Based on Jon Cleary’s novel and directed by Fred Zinneman, a husband and wife and son travel in Australia with an Englishman working as sheep drovers.
A wagon pulled by one horse passes by an automobile going the other way on a dirt road in the country. Paddy Carmody (Robert Mitchum), his wife Ida Carmody (Deborah Kerr), and their son Sean Carmody (Michael Anderson Jr.) stop and see the town of Bulinga. Ida says it looks like the others they have been in. Paddy says she has no imagination, but she complains about her aching backside.
In the evening Sean says goodnight to his mother in the wagon. Ida and Paddy are in a tent, and she tells him to keep his hands off the little money they have left. He finds a hole in his sock, and she tells him to leave it out. She asks if he is going to wash tonight. They get undressed for bed, and she says he has a puny body. While she is washing, he says she is built well. She is glad to know he appreciates her. She blows out the lantern and joins him in bed.
In the morning Ida has pots on the fire with clothes in them. The three admire the farmhouse, but Paddy says it is too small for him. He mentions the worries of a man with a house, but she says those things would happen over ten years. She agrees that nobody has an easy time. She says he would be the first to mortgage a tent, and he enjoys her humor. He gets on his horse and says he will get a man who is a teetotaler. Sean thinks the house looks all right.
Ida tells Sean to find his dad in town, and he goes off walking with a shotgun and the dog. He sees birds in trees. He is about to shoot at two rabbits, but his dog barks. The dog bites the cuff of Rupert Venneker (Peter Ustinov), and Sean gets his dog to let go. Rupert assumes Sean’s father is British, but Sean says he is Irish. Sean says his father is a drover. Outside a house a woman invites Rupert for dinner. Rupert gets in his buggy and offers Sean a ride to town.
In a saloon drunk Paddy is at the bar singing. The buggy arrives, and Sean hears his father and says he must have got the job. Sean comes into the crowded saloon and asks his father to go home. Paddy says he got the job. Sean asks if he hired a drover with horses, and Paddy tells him to go home and leave it to him. Sean goes out on the porch, and Rupert asks him about his father. Sean says he is the one singing. Rupert asks how much his father weighs. Rupert has Sean hold his beer and goes inside. After a scuffle Rupert comes out with Paddy over his shoulder. The dog bites Rupert’s cuff, and men follow him. Rupert puts Paddy in his buggy and tries to get the dog off his leg. Sean helps. A sheriff arrives blowing a whistle. Someone mentions a “mad dog,” and the people scatter. Sean brings over Paddy’s white horse and ties it to the back of the buggy.
Ida asks sleeping Paddy in the tent when they are supposed to pick up the sheep. She says a conscientious man got him there before sunup. Paddy comes out of the tent and tells Rupert that he does not need a drover. Rupert says he has to move 1,200 sheep and asks who will pull the wagon and suggests Ida. Paddy says he can’t pay him, but Rupert says he can pay him when they get there. Rupert says they are soul mates, and Paddy says he is thinking of chucking the job. Ida says they should keep moving and take the sheep with Mr. Venneker. She walks off, and Rupert apologizes for causing the quarrel. Paddy says they will take him and his horses.
The sheep are being herded out of the corral, and the landowner tells Paddy good luck. Paddy and Rupert ride horses while Ida drives the wagon. The dog helps herd the sheep. Paddy hands a lamb to Sean who is in the back of the wagon. In a meadow Ida and Sean set up a pen that channels the sheep into a fenced area. Paddy and Rupert make sure the sheep go in.
At night while camping Sean asks Rupert about China. Sean says he would like to go there. Rupert says he is younger than Sean thinks. Rupert says he is growing sideward.
The next day they drive the sheep on a mountain, and Sean points out a dingo. Paddy calls him a coward and rides after him. The dingo runs fast and changes directions quickly until Paddy gives up and comes back.
They stop by a farmhouse, and Paddy gets permission to use a paddock. Paddy tells them that Rupert is English. The wife invites Ida to use her stove to make dinner.
Ida takes food out of the oven and serves it at the table. Mrs. Bateman says she likes to stay put.
