1 9 8 0 (Australia)
8 x 50 minute episodes
This eight-part miniseries from the Australian Broadcasting Commission was based on the trilogy of novels by Eleanor Dark – an epic story that begins in a pre-contact Aboriginal Australia and tells the story of the early days of British settlement and the impact on one Aboriginal man in particular – Bennelong (David Gulpilil) – and his family.
The series was based in New South Wales between 1788 and 1811 and depicted the lives of convicts and settlers as they established the new colony.
Viewers saw the hardships of the first unwilling settlers, convicts and soldiers; the terror caused by the Aboriginal tribes; the struggle for day to day existence; the prostitution, despair and punishments – Convicts were flogged, bare-breasted wenches caught the eye in the first two minutes, and there was much moaning about the shortage of food, livestock, medicine and other supplies.
Michael Craig starred as Stephen Manion, a wealthy Irish free settler, with Nicola Pagett (previously Elizabeth Bellamy from Upstairs, Downstairs) as Conor, his free-spirited pixie-faced bride.
Angela Punch McGregor was superb as Ellen, a young convict mother who kept house for them on their property, Beltransa (and did much more for Mr Manion) and who was forced to prostitute herself to one of the soldiers for a pound of flour. Sadly, worse lay ahead for her.
Adam Garnett and Chris Haywood – in Ginger Meggs wigs – both played her rebel son, Johnny, who befriends the Aborigines.
Later we met the free settlers and the Governors who carved their niche in Australia’s history as fictional characters intermingled with the factual, including Governor Phillip (Peter Collingwood); the villainous Major Ross (Trevor Kent); Lord Sydney (Ric Hutton); Captain Macarthur (Robin Stewart) and Governor Bligh (an over-acting Ray Barrett).
The Timeless Land was well-photographed, lavishly costumed, grand in scale and ambitious in intent with faultless production values. Most of the exterior filming was done at Kellyville, an authentic replica of early Sydney town, located some miles out of the modern city.
The ABC launched the series by showing the first two episodes back-to-back as a 100-minute block on Thursday 4 September 1980. The Timeless Land was also sold to Paramount Pictures in the US for a record $1 million, the highest fee for an Australian series at the time.
Mrs Conor Mannion
Angela Punch McGregor
Captain John Macarthur
Johnny (as a boy)
A Ship with White Wings | Unsuitable Company | The Fabric of Liberty | Double Standards | Smell of Rebellion | A Declaration of War 1806 | A Prisoner at the Bar 1807 | A New Order