Category Archives: Kate Kelly

Songs for Kate screens in Bathurst and Forbes

Songs_for_Kate_Still_webMy documentary about a new reworking of the Kelly legend will be screened in Bathurst on October 25 and in Forbes on October 26. It’s called Songs for Kate and it follows the writing and staging of a chamber opera about the last days of Kate Kelly, younger sister of the bushranger Ned.

Kate’s body was pulled from the Forbes lagoon in October, 1898, when  she was only 36 years old. The cause of her death was, and remains, a mystery.

The screening is timely, with a new piece of historical evidence about the Kelly gang’s last stand at Glenrowan about to go on public display for the first time. A letter written by a local bank clerk to his parents back in Scotland describes the scene in which Kate held Ned around the neck as he lay captured and wounded.

After her dramatic teenage years, historical evidence relating to the remainder of Kate Kelly’s life is scant, although she is the subject of rich folklore and a 1982 novel based on her life by Jean Bedford.

My documentary follows writer and scholar Merrill Findlay, who grew up on a farm about 50 kilometers from Forbes, as she writes and attempts to stage this ambitious, high-art event in a small country town. Merrill’s vision is beset by problems, including the lack of a composer to work with, treatment for cancer and a shortage of money to pay for the expensive staging she envisages.

Merrill’s work is based on a piece of historical evidence she discovered in an old copy of the Forbes and Parkes Gazette. A tiny court report written a few months before Kate died, when she was in early pregnancy, revealed that her husband, William “Bricky” Foster, had been charged five pounds, four shillings and ten pence in lieu of three months in jail for what we would now call domestic violence.

In an interview in the documentary, Merrill explains that Bricky Foster came back into town (he had been working on a sheep station) the night before Kate disappeared. “If an inquest were done today, the husband would be, if not the prime suspect, at least a person of great interest to the police. But of course none of that was questioned in the inquest in 1898.”

Filming and editing for the documentary took place over a two-year period from 2011 to 2013, scheduled around the busy lives of all those involved. The documentary project was unfunded – a labor of love, just as was the song cycle itself.

Other than the glorious sound track generated by the staging of the song cycle, all elements of the documentary, from camera work to editing, dramatisations and paintings used to illustrate song cycle, relied on local central west talent.

As the arts reporter for Arts OutWest on Prime TV news some years ago, I always longed for a bit more time and space to tell arts stories properly.

I was always trying cram the story of big, long, complicated arts projects into news stories that were only one and half minutes long. This documentary has allowed me to explore a project in depth.

The Kate Kelly Song Cycle, with music by Ross Carey and libretto by Merrill Findlay, was the keynote performance of the inaugural Kalari-Lachlan River Arts festival in Forbes in September 2011. It was sung by Melbourne-based soprano Sian Prior with a chamber orchestra and two community choirs. The conductor was Orange-based music director William Moxey.

Songs for Kate runs for approximately 50 minutes. Parental guidance for children recommended.

Screening details:


Orchard Room, Mitchell Conservatorium

Friday, October 25, 2013

7pm canapes; 7.30pm screening.

Tickets $5 available from Books Plus

Presented by Bathurst Arts Council as a Local Filmmakers Showcase.


Temporary cinema space (Jelbarts auto repair shop foyer)

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The film is part of this year’s River Arts Festival in Forbes – see program for more info.

More information and resources, including still images and video downloads, can be found at:


On being everything in my own kingdom

Can one really be a writer, director and producer all at the same time? This could be nuts. I’m working on a documentary about the making of the Kate Kelly Song Cycle in Forbes, written by Merrill Findlay, composed by Ross Carey. And sung by Sian Prior. It’s a beautiful project that covers 90 per cent of bases that I find interesting,  including this eternal obsession about whether you really can engage in the cultural life of the nation if you don’t live within a fifteen kilometre radius from the centre of Sydney or Melbourne. In other words, the red dust thing. I mean the red dust of Carnarvon that clings to me and gives me at once a soulful feeling as well as a feeling that it’s impossible to join in because the show is run by a clique of people in a room somewhere within that golden radius. So I may as well not bother. I may as well sit here, resentfully, in my margin.

And then I get disgusted with myself and try to turn my nose around, pointing out to the margins and beyond – off the very page – where things have always been interesting. Not sure if you’re following me here. What I mean is: there’s more than enough for a lifetime of creative work decorating the margins. Just look at what those monks did. They illuminated their margins. The Illuminated Margin. I like that. Might use it.

Anyway, back to the problem at hand, which is: how to finish this documentary. I have a great pile of undigitised, unlogged, untranscribed observational footage. This includes five cameras on the final one-hour performance.

I have a one-line synopsis, a one-paragraph synopsis and a rough treatment (thanks to the support of my wonderful mentor in the Mentoring for Regional Screen Practitioners program). I have artist friend Adrian Symes coming out to Forbes with me on Monday. He’s going to paint scenes from the life of Kate Kelly as if on the Bayeux Tapestry. That’s very exciting. The camera will move from scene to scene. Gorgeous. And I have a couple of young film makers specialising in beautiful cinematography lined up to create sumptuous “suggestive enactments” of scenes from the Song Cycle. It’s all there. It just needs to be marshalled.