The Shiralee (1957 film)

Last updated

The Shiralee
The Shiralee FilmPoster.jpeg
Directed by Leslie Norman
Written by
Based on novel by D'Arcy Niland
Produced by Michael Balcon
Narrated by Charles Tingwell
Cinematography Paul Beeson
Edited byGordon Stone
Music by John Addison
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release dates
  • 11 July 1957 (1957-07-11)(UK)
  • August 1957 (1957-08)(Australia)
Running time
99 min.
CountryUnited Kingdom
Budget$597,000 [1]
Box office$920,000 [1]

The Shiralee is a 1957 British film in the Australian Western genre. [2] It was made by Ealing Studios, starring Peter Finch, directed by Leslie Norman and based on the 1955 novel by D'Arcy Niland. Although all exterior scenes were filmed in Sydney, Scone [3] and Binnaway, New South Wales [4] and Australian actors Charles Tingwell, Bill Kerr and Ed Devereaux played in supporting roles, the film is really a British film made in Australia, rather than an Australian film.



An itinerant rural worker named Macauley sometimes described as a "swagman" or "swaggie"suddenly finds himself taking responsibility for his child. In their time together in the barren landscapes of the outback, father and daughter bond. The child is the "shiralee", an Irish or Aboriginal word meaning "swag", or metaphorically, a "burden." [5]

Having returned to Sydney from "walkabout", he finds his wife living with another man. He beats up the man and takes his daughter, Buster, with him. Macauley tries to get a job with a previous employer, Parker, but he angrily tells Macauley to go away, saying he had left his daughter Lily pregnant. Macauley tries to leave Buster with some friends of his, but she runs after him and he relents. Macauley narrowly prevents his wife making off with Buster, but after Buster is hit by a car and badly injured, he finds out that his wife is divorcing him and trying to gain legal custody of Buster. He returns to Sydney to fight it, leading to a violent confrontation with his wife's new lover.



Leslie Norman said he read the book, "loved it" and sent it to Michael Balcon at Ealing. According to Norman, "Mick roasted me, said it was full of foul language and how dare I? I said that it wouldn't be in the film, so he said all right and to get him a script." [6]

Ealing had paid a reported £10,000 for the film rights to the book. [7]

Norman says he wrote a script, showed it to Balcon who "claimed it was a different story, so we called in Neil Patterson to rewrite. He only rewrote one scene but it was enough to appease Mick. I suffered a lot from Mick." [6]

Ealing signed an agreement with MGM for the latter studio to distribute their films worldwide; The Shiralee was to be the first film they made together. [8]

Leslie Norman arrived in Sydney in April 1956 to begin preproduction. [9] Finch arrived in July and an extensive talent search was conducted to find the actress to play Buster. [10] Eight-year-old Dana Wilson of Croydon, Sydney, was cast. [11]

The film was shot in the last months of 1956, first on location in north east New South Wales near Scone, [12] then at MGM's studios in London. Child stars were not encouraged in British cinema so Dana Wilson's presence was downplayed by the studio during the English leg of production. [13]

The cast included several Australian actors working in London. [14] [15]


The film was the tenth most popular film at the British box office in 1957 [16] and earned $920,000 worldwide ($60,000 at the US and Canadian box office). After costs of production and distribution, the film made a profit of $149,000. [1]

Peter Finch later said the film and his role in it were among his favourites in his career. [17] Norman says Finch "was marvellous... it was great working with him. Of course he was not a Balcon sort of character at all – too wild a lifestyle." [6]


The song "Shiralee" used as soundtrack was sung by Tommy Steele and reached #11 on the United Kingdom Singles Chart in 1957.

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Peter Finch</span> English-Australian actor (1916–1977)

Frederick George Peter Ingle Finch was an English-born Australian actor. He is best remembered for his role as crazed television anchorman Howard Beale in the 1976 film Network, which earned him a posthumous Academy Award for Best Actor, his fifth Best Actor award from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, and a Best Actor award from the Golden Globes.

Michael Balcon English film producer

Sir Michael Elias Balcon was an English film producer known for his leadership of Ealing Studios in West London from 1938 to 1955. Under his direction, the studio became the one of the most important British film studios of the day. In an industry short of Hollywood-style moguls, Balcon emerged as a key figure, and an obdurately British one too, in his benevolent, somewhat headmasterly approach to the running of a creative organization. He is known for his leadership, and his guidance of young Alfred Hitchcock.

