1 9 8 8 (Australia)
4 x 150 minute episodes
This 10-hour Kennedy Miller production (makers of Bodyline and The Dismissal) is arguably the most tear-jerking, heart-breaking story ever told.
Never before has so much tragedy beset one man – Richard Eastwick, a fictitious cattle king upon whom the story is based. There is so much death in The Dirtwater Dynasty that by the end of the 10 hours you can see it coming a mile off. You know this man is destined to have everyone he loves die.
But depressing as it may be, Dirtwater, unlike most mini-series, was compelling from the word go. The story starts in the late 1800s with Hugo Weaving as Richard, an unnamed child of unknown parents growing up on the streets of Dickensian England.
He works in the coal mines of Bradford where he meets the Eastwick family, who take him in and show him love for the first time. He takes their name and eventually, inspired by a landscape painting of the Australian outback, takes off to start a new life with grand dreams.
In the strange new land, he meets his first wife Kate McBride, (a lovely role played well by Victoria Longley) with whom he desperately wants to found an empire for future generations of Eastwicks.
The strength of Dirtwater lies in its panoply of colourful characters.
Harold Hopkins is excellent as Kate’s revolting father, the Reverend McBride, who is obsessive about his godly mission and obsessive too – but in a disgustingly indecent way – about his beautiful daughter.
Bruce Spence is superb as Lonely Logan, a feisty outback character who travels with droves, cooking and injecting much humour along the way.
Dennis Miller plays another colourful character, Hasky Tarbox, a slimy bastard who becomes Richard Eastwick’s neighbour and greatest enemy.
Steve Jacobs turns out a fine performance as the reliable, steadfast Josh McCall, Eastwick’s lifelong mate. Dirtwater also boasts fine performances from Judy Morris, Anne Louise Lambert, Peter Phelps, Scott Burgess, Ernie Dingo and Leverne McDonnell.
Richard Eastwick becomes one of the richest men in Australia, having forged the outback (and possessing most of it), and his greatest desire is to pass it all on to further generations.
The storyline is so complex that you can’t even begin to describe it. Let’s just say that Dirtwater has more than its share of cruel twists and turns.
Above all, it’s a rattling good yarn.
David Eastwick II
Young Richard Eastwick