901 – 1955) 6 June 1953: 24.

“The battle of Black Springs” The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 – 1995) 24 August 1988: 27.

“STICKING UP OF THE GUNDAGAI MAIL.” The Australian News for Home Readers (Vic. : 1864 – 1867) 24 December 1864: 10.


“Bushranging near Gundagai” The Gundagai Independent (NSW : 1928 – 1939) 9 October 1930: 5.