The Squatter's Daughter

  • aka Down Under (Britain)

Plucky strong-willed Joan Enderby (Jocelyn Howarth), with her lame brother Jimmie (Owen Ainsley) runs a sheep station, Enderby, and is involved in a tussle with a rival station, Waratah, which - in the absence in England of its owner Ironbark Sherrington (W. Lane Bayliff) - is being run by his weak-willed son Clive (John Warwick) and a rascally overseer, Fletcher.

A mysterious stranger in the shape of Wayne Ridgeway (Grant Lyndsay, previously known as Dick Fair when he appeared in On Our Selection) turns up to help her in the fight.

Tension builds until Joan finds herself trapped in a raging bushfire, and then it is revealed that Clive is only the son of the station hand, and that Wayne is the true heir to the Sherrington Estate. He and Joan marry and the two stations are united in marital bliss.

A comedy sub-plot features a trio of inept shearers, with Fred MacDonald (Dave in On our Selection) playing a bagpipes-wielding shearer who unintentionally charms a snake with them, and is pursued by the genteel Enderby housekeeper Miss Ramsbottom (Dorothy Dunkley).

As well as bushfire and  bagpipes, the film offers bathing beauties, ballroom dancing, and a novelty band of Aboriginal gumleaf players …

Production Details

Production company: Cinesound Productions

Budget: £16,000 (Oxford Australian Film). An alternative lower figure of £11,000 in the Brisbane Courier-Mail of 29th February 1940 is unlikely because of the extended shoot and cost over-runs.

Locations: interiors Cinesound Bondi Junction studio, exteriors Cabramatta, Wallacia and Dalkeith stations, near Penrith, Goonoo Goonoo station, north west New South Wales.

Filmed: shooting began early January 1933, with a proposed twelve week schedule. Poor weather for what was largely an exterior shoot saw the film run over schedule, taking a reported eighteen weeks.

Australian distributor: B.E.F.

Australian release:  29th September 1933 at Sydney's newly launched Civic Theatre (the re-badged Haymarket) which ostensibly opened on a mission to become the home for Australian films, but soon reverted to the usual mix of product.

Rating: For general exhibition

35mm    black and white (bushfire sequences were tinted an amber/reddish-brown colour)                                                                                                      

Running time: 104 mins (Oxford Australian Film). Cut by fifteen minutes for British release.

ScreenSound VHS time: 1'40"46 (including foreword by Prime Minister of Australia).

Box office: "a marked financial success" (Oxford Australian Film).

The film was a major hit, running for ten weeks at the Civic in Sydney and doing lengthy runs in other capital cities. By 1935 it had grossed over £25,000 in Australia and New Zealand. (Other estimates range from £28 to £35,000).

It was sold to M.G.M. in England for £7,500 cash (studio boss Stuart Doyle in the Sydney Morning Herald 28th July 1934 - the Oxford Australian Film cites £7,000). The film was given bad reviews and did poor business in the UK, but the acquisition advance was a substantial amount compared to the original budget. 

Opinion

Awards

None known.

Availability

A time coded VHS copy derived from ScreenAustralia is known to circulate amongst collectors. The picture quality is of fair standard relative to VHS and the time code relatively unobtrusive, but the bushfire scenes aren't tinted as in the original release.

It remains a mystery why director Ken G. Hall's entire slate isn't available in digital form, whether by way of boxed set or streaming.

In the meantime, if watching a few clips is your idea of watching a feature film, the ASO has three here.

 

1. Source:

The screenplay was based on a 1907 four act play by Bert Bailey (Dad in On Our Selection) and Edmund Duggan, which had then been originally filmed by them as a silent film in 1910. In 1922 the play was adapted into a novel by Hilda M. Bridges. 

The original concerned bushrangers as well as squatters, a subject that had been made taboo by Australian governments throughout the land, afraid that movies might provide lawless role models for impressionable citizens. 

Hall pushed the story towards the rivalry of two sheep stations, and in the usual Hall way, interspersed comedy and farce with high drama that built to a major set piece for the climax of the action - in this case a bushfire (in Tall Timber it was a timber drive).

Hall had difficulties with the script. He wasn't happy with the draft by writer E. V. Timms (the ADB has a biography of Timms here), and he called in his old Union Theatres boss Gayne Dexter to do a re-write.

The pair shared the credit. (The hoary device of children switched at birth reflected the Edwardian stage origins of the story).

The Sydney Morning Herald's review quoted director Ken Hall in relation to the availability of good scenario writers, and immediately a controversy erupted, with letters to the editor following from Hall and from Steele Rudd:

 

 

And so the talk of inadequate script-writers in Australia has continued on its long and honourable history right up to the present day.

