Mcleod's Daughters: articles

Head in the McLeods

There are only two daughters of Jack McLeod left to run the farm, but they have the help of three other feisty women who, over the 22 episodes of McLeod's Daughters, manage to diminish the role of the man on the land.

Claire McLeod (Lisa Chappell) was born and raised on the property, Drovers Run, where she developed her skills as a stockwoman, making her confident in maintaining the farm after the death of her father.

Tess Silverman McLeod (Bridie Carter), is Claire's younger half-sister who left Drovers Run with her mother when she was still a child. She returns when Jack dies, thinking that the farm will be sold and she can return to the city a rich young woman.

Meg Fountain (Sonia Todd) has been housekeeper of Drovers Run since the McLeod sisters were little. Her husband walked out when she was pregnant, so she stays on at the only place that she considers to be home.

Jodi Fountain (Rachel Carpani) is Meg's 17-year-old daughter who has just finished school (paid for by Jack after her father abandoned her) and dreams of life in the bright lights of the city.

Becky Howard (Jessica Napier) is a troubled 19-year-old with a bad reputation in the town. However, she discovers just how tough she really is when Claire takes her under her wing.

IT'S not just the men who are bleating as a group of women set about the task of working the land in Nine's new saga, McLeod's Daughters, writes Eleanor Sprawson.

Sonia Todd has very mixed feelings about sheep. Until this point in her career, which has included popular stints on All Saints and Police Rescue, Todd had never had to deal with co-stars of the farmyard variety.

With Nine's new series McLeod's Daughters, that has changed. "I now have sheep issues," Todd jokes. "They're not as innocent as they look."

Todd is working with 240 ewes and lambs, along with 100 cattle, about 15 horses and some working dogs, on the Nine Network's new 55ha property on the outskirts of Gawler, about an hour's drive north of Adelaide.

The sheep are all important props in the 22-part family farming saga, a spin-off of a hit 1996 telemovie starring Jack Thompson, Kym Wilson and Tammy MacIntosh.

"I must admit I'd never realised how noisy sheep can be," Todd says. "They are loud." Thus filming has often been interrupted by long breaks during which farmhands are sent out to the distant flocks to "get the sheep to shut up".

Not that Todd is really complaining. "The whole series has been enriched by being filmed on location," she says. "It wouldn't be the same at all if we were in a city somewhere, just pretending to be in the bush."

The series has been shot on a historic property called Kingsford, where the original telemovie was filmed. With the series in mind, Nine snapped up Kingsford when it came up for sale.

As a result, the interiors and exteriors of the main homestead, the outbuildings and the paddocks are genuine, right down to the sheen of sticky lanolin which covers the rails in the shearing shed.

The series follows the hardships and adventures of women running a property called Drovers Run. Todd's character, Meg, is the homestead's housekeeper. She helps run the farm following the death of the property's owner, Jack McLeod. Meg wants McLeod's two daughters to keep the farm afloat.

The others working the property are Meg's daughter Jodi (Rachael Carpani) and teenager Becky (Jessica Napier).

One of the few men on the show (all the blokes are characters from neighbouring farms) is Aaron Jeffery, formerly of Water Rats. He puts it this way: "The guys are definitely playing the second-fiddle on this one. For the first time, I'm understanding what most actresses have to go through."

Lisa Chappell, who plays Claire McLeod, understands what Jeffery means. "In most films and television programs the norm is you wait 15 minutes before you see a woman and then she's wearing a tight skirt and she's assisting a man in some way, or providing a love interest.

"It's so satisfying that in every storyline we know we're not going to have a man come in and save us—we're going to do the work ourselves."

Producer Posie Graeme-Evans muses that the series is probably the most woman-driven Australian drama series since Prisoner.

"The stories of the women are certainly the heart of the series," Graeme-Evans says. "The place is like a little valley full of women. But we wanted strong male characters as well and with actors like Aaron and John Jarratt… well, I mean, they're definitely no slouches."

As well as actors and farm animals, Graeme-Evans has also had to deal with a less expected presence—a ghost. "I do believe the house is haunted," she says of the series' main farmhouse, a gorgeous and regal homestead built in the 1850s from sandstone imported from Edinburgh.

"There is definitely a presence and everyone senses it. But it seems friendly and benign. It's a lot less trouble than the sheep, anyway."

• McLeod's Daughters, Wednesday, Nine, 7.30pm

Eleanor Sprawson
August 02, 2001
Daily Telegraph