GOULBURN was right in the thick of Ben Hall country in the 1860s.
Hall has become part of Australian folklore as arguably the most prolific and wanted bushranger in Australia’s history, in terms of his activity and criminal record. He and his gang roamed mid-western NSW, bailing up coaches and stealing from the rich squatters - even holding entire towns to ransom for days at a time.
Born in 1837, Hall was a native-born Irish descendant and had a bright future. By 24- years-of-age, he had his own lands and cattle. He was married and had a young son.
However, his life fell into ruin when his young bride Biddy eloped with Hall’s treacherous friend Jim Taylor. The lovers disappeared, taking Hall’s only child with them.
Despondent, Hall left for the Goldfields of Central West NSW and became one of many young men to fall under the influence of Frank Gardiner, a charismatic career criminal who planned and executed the famous Escort Gold Robbery - the largest gold heist in British history to that point. For his involvement in the Escort Robbery, Hall was arrested and imprisoned for a month, but was let go due to a lack of evidence.
When Gardiner ‘retired’ from the game shortly after, Hall took charge of the gang and began waging a very personal war against the NSW police and society.
Hall has been over-shadowed by Ned Kelly in history - but a new film might be about to change all that.
‘The Legend of Ben Hall’ reveals him as a romantic figure - a man torn between his desire to be good and his criminal tendencies.
The film has almost finished shooting, according to writer/director Matthew Holmes.
Mr Holmes said while the film did not go into why Hall became a bushranger, he has his own theories about it.
“The film deals with the last nine months of his life when he was an established bushranger, but also when his life was falling apart,” he said.
“I believe he became a bushranger because he had a kind of ‘mid-life’ crisis after his wife ran off with another man. He then fell in with the wrong crowd - with Frank Gardiner and bushrangers - and he descended steadily into a life of crime. But I think he was like a frog in boiling water in that sense.
“He was a reluctant bushranger - there was a constant battle within him between being a decent man and a criminal going on inside him, but he was not an evil man. Ben Hall never killed anyone, but his gang members John Dunn and John Gilbert did - as soon as they killed police they became the most wanted gang in the colony.
“He was certainly a very successful outlaw - but it was also an arduous life that was taking its toll on him - and that is what the film explores.
“At this point Hall wanted to leave the colony and make a new life in America, but he also had an ex-wife and young son that he was estranged from and he did not want to let go of them - this is what kept him in the colony and ultimately led to his death.”
Hall was betrayed by a friend for the reward and shot to death by police at Billabong Creek, Forbes on May 6, 1865.
“There is a romantic notion of Hall and a folk hero aspect to him as well - but he was neither a victim of injustice nor was he a hero - there were many more layers to his character and we are trying to present that in the film,” Mr Holmes said.
Mr Holmes said he had received great interest in the film and that once it was released (later this year or early next year) it would tour ‘Ben Hall Country’ - Goulburn, Bathurst, Grenfell, Forbes, Young, Parkes and other towns.
“We are in the last stages of filming - it has been predominantly shot in Victoria, after scoping out landscapes that resembled mid-western NSW where the Hall gang roamed - such as Goulburn, Forbes, Canowindra and Jugiong,” Mr Holmes said.
“Many people don’t realise how great Australian history is - one of the most exciting things about this film for me is that it brings some of this history to life,” Mr Holmes said.
‘The Legend of Ben Hall’ is a Two Tone Pictures production in association with Odin’s Eye Entertainment, RLC Motion Picture Entertainment, Emu Creek Pictures and Palmarium LLC.