Hall later elaborated in Directed by Ken G. Hall on his writing dilemmas:

The play was very old and pretty bad from a film-making point of view. It needed to be greatly strengthened dramatically, needed action and spectacle that was talked about on the stage but never seen. The title was well known, had a strong Australian falvour and some woman appeal. We did not retain much more than the title in the final washup.

I had a hard time getting a screenplay, and there were no writers in this country with experience. The writers for radio began to find their legs somewhat later, but they were few and far between, and generally they could not visualise at all. They saw everything through a larynx.

E. V. Timms was a popular author of that time. He was in the Rafael Sabatini tradition - spectacle, action, costume, the Spanish Main and all that. But it was most difficult to get a writer, especially one with a reputation such as Timms's, to look at everything he wrote down as through a lens; to understand that beautiful prose is not worth a damn in a film script. You cannot put prose, however graceful, on to the screen. You can only put action, movement and words - dialogue which people can speak, but which does not necessarily look well in print.

For instance, the script or screenplay will merely say on the left-hand side, 'Sunrise'. A marvellous description of this daily event, essayed by a thousand authors with varying degrees of success, cannot mean a thing to a film man. He has to bring it to visual life. In films, a sunrise is the business of a cameraman basically, usually with the director there to make sure it's the kind of sunrise he wants to suit a mood.

Inexperienced writers - and the huge success of Selection brought them flooding around the studio armed with what they mostly assured me were infallible scripts - waste a lot of time for themselves and other people. By simply going to a library they can view the format of a script or a stage-play and learn a great deal about what not to do ...

... Timms and I worked out a story outline and finally a 'treatment', that is a running story-line without much dialogue, for The Squatter's Daughter. But it was hard sledding and I could not get Timms to grasp the screen technique. So we parted company and Bob, now Gayne, Dexter returned from New York, where had done a lot of writing, as well as top film publicity work and I called him in. We got the screenplay together and it was reasonably good, though of cours it would be considered heavy-handed and on the melodramatic side today. And yet, since the big revival of interest in Australian films of the thiries, and particularly the ABC television presentation of fifteen of Cinesound's features, under the over-dall title Click Go The Years, The Squatter's Daughter is one of the films most commented upon, to me at least. The Australiana it projects is responsible, I think.

The script 'inspired' a novelisation by Charles Melaun, published in 1933. According to the N.S.W Bookstall Company Limited publicity:

In it we hear the gallop of horses' hoofs upon great Australian plains, the heart-beat of a nation striving against odds to settle a land that is one moment fruitfull and full of peace, and the next barren, and the scene of man's war against the elements. Romance and drama, comedy, and pathos make up this stirring tale ...

It was reviewed in the Australian Women's Weekly on 12th August 1933:

2. Production:

(i) Hall's uncertainty:

In an interview with Philip Taylor in Cinema Papers, January 1974 Hall admitted he was under professional presure. After the success of On Our Selection, he had been appointed General Manager, Producer and Director of Cinesound features, at the age of 30, while at the same time opearing as editor-in chief of the company newsreel, and being in overall charge of the associated laboratory, while also developing projects:

I was unsure of myself, but now I had a success behind me I'd made it, and the other people who were making pictures were falling by the wayside all round me. Don't get me wrong. I wasn't cocky, but I was getting more security because about this time I was beginning to gather people. I had a Set Designer, I had a workshop staff. I knew what I wanted the action played in front of and when to let to the set designers take over ...

(ii) George Cross:

One of the reasons Hall remained sensitive was the ongoing question of performance in the new age of talkies. He was saddled with an acting assistant, who came from the theatre and about whom Hall was ambivalent, as he explained to Philip Taylor in his Cinema Papers' interview:

This (The Squatter's Daughter) again was over-acted because now Doyle and Frank Marden still didn't believe that Hall knew enough about the stage, which was true So they got an old actor named George Cross, he came out of Bert Bailey's school, and he was far "stagier" than Bert. He was a ham but a lovely fellow and I've had a great regard and respect for him. I could control him to some extent:

Taylor: More so than Bert?

Hall: Well earlier it was Bert's property; George worked for me. But I didn't control him enough. A lot of the stuff on The Squatter's Daughter was overacted to hell. But that was the way it was and nobody objected to it at the time. The press didn't tear me apart and say 'This is dreadfully overacted'. I don't blame George Cross for it because I could have altered anything and I constantly did ...

