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The story of 'Against the Wind'
'Against the wind',
which began showing in Can- berra last week, is a story of Australia's past. It is a story of
the people who rarely found their
way into our history books . . . except as statistics. It is a drama about people who underwent great hardships.
A gentle young Irish girl called Mary Mulvane was one of these. When she was 18 years old Mary was transported to New South Wales for seven years for doing little else but protecting her own property. 'Against The Wind' is about her suffering, her dreams, her marriage to an ex-convict, and their struggle for a new life and dignity.
Mary and her friends and family fought out their battle against a lively historical backdrop — Ire- land's 1798 rebellion, Australia's Castle Hill rebellion of 1804, and the 1808 Rum rebellion. It was a time when Australia was ruled by a cor- rupt and brutal military regime that appeared all-powerful. Resistance, though it took place, seemed futile.
Mary Mulvane and her friends did make a stand against the red-coated bullies of the New South Wales
Corps, and, in 'Against the Wind' — 170 years later — their voices are heard again. A jigsaw of facts was pieced together to reveal Mary's saga. For though her surname is fictitious her life is very real. It has come from painstaking research into official records, private papers, and local traditions.
The story finally came together after years of spare-time work and five months of intensive detective work among Australian, English and
Irish sources. Much of the detail was uncovered in Sydney's Mitchell Library, Melbourne's La Trobe Library and the National Library in
'Against the Wind' was created by Bronwyn Binns, formerly a re- searcher with Crawford Prod- uctions, who grew up near Castle Hill where most of the story is set.
"As a child one heard stories of the convict days and the Castle Hill Rebellion', Bronwyn Binns recalls. 'I used to play among some old stone ruins near an orchard, where an iron ring was set in a crumbling wall. I
now believe that this was all that remained of the Castle Hill prison farm".
She remembers her father work-
ing on their house at Kellyville and discovering some very old brickwork. On one of the bricks was the mark of a broad arrow. "During my re- search for 'Against the Wind', I discovered that the original house on the site had been visited by the Castle Hill rebels the night of the uprising", she said.
Such shadows of history sur- rounded Bronwyn throughout her young days. While, for example, she
was out enjoying horse-riding, "I often tethered my horse outside an old building in Kellyville which marked the site of an early tavern — never dreaming that this building too was linked with the story of the Castle Hill convicts and their brave but tragic bid for freedom". Docu- ments show that the tavern had been a meeting place for the rebels prior to their uprising.
As she began work in films and television Bronwyn put Castle Hill behind her. But on trips home to Sydney and her family the fascina- tion would be renewed. She revisited the Castle Hill area and continued to delve into its intriguing past. "Out of it all came the beginning of 'Against the Wind' Bronwyn said. "Inevitably the story stretched beyond Australia to Ireland where the Castle Hill rebellion was really spawned".
Finally Bronwyn resigned from Crawford's and began full time re- search into the subject that had enveloped her. Gradually she saw it unfolding as a 13-episode television drama that would cover 14 years in the life of an Irish convict girl and her English convict husband.
Bronwyn was, of course, deeply interested in uncovering facts about people who left few traces — those whom historians generally had ig- nored. "It wasn't plain sailing by any means", she said. "Many of the people I was interested in were il- literate. Not a diary, not a single letter of theirs, remains to record
But she managed to fill in the
huge gaps in her story... sometimes by intuition and imagination. She thought out what had probably hap- pened in the unknown months and years. "The staggering thing was that, in some cases, my continuing research showed that I had "im- agined" precisely what had actually happened", Bronwyn said. "That was very exciting — and quite mov- ing".
She describes her finished work as a "backstage view of history". It is, she says, a glimpse behind the facades and the big star names". 'Against the Wind' is about rebellion
— and about love", she added. "It isn't enough to say that it's a series about rebellion — just as it isn't enough to say that it's a love story. It's also about people whose ideas and attitudes were crushcd in their own day and virtually lost to his tory".
After many months of research were complete, writer-producer Ian Jones, who had worked with Bronwyn at Crawford's, persuaded her to let him present the concept to the Seven Network. If they expected resistance, they were to be surprised.
Ron Casey, General Manager of
HSV7, Melbourne, liked the idea of the series and arranged for a presen- tation of the concept at the next national meeting of Channel Seven
The network was immediately en- thusiastic and paid Bronwyn to con- tinue her research and commissioned her to prepare a detailed presenta- tion on the program and a script of the first epidsode.
Bronwyn delivered a remarkable 70-page dossier, comprising his- torical background notes, character biographies, and the detailed storylines of the 13 episodes — plus a one-hour script which she had written together with Ian Jones.
The Seven Network was delighted with the result and commissioned the program. A little later the network announced that it was un- dertaking a joint venture with Pegasus Productions to make the most challenging historical series yet to be produced for television in Aus- tralia[n]. Ma[r]y Mulvane's story was at
last to be told.
A faded drawing dated 1832 shows Mary Cathleen Mulvane, played by Mary Larkin, as a woman with a face of elemental strength and sensitivity. Most arresting are the eyes, which have the quality of fire.
When the story begins, Mary is about 18. Life has been scarcely smooth for her, and her moods as a young woman can change as swiftly as clouds across the sun on a windy day.
Mary has been fed a diet of ideals by her parents when there has been little else. And, though often
brought into line, her individuality
has been nurtured.
Mary has had a thorough home education — the classics by her father and domestic matters by her mother. But in the Ireland of 1796 this remains fallow. Anyway, there's enough to do around the farm.
And then, of course, there's Michael Connor with whom she has fallen in love.
The rigours of convict labour have left Johnathan Edward Garret, played by Jon English, toughened and aggressively determined.
Mary Mulvane meets him first when he's about 25 years old and finds in him her first friend, although at times a bewildering one.
In his quiet brooding way he is an acutely perceptive observer and it comes as a surprise to learn that he cannot read . . . even though il- literacy is not uncommon.
Jonathan's inability to read or write is the stamp and seal on all the inferiority and frustration he ex- periences as a convict.
This tends to reveal itself in out- bursts of anger, which are tempered as he struggles to establish his own farm, to educate himself, and to rebuild his identity. He has a streak of romanticism which emerges when he courts Mary.
Little is known of Jonathan's early history although he is thought to have been born near the small mar- ket town of Romford, Essex, in Eng- land in 1792, the son of a farmer. He was convicted of robbery on the King's Highway, at Tottenham As- sizes in 1795 and sentenced to seven years transportation.
Jonathan arrived in the colony on the Indispensable in April 1796 and spent six months on the government farm at Toongabbie.