Iron Helmets, Smoking Guns
For those of us fretting about how Heath Ledger will portray Ned Kelly to the world in the upcoming blockbuster film, the recent bushranger film festival with the particularly cumbersome name, Iron Helmets, Smoking Guns: The making of the Australian bushranger myth, helped to put our minds to rest… somewhat.
A seemingly ancient screening on the opening night of the excellent festival, Stringybark Massacre (1960), while oozing nostalgia, showed just how far the film industry has come in the past 50 years.
While director Gregor Jordan appears to have used a fair amount of creative licence in the latest $30 million movie, which will premiere on March 27, the result couldn’t possibly offer as much cringe value as the unclassic Stringybark Massacre.
The six-minute film was a pilot for an intended feature film that never saw the light of day. It’s no wonder either. No movie exec worth his salt would have wasted his time sitting through the excruciating 360 seconds.
The first sign that the film would be an anti-climax came in the introduction footage, which showed Ned sizing up to the camera in shoddy looking armour that had been scraped for dramatic effect. The helmet looked more like a rusty old waste-paper bin with it’s bottom cut out, and would have struggled to keep the wind out let alone police bullets.
Filmed on the property of popular radio personality ‘Smoky’ Dawson’s somewhere in country Victoria, it contained zombie-like dialogue from ‘actors’ – loosely-termed – who looked like they were doing the whole thing under sufferance. There were also historical inaccuracies such as the running gunfight between Ned and Sergeant Kennedy being reduced to one shot – the one that mortally wounded the brave officer.
The lowlight, or comic climax (whichever way you look at it), came during a scene involving Ned and the boys as they plotted their approach to the police camp. Ned, who donned a greyish, moth-eaten beard, was about 50-odd and looked more like Dan’s dad than his brother. (It’s little wonder the saying “old Ned” has persisted for so long.) The feared outlaw, who was revered for his strength sand athleticism, was so immobile that he looked like he was recovering from a 10-day bender.
The promotional brochure said that the director, Gary Shead, was widely-regarded for employing ‘avante-garde’ (to the layman, modern or experimental) film-making techniques. He was certainly experimental in this instance. It’s like he said: “Let’s do something really different; let’s make a film that no-one will want to watch.” Having said that, it was still entertaining, albeit for mainly the wrong reasons.
Liberties will no doubt be taken with the truth in the soon-to-be-released Ned movie. Heath and the boys won’t be wearing hats as almost everyone, particularly country folk, did back then, and, of course, there will be plot changes that conflict with the accepted history. Such as the love interest played by Heath’s real-life lover Naomi Watts.
But Jordan’s Ned Kelly should, by and large, be a film for us to be proud of. After all, our Ned will be on the big screen, preaching the kind of beliefs that were suppressed by authorities during his own lifetime. And let’s not forget that it will be a case of Australia’s greatest icon being portrayed by one of Australia’s best leading men.
It looks like Ned will receive a similarly heroic and fiercely patriotic treatment to Mel Gibson’s William Wallace in Braveheart and Liam Neeson’s Michael Collins in the movie of the same name. And so he should.
Now that’s something to look forward to… and rest easy about.
InterNED featured regular instalments relating to people still involved in the Kelly story. Here you will read about experts, historians, authors, descendants, and others with interesting tales to tell about their connection with Ned. Compiled by Ben Collins, InterNED gave you an insight into the lives of people who were helping to keep the legend alive.
Ben Collins was the co-author of Jason McCartney: After Bali – the highest-selling non-fiction book by an Australian author in 2003 – which tells of Jason McCarthy’s recovery from horrific burns suffered in the Bali terrorist bombings and his quest to play one last game of AFL football. In 2004, Collins wrote The Book of Success – a series of interviews with Australian leaders in business, sport, politics, science and entertainment. In 2006, he wrote The Champions: Conversations with Great players & Coaches of Australian Football, which included in-depth interviews with the likes of Ron Barassi and Bob Skilton.
Collins started as a cadet journalist with The Courier in Ballarat in 1997 and worked with Fairfax Community Newspapers before becoming one of the original reporters with the Herald & Weekly Times’ free commuter publication, MX, in 2001. He is a full-time writer for The Slattery Media Group, which produces all AFL publications including the AFL Record. The Red Fox is his fourth book and his first biography.
A Byrne family who lived nearby – Ben likes to think they could be related to gang member Joe Byrne – introduced him to the Old Melbourne Gaol and Ned when he was five. One of Ben’s aunties is also a close friend of a woman who married into the Bartsch family, who are direct descendants of Aaron Sherritt’s sister, Julia.
Through this connection, Ben was shown around the Sherritt family property at Sheepstation Creek in the Woolshed Valley near Beechworth – a property that features prominently in Ian Jones’ book, The Friendship That Destroyed Ned Kelly: Joe Byrne & Aaron Sherritt. Ben and Ironoutlaw webmaster Brad Webb designed and edited the catalogue Ned: The Exhibition, written by Ian Jones.