The producer behind AFI-nominated war drama Beneath Hill 60 is exploring the events surrounding the conception of one of Banjo Paterson’s most iconic songs. Waltzing Matilda will be a western-romance featuring Xavier Samuel in the lead role as Banjo Paterson. Morgan O’Neill will direct.
"I saw what Morgan did with The Factory, how he directed John Cusack, and the way he also directed Sam Worthington in Drift and I asked if he would be interested in making Waltzing Matilda as a Western,” says producer Bill Leimbach. “He loved the idea and I know he’ll create a fantastic genre piece.”
Leimbach previously made a documentary on the Banjo Paterson ballad in 1995, entitled Waltzing Matilda: The Song That Shaped a Nation, which explored the origin of the famous prose and the subsequent relationship between Paterson and twin love interests Sarah and Christina Macpherson. The upcoming $10 million feature film will follow this menage a trois love story.
“It was this one little element about this love affair between them that always stuck with me,” says the producer. “Also, Queensland was under military rule and there was a real battle going on. It lends itself to the western genre, so we’re creating an action packed western love story that honours the heritage.”
Paterson’s legendary anthem was inspired by a worker’s strike that turned violent and resulted in the destruction of a woolshed at a station called Dagworth in Winton, which killed dozens of sheep. The owners of the homestead, the Macphersons, together with the police, went after a German man named Samuel Hoffmeister. Instead of facing capture, Hoffmeister took his own life at the Combo Waterhole.
Bob Macpherson is said to have told the story to Paterson when they went riding together in Dagworth and passed the waterhole. The song derived from Macpherson’s sister Christina, who replayed a tune she’d heard by a military band at the Warrnambool races on her zither. Paterson put the words to the tune, inspired by the story he’d heard and called it ‘Waltzing Matilda’.
“We didn’t want to do a biopic because that’s very predictable and not very exciting – we want it to be a story based on those events,” says Leimbach. “There’s so much unknown. We know he went up there, we know the song was first sung at his hotel and that those women were around, but we obviously don’t know what went on behind closed doors. We’re taking a big leap, but I think it’s going to be exciting and we’re proud of what we’ve got.”
True to the location of the events, filming will take place in Winton, Western Queensland, the same rural town that also served memorable locales and action sequences for John Hillcoat’s western The Proposition and more recently Ivan Sen’s crime drama Mystery Road.
“That’s where the song was born so we’re honouring that, but we’re also looking at a couple of homesteads in Townsville, which is where we made Beneath Hill 60. It all depends on the regional support we obtain.”
Production on Waltzing Matilda is anticipated to commence later this year.