At night in bed in the tent Ida looks at the money jar. She asks Paddy where they are going after they reach the destination. He does not know. She says Sean wants them to settle down and get their own place. Paddy does not think he wants to be a farmer. Paddy says he has not finished school, but she notes he rarely attends school. She says Paddy is the boss. She complains that Sean knows no one but them. Paddy suggests they talk about it in six months. He says they cannot even afford a fence post.
Sean and Ida are in the wagon on a road followed by the sheep. Paddy sees the smoke from a fire and says they had better get the sheep on the run. He tells Sean they need him and tells Ida to go faster. Sean on foot encourages the sheep to move. Rupert tells Sean to go back to his mother and advises him to cut through the woods. The smoke is getting thicker. Sean gets on the wagon with Ida. Kangaroos are running from the fire. Paddy says the mob is breaking up and that he will turn them back. Paddy gets off his horse and picks up sheep to move them. The fire is getting closer. Rupert is looking for Paddy. The wagon crosses a bridge over a stream, and they stop. Ida says Paddy is still in there. They see the sheep coming on the road with Rupert behind them. He gets off his horse and coughs. Ida asks him where Paddy is. Near the flames Paddy is trying to pull his horse. He covers the horse’s head in a stream, but the horse is resisting. Ida gets on Rupert’s horse and rides off to find Paddy. She rides among burned trees and gets off the horse. She hears a horse whinny and runs to Paddy and embraces him.
At Cawndilla the sheep are in a pen and are being loaded into railroad cars. Paddy gives the paper to a man. Ida sees a young woman sitting in the train, and the train begins to move. Paddy joins her on the wagon and hands her the cash he got. She is crying, and he asks what is the matter; but she says nothing.
The four go into a hotel, and Mrs. Firth (Glynis Johns) comes out and asks if they have been waiting long. Paddy says they are leaving tomorrow. Mrs. Firth says she always wanted to travel. Ida says they want a hot bath, and Mrs. Firth leads her up the stairs. Sean goes out to get the baggage. Rupert says they are splitting up, and Paddy and he argue over who will pay for the drinks.
Outside in the town Ida tells Sean they could hire sheep shearers there. He says they could get their own place and that he wants it. She says they just need to get the money.
Inside Mrs. Firth is playing piano and leads the singing of “The Lime-Juice Tub.” Ida plays piano, and Rupert dances with Mrs. Firth. Paddy asks Rupert to come to Queensland with them. Rupert says he is considering the possibilities of Cawndilla, and Mrs. Firth asks if he means her. Paddy says one night will do them. Sean says he is going to bed, and Paddy says they will be leaving early in the morning.
The next day in the street Ida tells Paddy what they could do with the money. Sean says that Rupert is coming with them, but Rupert says he is staying with Mrs. Firth.
They join the shearers who are filling out applications. Paddy talks to Quinlan (Chips Rafferty) who asks how well he can do. He is modest, but Ida says that Paddy can do more than 200 sheep a day. They say the record is 248. Quinlan says he has a job, but Paddy says they are a team. Quinlan says they need a cook and a roller. Ida says that Rupert can be roller and that she can cook. Quinlan says he won’t hire a woman. She asks him to consult the workers, and he calls them over. The workers discuss it, and they decide to give her a chance.
In the hotel Mrs. Firth and Ida serve the soup to the men at the table. They slurp it and sigh.
Quinlan is driving a truck with Ida in the front seat and the workers in the back. They nearly run into another truck of shearers when two roads come together. The men get out and argue. A fist fight begins and spreads. Ida tells them to get aboard because the war is over. The men get back in the trucks which go down the road. Paddy admits he has a good fist, but another man was a middleweight boxer. The truck stops at a farmhouse where there are sheep.
In the barracks the worker Bluey Brown (John Meillon) is writing a letter and says he is going to have a baby boy, and he wants him to be a cricketer. Sean says this is the first time he has been away from home.
On May 17, 1928 a blackboard keeps count of the sheep sheared by each worker. Paddy tells Sean that his job is to bring the bucket of dip. They meet the boss Mr. Halstead and begin shearing the wool off the sheep with electric razors. Paddy is the first to finish a sheep, and he gets another.
