Rufus Dawes (George Fisher) learns the truth of his parentage from his mother in the early scenes of For The Term of His Natural Life
form y For the Term of His Natural Life single work   film/TV  
Adaptation of His Natural Life Marcus Clarke 1870-1872 single work novel
Issue Details: First known date: 1927... 1927 For the Term of His Natural Life
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AbstractHistoryArchive Description

Based on Marcus Clarke's classic novel, originally published in 1870 as His Natural Life, the story tells of convict Rufus Dawes, who has been wrongfully accused of a crime and sent to the penal colony of Van Diemen's Land for the term of his natural life. In his attempts to escape the colony, Dawes falls in love with Sylvia (a warden's daughter) and confronts his sinister lookalike John Rex and the evil convict Gabbett.

American director/screenwriter Norman Dawn's adaptation strays from the original book considerably. For example, the ending sees the fate of Rufus and Sylvia, adrift on a raft in the ocean, left in the balance, whereas Clarke's original story has the pair drown. However, the film retains a strong, visual style, especially in climactic crowd scenes.



Publication Details of Only Known VersionEarliest 2 Known Versions of

First known date: 1927
    • c
      Australasian Films ,
      1927 .
      Title screen for For The Term of His Natural Life (screen cap)
      Link: U13439Web resource Sighted: 17/2/11
      Extent: 10,000 ftp.
      Description: Black and white; silent
      • A ninety-minute print is also available to watch via YouTube: (Sighted: 11/11/11)
    • c
      National Film and Sound Archive ,
      1981 .
      Extent: 101 min.p.
      Description: Tinted; sound
      • This version is a reconstruction achieved by the intercutting of footage of the 1927 Australian release (silent) with the 1929 American release. Both were incomplete copies.

Works about this Work

Restoring 'For the Term of His Natural Life' Graham Shirley , single work essay
— Appears in: National Film and Sound Archive

National Film and Sound Archive historian Graham Shirley recalls the restoration of For the Term of His Natural Life.

The Film Exhibitors’ Royal Commission Mike Walsh , 2015 single work criticism
— Appears in: Studies in Australasian Cinema , vol. 9 no. 3 2015; (p. 271-282)
'In adopting the perspective of the New Cinema History movement, which endeavours to shift the focus of film history away from questions of texts and their production, this article provides an overview of the Royal Commission that concentrates on the central place of exhibition within the Australian film industry. The two areas of enquiry here concern the relation of exhibitors to distributors and to audiences. This assumes that exhibition operates as a hinge point in national cinema, connecting local audiences with global distribution companies. The first part of the article examines the nature of distribution contracts and the ways in which exhibitors competed against each other, rather than simply seeing them as struggling with Hollywood. The second part foregrounds testimony given to the Commission concerning the constitution and behaviour of audiences. The article concludes with the proposition that Australian audiences have consistently failed to behave in accordance with certain broadly held social principles and that the role of the Commission was not to stimulate the production sector, but rather to find rhetorical ways of addressing the problems represented by exhibition and audience practices.' (Publication abstract)
American Combine : Australasian Films Ltd., and Block Bookings Stephen Gaunson , 2015 single work criticism
— Appears in: Studies in Australasian Cinema , vol. 9 no. 3 2015; (p. 241-252)
'The 1927–1928 Commonwealth Royal Commission on the Moving Picture Industry in Australia followed a series of public inquiries into the Australian cinema. One agenda of the Commission was to examine the dominance of American movies in Australian film exhibition. By concentrating on how the Commission explored this issue, as it related to the exhibition and distribution of Hollywood movies in Australia, here I will consider the extent to which Australian exhibition has been guided by and dependent on American movies. With the Commission established, in part, to explore the accusation of an American combine ruling the exhibition industry, and stunting the local production sector, the real question was whether the Commissioners would be persuaded to make recommendations to wrest the powers from America, and consequently redirect the local exhibition industry's dependence on Hollywood movies.' (Publication abstract)
The Long Shadow of 1927 Ray Edmondson , 2015 single work criticism
— Appears in: Studies in Australasian Cinema , vol. 9 no. 3 2015; (p. 230-240)
Tasmania and the Cinema Adrian Danks , 2012 single work criticism
— Appears in: Senses of Cinema , December no. 65 2012;
'Tasmania's intermittent relationship with the cinema dates back before the first feature film made on its rugged West Coast in 1925, Louise Lovely and Wilton Welch's now lost Jewelled Nights. In many ways what we might call "Tasmanian cinema" reflects the sometimes harsh, depopulated landscape of the island itself. Since the 1920s only a small number of feature films - and a larger number of short documentaries largely made by various state and corporate bodies - have been made or shot in Tasmania, with only the children's film They Found a Cave (Andrew Steane, 1962) standing in for the vast period between Norman Dawn's For the Term of His Natural Life in 1927 and John Honey's remarkable Manganinnie in 1980. But Tasmania also has an interesting place in the global imagination of Hollywood during this period, including its status as the actual birthplace of Errol Flynn, the fabricated place of origin of Merle Oberon, and the largely fantastical landscape of the much-loved Warner Bros. cartoon character, The Tasmanian Devil. Warner Bros.' denial of Flynn's origins, MGM's fudging of Oberon's Anglo-Indian ancestry, and the geographic indistinctness and confusion of the original Tasmanian Devil cartoons, highlight a freer approach to what might be termed the "imagination of Tasmania". (Author's introduction)
For the Term of His Natural Life : 1927 Film Epic Ian F. McLaren , 1981 single work column
— Appears in: Margin , no. 7 1981; (p. 4-6)
Lovely Eva Novak 1926 single work column
— Appears in: The Australian Woman's Mirror , 28 December vol. 3 no. 5 1926; (p. 29)
Screening Our National Skeleton Gayne Dexter , 1926 single work criticism
— Appears in: The Home , 1 November vol. 7 no. 11 1926; (p. 14-20, 80)
Silent Classic Finds Exotic New Sounds Bruce Elder , 2010 single work column
— Appears in: The Sydney Morning Herald , 7 September 2010; (p. 9)
Bruce Elder reports that experimental musician Colin Offord has created a musical accompaniment to Norman Dawn's 1927 film For the Term of His Natural Life. Elder also discusses the background to the film's adaptation from Marcus Clarke's novel and the reception of the film at the time of its initial release.
Representing Australian Space in The Overlanders Elizabeth Webby , 2007 single work criticism
— Appears in: Australia : Making Space Meaningful 2007; (p. 115-123)
This paper will examine the influence of Watt's representation of Australian space in The Overlanders on other films made in Australia during the 1950s, including Charles Chauvel's Jedda (1955) and Jack Lee's Robbery Under Arms (1957)...(From author's abstract p. 115)
Last amended 21 Jan 2014 12:33:40
  • Port Arthur, Tasman Peninsula, Forestier Peninsula - Tasman Peninsula area, Southeast Tasmania, Tasmania,
  • 1800-1899
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