Australian Screen

Australia’s audiovisual heritage online

The Story of the Kelly Gang (1906)

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clip Ned Kelly's last stand and capture education content clip 1, 2, 3

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

Clip description

This clip shows a re-enactment of the bushranger Ned Kelly being shot and captured by police. It has severe nitrate damage.

(Elizabeth Taggart-Speers)

Curator’s notes

Again, the nitrate damage makes it hard to appreciate the full power this scene would have had on audiences. We can imagine it partly from the extended time it takes to bring Ned down, and the brief glimpses of the troopers struggling to subdue him once he has fallen. Later bushranging films often presented a less sympathetic view of the Kellys, and other bushrangers, because of pressure from police and politicians – but The Story of the Kelly Gang is unabashedly pro-Kelly, reflecting popular sentiment of the day.

Suffering from heavy nitrate damage, this clip dramatises Ned Kelly’s capture. The original actor of the film left and various stand-ins and doubles played Ned Kelly, hiding their faces behind the armour or performing stunts on horses.

As nitrate degrades, it shrinks, becomes brittle, and emits corrosive fumes that rust metal cans, soften gelatin emulsions and aggressively fade silver images as you can see in this clip.

Often it is the stickiness of softened gelatin that renders the film unusable in practice. Decomposing motion picture film, like this one, has been known to self-combust and it can burn without the presence of oxygen.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This clip shows a re-creation of Ned Kelly’s last stand. It shows bushranger Ned Kelly, dressed in armour, a long coat and helmet, with a pistol in each hand, advancing toward police, with whom he exchanges gunfire. Staggering to the ground, Kelly keeps firing until he is seized by police, who disarm him, remove his armour and haul him away. This silent, black-and-white clip is extensively damaged by nitrate decomposition.

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.
  • Ned Kelly’s defiance of authority, his legendary courage and his position as an underdog have made him a folk hero and he has been the subject of at least ten films, numerous books and a series of paintings by Sir Sidney Nolan. The son of poor Irish settlers, Kelly was often the target of police harassment. After being declared outlaws, Kelly and his gang eluded police for 16 months, during which time they carried out daring robberies at the Euroa and Jerilderie banks. Following his capture, Kelly was sentenced to death and hanged on 11 November 1880.
  • The clip depicts Ned Kelly’s last stand and capture. During the siege at the Glenrowan hotel, which began on 28 June 1880, Kelly was wounded but escaped, returning around dawn to rescue Steve Hart and his brother Dan, who he believed to be still alive. Wearing a long coat and armour Kelly emerged from the bush and advanced towards the police firing his pistols. In the ensuing gun battle Kelly is said to have been shot 28 times. The film closed on this scene, rather than show Kelly’s execution, reinforcing the myth of Kelly as the gallant outlaw.
  • As illustrated in the clip, armour was worn by the Kelly Gang during the siege at Glenrowan. Each of the four sets of armour was made by the gang from stolen iron plough mouldboards and weighed about 80 pounds (about 36 kg). While the armour proved impenetrable to bullets, it was extremely heavy and Ned Kelly was eventually brought down when the police fired into his legs.
  • The filmmakers claimed that the actor playing Ned Kelly wore the armour used by the real bushranger, although it has also been suggested that it belonged to Steve Byrne. The four sets of armour made by the Kelly Gang are held in various collections in Australia and Ned Kelly’s helmet has become an iconic symbol of the bushranger.
  • The effects of nitrate decomposition are clearly evident in the clip. Used until 1951, nitrate film base (stock) is highly flammable and chemically unstable and it decomposes easily. Initial decomposition causes a brownish discolouration of the film, irreversibly fading the images. In the final stage of decomposition, the film disintegrates into a brownish dust, resulting in the loss of many early films.
  • 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.

(Please note there is severe nitrate damage to this clip).

Intertitle: ‘Ned Kelly’s last stand and capture.’
Two troopers behind a fallen branch are shooting at Ned Kelly who is wearing his famous mask, armour and long coat. They retreat as Kelly walks towards them, continuing to shoot. Kelly then falls to his knees, wounded, but continues to fire at his enemies. He collapses on the ground and troopers rush to grab him. They forcibly remove Kelly’s helmet, coat and armour. Kelly continues to resist as they drag him away.

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australianscreen is produced by the National Film and Sound Archive. By using the website you agree to comply with the terms and conditions described elsewhere on this site. The NFSA may amend the 'Conditions of Use’ from time to time without notice.

All materials on the site, including but not limited to text, video clips, audio clips, designs, logos, illustrations and still images, are protected by the Copyright Laws of Australia and international conventions.

When you access australianscreen you agree that:

  • You may retrieve materials for information only.
  • You may download materials for your personal use or for non-commercial educational purposes, but you must not publish them elsewhere or redistribute clips in any way.
  • You may embed the clip for non-commercial educational purposes including for use on a school intranet site or a school resource catalogue.
  • The National Film and Sound Archive’s permission must be sought to amend any information in the materials, unless otherwise stated in notices throughout the Site.

All other rights reserved.

ANY UNAUTHORISED USE OF MATERIAL ON THIS SITE MAY RESULT IN CIVIL AND CRIMINAL LIABILITY.

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