The Shiralee (1957 film)

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The Shiralee
The Shiralee FilmPoster.jpeg
Directed by Leslie Norman
Produced by Michael Balcon
Written by Leslie Norman
Neil Paterson
Based on novel by D'Arcy Niland
Starring Peter Finch
Dana Wilson
Elizabeth Sellars
Narrated by Charles Tingwell
Music by John Addison
Cinematography Paul Beeson
Edited by Gordon Stone
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
11 July 1957 (UK)
August 1957 (Australia)
Running time
99 min.
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $597,000[1]
Box office $920,000[1]

The Shiralee is a 1957 British film made by Ealing Studios, directed by Leslie Norman and based on the novel by D'Arcy Niland. Although all exterior scenes were filmed in Sydney, Scone[2] (where the film had its Australasian premiere) and Binnaway, New South Wales[3] 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.[1]


An itinerant rural worker named Macauley —sometimes described as a "swagman" or "swaggie"—suddenly finds himself taking responsibility for his child. Having returned from "walkabout", he finds his wife entwined in the arms of another, and so he takes the daughter, Buster, with him. The child is the "shiralee", an Irish or Aboriginal word meaning "swag", or metaphorically, a "burden."[4]

In their time together, father and daughter explore new depths of understanding and bonding. The barren landscapes of the outback provided both a backdrop to the richness of the relationship, as well as explaining the swagman's love for the country.

Jim and Buster stay with the Parkers, whose daughter Liz was an old lover of Jim's and fell pregnant to him. Jim tries to abandon Buster but she refuses to leave. Buster is injured in a car accident, and father and daughter are reunited.



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."[5]

Ealing had paid a reported £10,000 for the film rights to the book.[6]

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."[5]

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.[7]

Leslie Norman arrived in Sydney in April 1956 to begin preproduction.[8] Finch arrived in July and an extensive talent search was conducted to find the actress to play Buster.[9] Eight-year-old Dana Wilson of Croydon, Sydney, was cast.[10]

The film was shot in the last months of 1956, first on location in north east New South Wales near Scone,[11] 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.[12]

The cast included several Australian actors working in London.[13][14]


The film only made $60,000 at the US and Canadian box office. However it was the tenth most popular film at the British box office in 1957[15] and earned $860,000 outside North America. 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.[16] 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."[5]


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


  1. ^ a b c '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. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ "The Pioneering Shiralee". Retrieved 2016-11-17. 
  5. ^ a b c Brian McFarlane, An Autobiography of British Cinema, Metheun 1997 p441
  6. ^ "Darcy hits the jackpot". The Argus. Melbourne: National Library of Australia. 25 July 1955. p. 4. Retrieved 23 August 2012. 
  7. ^ "M-G-M WILL RELEASE EALING STUDIO FILMS" New York Times 29 Feb 1956: 35.
  8. ^ ""ShirAlee" Film". The Central Queensland Herald. Rockhampton, Qld.: National Library of Australia. 3 May 1956. p. 3. Retrieved 28 May 2014. 
  9. ^ "Worth Reporting". The Australian Women's Weekly. National Library of Australia. 4 July 1956. p. 26. Retrieved 17 July 2012. 
  10. ^ "FILM FAN-FARE". The Australian Women's Weekly. National Library of Australia. 3 July 1957. p. 33. Retrieved 17 July 2012. 
  11. ^ ""THE SHIRALEE"". The Australian Women's Weekly. National Library of Australia. 3 October 1956. p. 12. Retrieved 17 July 2012. 
  12. ^ "IN LONDON THIS WEEK". The Argus. Melbourne: National Library of Australia. 10 November 1956. p. 4. Retrieved 17 July 2012. 
  13. ^ 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
  14. ^ "Film Fan Fare". The Australian Women's Weekly. National Library of Australia. 19 December 1956. p. 23. Retrieved 17 July 2012. 
  15. ^ LINDSAY ANDERSON, and DAVID DENT. "Time For New Ideas." Times [London, England] 8 Jan. 1958: 9. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 11 July 2012.
  16. ^ "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.

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