Tenterfield to feature in Breaker Morant 'retrial'

TENTERFIELD will feature in a new documentary series to examine the trial and execution of Harry “The Breaker” Morant and Peter Handcock.

Breaker Morant – The Retrial, a documentary with a budget of more than $1 million, is now in pre-production and will include filming in Tenterfield, the home of Morant’s solicitor and former Tenterfield Star owner James Francis (J. F.) Thomas.

The two-part, two-hour series will be made by Sydney independent production company Film Projects and has been commissioned by Foxtel’s History Channel and international co-partner Sabido Productions in South Africa.

It is being made at the prompting of navy lawyer James Unkles, who has made it his mission to honour J. F. Thomas by continuing his work in defence of Breaker Morant and Peter Handcock.

Mr Unkles said he expected to bring J. F. Thomas’ great-nephew to Tenterfield for the filming which was likely to be scheduled for either late this year or early next year ahead of a planned mid-2013 release of the documentary.

While the series will be partly shot in South Africa and England, Mr Unkles said it was important to include Tenterfield, with J. F. Thomas’ Mt Mackenzie home and the old Tenterfield Star buildings as potential locations.

“I’m very excited,” Mr Unkles said. 

His own proposal to Film Australia was turned down, but Mr Unkles said as he continued his work towards having the case reviewed, he saw the need for a documentary of the story made famous in the 1980 film Breaker Morant.

Mr Unkles and his work pursuing a legal challenge will feature in the documentary.

“The series will examine the controversial trial and sentencing in detail and the refusal of the current Australian government to support the case for review and assist the descendants of these men to get justice,” he said.

“It is my contention that serious legal and procedural flaws denied these men due process and I intend to put that to the test and that will be a focus of the documentary.”

Co-director of Breaker Morant – The Retrial Nick Bleszynski, who wrote the history of Morant – Shoot Straight You Bastards! – said the series had been 110 years in the making.

“There were doubts about the fairness of the trial as soon as the news reached Australia and the court of public opinion has never been satisfied,” he said.

“This series will pull no punches and is shaping as a major TV event that will live long in the memory.”

Co-director and producer Gregory Miller, of Film Projects, said he was delighted the “epic story” was finally going to be told as a documentary.

“Most people know the story through the movie, but there’s a lot more to it than that,” Mr Miller said.

“This series picks up where the film left off.

“The series will also explore Australia’s contribution to the Boer War and why it has become the ‘forgotten war’.

“It was the first conflict in which Australian soldiers left these shores en masse and fired a shot in anger. Federation took place in the middle of the war and the events that followed were the first test of Australian nationhood.”

The house J.F. Thomas lived in at Mt Mackenzie in Tenterfield.

The house J.F. Thomas lived in at Mt Mackenzie in Tenterfield.