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Sister Kate is about the life of Kate Kelly, sister to the infamous bushranger, Ned Kelly. You’ve heard of Ned Kelly, even if you aren’t from Australia and may not be familiar with other aspects of our culture and history; even if you haven’t heard of Kate Kelly, herself, or any of Ned Kelly’s other gang members like Steve Hart or Joe Byrne. There have been more books published and movies made about Ned Kelly than any other Australian. Even Mick Jagger portrayed Ned Kelly in the 1970 version by Tony Richardson. It was an odd bit of casting. Since then Ned Kelly has been portrayed by Heath Ledger as well as John Jarret (from the Wolf Creek films) and last year Justin Kurzel produced True History of the Kelly Gang based on Peter Carey’s Booker Prize winning novel. The Story of the Kelly Gang, produced in 1906, was the world’s first feature film. Today, Ned, pictured in his armour, beaten into shape from stolen ploughshares, is iconic. The story of the shootings at Stringybark Creek, of the raids on Jerilderie and Euroa, and the siege at Glenrowan, have become the stuff of legend and controversy. Ned Kelly’s enigmatic last words before his hanging:
Such is life adorn the back of many pick-up trucks, as an emblem of independence and rebellion.
Kate Kelly, on the other hand, has largely been background to her brother’s story. Jean Bedford’s Sister Kate lifts her from the scenery. In Ned Kelly’s legend, the focus on Kate has been mostly limited to an incident with a police officer, Constable Fitzpatrick, who went to the Kelly house with a warrant for the arrest of Dan Kelly, Ned’s brother, for horse stealing. Dan wasn’t at home so the constable waited. When Dan returned, Fitzpatrick arrested him but agreed to let him have his dinner before departing. Upon returning home, Ned Kelly shot Fitzpatrick in the wrist. Naturally, there are conflicting stories. Ned Kelly denied being at home during the incident, saying he was two hundred kilometres away at the time. It was further alleged that Fitzpatrick had been drinking and had made a pass at Kate. The accusation became a further reason for the Kelly family’s hatred of the police who often watched them and their property. Sydney Nolan, who produced a famous series of paintings based on Ned Kelly, portrayed Fitzpatrick’s alleged attempt at seduction in these two paintings:
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