The Bendigo Art Gallery is staging Imagining Ned while a new Australian musical, NED, is having its world premiere at Bendigo’s Ulumbarra Theatre on May 22, running through to May 31.
Kelly remains a highly mythologised character in Australian history. Some say he was a murderous villain and outlaw, while others proclaim him to be a misunderstood folk hero – an Australian ‘Robin Hood’.
A familiarisation organised by Bendigo Tourism provided a sneak preview of NED and a visit to the Bendigo Art Gallery.
The Bendigo Art Gallery’s exhibition Imagining Ned explores the history of Kelly through original artefacts such as Kelly’s famous armour, letters, weaponry, associated ephemera and other historic items (sourced from the State Library of Victoria, Glenrowan Historical Society and Benalla collections).
The ongoing impact and inspiration of Kelly is explored through the creative output of film makers, from the 1906 film by Charles Tait – designated by UNESCO in 2007 as the world’s first feature film – to the 1970s version featuring Mick Jagger and the star-studded 2003 film with Heath Ledger, Naomi Watts and Geoffrey Rush.
The most iconic artistic engagement with the legend of Ned Kelly is the work of celebrated Australian artist Sidney Nolan. As such the exhibition features a selection of Nolan’s important works alongside those of other artists such as Arthur Boyd, Juan Davila and Norman Lindsay.
This musical tells the story of an ordinary boy, born to an Irish immigrant family living in poverty in country Victoria.
The son of a convict, Ned sees how poorly his family is being treated and learns never to trust a man in uniform. He sees how the selectors are at the mercy of the squatters. And he knows how hard his mother works to keep his family together.
When his father dies Ned becomes the man of the house, at just 12 years old. His first arrest is at 14 and by 16 he is serving time in Pentridge Prison for receiving a stolen horse. His life is shaping up to be one full of petty misdemeanors, theft and scuffles with authority.
Ned’s life takes a catastrophic turn when his mother Ellen is accused of attempted murder of Fitzpatrick, a local police officer. Ned takes to the bush with his brother Dan, and friends Steve and Joe, with plans to avenge this injustice. The boys are pursued fervently by the police. When they finally come upon each other, three policemen are killed one fateful night at Stringybark Creek.
Suddenly Ned has killed. Yet rather than being condemned, his legend begins to grow.
As part of our familiarisation tour we listened to a few songs from the musical and heard from composer and lyricist, Adam Lyon, who is a local Bendigo lad. The feedback from the audience was extremely enthusiastic.
The main reason for the familiarisation was to highlight the Ulumbarra Theatre. Unfortunately works were still underway on the day of our visit to prepare for the official opening, which was held on April 17, but we saw enough to suggest it is going to be in demand among local and international acts and touring companies. This theory is supported by the many bookings already made!
The $26m theatre is located within the former Sandhurst Gaol. The public enters the theatre via a walkway underneath the gallows on the site while some prison cells have been left as is or re-purposed to form cloaking and ticketing functions in the entrance hall.
The 953 seat theatre features a fully equipped fly tower while the complex also includes music, dance and drama studios.
The V/Line train used by Bendigo Tourism for our familiarisation from Southern Cross to Bendigo Station was clean and the service efficient. The trip took around two hours.
While we were assured the gallery was in walking distance of the station (we were chauffeured around by bus), the theatre isn’t. So if you are planning a visit to one or more of the many performances planned at the new Ulumbarra Theatre it’s worth checking with Bendigo Tourism or V/Line on access from the station. And remember the last train leaves Bendigo around 8pm.
Alternatively it’s about 150 kilometres from Melbourne to Bendigo by road with the time for the drive very much traffic dependent. The Bendigo Tourism site provides useful travel information. As an added bonus Bendigo has a range of excellent accommodation options.