Thank you, Andrew Barton ‘Banjo’ Paterson, for penning one of Australia’s iconic bush poems, The Man from Snowy River, about the mighty ride of horse and man to round up and return the ‘colt from old Regret’.
I have always loved the poem itself and there have been many famous versions over the years – notably Jack Thompson’s reading – but the 1982 movie The Man From Snowy River (directed by George T Miller, screenplay John Dixon, story by Fred ‘Cul’ Cullen) was in its day a feast for the eyes, and for the heart.
Not to mention that fabulous music scored by Bruce Rowland. I can almost tell you every scene in the movie just by listening to it. And to really make a mess of myself, I’ve just watched the opening minutes of the Sydney Olympics 2000 for which Rowland revised the score. So great. So moving. The score was as evocative then as when the movie first came out eighteen years earlier, and as stirring as it is now. Iconic. Australian. Big country, big sky, horses, riders, slouch hats, oilskin jackets and huge smiles.
How does this poem, and the movie, compare to my new novel, The Forthright Woman?
In The Man from Snowy River, Jessica Harrison (played by Sigrid Thornton) certainly has her own mind. And no wonder – she’s surrounded by a strong-willed father and the boys who live and work on her father’s property, and has no memory of her mother who died giving birth to her. Jessica has to be a forthright woman to be heard. In the same way, so is my character Marcella Ross forthright. Unless they both stand up for themselves, there are not too many willing to do it for them.
Among the many other characters in the movie, a stand-out for me is Rosemary Hume, Jessica’s aunty and mentor, a serene woman with a steely resolve and a firm guiding hand, played by the sublime Lorraine Bayly. (Am I the only one who thinks there was another story within the story here?)
The Forthright Woman, my eighth novel out now, stars Marcella Ross who has been widowed after an arranged marriage and seeks to find her own way forward. She will not to be forced into matrimony again by her enthusiastic brother. Finding a scrap of paper, a mystery, she yearns to unravel its secrets and make her own mark in the world. Yes, she can be a little naive, but given her circumstances, sequestered in a loveless marriage, once she’s widowed, she learns to fight for what she wants, despite the odds being against her. She is the daughter of Italian migrants in the late nineteenth century – even harder for her to get ahead on her own than for her colonial sisters.
She has a whip-smart mentor–chaperone in the wily and wizened Mrs Costa. Not exactly serene like Rosemary Hume but gutsy, also forthright. And steely. Nothing much gets past Mrs Costa and Marcella knows it.
The land on which the story is set is a character in itself. The Victorian High Country near Mansfield where The Man from Snowy River was filmed is arguably some the most majestic and picturesque in the world. In The Forthright Woman, the backdrop is the equally compelling and arid Flinders Ranges in South Australia. Brooding stillness is in the air there until deadly turbulence, not unlike the unstable High Country weather, equally dangerous and without favour.
The Man from Snowy River movie is now forty years old and it’s still a favourite of mine. These are my Top 12 takeaways, not in any particular order:
- Victorian High Country – breathtakingly beautiful.
- Sigrid Thornton in one of her early movie performances as Jessica Harrison.
- Horses! Lots of them. Big rides, big fellas riding them, magnificent camera work and great scenes of thundering hooves over tricky terrain. Creaking saddle leather, boots, dogs … oh my!
- Young Tom Burlinson, full stop.
- The music – stirring, evocative, and a melody that stays with you long after the movie is over, immediately recognisable whenever you hear it.
- Spur Harrison, Kirk Douglas’s other character in the movie.
- The wonderful Lorraine Bayly who plays Rosemary Hume.
- Young love, determined to be allowed to thrive. Old loves, missed chances and regrets, and the great wisdom of hindsight.
- The romance of the land itself, and the moody and volatile weather over the magnificent High Country landscape.
- Knowing that AB Paterson’s poem lives on, although the screenplay for the movie has added the love story, and also Spur’s story.
- Jack Thompson as Clancy of the Overflow.
- Isolation on the land, yet a strong community thrives there.
Still a must-watch movie of mine, year in year out, and still inspiring. I’m off to watch it again now – how could I not?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Darry Fraser
Darry Fraser fell in love with the great Murray River when her family moved to her childhood town of Swan Hill in Victoria. Stories of the river have been with her ever since and it’s where a number of her novels are set. Her stories are of ordinary people in nineteenth century Australia who are drawn into difficult circumstances – adventure, mystery and mayhem, love and life, and against the backdrop of historical events. Darry lives on Kangaroo Island, an awe-inspiring place off the coast of South Australia.
Love Australian Historical Romance? Read Darry Fraser’s new book The Forthright Woman
Widow Marcella Ross won’t let anything – or anyone – stop her from discovering the truth behind a deadly family mystery … Mystery and romance collide in this compulsive historical adventure from a bestselling Australian author.
1898, South Australia
At the gateway to the Flinders Ranges lies Kanyaka Station, once a thriving sheep and cattle property, now abandoned and in ruins. But a discovery in her late mother’s papers draws recently widowed Marcella Ross out to its remote landscape in search of clues to the disappearance of her Uncle Luca, an Italian immigrant whose fate seems to have been bound up in that of his mysterious partner – also long-since vanished. When Marcella is accosted by a daunting stranger, she discovers he too is entangled in the secrets of the past. Tragedy and obsession threaten Marcella’s fragile independence, so how far will she have to go to unlock the secrets of Kanyaka – or solve the puzzle of her own future?
After learning that they are unlikely to have children, Frances and Joe MacDonald have taken the unusual step of buying a caravan and travelling together through the outback. They stop at Kanyaka Station, where Fran becomes mesmerised by the past. Family lore holds that an ancestor met an untimely end amid the desolate ruins. But what truly happened, and to whom, at the isolated station? As fate alters the course of her life, Fran’s footsteps echo another woman’s from so long ago …
As the mystery unravels, will these two women have the chance to take control of their own destinies?