Bud Tingwell Australian actor

Charles William Tingwell AM, known professionally as Bud Tingwell or Charles 'Bud' Tingwell, was an Australian film, television, theatre and radio actor. One of the veterans of Australian film, he acted in his first motion picture in 1946 and went on to appear in more than 100 films and numerous TV programs in both the United Kingdom and Australia.

DArcy Niland Australian novelist and short story writer

D'Arcy Francis Niland was an Australian farm labourer, novelist and short story writer. In 1955 he wrote The Shiralee, which gained international recognition in its depictions of the experiences of a swagman and his four-year-old daughter. It was made into a 1957 film, starring Peter Finch, and a 1987 TV mini-series, starring Bryan Brown. Niland married fellow writer Ruth Park (1917–2010) on 11 May 1942 and the couple had five children: Anne, Rory, Patrick and twin daughters, Kilmeny (1950–2009) and Deborah (1950–present). Niland died on 29 March 1967 of a myocardial infarction, aged 49.

<i>Smithy</i> (1946 film) 1946 Australian adventure film

Smithy is a 1946 Australian adventure film about pioneering Australian aviator Sir Charles Kingsford Smith and his 1928 flight across the Pacific Ocean, from San Francisco, California, United States to Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. This was the first-ever transpacific flight. Kingsford Smith was the pilot of the Fokker F.VII/3m three-engine monoplane "Southern Cross", with Australian aviator Charles Ulm as the relief pilot. The other two crew members were Americans James Warner and Harry Lyon.

Chips Rafferty Australian actor (1909–1971)

John William Pilbean Goffage MBE, known professionally as Chips Rafferty, was an Australian actor. Called "the living symbol of the typical Australian", Rafferty's career stretched from the late 1930s until his death in 1971, and during this time he performed regularly in major Australian feature films as well as appearing in British and American productions, including The Overlanders and The Sundowners. He appeared in commercials in Britain during the late 1950s, encouraging British emigration to Australia.

<i>The Overlanders</i> (film) 1946 film

The Overlanders is a 1946 British film about drovers driving a large herd of cattle 1,600 miles overland from Wyndham, Western Australia through the Northern Territory outback of Australia to pastures north of Brisbane, Queensland during World War II.

Leslie Armande Norman was an English post-war film director, producer and editor who also worked extensively on 1960s television series later in his career.

<i>The Desert Rats</i> (film) 1953 film by Robert Wise

The Desert Rats is a 1953 American black-and-white war film from 20th Century Fox, produced by Robert L. Jacks, directed by Robert Wise, that stars Richard Burton, James Mason, and Robert Newton. The film's storyline concerns the Siege of Tobruk in North Africa during World War II.

Charles Herbert Frend was an English film director and editor, best known for his films produced at Ealing Studios. He began directing in the early 1940s and is known for such films as Scott of the Antarctic (1948) and The Cruel Sea (1953).

<i>Eureka Stockade</i> (1949 film) 1949 British Australian Western film by Harry Watt

Eureka Stockade is a 1949 British film of the story surrounding Irish-Australian rebel and politician Peter Lalor and the gold miners' rebellion of 1854 at the Eureka Stockade in Ballarat, Victoria, in the Australian Western genre.

<i>The Square Ring</i> 1953 film by Basil Dearden

The Square Ring is a 1953 British tragi-comic drama, directed by Basil Dearden and made at Ealing Studios. It stars Jack Warner, Robert Beatty and Bill Owen. The film, based on a stage play by Ralph Peterson, centres on one night at a fairly seedy boxing venue and tells the disparate stories of the fighters and the women behind them.

<i>Bitter Springs</i> (film) 1950 film

Bitter Springs is a 1950 Australian–British film directed by Ralph Smart. An Australian pioneer family leases a piece of land from the government in the Australian outback in 1900 and hires two inexperienced British men as drovers. Problems with local Aboriginal people arise over the possession of a waterhole. Much of the film was shot on location in the Flinders Ranges in South Australia

The Shiralee is a 1987 Australian television film directed by George Ogilvie, based on the 1955 novel of the same name by D'Arcy Niland.

