Mcleod's Daughters: articles

She'll be right, girls

THERE’S something about girls on horses that Australian audiences just can’t get enough of. Well, 1.5 million of us at least. That’s how many people tune into McLeod’s Daughters every Wednesday for a glimpse of the move’em-out, rope’em-up jillaroos of Drover’s Run.

Now entering its fourth season, the outback melodrama started when half-sisters Claire and Tess McLeod were reunited after 20 years to run their father’s 200,000ha cattle station, gathering an all-girl group of farmhands to help them do it.

It’s full gallop ahead in the Out of the Ashes series premiere and the girls have their hands full, what with a stolen stallion called Wildfire and a bushfire threatening the homestead.

This season the formula of outback sisters doing it for themselves has been thrown slightly askew with the death last season of the older McLeod daughter Claire in a car crash—the fault of a runaway brumby—and half-sister Tess Silverman-McLeod has been left holding the reins of the property.

The show may have been forced to change its name to McLeod’s Daughter if it hadn’t been for the survival of the next McLeod generation, in Claire’s baby daughter Charlotte. I predict a certain toddler will be getting her own pony some time soon.

Tess is joined by renegade rodeo star Stevie, an old horse-faring friend of Claire’s trying to settle down in a steady job as a station hand. Stevie is the bad girl with a heart of gold—she gambles, keeps her beer in a stubbie holder and has a closetful of cowboy boots and skeletons—although she promises to challenge the moral high ground taken by Tess. Sex and the City this ain’t. Don’t expect anything more scandalous than Stevie borrowing the neighbour’s pitchfork without permission.

Meanwhile, local squires the Ryan brothers are having struggles of their own. Strong-jawed Nick has been forced to find work in the city. His equally strong-jawed brother Alex, recovering from the loss of Claire, is on a path of self-destruction riding (you guessed it) horses for cash in the local rodeos.

With the daily disasters that afflict the station, droughts, floods and the menacing spectre of bankruptcy, it’s enough to make you want to pack up the saddle and head for the big smoke.

If Always Greener taught city audiences to beware the other side of the fence, the lesson was lost on the viewers of McLeod’s Daughters. Perhaps it’s because—despite the calamities—Drover’s (as the locals call it) is a place you wish existed.

It’s the belief country girls proclaim smugly to their city counterparts and city girls secretly know is true; that people in the country are tougher, more caring, more virtuous and simply much more Australian.

The outback has become white Australia’s Dreamtime place, where the heat and the dust reinforce the value of mateship and a hard day’s work.

And a McLeod daughter would never dream of sitting down to a meal in front of the television.

McLeod’s Daughters is our most popular local drama because it sits solidly in the saddle of how Australians like to see themselves.

Creator Posie Graeme-Evans first developed the concept for the show from a photograph that captured “blue skies and quintessentially Aussie girls’ faces, with big, wide grins under the broad brim of a classic RM Williams hat”.

Thirty years after Germaine Greer first put her spurs to our flanks, Graeme-Evans decided Australian audiences were ready for a pioneer drama—with the girls running the show. They brand the cattle, prove all the men wrong and still have time to patrol the fenceline on horseback. Country women will tell you they have been doing this for a long time. The big changes are that motorbikes have replaced the horse and stock is now microchipped.

This season’s series will dish out more romance and horses. City-dwelling Australians want that from a country drama. The program may have taken a blow with the loss of Claire but series four rides on the old premise that if you fall off the horse, you get straight back on again.

Not to do so would be just un-Australian.

By Emily Smith
February 06, 2004
The Australian