Songs for Kate highlights Merrill's work

A documentary featuring Forbes writer Merrill Findlay will be distributed to schools, libraries and universities in Australia and internationally after recently being picked up by Canberra-based company, Ronin Films.

Songs for Kate is a documentary by Bathurst filmmaker Tracy Sorensen which follows Forbes’ own writer and academic, Merrill Findlay on her journey to write and stage a chamber opera about the last days of Ned Kelly’s younger sister Kate.

The documentary follows Ms Findlay as she collaborates with composer Ross Carey to write The Kate Kelly Song Cycle, which she wanted to stage on the banks of the Forbes lagoon from which Kate’s body was dragged in 1889 when she was 36 years old.

The film shows Ms Findlay’s attempts to stage this ambitious, high-art event at the Kalari-Lachlan River Arts Festival in Forbes, which she did in 2011, however not after overcoming a series of problems including a lack of a composer to work with, treatment for cancer and a shortage of money to pay for the expensive staging she envisages.

Director Tracy Sorensen is thrilled that the film is finally finished and will now reach a much wider audience.

“It was such a lot of work and it’s just wonderful to know that it can go out there into the world after all that hard work,” Ms Sorensen said.

Ms Sorensen has signed a contract with Ronin Films after a lengthy battle to get it out there.

“It was a really long process trying to work out ways to distribute it more widely,” she said.

“Ronin Films have a real focus on Australian history and stories, so this suits their subject matter.

“The focus will be to get it into libraries, schools and universities and in particular music institutions because the film is about music as much as it’s a story about Kate Kelly.”

The accomplishment of finishing the documentary (which took two years to film and edit from 2011 to 2013) and getting it distributed is even more remarkable considering Ms Sorensen was battling her own personal health problems throughout the entire process.

Ms Sorensen discovered she had the BRCA1 gene - the same rogue cancer gene that Angelina Jolie carries - which very much increases the chance of her receiving a positive cancer diagnosis, as a high number of her female relatives had already experienced.

She then made the decision to have her ovaries, and later her breasts, removed.

“Basically all the way through this project of filming and then trying to get it into the world, I was having a series of preventative surgery to avoid getting cancer,” she said.

“It has been a bit of a saga since the middle of 2011, so throughout the whole process of the movie.”

In an evil twist of fate, despite surgery, Ms Sorensen was diagnosed with a form of ovarian cancer earlier this year.

“The irony is that I had my ovaries removed before that – you can still get ovarian cancer from cells in the abdominal cavity,” she said.

Since then Ms Sorensen has had to undergo major surgery and chemotherapy, which she only just finished a few weeks ago and is now in remission.

“At this stage I’m in a really good position,” she said.

All this while trying to promote her documentary.

“I really wanted to do this film,” she replied when asked why she continued working on the film, despite her illness.

“I just wanted to get it done and I wasn’t going to let my health problems get in the way, without being silly of course.

“I was very committed to the project that Merrill was doing and I had a personal connection to Merrill’s work.

“It was made completely without a budget; it was very much a labour of love.

“The main purpose was to show people the work that Merrill has done in Forbes with the Kate Kelly story.

“It’s wonderful to have a way of exposing her work to a wider audience.”

Ms Findlay created the Kate Kelly Song Cycle based on a piece of historical evidence she discovered in an old copy of the Forbes and Parkes Gazette which revealed that Kate’s husband, William ‘Bricky’ Foster, had been charged five pounds, four shillings and ten pence in lieu of three months in jail for what would now be considered domestic violence.

According to Ms Findlay, Bricky Foster came back into town from 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,” Ms Findlay said.

“But of course none of that was questioned in the inquest in 1898.”

Songs for Kate runs for 50 minutes and can be purchased from Ronin Films on their website,