It gave us some genuine respect for the great determination these people had. – Greg Haddrick
written by Scott Ellis
Sydney Morning Herald
30 October 2005
Australians have a tendency to elevate unlikely characters to hero status. For example, Ned Kelly, essentially a thief and murderer, has been paralleled with Robin Hood; “Breaker” Morant, executed as a war criminal, is seen by Australians as a victim of British military bastardry; and Mary Bryant, a convict who stole a boat and made an epic voyage to escape, is hailed as the sort of person who helped shape our nation.
And while Bryant might not be immediately recognisable, there’s little doubt her story is every bit as exciting as that of Kelly or Morant.
Transported to Australia for robbery, Bryant convinced a group of her fellow convicts to steal a small boat attached to Governor Arthur Phillip’s ship Sirius and set off to find freedom.
It was an escape which should have quickly ended in disaster, but Bryant and her makeshift crew, which included her two young children, managed to stay afloat and alive for more than two months, crossing open seas to get as far as Timor before eventually being caught.
In a time when Captain Bligh’s 6000-kilometre forced journey in a similar boat after the mutiny on the Bounty was hailed as a masterful feat of sailing, Bryant’s was an incredible achievement.
That and what happened after she was caught and transported back to England, said producer Greg Haddrick, were enough to convince him this was one Australian story which definitely needed to be told again.
“I think the fact that this is a true story is why we all found it so extraordinary,” Haddrick said. “I mean just think about the journey they made . . . it would be hard enough to do that now with full satellite navigation, let alone one sail, a few oars and convicts in completely uncharted waters. I’m not sure how I’d go trying to navigate a boat to Timor. It gave us some genuine respect for the determination these people had and it’s that aspirational nature that made us think this was a story that really needed be told. It was just incredible.”
So too, he said, was the task of bringing the story to screen. Given the fact this was a real event and already the subject of numerous books, the production team walked a fine line between historical accuracy and entertainment. “It was long and it was very difficult,” Haddrick said.
“The benefit of it being an Australian/British co-production was that we had the time to shoot all that we needed because we wanted it to be as authentic as possible. I’m not sure we’re ‘documentary’ accurate, but it’s a pretty authentic piece. The boat that we used to film on for example, is almost identical to the cutter that Mary and her fellow escapees stole because it comes from the Bounty replica and the Bounty was the Sirius’s sister ship.”
Even with the inevitable nitpicking from historians, the result is a great adventure story and one Haddrick said Australians deserve to know.
“In the two or three years we spent researching this production, we found that people had heard of [Mary] and they knew she was someone from a long time ago, but they didn’t quite know what had she had done,” Haddrick said.
“Mary is a figure who has faded in and out of favour in the history books, a lot has been written about her – she scored a page or two in Robert Hughes’s The Fatal Shore – and we felt it was important to revisit her once again. A lot of what happened with the first fleet and in those early days of the colony has generally been ignored and it was important for us to do something on this time in our history.”
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“And regardless of whether it’s a period piece or history, it’s about young, adventurous, energetic people and I think viewers will be hooked by their story, their character and their determination. I think it’s a pretty fair reflection of the sort of convicts who came out here and these are the first people who helped build Australia.”