The Squatter’s Daughter: Shearing and plotting

The Squatter’s Daughter: Shearing and plotting
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As the shearing reaches full speed at Waratah Station, the overseer Fletcher (Les Warton) tells Clive Sherrington (John Warwick) to deliver a package from the car when he goes to see Morgan. He jokes that it contains ‘baby food’ for the lambs at Enderby, the station they are plotting to get control of. In fact, it contains poison that Morgan will use to kill Enderby sheep. Summary by Paul Byrnes.

Some beautiful shots of a real shearing shed in full swing. These are most likely to be the shearing sheds at Goonoo Goonoo, an historic station near Tamworth which, Hall wrote, gave him wonderful cooperation when filming. The cameraman was most likely Frank Hurley although there appear to be two sources of film used in this sequence – suggesting some of the footage may have been actually filmed at another time and/or place.

The scene may well be influenced by the paintings of Tom Roberts – specifically 'Shearing the Rams’ from 1890, which depicts an almost identical shearing shed architecture (the painting was modelled on Brockleby Station, near Corowa, NSW). The final shot of a wool wagon pulled by a team of horses bears a strong resemblance to another famous Australian painting, 'Across the Black Soil Plains’, by George W Lambert. Both paintings were part of a nationalist trend in art and political life in Australia in the 1890s. There is a similarly strong nationalist sentiment in The Squatters Daughter, a film which begins with a message from then Prime Minister Joseph Lyons: ‘The picture breathes the spirit of the country’s great open space and the romance, adventure and opportunity in the lives of those who in the past pioneered, and are today building up our great primary industries.’ Roberts’ painting is also a likely influence on the 1975 film Sunday Too Far Away.


The Squatter's Daughter synopsis

Joan Enderby (Jocelyn Howarth) is about to lose her family’s sheep station, because she can’t afford to buy out the lease from the Sherringtons, who run the neighbouring station, Waratah. Old ‘Ironbark’ Sherrington (W Lane Bayliff) returns after two years in London, where doctors have tried to save his sight. While away, his villainous son Clive (John Warwick) has conspired with his overseer, Fletcher (Les Warton) to bankrupt Enderby station. Joan’s troubles are solved when a benefactor offers to buy 3,000 head of sheep at a high price. She doesn’t know that the money comes from Wayne Ridgeway (Grant Lindsay), a tall stranger recently arrived in the district. Joan’s crippled brother Jimmy (Owen Ainley) doesn’t trust Ridgeway. Jimmy is in love with the beautiful Zena (Kathleen Esler), daughter of Jebal Zim (Claude Turton), an Afghan trader. Only Zim knows that Ridgeway is the rightful heir to the Sherrington estate. When he tries to tell the elderly Ironbark, Fletcher kills Zim and abducts his daughter. Joan and Ridgeway are caught in the path of a bushfire as they try to deliver the 3,000 sheep. Everyone rushes to save the sheep, fight the fire, rescue Zena, capture Fletcher, and restore Ridgeway’s inheritance. He then marries Joan.


The Squatter's Daughter curator's notes

The Squatter’s Daughter was a huge success, possibly because the action sequences were unprecedented in their realism. The same cannot be said for the script or the acting. To be fair, Ken G Hall recognised the script problems at the time. In his autobiography, he wrote that he had ‘a hard time getting a screenplay’, because ‘there were no writers in the country with experience’. That’s probably no exaggeration. Hollywood had the New York stage to draw on when the sound era began in 1928. Australia had very few working playwrights and only two struggling movie studios. Cinesound would later try to import American screenwriting talent, but it never worked to Hall’s satisfaction. For one thing, the more talented the writer, the less he or she wanted to leave Hollywood.

For The Squatter’s Daughter, Hall was working from another play by Bert Bailey and Edmund Duggan, the writers whose version of On Our Selection had worked so well for Hall’s first feature, earlier in 1932. The Squatter’s Daughter was a different kind of play – more melodramatic and less comic. Hall called in EV Timms, a popular author, to adapt the play but ‘it was hard sledding’. He then called in an old associate, Gayne Dexter, who had returned from a stint as a publicist and writer in New York. Hall appears to have begun filming before he was ready, on a script he wasn’t satisfied with.

