Mcleod's Daughters: articles

Dustin Clare

Country boy: Dustin Clare is the new recruit in McLeod's Daughters.

Blazing saddles

As a beach boy growing up on the NSW north coast, Dustin Clare has always favoured a steel horse over the real thing. But as the new star of Nine's popular drama McLeod's Daughters, Clare had to trade in his two-wheeler.

Clare plays horse whisperer Riley Ward.

And as you might expect, for someone who had no experience with our equine friends, the change of pace, not to mention size, took some getting used to.

"Any spare time I got in the first few months (of shooting) I was just trying to get on horses, be around the horses.

I had to look comfortable," Clare says while on a brief break from filming.

Although some who haven't grown up around horses might be wary of them, Clare's feelings verge towards fascination and a kind of awe.

"I see them as powerful, but really beautiful," he says.

Prior to heading out to the McLeod's set in South Australia, Clare prepared himself by working on a farm in Geelong, Victoria, immersing himself in bush culture.

"I spent a week-and-a-half working with these guys, men from the land, seeing the ways they use their hands and the way they spoke."

On set, Clare had a horse musterer to guide him in the gentle art of whispering.

"He was someone I watched intently. I'll do a take and look at him and see if he's got something to say and he might say, 'Bud, straighten up your horse before you ride off or he'll go' and 'Drive from the hip'.

"He was salt of the earth. Riley has come from that world and I probably took a bit of him (for the character)."

Only a few years ago Clare, who grew up in Ballina, was on a very different trajectory. He was a trainee lab assistant at NSW Agriculture before the white coat life eventually started to get to him.

"I thought, 'What do you want to do with your life?'." Soon after he quit his job and was on his way to the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, which has produced the likes of The Boy From Oz star Hugh Jackman.

Like our man Jackman, Clare can sing a bit ("It's part of the training"), but maintains that, for now at least, he's "really enjoying the screen".

Clare's character, Riley, is a kind of throwback to the bushman of the past. He prefers his swag to a sofa at a friend's place, believes in an honest day's work and is more inclined to drift from town to town rather than settle down in one spot.

As we get to know Riley we learn his father was a Sergeant Major in the Australian Army, who treated his family like they were a Sherman tank-load of soldiers.

We meet Riley as a travelling farrier. But it's pretty clear early on there is a chemistry between the bushman and Jodi (played by Rachel Carpani), which burns like a rampant campfire.

"I've been working a lot with Rachel. It's not hard to be enamoured of her. She's a pretty girl."

McLeod's, now in its seventh season, continues to lure viewers with its tales of an often tough life in the Australian outback. Clare believes it's one of the few dramas around which offers something culturally specific.

"It gives people a chance to identify with Australian culture. It's romantic. It's a romance with the land."

Moreover, Clare believes the female characters in McLeod's provide strong role models for young girls.

"Women have different things to offer than men. It's a lovely thing that women are able to see that (on the show)."

For a beach lover like Clare, the farm life has taken some getting used to. There have been scorching 45 degree summer days and toe-curlingly cold winters.

"Winter is hard. You get up at five in the morning and you can't feel your feet."

And don't get him started on the flies. Clare admits: "Yep, I've swallowed a few."

By Stephen Downie
September 20, 2006