(iii) Captain Hurley:

With On Our Selection "selling like hot cakes", Ken Hall was in a position to expand his ambitions. He was able to enalarge his "small sound-proof hot-box of a studio" into a more generous sixty by forty feet, and he had an art director Fred Finlay, head of Union Theatres design and workshop department, and he began to look around for other crew. This led him to pioneering cinematographer Frank Hurley, as he recalled in his memoir:

At this time Doyle called me and said Frank Hurley, whom I knew to be a personal friend of his, was available and what did I think about using him as chief of cinematography on Squatter's Daughter?

Captain Frank Hurley was one of the best-known names in Australia: explorer, photographer, filmmaker, individualist, lecturer and the only Australian official photographer in the later stages of World War 1. 'Later' because he'd been marooned on an ice-floe in Antartica with others of the Shackleton expedition for eighteen months. When finally rescued and landed in the Falkland Islands, south-east of Cape Horn, he heard there was a war on, and took off for the conflict by the first fast packet sailing by. As official photographer with the AIF in France, he was enlisted as a war correspondent, which meant that he held the honorary rank of captain. Frank, good showman that he was, realised the value of the prefix and retained it professionally for the rest of his life. What the army thought about it didn't worry 'Cap'.

His films and still pictures of Antarctica and later of the War in France won him a great and richly deserved reputation. His work was to be seen in photograhic galleries around the world.

After the War, with things getting dull, Hurley journed up to the Sepik Riever and into other areas of New Guinea where head-hunting was one of the chief pastimes of the locals. He came out in the early twenties with a sensational feature-length documentary, Pearls and Savages, which won plaudits around the world. On the strength of that, he persuaded the British Stoll Company to finance the making in New Guinea, by Frank as author, producer, director and cameraman, of two ficitonal stories as feature (silent) films back to back. To crystallise that venture: What Pearls and Savages achieved the fiction features did not.

As a publicity man I had handled all three of those Hurley films and we were good friends. So when Stuart Doyle spoke to me about him I jumped at the suggestion, and never had cause to regret it over the next four pictures he worked on with us.

'Cap' was a loner, didn't believe in Santa Claus, was often a cynic. But he was a superb outdoor, and I stress the word 'outdoor', photographer. Artistic, often slow - because, for instance, he was waiting for some cloud to get behind some actor's head - he had to be pressured along or the shooting schedule would have been shot to hell. He'd always been on his own, never worked for a boss, so that both he and I had to make allowances to reach a reasonable adjustment. None of that means he was not a very hard worker; he was, and he drove himself to the limit.

In the pre-shooting location search among the squatters the name 'Captain Hurley' was worth its weight in gold. No one had ever heard of Ken Hall, but the Cap's name opened many doors.

(iv) Locations:

In his memoir, Hall recalled how he ended up filming at Goonoo Goonoo station (near Tamworth in NSW) because its owners offered to box 10,000 sheep for the production:

Irene (Hall's wife) and I, with Hurley, were invited for a weekend on the famous Cassilis stud-sheep property of Fred (later Sir Frederick) McMaster to discuss shooting there and to learn aobut the problems besetting graziers. Frank was the lion of the party telling hair-raising and I am sure true stories of adventure, especially of their ship crushed in the Antarctic ice-pack and the scientists and crew marooned in the vast whiteness of the polar region for eighteen months with no wireless and little hope of rescue because they wouldn't be missed for a year. They lived first on the bodies of the sled-dogs and finally by boiling up the harness to chew on when seals were scarce.

When I told McMaster we wanted to photograph a vast mob of sheep, say ten, twenty thousand, he reared up like one of his 5,000-guinea rams.

'You're crazy,' he said politely, 'no one's going to "box" even five thousand sheep for you.

Then he was quick with the advice - having no doubt read a fan magazine on making movies. 'Why don't you do what they do in Hollywood when they're making cowboys and Indians? They only have about twenty Indians,' Freddy explained knowingly, 'and these fellows ride round and round the camera and you'd think there were hundreds. We'll muster you a thousand sheep and that way you can make 'em look like twenty thousand.'

I said very sorry, no thanks, it would not do, and he was disappointed. He explained to us city slickers that sheep are usually kept in mobs of about two thousand - ewes, wethers, different age groups, and so on, in separate paddocks. If, say, five or ten mobs were 'boxed,' or mixed, together in one great mob then they would all have to be sorted out again after the shooting finished.

Australia was then, as I have said, largely a wool and wheat country. Since Selection had sold to England, the new film should be far more sure of an overseas release. So I wanted the wide horizons and beauty of the country to show through on the screen and to suggest in the opening shots the vast size of the wool industry. Even then, there were well over 100 million ship in the country.

