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Sons of Matthew

Sons of Matthew
Directed byCharles Chauvel
Written byCharles Chauvel
Elsa Chauvel
Maxwell Dunn
Based onNon-fiction by Bernard O'Reilly
Produced byCharles Chauvel
StarringMichael Pate
Ken Wayne
Tommy Burns
Narrated byWilfred Thomas
CinematographyCarl Kaiser
Bert Nicholas
Edited byTerry Banks
Music byHenry Krips
Greater Union Cinemas
Distributed byUniversal-International
Umbrella Entertainment
Release dates
16 December 1949 (Australia)
26 January 1950 (UK)
5 January 1950 (US)
Running time
107 min. (Australia)
97 min. (US)
Budget£120,000[1] or £500,000[2]
Box officeover £50,000 (Australia)[3]

Sons of Matthew is a 1949 Australian film directed and produced and co-written by Charles Chauvel. The film was shot in 1947 on location in Queensland, Australia, and the studio sequences in Sydney. Sons of Matthew took 18 months to complete, but it was a great success with Australian audiences when it finally opened in December 1949.

Sons of Matthew is a legendary film in the history of Australian cinema, partly because of the adverse conditions in which it was made. Maxwell Dunn wrote later in his book How they Made Sons of Matthew that, during filming, it was the wettest season in 80 years in Queensland. For UK and US release Universal-International cut the film by 30 minutes, added some American narration and renamed it The Rugged O'Riordans.[4]

Filmink wrote the movie "falls into the "pioneering family" subgenre of Western like Little House on the Prairie or Cimarron – stories about people hacking homes out of the wilderness, falling in and out of love, fighting disease/prejudice/Indians/whoever. Most tend to be driven by female leads but this is about a set of brothers, although there is a smurfette, Wendy Gibb, loved by Michael Pate and Ken Wayne. It is more melodrama than Western, but it feels influenced by Westerns in its pace and action."[5]

Plot summary

Irishman Matthew O'Riordan and his English wife Jane raise a family of five sons and two daughters on their farm in the valley of Cullenbenbong in northern New South Wales. They battle drought, flood and fire. The wife of neighbour Angus McAllister dies and they help raise their daughter Cathy.

Years go by and the children grow up. Eldest brother Shane is inspired by his uncle Jack, who tells them about virgin rainforest on Lamington Plateau in southern Queensland. They decide to move there and establish a farm. They are accompanied by Angus and Cathy McAllister. By this stage Cathy is engaged to the second son, Barney.

The O'Riordan brothers clear the land and start building a slab hut. Cathy realises she is in love with Shane and he falls for her. A huge storm hits the farm and the brothers fight. Barney knocks out Shane, hurting his spine.

Shane recovers, Barney earns his forgiveness by working hard. Shane and Cathy are married.


  • Michael Pate as Shane O'Riordan
  • Ken Wayne as Barney O'Riordan
  • Tommy Burns as Luke O'Riordan
  • John Unicomb as Terry O'Riordan
  • John Ewart as Mickey O'Riordan
  • Wendy Gibb as Cathy McAllister[6]
  • John O'Malley as Matthew O'Riordan
  • Thelma Scott as Jane O'Riordan
  • Dorothy Alison as Rose O'Riordan
  • Diane Proctor as Mary O'Riordan
  • Tom Collins as young Shane
  • Max Lemon as young Barney
  • Rodney Fielder as young Luke
  • Doug Smith as young Terry
  • Jimmy White as young Mickey
  • Marion Dickson as young Rose
  • Baby Lawson as young Mary
  • John Fegan as Jack Farrington
  • Robert Nelson as Angus McAllister
  • Barbara Armstrong as young Cathy
  • Laurel Young as Bessie Benson
  • Nonnie Peifer as Molly Benson
  • Betty Orme as Selina Benson
  • John Fleeting as doctor
  • Carrie Moore as midwife
  • Alan Poolman as Dan McGregor


Chauvel had long wished to make a movie about the O'Reilly family, who had settled in the mountains in South East Queensland.[7] In the mid-1940s he bought the rights to two books Bernard O'Reilly had written about his family, Green Mountains (1940) and Cullenbenbong (1944) and announced plans to film them. Grant Taylor was mentioned as a possible star.[8]

Chauvel commissioned Maxwell Dunn and Gwen Meredith to write a script about the O'Reillys and Bernard O'Reilly's rescue of survivors from the crash of a Stinson aeroplane in 1937. (An event filmed in 1987 as The Riddle of the Stinson.)[9] James Bancks also worked on the script. Eventually Chauvel decided to make an original story of pioneers.

Chauvel's normal backer, Herc McIntyre of Universal Pictures, agreed to invest in the movie. He persuaded Norman Rydge of Greater Union to join him in partnership. The budget was originally announced as being £100,000.[10] The Queensland government contributed £3,000 to production costs.[11]

Casting took several months, with most of the actors being unknowns.[12] It was the first lead role for Michael Pate, Wendy Gibb and Ken Wayne. Boxer Tommy Burns was given an important support role.[13]


In March 1947 a unit of about 70 people set off for the main location near Beaudesert.[14] Filming coincided with near-constant rain – the first three months of shooting saw only three weeks of weather suitable for filming.[15] Locations sometimes had to be reached by pack horse and foot. A second unit under Carl Kayser was brought out to location to assist production.[1]

After six months on location, the unit moved to the studios of Cinesound Productions in Bondi. They filmed there for two months then returned to Queensland for a further five months. In March 1948 they returned to the Bondi studio and reshot several scenes. Shooting took eighteen months in total. Charles Chauvel then shot an alternative ending in the Blue Mountains. This ending was eventually discarded.

