For the Term of his Natural Life in Film

Filming For the Term of his Natural Life, 1927 (AOT, PH30/1/6220)

Stage versions of Marcus Clarke's famous novel of convictism's horrors date back to 1886, and films were shot in 1908 (partly at Port Arthur) and 1911. With the industry booming in the mid-1920s, Union Theatres/Australian films planned a grander effort, employing American expertise – producer Norman Dawn, star Eva Novak. The project attracted criticism as Yankee propaganda, threatening to demean Tasmania, Australia and the Empire. Within Tasmania this debate entailed unprecedented confrontation with the convict past. The state government considered repression, but forbore, and in August–September 1926 much-publicised filming took place at Port Arthur. Most proceeded in New South Wales. On release a year later the film attracted general favour. Made as 'silents' ceased, it dated quickly, but today retains much interest and some power.

Further reading: M Roe, 'Vandiemenism debated', JAS 24, 1989.

Michael Roe