Production company: Cinesound Productions
Budget: £16,000 (Oxford). 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). 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).
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 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.
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.
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:
Hall selected Goonoo Goonoo station (near Tamworth in NSW) for filming because its owners offered to box 10,000 sheep for the production.
Hurley (Captain Frank Hurley, the DOP) 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 seequence 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.
The climactic bushfire was fuelled by a fire of nitrate film and diesel oil, built in a contained way that allowed the actors to get close to the flames, but close enough for some of them to get singed and for the camera blimp to be set on fire during a tracking shot.
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 crreated 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 firs 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 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.
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.