And so we parted company with McMaster and came to make The Squatter's Daughter locations on a station called Goonoo Goonoo (an aboriginal name pronounced Gunny G'noo) about eight miles out of Tamworth, New South Wales. It ran 100,000 sheep and its wonderfully co-operative management was willing to box 10,000 or even more sheep for us.

Hurley and I found a hill looking down into a beautiful valley and that's where later on we set up our cameras. That huge mob of sheep seemed to float like a long white cloud down the valley, stirred by the rising sun. The purely photographic sequence still stands vividly in my memory as a projection of Australia with which I am glad to have been associated. I used it at some length in the feature and the rest went into the Cinesound library for use on innumerable occasions.

(v) The climactic bushfire:

In the usual Hall way, the film built to a climactic set piece, in this case a bushfire. It produced some fraught moments, as Hall recalled in his memoir:

The climax of The Squatter's Daughter was to be a bushfire, sheep in a bushire. That meant danger both in the fictional storyline, adding to the suspense of the film, and in the actual shooting, to cast and crew, as it turned out.

We made the scenes in the hills above Wallacia, a few miles from the gorge where the giant Warragamba Dam now stands. We had permission from the landowner to burn off whatever we liked over about three hundred acres. But since we were in the middle of one of the wettest winters for years, burning it became a serious problem.

We began by sending axe-men in well ahead to fell a lot of scrub which, when dry, would give us fuel for smaller, controlled fires. The fires, even the big ones I had planned, had to be strictly under control, for people or the kelpie dog Bidgee were involved in all of them. But they were not always strictly under control because we had none of the artificial controllable aids such as the multi-nozzle gas jets Hollywood has always used, and to such good and dangerous-looking effect in The Towering Inferno.

Jocelyn Howarth, the hitherto non-professional girl we had decided to star in this film, was required to be seen through a wall of fire as she sought to find her crippled brother.

We built a hundred-foot-long bank of dry scrub, put Jocelyn and some fire-fighters on one side and Frank Hurley with his camera on dolly tracks on the other. The girl was to dash along behind the fire calling her brother, with the camera travelling sideways and a sound man holding the microphone at the end of a long rod running ahead to pick up her shouts. This was the first set-up of the long and spectacular bushfire sequence, and I wanted it to be a really hot one, if you'll pardon the expression.

We had a lot to learn about bushfires. Tommy Dalton from Lancashire, that wonderful prop-man, hand-man, stunt-man, director's wet-nurse, also wanted it to be, in his language, 'a good ta-a-ke', so he thoughtfully laced the already tinder-dry scrub with old film, nitrate-base in those days of course, and as inflammable as the walls of hell. We dry-ran it a couple of times and everything was fine, except the sound department wanted the kapok-filled canvas blimp on the camera because we didn't want any camera noise, did we? That, in the light of our abysmal lack of knowlege of what was going to happen, seemed reasonable.

Three of the extras used as 'fire-fighters' spaced along the scrub wall had kerosene torches ready to plunge into the brush when I, beside the camera, gave the word. I gave it, the actress and the camera began moving simultaneously - and the scrub exploded with a terrifying roar.

Creating their own up-draught, the flames gushed from one side of the wall to the other. The actors took off and didn't stop for half a mile, the camera ran off the tracks and overturned, the blimp caught fire, Hurley's hair singed and I lost a fine set of eyebrows.

We learned about film-making the really hard way. But we finally got that scene with Jocelyn sticking gamely to the job. That experience was only a backyard burn-off compared with the final scene of the fire, when the principals, Dick Fair, Jocelyn Howarth, and John Warwick rush to seek the safety of the bushland waterhole only to find the 'heavy' Les Wharton, already there - and armed with a gun. Naturally we shot the rude remarks which passed between them before we lit any matches - and by this time we knew a lot more about what was likely to happen when we did.

I took a calculated risk to get a massive, frightening finale to that fire. The cameras looked across the pool at a forty-foot-high wall of growing trees and scrub. They were green from winter rains and unburnable. They would only go up if we created tremendous heat and generated a fire-storm of wind from the flames. We left nothing to chance with that fire, lacing the scrub and tree-trunks with thousands of feet of old film and then spraying the lot with old sump-oil and diesel fuel bought from garages. The fire was to be on a fairly wide front and we would see it roaring towards 'us' - the audience represented by the actors in the camera's foregound - at what reporters on a bushfire story often call 'breakneck speed'.

The cameras rolled, the fires were lit on cue in the background and immediately the scene became an incredible inferno of flame sweeping towards us at frightening speed. Although there was a pool between us and the fire, it looked ceertain to engulf us all. Lookers-on behind the cameras took off for the hills like a herd of startled antelopes. I had to stay - if only because I was certain Cap Hurley wouldn't budge, nor George Malcolm, on second camera, either.

