The Australian “Bushranger” Genre

Thunderbolt
R: Jack Gavin. B: H.A. Forsyth, Ambrose Pratt (novel). K: A.J. Moulton. D: Jack Gavin, Ruby Butler, H.A. Forsyth. P: Southern Cross Motion Pictures.
AUS 1910
Filming Locations: Blue Mountains, New South Wales, Australia.
Original length: ca. 33 min.

“How are we to understand such a film, at once familiar and strange? There are certainly strong parallels and clear points of intersection between the American Western and the Australian bushranger film. The glory days of bushranging coincide with the period usually assigned to the classical Western (the latter half of the nineteenth century); the setting for both is a frontier where anarchy and order contend and where the land is a strong presence; fiction and fact are mixed up in both kinds of film, and both borrow extensively from local popular and folk traditions (plays, ballads, stories). Moreover, there is a rough coincidence between the heyday of the bushranger film (1906-1911) and what Ed Buscombe has called ‘the crucial formative years’ of the American Western (1903-1913).
(…)
The Story of the Kelly Gang was such a feature, presented initially as the only film on the program. During the first months of its presentation in 1906 it was apparently expanded from around 4000 feet to 6000. TSOTKG seems to have been the first commercial secular narrative film to be thus featured in Australia. The Tait brothers, the theatrical entrepreneurs who were backing the venture, clearly believed that there was an audience for an evening’s entertainment based on filmed episodes drawn from the life of a bushranger, Ned Kelly. Undoubtedly they based their speculation on the proven popular success of staged versions of Kelly’s career and of the exploits of other bushrangers. Their faith was warranted, for the film did good business in Australia and in England.
(…)
The term ‘bushranger’ can mean many things, but (…) it seems best to begin with an understanding of it as referring to Australian rural bandits. Such outlaws had existed in the colony from 1790 at least. In 1851 the discovery of gold in rural areas of Victoria and New South Wales seems to have provided the conditions for an increase in outlaw activity, or at least for increased public and official attention to such activity. It is generally accepted that bushranging ceased in 1880, with the hanging of Ned Kelly, although this hardly seems likely. Still, all of the bushrangers featured in early films come from the ‘bushranging decades’ of 1860-1880. This is not surprising, for the bushrangers of this period were particularly celebrated and condemned in newspapers, ballads and local stories and their exploits were much written about, staged and illustrated. Bushrangers, especially these bushrangers, continued to be objects of intense popular interest well into the twentieth century.”
William D. Routt: More Australian than Aristotelian: The Australian Bushranger Film, 1904-1914
Senses of Cinema

>>>The Story of the Kelly Gang:  Early Cinema in Australia – 1