'This endearing 19th-century family saga follows the lives, loves and losses of one pioneering family and two escaped convicts as they open up the land in Victoria, Australia. This classic Australian story, which won the Hodder & Stoughton All Empire Literature Prize for Australasia, commands an important place in the canon of Australian literature' (Monsoon Books edition).
This early adaptation of Katherine Susannah Pritchard's novel (published only the preceding year) is one of Australia's 'lost films': only a fragment, described by the NSFA as showing 'a woman with her head tied in a scarf crouching behind a log and aiming a rifle', remains.
The film appeared at a time of heightened nationalism: an advertisment for a screening at the Strand Theatre, for example, reads:
'Drovers! Cattle Dealers! Bush-rangers! Pioneers! Roustabouts! "Pub" Keepers! Bushgirls! ALL combine in presenting early Australian life as it actually was. [...] It tells of those intrepid men and women who, in spite of tremendous hardships, carved their homes out of the Virgin Bush. They were THE MEN WHO MADE AUSTRALIA. Their sons, the Anzacs, coming from this hardy stock, are now, by their glorious deeds, ringing the name "Australia" throughout the entire world.'
Source: The Brisbane Courier, Wednesday 18 October 1916, p.2.
Set in the interior of a hut in the Gippsland forest, in the 1850s, the play has six characters. Donald Cameron, an honest dour Scot, and Mary, his wife, whom he picked off the boat at the wharf, are pioneers sharing a strange, strong love. Thad McNab, the double-crossing shanty keeper, and McLaughlin, a trooper, pursue two escaped convicts, Dan and Steve. Mary befriends them during Donald's absence. Donald, McNab and McLaughlin return. Mary successfully conceals the fact that the convicts have been at the hut from all but Donald. He cannot understand her charity and humanity, but admires her strength of character. (Abstract adapted from The Campbell Howard Annotated Index of Australian Plays 1920-1955)
This story of a settler and his wife living in the Gippsland bush, the second film to have been made of Pritchard's novel in the ten years since its publication, is one of Australia's 'lost films'.
According to the Camperdown Chronicle (Tuesday 29 June 1926, p.4):
'When Katharine Susannah Prichard won the 1000 pounds offered by Hodder and Stoughton for a prize novel, she incidentally furnished the screen with a vivid and realistic pictorial version of the struggles and hardships of the early pioneers who laid the foundations of the Australia of to-day. "The Pioneers" which has been described by the New York "Bookview" as a truthful picture of the time it depicts, has been filmed in the cattle country on the North Coast of New South Wales and under the guidance of Director Longford--remembered for his production of "The Sentimental Bloke," the atmosphere of this typical Australian story has been transferred in all its realistic detail to the silver sheet.'