The saga of making “Sons of Matthew” equalled the drama of the story itself. After reading Bernard O’Reilly’s books, “Cullenbenbong” and “Green Mountains”, Charles and Elsa wrote a script inspired by the pioneering exploits of the famed O’Reilly family, who carved a trail into the mountains of the McPherson Ranges, to claim land on the Plateau.
The story traced the adventures of the film’s O’Riordan family, their five sons and two daughters, so the cast of adults and their junior counterparts was large. Together with technicians, the unit numbered about seventy when they arrived in southeast Queensland. They were hit with the state’s wettest season in forty years. The rains lasted for many weeks, and the film crew were temporarily marooned at Round Mountain, surrounded by floodwaters. The delay caused costs to soar, but with determination they finally succeeded in filming dramatic action scenes that required the climbing of tortuous trails, rock-hopping over waterfalls and coping with mud, leeches and stinging vines. John Ewart later remarked “I didn’t know I would have to be an athlete as well as an actor.” Thelma Scott, who played the mother, said that the locals christened them “Chauvel’s Commandos”.
“Sons of Matthew” was arguably Chauvel’s best film. His last, “Jedda”, was the bravest, but ‘Sons’ was technically a better production. After W.W.11, the film was a welcome relief to war-weary audiences and said to have boosted post-war immigration. It was widely released overseas and in America was renamed “The Rugged O’Riordans”.
Excerpt from Biography:
“The unit’s work force had the daunting task of hauling camera and lighting equipment up the mountain by flying fox and down 300 ft. to the ravine, somehow keeping it dry while setting up wind machines and batteries of 5,000kw lamps. The cameras were within metal sound-blooping with weighty battery boxes. More than a thousand feet above sea level, with cloud-topped peaks above, there is little sunlight at Natural Arch, so studio lamps were concealed around the perimeter and protected from the rain by heavy glass covers. The work gangs had to first slash through tangled undergrowth, cutting a path to the location and driving iron spikes into rocks to support flying fox cables that would span the gully. Now and then clouds billowed from the mountain peaks, bringing more rain to the already sodden forest.”
Years later, Michael Pate said “What you saw in “Sons of Matthew” was a sort of osmosis between us and the land, and that is what Chauvel wanted…..Charles had the ability to encourage other people to develop their own acting skills, but also to realise his vision.”