Rufus Dawes (Colin Friels) is revived by Sylvia (Rebe Taylor) with her mother
(Samantha Eggar) and Lt Frere (Rod Mullinar) in the background.
On the sands of Petrel Cove at Vic-
tor Harbour, South Australia, a bearded man, manacled and in tatters, lies on his back, his eyes squinting against the bright sun- light. A pretty little girl in an old- fashioned bonnet moistens his lips from a tin mug, watched with professional in- terest by a man in mid-19th century Brit- ish Army uniform and a woman in prim
The four, oblivious of a one-legged seagull hopping nearby and a horde of schoolchildren gaping from the clifftop, are actors in a $5 million, six-hour tele- vision adaptation of Marcus Clarke's grim novel about the horrors of Austra- lia's convict beginnings, For The Term Of
His Natural Life.
Colin Friels, 29-year-old Sydney actor, is playing his first television role as Rufus Dawes, the hero who is wrongly sentenced to transportation to the penal colony and who endures the most terrible privations.
Ten-year-old Rebe Taylor is Sylvia Vickers, the one person who recognizes the goodness in Dawes. Rod Mullinar is Captain Maurice Frere, the cruel and ar- rogant soldier who wages a vendetta against Dawes.
English-born movie star Samantha Eggar is Julia Vickers, mother of the child and wife of the commandant of the Hobart Town penal colony.
They are shooting a key scene in which the convict Dawes risks his own
life to save the others after they have been marooned on the inhospitable Tas- manian coast by a mutinous band of con- victs who commandeered the ship in which they were sailing to join Major
Vickers in Hobart.
Mother and child demand that Frere recommend a pardon for Dawes in return for his rescuing them from certain death.
It is Frere's treachery in repudiating the bargain which embitters Dawes.
First published in 1870-72 as 27 instal- ments in The Australian Journal, For The Term Of His Natural Life is re- garded as the greatest novel to emerge from colonial Australia. A damning in- dictment of the cruelties of the transpor- tation system, it is also a stirring adven- ture story which was made into a silent
feature film in 1927.
Prime mover in bringing the story to the TV screen as a mini-series is Patti Wayne, a 39-year-old Australian screen- writer who has been haunted by the tale of Rufus Dawes since she read the novel as a 14-year-old at Kogarah Home Sci- ence School.
Patti first conceived the idea of a TV adaptation eight years ago. "It took all this time to get it together," she says.
Privately funded, the production has not yet been sold to any Australian TV network, though all have expressed in- terest. Patti and her partner, Wilton Schiller, have high hopes for overseas sale of the series. Schiller, co-writer and co-producer with Patti, is an American with extensive credits as a TV writer go- ing back to Rawhide and Tales Of Wells Fargo, was executive script consultant for The Six Million Dollar Man and was producer of such series as Mannix, The Fugitive and Ben Casey.
Actors from overseas will fill three key roles in the mini-series. American Anthony Perkins will play the luckless clergyman, Rev. North, expatriate star Diane Cilento will play Lady Ellinor, mother of the hero, and former Avengers star Patrick Macnee is Major Vickers.
Director is Australian Rob Stewart, who also directed another six-hour mini series, ABC-TV's The Timeless Land.
— JIM MURPHY Photographs — David B. Simmonds
Hapless Dawes has been unjustly
convicted and transported for life.
A mutineer threatens Major Vickers
(Patrick Macnee), the prison chief.
ABOVE: Mrs Vickers (Samantha
Eggar). BELOW: Dawes breaks free.