Disillusioned artist Brad Morahan (James Mason, who also co-produced the film) escapes New York for his Australian homeland seeking solitude on an island on the Barrier Reef. Instead, he discovers alcoholic Ma Ryan (Neva Carr-Glyn) and her granddaughter Cora (Helen Mirren), who sits as his model.
Cora lives a subsistence life, dipping into mother nature’s cornucopia to earn money to run away to Brisbane and to keep her grandmother pickled on gin.
A visit from Brad’s old acquaintance Nat Kelly (Jack MacGowran) ends with Kelly stealing $300 from Brad before leaving the island in a stolen boat.
Ma discovers Brad has been sketching her granddaughter and in an argument with Cora, the old woman falls from a cliff and is killed.
The police investigation finds that the fall was an accident, and Cora offers Brad her money to make up for that stolen by Kelly. Brad refuses, realising that the girl has restored meaning to his work and life.
When Kelly is apprehended and the money returned, Brad and Cora are left to themselves at last.
Tommy Hanlon Jr