Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The Overlanders (1946)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Overlanders (1946, Australia/UK)

In British writer/director Harry Watt's influential, dramatic, western-adventure epic of WWII, a recreation of a true-life event that occurred in 1942 -- it was the first Ealing Studios production in Australia, the first Australian movie to be filmed almost entirely outdoors, and a precursor to Howard Hawks' similar western Red River (1948):

  • the opening sequence that provided background information -- a close-up of a government poster with a caricatured Japanese soldier reaching out over a map of Australia; stern voice-over narration explained the dire problem, and how Australia would be saved by its landscape and resources: "In 1942, the Japanese were driving invincibly southward from Singapore. It seemed inevitable that next into their hands would fall the Northern Territory of Australia, the largest undeveloped region in the world, with a million head of cattle, and a population of only five thousand whites. Space, scorched earth and space were Australia's final weapon. But first, the vast herds of the North must be saved. And so, across Australia moved a mass migration unique in history. From small beginnings, the mobs of cattle poured south in an almost unending flood. This is the story of one mob, and the people who drove it, across a continent"
  • the view of Northern Territory patriarch Bill Parsons (John Nugent Hayward) destroying his family's homestead (by puncturing his metal water tank and burning down his house), as the family watched from a distance; he made a resolute proclamation to his wife (Jean Blue) as he climbed in the wagon before leaving forever: "The Japs'll get nothing from me" - he was fulfilling a 'scorched-earth' policy
  • the introduction of the main Australian heroic bushman character: tall drover Dan McAlpine (Chips Rafferty, known as "the Australian Gary Cooper", or a 1940s version of Crocodile Dundee), who learned about the official Australian 'scorched earth' policy (designed to avoid having the invading Japanese in the Northern Territory benefit from their resources); he was delivering about 1,000 beef cattle to the Australian Meat Export plant at Wyndham (Western Australia on the N. coast); the whole area was being evacuated and he was ordered to shoot his herd; he chose to reject the policy: "I'm not gonna shoot those cattle, Bert...I won't leave them for the Jap boys. I'll overland 'em..."
  • the manager Bert Malone (Stan Tolhurst) of the plant warned, using a map as an aid, that it would be a treacherous and suicidal 1,500 mile trek to drive the cattle southward to Brisbane in Queensland, across the Australian outback, but McAlpine was determined: "Bullocks are more important than bullets"; Bert added: "You know what you're tryin' to do, Dan? You're tryin' to drive a mob of half-wild cattle the distance from London to Moscow - in a bad season at the wrong time of the year"
  • McAlpine's recruited motley crew included Scottish sailor Hunter/"Sinbad" (Peter Pagan) ("I hate the sea"), 'Corky' (John Fernside) - a gambler, two aboriginal stockmen Jacky and Nipper (Clyde Combo and Henry Murdoch), and the Parsons family fleeing south (husband, wife, and two daughters, one of whom was Mary Parsons (Daphne Campbell) - an accomplished 20 year-old herder); McAlpine described the 'unromantic' job to "Sinbad" - "There's nothin' romantic about us, y'know. We don't carry guns or shoot up rustlers. We're just plain cattlemen - hard yakka and hard tucker"
  • the majestic cliffside view of "black fellas" (wild and indigenous aboriginals) peacefully and calmly watching the line of cattle way below them, signaling them with smoke signals
  • the campfire scene when McAlpine scathingly criticized Corky's intention to exploit the mineral wealth and land of Australia after the war, after being shown Corky's drafted prospectus for his Northern Territory Exploitation Company - Dan tore it up and burned it: "There's just one thing wrong, Corky - that word exploit. We've exploited our South for a hundred years and torn the heart out of it. Territory's far too valuable to be messed about by get-rich quick schemes like yours. I say let's save the North from what we've done to the South...Leave it to Australians, ordinary Australians, like Bill and his family. It's a national job, Corky, too big for little people like you"
Dangers During the Trek
  • the many depictions of dangers during the lengthy cattle drive with the herd: crossing a river infested with crocodiles, lack of food and water, heat dehydration and the potential of a stampede, poisonous weed that killed the stockhorses, the dangerous ascent of a steep and narrow mountain pass, etc.

Australian Government Poster

Burning of Parsons' Family Homestead: "The Japs'll get nothing from me"

Dan McAlpine
(Chips Rafferty)

Cattle Drive Southward

Aboriginals Watching the Cattle Line Below

Campfire Scene: Argument Between McAlpine and Corky


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