Kit Denton’s 1973 book about the life of colonial (actually English born) horseman, soldier & poet, Harry ‘The Breaker’ Morant, isn’t great literature but it’s a great story based on true events. Bruce Beresford’s film takes up the plot.
The story unfolds at the end of the 19th century in the Australian bush, when men were men and women glad of it, as they say. And these blokes knew a lot about horses and bushcraft. With the call for volunteers to join Her Majesty’s forces in quelling the Boer uprising in South Africa, plenty of our lads went off for adventure in that faraway land. Thus began an Australian military tradition that continues to this day.
Like a preview of later engagements in WWI battlefields the Australians resisted incorporation into the British forces and were eventually formed up into an irregular unit known as the ‘Bushveldt Carbineers’ to use their bush skills. The Boers were fighting ruthlessly from their own homes, on their land and on their terms, with what became known as guerilla tactics. The English high command had unsuccessfully tried to fight them with outmoded set-piece actions. The Australians were authorised to use similar methods of search & destroy with horse-mounted infantry, not cavalry, and orders to take no prisoners.
Eventually Lord Kitchener and his command turned on the Australians and used them as scapegoats for the latter policy. For those unfamiliar with the story, I’ll leave the ending to discover. The book is an easy read but gives plenty of insight into our bush and military ways. And there is a love story of course. The film starring Edward Woodward as The Breaker is a classic.