The Secret River: episode guide

Part 1 | Part 2

Part 2

Sunday, June 21, 2015
Screenplay by Jan Sardi & Mac Gudgeon
Directed by Daina Reid

While Will is away in Sydney, Sal and the children survive a scare with a snake, and encounter an Aboriginal family who set up camp on the other side of the point. This concerns Will on his return, but Sal assures him everything is OK,'They're just like us'.

Soon Will's six-year-old son Dickie befriends a local Aboriginal boy.

When Will has two convicts assigned to him as labourers, any nagging doubts he may have had about his new life soon give way to feelings of superiority and belonging. For the first time in his life, there is someone under him. Sal doesn't mind being called 'Mrs Thornhill' either. For her it's a novelty, but for Will being called 'Mr Thornhill' represents much more — final proof that he is now a gentleman, and has risen above the 'convict stain'.

Now more Aboriginals begin to arrive and set up camp along the riverbank nearby. They seem to ignore the Thornhill family, but Will cannot ignore them. He marches into their camp and confronts the tribal leader Greybeard with his claim to own all the land on 'Thornhill's Point'. The Aboriginals do not understand what Will is saying.

Will sails up a remote branch of the river to seek the advice of the reclusive Thomas Blackwood. 'Give a little if you take a little,' says Blackwood.

Will returns home to see scores more Aboriginals arriving on 'his' point of land, by canoe, and on foot. Something is going on. Will is overcome with fear of losing his hard-won property.

That night, the bush comes alive with the sound of chanting. It builds to a crescendo as Will and his family cower in their hut. Will creeps over to the camp to witness what he finds both the terrifying and enthralling spectacle of a corroboree. Yet in the morning, all is deathly quiet as many of the Aboriginals disperse. An uneasy peace settles over Thornhill's Point.

Two longboats full of redcoats (soldiers) ominously pass through Thornhill's Point on their way to a 'disturbance' upriver. Following the Governor's proclamation that farmers and settlers are entitled to defend their families, a warrant is issued against the 'native raiders'. Blackwood passes on to Will what he has heard — that the Aboriginals, fed up with the insensitivity of the settlers, are now determined to 'drive the snake out of the hole'.

Suddenly, Thornhill himself is under attack. A group of warriors raid his cornfield. His neighbours, the Webbs, are burned out. Smasher Sullivan and other hardliners urge swift retaliation. At a nearby Aboriginal camp, Will makes the gruesome discovery of a whole Aboriginal family poisoned by rat powder. But his compassion for the native victims is soon overwhelmed by rage when a raiding party led by Greybeard sets his own cornfield alight.

Sal's only concern now is for the safety of her young children. She wants to get out while they still can; she is going to pack so they can leave. But Will refuses. He will not be defeated by this intimidation.

Their impasse is interrupted by the arrival of Smasher, pleading for Thornhill's help. Another neighbour, Sagitty, has been speared and they are in need of Thornhill's boat to row him upriver to the physician. On the way, Sagitty dies, and Smasher urges the group of terrified, angry locals, to exact revenge. But they can only do so if Thornhill is prepared to transport them in his boat. 'Get rid of the blacks, and she'll stay', urges one of his convict servants...

And thus Will Thornhill finds himself drawn along by a tide of brutal events. Under pressure from his friends and neighbours, he participates in the massacre of his Aboriginal neighbours. Afterwards, he cannot admit to Sal what he has done, and he never speaks of this atrocity again.

Years later, even though he has achieved all he wanted, with a grand homestead on Thornhill's Point and untold wealth as a colonial gentleman, William Thornhill lives life in the dark shadow of unspoken guilt.