The Overlanders: A Majestic Score

The Overlanders: A Majestic Score
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This is a spectacularly well-handled sequence, made more effective by the fact that we see the actors doing it for real. It’s preceded by a tense sequence in which Mrs Parsons and Helen are chased by a crocodile, so that we are very aware of the dangers (even if no crocs are seen in this sequence). Cattle crossings were a feature of American westerns and had been depicted before in Australian films, but never on such a large scale. Watt’s documentary background informed the way he mounted the whole film. As far as possible, the actors did their scenes as real, without stand-ins.

The score adds a strong sense of majesty and adventure to underline the pioneering spirit of the undertaking. This was more than a cattle drive; this was a patriotic cattle drive, aimed at depriving the enemy of food, should there be a Japanese invasion of northern Australia. John Ireland’s music invests the whole sequence with a sense of noble purpose, to complement the immense physicality of the images. Ireland was a British composer, but this was his only film score.

Notes by Paul Byrnes