Cap was shouting with excitement, he was really loving it. 'Marvellous! Marvellous!' he yelled as he panned his camera up into the sky with the flames. And just as well he did, for the actors had all scrambled ashore on our side singed and just as scared as I was.

It made a knock-out of a scene in the film. 

These scenes were intercut with footage of real bushfires. The tinted footage was given a good reception by reviewers.

The Sydney Mail reviewer on 4th October 1933 said the scenes contained "an admirable amount of dramatic tension", and decades later the Oxford Australian Film would propose that the bushfire scenes "today remain possibly the most exciting and extravagantly daring of the action climaxes staged by the Cinesound team."

3. Publicity and release:

After the success of On Our Selection, producer director Ken Hall obviously invested heavily in a publicity and marketing department. Throughout 1932 and 1933, Australian newspapers were filled with tidbits relating to the filming, such as the way Jocelyn  Howarth bravely kept on performing while under attack from a koala "bear", or being told by director Ken Hall to head back into the bushfire to do a re-take, or riding past a number of trees as they were blown up by gelignite. 

Reporters were invited to set to produce pieces on the shoot, Jocelyn Howarth was featured heavily in promotional stories, frequently with koala in arm (and then was sent on tour to locations like Hobart to promote the film's release), along with stories about Cinesound's plans and future projects, as well as sales of product to international buyers. 

In his interview with Philip Taylor, Cinema Papers, January 1974, Hall recalled the opening of the film:

What is now the Barclay Theatre was then known as the Haymarket, and it was devoted entirely to Australian film production. The Squatter's Daughter was the first one in there. Well again we ran a preview to a packed audience in the State Theatre. The bushfire climactic scenes were something of a sensation ...

The result, as Hall noted in his memoir, was a boost for him and Cinesound:

We had another big hit with The Squatter's Daughter. It played to great business everywhere and like Selection was sold on the British market. In fact we got a large proportion of our production cost back from that source.

Sutart Doyle the showman began issuing statements to the Press about the 'Hollywood' which was rising up in Australia and announcing lists of titles of films we were going to make. He dreamed up most of them and some of his titles for these dreaming-time films were shockers ,like 'Neath the Southern Cross, for instance. Great Barrier was another, about the Barrier Reef naturally. But he got newspaper space with these announcements, just as all sorts of people, with far less background, have been doing ever since. The Cinesound name began to build until it finally became familiar to all Australians.

4. Jocelyn Howarth:

Howarth made her film debut as the heroine, a discovery of director Ken Hall. She made one more film for Cinesound (The Silence of Dean Maitland, 1934), and then went to Hollywood in search of roles under the name Constance Worth, picking up a year's contract with R.K.O. in October 1936.

She secretly married LA actor George Brent in May 1937, and scored a role in R.K.O.'s China Passage (1937), but after that she struggled to get any 'above the line' action, instead settling for a number of nondescript small roles in B pictures. She died in the United States in 1963.

Hall recalled how she was cast in the film in his memoir:

We began looking for a girl who could be the daughter of a squatter. Naturally she had to be very attractive, used to animals and had to be able to ride a horse as if born to the saddle.

The theatre was near enough to dead. The talkies panicked the 'legit' men just as television was to, plus the movie men, twenty-five years later. There was no girl in radio who appeared to have what we wanted, so we began auditioning girls from the little theatres, play groups - rank amateurs.

After one long tiring day during which probably thirty girls had auditioned and failed to impress, I was getting up to go home when George Cross, a veteran actor and star of many stage melodramatic triumphs of long before, including The Squatter's Daughter, said there was one more girl who'd bome after work.

John Warwick stood by to work opposite her. But she asked to be allowed to do what she had prepared, a scene she knew by heart. She, it seemed, had had some experience in amateur theatricals. She went on to the set and launched into the scene, and she really shook us. She had light and shade, good diction, no accent and she undoubtedly could act with no sign of self-consciousness which almost always characterised the amateur. I said to George Cross, 'Of course she can't ride a horse?'

'Says she can,' answered George.

We gave her more to do - scenes to play against the professional Warwick - movement, walk, talk, read this ... read that ... ad lib ... cry ... laugh. For the next three hours, without dinner for her or anyone else, we kept that audition going. Then I said, "if you can ride a horse as well as you say, you've got the part. John Warwick here, and he was reared in the bush remember, will arrange to test you tomorrow in Centennial Park.'

She rode a horse like a champion and three years later she won her way to the big time in Hollywood, married leading actor George Brent. Her name was Jocelyn Howarth ...