The world’s first feature film, The Story of the Kelly Gang, premiered at Melbourne’s Athenaeum Theatre on 26 December 1906, twenty-six years after Ned was hanged.
The above image is a still from the ‘most thrilling moving picture series ever taken’, as stated in the promotional pamphlet The story of the Kelly Gang by the Biograph, which you can view online. The film lasted for over an hour and, informs the Colac Herald, ‘is over 4000 feet, occupied over six months to manufacture, and cost around a sum of nearly £1000.’
The Story of the Kelly Gang was directed by Charles Tait and produced by his brothers, who were from Castlemaine. It was shot on an estate in Heidelberg, Victoria, using only one camera. The film’s sympathetic portrayal of the bushrangers drew the ire of authorities who banned the film in ‘Kelly country’, north eastern Victoria. Several years later, in April 1912, it was banned in Melbourne.
Unfortunately only fragments of the film remain but have been restored by the National Film and Sound Archive, which you can watch online. The film’s importance is such that it is included in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register.
With the substantial profit the Taits made from the film, they created Amalgamated Pictures in 1911 then moved into theatrical promotion, forming a partnership with J C Williamson.
The Library holds many resources on Kelly, which you can explore online, including the armour he wore in the shoot-out with police, and the Jerilderie letter, which Ned dictated to fellow gang member Joe Byrne, and which gives us a personal insight into his life.
Tait, V 1971, A family of brothers : the Taits and J C Williamson: a theatre history, Heinemann, Melbourne
Written by Andrew McConville
Librarian, Digital Access Team