|Directed by||Leslie Norman|
|Produced by||Michael Balcon|
|Written by||Leslie Norman|
|Based on||novel by D'Arcy Niland|
|Narrated by||Charles Tingwell|
|Music by||John Addison|
|Edited by||Gordon Stone|
|11 July 1957 (UK)|
August 1957 (Australia)
The Shiralee is a 1957 British film in the Australian Western genre. 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 and Binnaway, New South Wales 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.
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."
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."
Ealing had paid a reported £10,000 for the film rights to the book.
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."
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.
Leslie Norman arrived in Sydney in April 1956 to begin preproduction. Finch arrived in July and an extensive talent search was conducted to find the actress to play Buster. Eight-year-old Dana Wilson of Croydon, Sydney, was cast.
The film was shot in the last months of 1956, first on location in north east New South Wales near Scone, 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.
The film was the tenth most popular film at the British box office in 1957 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.
Peter Finch later said the film and his role in it were among his favourites in his career. 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."