Something Pleasant for My Inner 14-Year Old: Thorn Birds Remembered

Last Thursday I saw Bryan Brown and Rachel Ward walking briskly along Circular Quay.

In 1983 I had only recently taken an interest in Australia when The Thorn Birds was the television-event of the year in the US. There were then only  three commercial networks and a big-deal mini-series was a major media event. A very young Rachel Ward and cassocked Richard Chamberlain featured on all the mainstream magazines: People, US, the TV Guide.

Oh the drama, oh the romance – oh, wait he’s a priest, really?


It was in the accompanying article you’d find Rachel posed with the (nearly if not literally) shirtless Bryan – all chiselled jaw, blue-eyed blokey menace and charm.

They didn't spend a lot on Bryan's wardrobe.
They didn’t spend a lot on Bryan’s wardrobe.

I was 14 and taken with the sweeping romance of the story – now of course, it’d never get made.

You see Father Ralph (Richard Chamberlain) gets in trouble with his superiors in Melbourne for insubordination; he’s sent to be the priest of a large outback station, Drogheda, headed by an inappropriately lustful Irish Catholic matriarch (who takes great pleasure in manipulating all around her).

Not long after Father Ralph’s arrival the matriarch’s brother and his family arrive to work the station – amongst them is four year old Maggie. Father Ralph and Maggie meet when he collects the family from the train station and he carries her to the car. The main arch of the whole sweeping saga is the love story between Maggie and Father Ralph – with the intervening efforts Maggie makes to forget about Ralph by marrying  Luke (Bryan Brown). Like I said – not a story for the 21st century.

When Maggie and Ralph first met ... this is the set up of the Thorn Birds, really.
When Maggie and Ralph first met … this is the set up of the Thorn Birds, really.

By the way, that’s all from memory. It left quite a lasting impression on me.  Bryan and Rachel met on the set and have been together ever since. I’ve had a certain fondness for both of them for 31 years.

In Sydney you see Sydney-people around. The famous don’t hide themselves away and the not-famous will mostly see but not bother the famous amongst us. But I had never seen Bryan and Rachel and it thrilled my inner 14-year old to see them striding hand-in-hand past me in a city we now share.

There’s nothing more to this story.


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