TONY’S TOP AUSTRALIAN FILMS
#5. The Squatter’s Daughter (1932)
One of the most popular Australian ‘melodramas’ in the first decades of the 20th Century was The Squatter’s Daughter (1907) by Bert Baily and Edward Duggan. The story essentially involves a dramatic love-triangle between two male rivals and the feisty heroine – Violet, the ‘Squatter’s Daughter’. Partly why this film is in my ‘Top Australian films’ is because it exemplifies the creation of a particular type of Australian female persona – the Aussie ‘shelia’.
These days, to call a woman a ‘shelia’ would be taken as a relatively derogatory label. That was not it’s original intention; rather the contrary, as it was a term that was essentially affectionate and complementary. The ‘shelia’ roles, such as Violet in The Squatter’s Daughter, were primarily masculine creations, nonetheless, the character was firmly embraced – feisty, independent, smart, beautiful, sometimes rich and sometimes not – she was seen as the ideal companion to the idealized romantic persona of the contemporary Australian male. These characteristics are also found in Sybylla Mervyn in Miles Franklin’s My Brilliant Career (1901), who to a certain extent prefigures Violet in The Squatter’s Daughter (1907), and many others to follow – such as Barbara in Lawson Harris’ A Daughter of Australia (1922).
The success of the play led to Bert Bailey directing a silent-screen adaption in 1910. Unfortunately, there are no surviving copies and is now regarded as a ‘lost film’.
It is, however, Ken G. Hall’s 1932 film version that perhaps gives the best glimpse of how thrilling contemporary Australain audiences found The Squatter’s Daughter. Hall’s film, however, although based on the original play, is considerably different. The characters have been renamed – Violet is now Joan – and certain characters and situations completely removed. For example, the sub-plot in the original play involving the bushranger Ben Hall has gone; its place is a sub-plot involving racism.
Another reason why this film is in my ‘Top Australian films’ is the spectacular and frightening bush-fire that is the climax of the film. Very impressive – and dangerous – film-making.