<i>The Siege of Pinchgut</i> 1959 film

The Siege of Pinchgut is a 1959 British thriller filmed on location in Sydney, Australia, and directed by Harry Watt. It was the last film produced by Ealing Studios, and was entered into the 9th Berlin International Film Festival where it was nominated for the Golden Bear Award.

<i>Robbery Under Arms</i> (1957 film) 1957 film

Robbery Under Arms is a 1957 British crime film directed by Jack Lee and starring Peter Finch, Ronald Lewis, David McCallum, Laurence Naismith and Jill Ireland. It is based on the 1888 Australian novel Robbery Under Arms by Thomas Alexander Browne who wrote under the pseudonym Rolf Boldrewood.

<i>The Feminine Touch</i> (1956 film) 1956 British film

The Feminine Touch is a 1956 British drama film directed by Pat Jackson and starring George Baker, Belinda Lee and Delphi Lawrence. The film is based on the bestselling novel A Lamp Is Heavy by Canadian former nurse Sheila Mackay Russell, and consequently it was released as A Lamp Is Heavy in Canada, while it was given the title The Gentle Touch in the United States, when it was released there in December 1957.

Dust in the Sun is a 1958 Australian mystery film adapted from the 1955 novel Justin Bayard by Jon Cleary and produced by the team of Lee Robinson and Chips Rafferty. The film stars British actress Jill Adams and an indigenous-Australian actor Robert Tudawali as Emu Foot.

Into the Straight is a 1949 Australian horse racing melodrama directed by T. O. McCreadie.

<i>The Shiralee</i> (novel) Book by DArcy Niland

The Shiralee is the debut full-length novel by D'Arcy Niland published in 1955. It was adapted into a movie in 1957 and a mini series in 1987.


  1. 1 2 3 'The Eddie Mannix ledger', Howard Strickland Papers, Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Beverly Hills, California. Figures are in US dollars.
  2. Lennon, Troy (21 January 2018). "Australian 'meat pie' westerns have been around for more than a century". Daily Telegraph. Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 21 May 2019.
  3. "The Shiralee in Scone - 1956-57".
  4. "Simply Australia - The Shiralee". Archived from the original on 29 September 2011.
  5. "The Pioneering Shiralee". hdl:2328/311.{{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  6. 1 2 3 Brian McFarlane, An Autobiography of British Cinema, Metheun 1997 p441
  7. "Darcy hits the jackpot". The Argus . Melbourne: National Library of Australia. 25 July 1955. p. 4. Retrieved 23 August 2012.
  8. "M-G-M WILL RELEASE EALING STUDIO FILMS" New York Times 29 Feb 1956: 35.
  9. ""ShirAlee" Film". The Central Queensland Herald . Rockhampton, Qld.: National Library of Australia. 3 May 1956. p. 3. Retrieved 28 May 2014.
  10. "Worth Reporting". The Australian Women's Weekly . National Library of Australia. 4 July 1956. p. 26. Retrieved 17 July 2012.
  11. "FILM FAN-FARE". The Australian Women's Weekly . National Library of Australia. 3 July 1957. p. 33. Retrieved 17 July 2012.
  12. ""THE SHIRALEE"". The Australian Women's Weekly . National Library of Australia. 3 October 1956. p. 12. Retrieved 17 July 2012.
  13. "IN LONDON THIS WEEK". The Argus . Melbourne: National Library of Australia. 10 November 1956. p. 4. Retrieved 17 July 2012.
  14. Andrew Pike and Ross Cooper, Australian Film 1900–1977: A Guide to Feature Film Production, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1998, 224. ISBN   0-19-550784-3
  15. "Film Fan Fare". The Australian Women's Weekly . National Library of Australia. 19 December 1956. p. 23. Retrieved 17 July 2012.
  16. LINDSAY ANDERSON, and DAVID DENT. "Time For New Ideas." Times [London, England] 8 Jan. 1958: 9. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 11 July 2012.
  17. "THE LOCAL FILM SCENE: Young Producer On the Go -- British Cooperation -- Mr. Finch's Story" by HOWARD THOMPSON. New York Times 2 Aug 1959: X5.


  1. ^ Andrew Pike and Ross Cooper, Australian Film 1900–1977: A Guide to Feature Film Production, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1998, 224.
  2. ^ Albert Moran and Errol Vieth, Historical Dictionary of Australian and New Zealand Cinema, Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2005.