Say not the struggle naught availeth,
The labour & the wounds are vain,
The enemy faints not nor faileth,
And as things have been they remain.
—Arthur Hugh Clough
Of the original sixty minutes of The Story of the Kelly Gang, shot by Charles
Tait in 1906, only seventeen minutes remain, much of it in the poorest con-
dition. The film records a moment of colonial rebellion, the wild Irishman
Ned Kelly refusing the yoke of his imperial masters. Often referred to as
the world’s first feature film, The Kelly Gang is a triumph of realism. We see
again animals, plants, and geology now buried under roads and buildings.
The nitrate stock, brilliant sunlight, and sharp lenses catch all the flickering
of background leaves and grass, as characters approach or remove them-
selves from the scene. Even the armor is authentic: not Kelly’s own, but the
helmet and breastplate worn by Joe Byrne, a member of his gang, still a liv-
ing memory at the time the film circulated, to considerable profit, through
the Victorian and South Australian goldfields where the Kellys rode and met
their end, and around the colonies. Tait’s deep focus and his taste for au-
thenticity place the film in a specific aesthetic tradition of pictorial realism,
and enough remains for us to understand the main action. Yet what strikes
twenty- first- century viewers is the developing chaos of the blistering support
and the silver halides sitting on it, as well as the artifacts produced in the
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