THE MAN FROM SNOWY RIVER (1982)
This was not the first time a movie was made based on Banjo Paterson’s famous poem. In June 1920, Beaumont Smith, a South Australian producer/director, began filming The Man From Snowy River on location at Mulgoa, Wallacia and Luddenham in New South Wales. Horsemen from the region participated in races, which Smith used to represent the “terrible descent”.
Jim Craig (“The Man”) was played by Cyril Mackay, who had retired from the stage after suffering a nervous breakdown. Whether he experienced another one after acting in Smith’s unexceptional silent film is unknown!
The female lead, Stella Southern, was discovered by Smith when she was working as Lucy Emma Winks in a hat shop. Her stage name, which she selected herself, means “star of the south”. Her subsequent screen appearances were few and minor.
Some Australian reviews were kindly about the production which premiered in Brisbane: “Charming scenery and the story is wholesomely exciting”, praised Smith’s Weekly. The UK’s Kine Weekly, however, found it: “A very mediocre affair. The race scene quite fails in its effect largely because it is impossible to identify the horses. The acting bears the impress of amateurism and lifeless direction”.
Fast forward 60 years and producer Geoff Burrowes is given the green light to create another version – one that was to become one of this country’s most popular films making money overseas and for its investors. Burrowes was in the advertising business and had also been a press secretary to Moss Cass, a former federal environment minister. He later married Vicki Lovick and they ran a cattle property near Mansfield in Victoria. His wife’s family were a vital element in the making of this film.
Snowy’s director was George Miller or, to be more precise, George T. (for Trumball) Miller, so as not to be confused with the man behind Mad Max, etc. George T began his career at Crawfords in the 1960s working on TV series such as Homicide, Matlock and Division Four. (His more recent work was Prey, a supernatural horror film he wrote that starred Natalie Bassingthwaighte. In 2009 he directed it under the name Oscar D’Roccster. It grossed all of $744 at the box office!).
Snowy, though, would go on to gross over $17 million in Australia alone.
Tom Burlinson, who played the lead, had no idea it was going to be such a success. He was just happy to be cast in a movie as his work, up to then, had been in television appearing in various dramas and soapies like The Restless Years.
Unlike most actors, Burlinson was honest during the audition, confessing to having no riding experience. “They told me not to worry about it,” Burlinson told me when I interviewed him and other cast and crew in the late ’80s. “I was given six weeks’ preparation in the high country of Victoria. I was very lucky as so many actors aren’t given that time.”