The Shiralee (1957 film)

The Shiralee is a 1957 British film in the Australian Western genre.[2] It was made by Ealing Studios, starring Peter Finch, directed by Leslie Norman and based on the novel by D'Arcy Niland. Although all exterior scenes were filmed in Sydney, Scone[3] and Binnaway, New South Wales[4] 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.

The Shiralee
Directed byLeslie Norman
Produced byMichael Balcon
Written byLeslie Norman
Neil Paterson
Based onnovel by D'Arcy Niland
StarringPeter Finch
Dana Wilson
Elizabeth Sellars
Narrated byCharles Tingwell
Music byJohn Addison
CinematographyPaul Beeson
Edited byGordon Stone
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
11 July 1957 (UK)
August 1957 (Australia)
Running time
99 min.
CountryUnited Kingdom
Box office$920,000[1]


An itinerant rural worker named Macauley sometimes described as a "swagman" or "swaggie"suddenly finds himself taking responsibility for his child. In their time together in the barren landscapes of the outback, father and daughter bond. The child is the "shiralee", an Irish or Aboriginal word meaning "swag", or metaphorically, a "burden."[5]

Having returned to Sydney from "walkabout", he finds his wife living with another man. He beats up the man and takes his daughter, Buster, with him. Macauley tries to get a job with a previous employer, Parker, but he angrily tells Macauley to go away, saying he had left his daughter Lily pregnant. Macauley tries to leave Buster with some friends of his, but she runs after him and he relents. Macauley narrowly prevents his wife making off with Buster, but after Buster is hit by a car and badly injured, he finds out that his wife is divorcing him and trying to gain legal custody of Buster. He returns to Sydney to fight it, leading to a violent confrontation with his wife's new lover.



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."[6]

Ealing had paid a reported £10,000 for the film rights to the book.[7]

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."[6]

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.[8]

Leslie Norman arrived in Sydney in April 1956 to begin preproduction.[9] Finch arrived in July and an extensive talent search was conducted to find the actress to play Buster.[10] Eight-year-old Dana Wilson of Croydon, Sydney, was cast.[11]

The film was shot in the last months of 1956, first on location in north east New South Wales near Scone,[12] 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.[13]

The cast included several Australian actors working in London.[14][15]


The film was the tenth most popular film at the British box office in 1957[16] and earned $920,000 worldwide ($60,000 at the US and Canadian box office). 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.[17] 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."[6]


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


  1. '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. Lennon, Troy (21 January 2018). "Australian 'meat pie' westerns have been around for more than a century". Daily Telegraph. Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 21 May 2019.
  5. "The Pioneering Shiralee". Retrieved 17 November 2016.
  6. Brian McFarlane, An Autobiography of British Cinema, Metheun 1997 p441
  7. "Darcy hits the jackpot". The Argus. Melbourne: National Library of Australia. 25 July 1955. p. 4. Retrieved 23 August 2012.
  8. "M-G-M WILL RELEASE EALING STUDIO FILMS" New York Times 29 Feb 1956: 35.
  9. ""ShirAlee" Film". The Central Queensland Herald. Rockhampton, Qld.: National Library of Australia. 3 May 1956. p. 3. Retrieved 28 May 2014.
  10. "Worth Reporting". The Australian Women's Weekly. National Library of Australia. 4 July 1956. p. 26. Retrieved 17 July 2012.
  11. "FILM FAN-FARE". The Australian Women's Weekly. National Library of Australia. 3 July 1957. p. 33. Retrieved 17 July 2012.
  12. ""THE SHIRALEE"". The Australian Women's Weekly. National Library of Australia. 3 October 1956. p. 12. Retrieved 17 July 2012.
  13. "IN LONDON THIS WEEK". The Argus. Melbourne: National Library of Australia. 10 November 1956. p. 4. Retrieved 17 July 2012.
  14. 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
  15. "Film Fan Fare". The Australian Women's Weekly. National Library of Australia. 19 December 1956. p. 23. Retrieved 17 July 2012.
  16. LINDSAY ANDERSON, and DAVID DENT. "Time For New Ideas." Times [London, England] 8 Jan. 1958: 9. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 11 July 2012.
  17. "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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