In the event, he seems to have relied on his ability to pack the film with action and grand spectacle. In this, he was strongly assisted by Frank Hurley as his new cameraman. Hurley’s feeling for landscape had made him famous in Australia, and the exteriors in The Squatter’s Daughter are some of the best in any Cinesound film. Most of them were shot at Goonoo Goonoo station near Tamworth. The bushfire finale – the most spectacular sequence of the film – was shot in the hills near Wallacia, west of Sydney. Hall admitted in his book that some of the fires got out of control during filming. To make the fires burn hotter, the crew placed old nitrate film – which is extremely dangerous – amongst the trees. Hall says most of the onlookers ran away during the scene, and both he and the actors were extremely scared – but not Hurley, nor George Malcolm, operating a second camera. ‘Cap (Hurley) 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’.

Notes by Paul Byrnes


Education Notes

This clip shows a real shearing operation taking place at a large sheep station in New South Wales as a backdrop for the 1933 feature film The Squatter’s Daughter. Dogs help herd a large mob of sheep into a holding yard, then to pens inside a large woolshed. While a team of shearers and helpers attend to the sheep, two actors (the overseer and the owner’s villainous son) discuss a plot to poison sheep at the neighbouring Enderby Station. Shorn sheep are moved from the shed, and a team of horses pulls away with a cart loaded with wool bales.

Educational value points

  • The clip features the central role of the shearer in the Australian merino wool industry. The wool industry quickly became one of the country’s major primary industries, leading to the expression that Australia ‘rode on the sheep’s back’. The shearing process is served by itinerant teams comprised of shearers, shed hands (called rouseabouts), wool classers, wool pressers and a cook, most of whom can be seen in this clip.
  • The clip reflects the different working roles of a shearing team. An overseer is in charge of making sure the operation runs smoothly and handles any disputes. Rouseabouts with dogs yard and pen the sheep, keep up a constant supply of sheep to the dozen or so shearers in each stand and sweep the boards. Wool-handlers toss the fleece to remove any second-cut wool, then a wool classer classifies it according to its strength, fineness, length and whiteness.
  • The sheep are shorn using mechanical shears, an invention from the mid-1880s that revolutionised the wool industry and led to the first unionised strike action by shearers. Previously, shearing by manual hand shears took about 20 min per sheep. Mechanical shears are faster and less tiring to use with shearing times of less than 5 min. The shearer’s skill lies in making a continuous cut of the wool without making a second cut.
  • The clip shows the wool bales being transported to market by a team of 16 horses. After the wool is classed it is placed in bins, then pressed into a bale by the wool presser. The bales are stencilled with codes to describe the wool. A bale shown here is labelled ‘Waratah Supercomb 68’, a fictional prop to suit the story. Although transport would largely have been by truck in the 1930s, the filmmakers chose the more romantic and historical image of a horse team.
  • The feature film The Squatter’s Daughter, produced in 1933, was a landmark Australian film that was hugely successful at the time. Produced and directed by Ken G Hall (1901-94), the storyline is about a woman’s battle to save her family’s sheep station. While The Squatter’s Daughter is a fictional dramatised story, it was set on a real station. Beautiful landscape shots by cinematographer Frank Hurley (1885-1962) created a sense of realism.
  • The Squatter’s Daughter reflects the iconic Australian pioneering spirit that formed part of the Australian identity in the 1890s. The term ‘squatter’ means a settler who laid claim to bushland and turned it into farming land. A romanticised bush ethos is widely reflected by Australian writers and painters. One of the shots here mirrors Tom Roberts’s painting Shearing the rams (1890), and the title of the film reflects George W Lambert’s painting The squatter’s daughter (1923-24).

Education notes provided by The Learning Federation and Education Services Australia

Production company:
Cinesound Productions
Ken G Hall
Ken G Hall
Gayne Dexter, EV Timms
Frank Morton Chappell, Tom King
Based on the play by:
Bert Bailey and Edmund Duggan
Cinesound-Movietone Productions owns all copyright which may subsist in this footage

Farmers and their dogs are rounding up a herd of sheep for shearing. A herd of sheep enter the shearing shed. Outside, a sheep dog jumps on the backs of the herd to get them moving. A sack labelled ‘Waratah Supercomb 68’ is moved, revealing the sheep in pens. As the sheep are sheared, armfuls of wool are carried away. Fletcher and Clive Sherrington walk away from the shearing. Fletcher holds some wool in his hands.
Clive Sherrington Well, we’ll be shearing in Enderby next season too.
Fletcher Maybe this year. By the time we’re cut out here, that lease will be nearly up. Oh, there’s a parcel in the car you might drive over and give it to Morgan.
Clive What is it?
Fletcher Oh, babies’ food for Enderby lambs.
They walk away. The freshly shorn sheep skip and jump as they return to the farm from the shearing shed. The men load the wool onto a large wagon and the horses struggle with pulling the heavy load of wool.