Australian Screen

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The Shiralee (1957)

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clip Macauley's new burden

This clip chosen to be PG

Clip description

Back from the bush, Macauley (Peter Finch) walks in on his wife Marge (Elizabeth Sellars) at their flat in Sydney, but she’s not alone. He bars the door and attacks the man Donny (George Rose), then gathers up his five-year-old daughter Buster (Dana Wilson) and leaves. Back on the country roads, the child asks to be carried. Macauley tells her no, she has to learn to ‘hoof it’.

Curator’s notes

This is our first taste of Macauley’s character and it’s not complimentary. Shrill though she may be, Marge has a point: what did he expect, leaving her and their baby for months on end? The audio background is interesting: voices behind the fight, from other tenants of this cheap boarding house, seem to suggest that this is not the first beating they have heard Macauley give in this room. Note that Macauley says nothing during the entire scene inside the room, establishing the sense of a laconic man who is used to physically asserting himself.

The brief narration as he walks up the street is adopted from Niland’s book, but it’s used only in the first few minutes, to establish a sense of the character of a swagman. The film begins, ‘There was a man who had a cross and his name was Macauley, a swagman. They’re dying out fast, the swagmen of Australia, but there are still a few around following the sun across the vast continent for their bread and butter…’ Only the first 13 words are taken straight from the opening of the book, up to the mention of his name.

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