While Chauvel was filming in Sydney, his home was robbed.[16]


The movie had cost so much money it needed to be successful in Australia and overseas. The film was very popular at the local box office being seen by an estimated 750,000 Australians.[2]

The movie was cut for overseas release, with narration added and thirty minutes removed, including a scene where Wendy Gibb bathes nude.[17]

Overseas release

Initial response in the UK and US was poor, with the film being pulled from a cinema in New York after only a week.[18][19]

The New York Times called the film "a dismally disappointing effort, cut along the most crude and conventional lines".[20]

However, after a slow start the film took off commercially in the UK, helped by a competition with a prize of a trip to Australia, which over half a million people entered.[21] Eventually the movie made a small profit. Overseas reviews were mixed.[22]

Ken G. Hall later blamed the difficulties involved in making this film on scaring off Norman Rydge from investing in feature film production, contributing to Hall's failure to make another feature after 1946.

Several of the cast attempted to forge careers overseas, including Michael Pate (successfully), John Unicomb, Tommy Burns,[23] and Wendy Gibb.[24] Supporting actors John Ewart and Jack Fegan enjoyed long careers in early Australian television and film.


  1. ^ a b Andrew Pike and Ross Cooper, Australian Film 1900–1977: A Guide to Feature Film Production, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1998, 209.
  2. ^ a b "Australian – and proud of it". The Argus. Melbourne. 19 May 1950. p. 9. Retrieved 4 August 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
  3. ^ "The Research Bureau Holds an Autopsy". Sunday Mail. Brisbane. 17 February 1952. p. 11. Retrieved 28 April 2013 – via National Library of Australia.
  4. ^ Australian screen; curator's notes by Paul Byrnes
  5. ^ Vagg, Stephen (24 July 2019). "50 Meat Pie Westerns". Filmink.
  6. ^ "Sydney Actress for Sons of Matthew Film". The Sydney Morning Herald. 5 February 1947. p. 4. Retrieved 22 August 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
  7. ^ "Chauvel Plans Queensland Film". The Courier-Mail. Brisbane. 9 November 1944. p. 2. Retrieved 22 August 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
  8. ^ "Questions". The Mail. Adelaide. 28 April 1945. p. 8. Retrieved 22 August 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
  9. ^ "Chauvel Making New Film". The Sydney Morning Herald. 5 February 1946. p. 5. Retrieved 19 August 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
  10. ^ "Australian's Books for Feature Film". The Sydney Morning Herald. 16 October 1946. p. 3. Retrieved 22 August 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
  11. ^ "Film's Nude Girl Fails to Shock". The Sydney Morning Herald. 17 November 1949. p. 7. Retrieved 22 August 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
  12. ^ "Boys Play Fair at Film Test". The Sydney Morning Herald. 5 February 1947. p. 4 Supplement: Playtime. Retrieved 22 August 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
  13. ^ "Boxer Released for Film". The Sydney Morning Herald. 14 February 1947. p. 10. Retrieved 22 August 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
  14. ^ "Australian Film News... Sons of Matthew on Location". The Sydney Morning Herald. 10 April 1947. p. 10. Retrieved 22 August 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
  15. ^ Paul Byrne, "Curators Notes on Sons of Matthew", Australian Screen Online
  16. ^ "Film Man's Loss". The Sydney Morning Herald. 5 February 1949. p. 1. Retrieved 22 August 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
  17. ^ "U.S. Cuts in Film". The West Australian. Perth. 10 November 1949. p. 4. Retrieved 22 August 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
  18. ^ "Australian Film Fails in U.S." The Mercury. Hobart, Tasmania. 16 January 1950. p. 4. Retrieved 22 August 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
  19. ^ "U.S. Reception of Australian Film". The Sydney Morning Herald. 7 January 1950. p. 3. Retrieved 22 August 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
  20. ^ "The Screen in Review: Dream No More, Story about Israel in Documentary-Type Picture, of Ambassador at the Park Avenue at the Palace" by Bosley Crowther, The New York Times, 6 January 1950: 25.
  21. ^ "Gossip From The Studios". The Sydney Morning Herald. 30 November 1950. p. 17. Retrieved 22 August 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
  22. ^ "What London Says of Matthew". The Sydney Morning Herald. 28 January 1950. p. 3. Retrieved 22 August 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
  23. ^ "Screen k.o. for Burns". The Argus. Melbourne. 6 July 1950. p. 3. Retrieved 22 August 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
  24. ^ "Wendy was so shy". The Argus. Melbourne. 20 March 1951. p. 10. Retrieved 22 August 2012 – via National Library of Australia.

Further reading

  • Murray, Scott, ed. (1994). Australian Cinema. St. Leonards, New South Wales: Allen & Unwin/AFC. pp. 30, 295. ISBN 1-86373-311-6.
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Sons of Matthew
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