Remembering the Past Australia

The Story of the Kelly Gang 1906

Directed by Charles Tait (1868-1933)

Premier: Melbourne’s Athenaeum Hall on 26 December 1906

The Story of the Kelly Gang is a 1906 Australian bushranger film that traces the exploits of 19th-century bushranger and outlaw Ned Kelly and his gang, directed by Charles Tait and shot in and around the city of Melbourne. First shown at Melbourne’s Athenaeum Hall on 26 December 1906, the silent film ran for more than an hour making it the longest narrative film in the world at that time. A commercial and critical success, it is regarded as the origin point of the bushranging drama, a genre that dominated the early years of Australian film production. Since its release, many other films have been made about the Kelly legend.

For six months skilled operators and others were engaged on the Kelly gang picture working at the details and carefully studying the habits of the bushrangers. The result proved decidedly successful, and the management claimed that it would be the greatest moving picture yet secured by any biography firm. Careful thought was been devoted to the whole subject, and the audience was able to witness the whole of the stirring incidents of this exciting period when the Kellys reigned supreme in the north-eastern district of Victoria.

The picture begins at Greta, the home of the Kellys, and quickly changes to the police camp in the Wombat Ranges, where the first incident of importance occurred. This view shows the bushrangers surprising the police and capturing the camp and their subsequent departure through the mountains. Then follows the sticking up of Younghusband’s Station, and Sandy Gloster, the hawker, whose wagon, was used for the robbery of the bank at Euroa. The audience is next shown the gang robbing the bank, black-trackers at work in the Strathbogie Ranges. While the party of line repairers are at work the Kellys appear and compel them to pull up the railway line with the object of wrecking the special train, but the plucky action of Schoolmaster Curnow, who is seen running along the track, saves the train. The final scene is at Glenrowan Hotel, which is attacked by a strong force of police, who finally captures the ring-leader, Ned Kelly.

The Messrs. Tait had great difficulty in preparing this work, the co-operation of the Victorian railways being necessary, also the engagement of a special train, in order to reproduce the destruction of the train.

In 2007 The Story of the Kelly Gang was inscribed on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register for being the world’s first full-length narrative feature film.

The film was considered lost until 1976 when five short segments totalling a few seconds of running time were found. In 1978 another 64 metres (210 ft) of the film was discovered in a collection belonging to a former film exhibitor. In 1980, further footage was found at a rubbish dump. The longest surviving single sequence, the scene at Younghusband’s station, was found in the UK in 2006. In November 2006, the National Film and Sound Archive released a new digital restoration that incorporated the new material and recreated some scenes based on existing still photographs. This restoration is now 17 minutes long and includes the key scene of Kelly’s last stand.

In 2018 the Video-Cellar, one of the largest private film archives in the world, released a version of the film in an attempt to create a coherent narrative out of all surviving fragments that they had found. Sadly the sections from the final reel are heavily decomposed; however, they have now been able to piece together just under 21 minutes of the original film, which is shared here.

This is a silent film, there is no sound in the movie. An audio file containing traditional piano-roll music, similar to what would have been played in theatres during this era, is made available for your use while watching the movie.

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