Australian Screen

Australia’s audiovisual heritage online

The Story of the Kelly Gang (1906)

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clip Fitzpatrick incident at Mrs Kelly's homestead education content clip 1, 2, 3

Original classification rating: not rated. This clip chosen to be PG

Clip description

This fragment from The Story of the Kelly Gang shows Constable Fitzpatrick visiting the homestead of Kate Kelly. Fitzpatrick attempts to kiss Kate Kelly and in the scuffle Ned Kelly shoots Fitzpatrick in the wrist. As the Kelly gang escape on horseback Kate Kelly retrieves Fitzpatrick’s weapon and holds him at gunpoint.

(Elizabeth Taggart-Speers)

Curator’s notes

Charles Tait was an experienced theatrical producer, and the style of acting reflects the popular style of melodramatic gesture. Even so, a lot is communicated here – Constable Fitzpatrick’s haughty stance at the beginning gives way to plain old lust. Ned shoots the policeman quite deliberately, reaching for his pistol as soon as he has knocked him down. Joe Byrne wants to sink the boot in to the man on the ground, but Ned is already thinking of a getaway. The policeman appears to look at the director, as if for instructions, as he’s waiting on the ground.

Note how the camera moves left and right slightly during the fight, to keep the action central. The rather abrupt cut shows us that the Constable is not so badly hurt, as Kate Kelly holds him at gunpoint. A second cut moves the camera much closer to the constable and the gun-toting Kate, possibly to accentuate the comedy of a woman holding a gun on a policeman.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This clip shows a re-enactment of the 'Fitzpatrick incident’. Constable Alexander Fitzpatrick is shown outside the Kelly homestead, where he has come to arrest Dan Kelly for horse theft. Fitzpatrick attempts to kiss Kate Kelly and, in the ensuing melee when Ned Kelly, Dan and their companions rush to her aid, Ned shoots Fitzpatrick in the wrist. As the gang escapes on horseback, Kate retrieves Fitzpatrick’s weapon and holds him at gunpoint. The clip is silent and black and white.

Educational value points

  • Made in 1906, only 26 years after bushranger Ned Kelly was hanged, The Story of the Kelly Gang depicted the exploits of Kelly and his gang and was the first feature-length film produced in Australia and possibly the world. Made at a time when films were only about 15 minutes long, it had a running time of between 60 and 70 minutes. The film was a huge success, playing to packed audiences when it opened in Melbourne, and it is said to have made a huge £25,000 profit after costing £1,000 to make. In 2006, 100 years after it was first shown, only about 17 minutes of the film have been recovered; the film is held by the National Film and Sound Archive.
  • The 'Fitzpatrick incident’ depicted in the clip occurred on 15 April 1878 and there are conflicting accounts of what actually happened. Fitzpatrick claimed that Mrs Ellen Kelly hit him on the head with a coal shovel, Dan beat him and Ned then shot and injured his wrist. Ned denied being present and the Kellys claimed that Dan and neighbours Bill Skillion and 'Brickey’ Williamson turned on a drunken Fitzpatrick after he attempted to molest 14-year-old Kate Kelly. Fitzpatrick was later expelled from the police service for lying and bad conduct.
  • The event had dire consequences for the Kelly family. On the strength of Fitzpatrick’s testimony, Mrs Kelly was jailed for 3 years and her two neighbours, Bill Skillion and 'Brickey’ Williamson, were each jailed for 6 years 'for assisting in the attempted murder of a police officer’. Warrants were issued for the arrests of Ned and Dan and a £100 reward offered for their capture. After they murdered three police officers in a subsequent police hunt, Ned and his gang were legally declared 'outlaws’.
  • The action shown in the clip makes the strong suggestion that the Kelly family were subjected to police harassment. Throughout the actual events the Kelly family maintained that they were being unfairly targeted by the police. The film’s depiction of Kelly as a hero and the police as the enemy led to it being the first officially censored film in Australia when the Victorian Chief Secretary banned screenings of the film in Kelly’s own territory, around Benalla and Wangaratta. In 1912 the Victorian Government banned the screening of a revised version of the film throughout the state.
  • The film is the first bushranger film, a distinctive genre established in Australia before the Hollywood western swept the world. It was the most popular genre of film in Australia until 1912, when both New South Wales and Victoria banned the films on the grounds that they made a mockery of the police and glorified outlaws. The ban was not lifted until the 1940s.
  • Before about 1929–30, films were silent and black and white, and the size and weight of the camera meant that films tended to have long, static shots, such as those in this clip, and few close-ups. The screening of The Story of the Kelly Gang was accompanied by a live narration, which explained aspects of the story, and sometimes by two actors providing voices, as well as an orchestra and a group of boys who produced sound effects from behind the screen.
  • The clip provides an example of the style of acting in early silent films. The Story of the Kelly Gang was based on a number of popular stage plays about the gang and some of the actors and costumes used in the film may have come from one of those existing productions. The sometimes exaggerated performances in the film were partly the product of the actors’ theatrical training but long shots with few close-ups also called for exaggerated gestures.
  • The film heralded an active period of film production in Australia. After film was invented in the 1890s, Australians were quick to adopt the new medium and between 1906 and 1912 Australia produced more feature-length films than Britain or the USA. However in the 1920s US and British distributors signed exclusive deals with Australian cinemas to exhibit their products only and the resulting limited screening possibilities sent the Australian film industry into a decline that lasted until the 1970s.

Constable Fitzpatrick is outside the Kelly homestead. Kate Kelly helps her visibly upset mother enter the homestead. Fitzpatrick gestures to Kate to come back outside. He pulls a piece of paper from his pocket and waves it at her before returning it to his pocket. He opens his arms out and moves towards her as if to embrace and kiss her. Kate fights him off and is pushed back towards the homestead. When Fitzpatrick pulls her towards him, Kate continues to resist. She escapes his grasp and runs inside the homestead.

Then one of the Kelly gang comes out of the homestead and punches Fitzpatrick in the face, knocking him to the ground. The gang member draws his gun and shoots Fitzpatrick in the wrist. The rest of the Kelly gang emerge from the homestead and start kicking Fitzpatrick where he lies on the ground. Kate and her mother come outside as the Kelly gang escape. Kate picks up Fitzpatrick’s gun and holds him at gunpoint to prevent him giving chase as the Kelly gang escape on horseback.

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