Brilliant Australian bush mini-series based on Henry Lawson's classic short stories
"Lawson's Mates" is a TV mini-series consisting of six television plays, scripted by Cliff Green (a great Australian scriptwriter, short-story author, and novelist) from the stories of Henry Lawson (arguably one of Australia's greatest short story authors, admired by Ernest Hemingway, and many others: Lawson wrote around 1900: he was one of the major literary figures in Australian literature after the Gold Rushes in the mid-Nineteenth century, before World War I – the era of the "Bush Ballad" and "Bulletin" magazine poets, of whom Lawson was also a major figure).
Cliff Green may be best known for his film script for "Picnic at Hanging Rock". But his TV series "Marion", about a country school teacher, and the film script of his novel, "Break of Day", about a veteran of the Great War meeting a bohemian lady artist in a remote rural and disapproving community, also deserve attention. He also scripted "Boy Soldiers", "All the Green Years" (a dramatization of a great Australian novel by Don Charlwood, about a young boy growing up in the 1930s: with a "Tom Sawyer"-like quality, Summerfield (a neglected film noir mystery drama), "Let the Balloon Go", a film version of the classic novel by Ivan Southall about a disabled boy challenging his disability, "I Can Jump Puddles", based on the prize-winning autobiographical stories of Alan Marshall, one of Australia's finest writers and a polio survivor whose ability to use his crutches to leap over puddles explains the title, and "Power Without Glory", a dramatization of the epic novel by Frank Hardy, about police corruption and a major criminal in Australia in the Twentieth century, based on real-life characters and events.
The mini-series, "Lawson's Mates", was made by ABC TV (Australian Broadcasting Commission, later, Corporation) in 1980. The stories, or episodes, are essentially independent of one another, but some characters recur. The whole series forms a "discontinuous narrative" – an open and flexible narrative style which was typical of, and pioneered by Henry Lawson's work –- and others, such as O. Henry, whose "Zorro" stories loosely connect, for example.
Episode 1 Bob Brothers Bob, a young country bumpkin with a heart of gold, is always helping people in distress. He is attracted to Hannah, a pretty, young Salvation Army girl, but she is clearly disapproving of his friendship with three prostitutes who pay a visit to the town. Hannah, however, is not all she seems to be, but Bob is not one to censure, nor abandon his generous ways.
Episode 2 Steelman and Smith The heroes of this tale are professional itinerants — con men whose lifestyle is usually maintained at the expense of others. Steelman, the brains and manipulator, dominates the cringing Smith. After a series of misadventures Smith takes matters into his own hands for the first time and leaves Steelman high and dry. But he has not taken into account Steelman's tenacity.
Episode 3 Joe Wilson (Joe Wilson is a recurring character in several of Henry Lawson's short stories) Young bush carpenter Joe Wilson marries pretty Mary Brand, and they go to live in a slab hut (an Australian rural design loosely comparable to a North American log cabin, but with logs sawed into slabs) miles from the nearest neighbor. The isolation and harshness of bush life are almost too much to bear for Mary (a common theme in Lawson's writing, especially his classic short story, "The Drover's Wife", which inspired Mary's narrative) who is used to all the comforts. Joe makes a purchase which could provide the solution.
Episode 4 Swampy and Brummy Swampy was born a layabout (a lazy good-for-nothing), and takes great pride in it: on the other hand Brummy drifted into a life of loafing and is consumed by the memories of long years wasted in honest work. After years of relying on each other, they go their separate ways, but a strange quirk of fate brings the two together again. (The nickname, "Brummy" is Australian slang for things which are shoddy or of poor quality.) Episode 5 Tommy (synopsis not available) Episode 6 Dave Regan and Party Dave Regan and his best mate, Jim Bently, are well-known in the district as horsemen and odd-job men who can spin a good yarn (a bushman's story) with the best of them. When Ma Middleton's husband passes away they hit on the grand idea of digging for gold underneath his grave, which just happens to be above a rumored mine-shaft. When Ma discovers the plot she is outraged.
The theme-tune for "Lawson's Mates" is a profoundly wistful string orchestra piece, composed by the Twentieth-century Australian composer (a refugee from Nazi Germany), George Dreyfus (also famous for his TV theme for the Australian series "Rush", set in the mid-Nineteenth century Gold Rushes – the stirring theme for "Rush" is based on an Australian folk ballad).
I have not seen this series since its debut Australian TV broadcast in 1980 (approximately). But it haunts me even now. (I still remember the theme for "Lawson's Mates".) It has, as far as I know, never been released on VHS, or DVD, sadly! Cliff Green is a brilliant script writer, and excelled himself with Lawson's Mates". Drawing on several of Lawson's originally loosely connected and separate stories, Cliff Green has recreated the Australian "bush" (hinterland) world of the 1890s, a post-Gold Rush era of economic depression (a global economic depression struck Australia hard during the 1890s), and general hard times, and battling rural folk. As I recall, the casting, and acting were outstanding. This is –- if only you could see it –- a TV mini-series of such quality that you would be captivated, amused, and, from time to time you would have your heart broken. (Think, for example, of the near-tragic and ironic twists of O. Henry's great short story, "The Gift of the Magi".) This MUST be re-published as a digitally enhanced DVD / BlueRay edition!
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