The Story of the Kelly Gang

The Story of the Kelly Gang is generally regarded as the world's first feature length film, preceding D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation (1915) by nine years. Its 70 minute length was unprecedented when it was released in 1906. The movie traces the life of the legendary Australian bushranger, Ned Kelly (1855-1880). It was written and directed by Charles Tait. The film's approximate reel length is 4,000 feet (1,200 m). It was released in Australia on the 26th December 1906 and in the UK in January 1908. The film cost an estimated $2,250 and was filmed in Melbourne, including the suburbs of St Kilda (indoor scenes), Eltham, Greensborough, Heidelberg, Mitcham and Rosanna.

Only about 10 minutes were known to have survived. In November 2006 the National Film and Sound Archive released a new digital restoration which incorporated 11 minutes of material recently discovered in the United Kingdom. The restoration now is 17 minutes long and includes the key scene of the Kelly's last stand. However, a copy of the programme booklet has also survived, containing both extracts from contemporary newspaper reports of the capture of the gang, and a synopsis of the film, in six 'scenes'. The latter provided audiences with the sort of information later provided by intertitles, and can help historians imagine what the film may have been like.

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 feature film.

The film

The Story of the Kelly Gang tone is of sorrow depicting Ned Kelly as 'the Last of the Bushrangers, and his friends Dan Kelly, Steve Hart and Joe Byrne,' presenting the police hiding under the bed when Aaron Sherritt is shot ('This is the Only Blot on the Police,') and portraying Curnow's action of warning the train as heroic ('Thank God, he Saved the Train.')

Among the surviving images are two scenes that suggest considerable sophistication for that time. The scene of the police shooting parrots in the bush skillfully positions the shooter in the middle ground to the left of the image, firing upwards toward the far right, with the gang watching him from close foreground. The capture of Ned is shot from the viewpoint of the police, as Ned advances, an impressive figure weaving towards them under the weight of his armour and the shock of the bullets.

In June 1880 Ned courageously made his last stand. Surrounded by police and trackers at the Glenrowan Inn, Ned and the Kelly Gang wore suits of armour made from steel weighing a heavy 40 kilograms. Ned had planned every step. There were at least 20 people inside the Inn at the time but they slowly made their way out the back door when all lights were out. Many were shot thinking it was The Kelly Gang but all men were inside at the time.

Making their way back inside the hotel numerous amount of times to reload their guns they were shot but not enough to kill them yet. Joe Byrne died inside the Hotel due to a bullet hitting him in the groin towards his right leg. At only 19 Dan Kelly died inside the hotel along with best friend Steve Hart. Police found them after the hotel had burnt down with many bullet wounds to their body, with their head pieces off.

Prepared to fight, Ned stepped out and gave it his best shot. He managed to escape through the police lines but returned a number of times ready to fight. Soaking in blood he didn’t give up.


The first showing was in Melbourne at the Athaneum Hall on 26 December 1906 to much controversy. Many groups at the time including some politicians and the police interpreted the film as glorifying criminals and in Benalla and Wangaratta the film was banned in 1907, and then again in Victoria in 1912. The film toured Australia for over 20 years and also showed in New Zealand and Britain. The backers and exhibitors made "a fortune" from the film.


  • One of the gang's actual suits (probably Joe Byrnes') was supposedly used in the film.
  • The trains shown in the film were filmed with permission from the Victorian Railways Commission.
  • In 1906, the producers claimed authenticity, but apologised to the public for dressing the police in uniforms, which they would not have worn while out in the bush. This was explained as necessary to enable the audience to distinguish between the outlaws and the police, in a time before colour film and when close-ups (allowing distinctions among characters) were rare.


Actor Role
Ned Kelly
Nicholas Brierley Joe Byrne
Elizabeth Tait Kate Kelly
John Tait School Master
Bella Cola
Vera Linden
Frank Mills
E.J. Tait Extra
Frank Tait Extra

Other Ned Kelly films


External links

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