Inside Ida tells the boss’s wife Jean Halstead (Dina Merrill) to come in. Ida says this is the first kitchen she has had to call her own, and she calls it heaven. Jean admits she was a society girl, and Ida says she does not look married. Jean says she does not feel married, and she is trying to get used to it there. She complains that she has nothing to do there. Ida says she may be starved for another woman to talk to. She says they come with the men and end up looking like the sheep. Ida says she has time to talk to her.
That night in their tent Ida massages Paddy’s back, and she tells him that Jean is unhappy. Paddy asks her to tell him what women like. She kisses him, and he says they do everything there by the bell.
In the morning the bell starts the day. Ida cleans the stove. She has Paddy give her the money he got, and she puts it in the jar.
Rupert asks Mrs. Firth for beer.
Jean comes in with pregnant Liz Brown (Lola Brooks) who asks if the men will let her stay. Jean says she will find out and goes out. Ida goes out too, and Sean gives Liz a cup of tea. He sits down and looks at her. Liz says she must look awful, but he says she looks good. He asks if she is going to have the baby now. Bluey comes running in to see his wife. Halstead complains about how they are running the ship.
At the dining table men are eating, and Sean gives Ida a letter from the Batemans. She reads the letter while the men talk about the greasy sheep. A bell rings, and they get up to go to work. Paddy lags behind and says they can start without him while he has a cup of tea with Ida. He says they have not talked all week. He invites her to go to town with him on Saturday night. He asks her for ten shillings and persuades her to agree. He goes out as Rupert comes in and tells Ida that he is still free. He asks why her husband seems so cheerful. They realize he does not like routine.
During a break Sean ladles out water for the workers. Rupert suggests they have a contest because Paddy is the fastest shearer he has ever seen. The men express willingness to risk their money on him.
On Saturday night Paddy sees shearers standing around. Quinlan is taking them into town, and he says he will fix up the shearing contest with the other group. Paddy says he is taking his wife out. Sean says that Rupert is taking him to a play with live actors.
Paddy goes in the building and asks Ida why she is not dressed. She gets up and goes out followed by Paddy. She says she can’t go because Liz is too close. She says no one else knows what to do. He says he understands. He suggests they stay there, but she says Liz is coming over with her knitting to talk with her. The truck stops, and a worker urges Paddy to come with them. Ida also urges him, and he gets in the truck.
In the saloon drunk Bluey says it is will be a boy. Quinlan says he will bet 20 quid. The boxer tells an opponent that he was leading with his right. They demonstrate, and the man knocks down the boxer. Rupert and Sean come in, and Rupert says Sean fell in love with the leading lady. Rupert tells Mrs. Firth he is in love with her. Sean asks Paddy why he is alone. Jack Patchogue comes in and asks Mrs. Firth how she is doing. She introduces him to Rupert, and Jack is jealous of him. She tells Jack that what she does in her spare time is her affair. Rupert says he is going next door. Paddy tells Sean to have a beer with him, and he orders a small beer.
Halstead on the phone tells them to send the doctor there as soon as they can. He hangs up and tells Jean and Ida that the doctor is over at the Jamison place. Ida says the baby is coming and that Liz will do all right because she is a strong girl. Halstead calls the pub, but a drunk answers and hangs up.
Liz is in bed and tells Jean and Ida that it is starting to hurt. Liz says she wants Bluey with her. Ida says it is all right. Jean says she will go into town and bring him back.
Jean enters the saloon and asks where Bluey is. Paddy takes her to him. Bluey is drunk and sitting on the floor. She says Liz wants him, and Paddy picks him up and says he is having a baby. They help Bluey to walk.
The truck returns with the drunk workers in the back. Jean says she will help Ida. Paddy and the other men help Bluey. Ida tells them to get him sobered up. Sean says he had his first beer, and Ida slaps Paddy.
Ida tells Liz to push harder. She has Jean hold Liz’s hands, and Ida says she will pull. Ida comes out and tells Bluey to go in and say hello to his son. He staggers out to tell the fellows. Jean comes in and asks what they are talking about. Halstead kisses her.
In the morning Paddy says Ida is up early. She says she is sorry about last night, and he apologizes about Sean. He says he is turning in his time and that they are leaving on Saturday. He says they have been there six weeks. He complains they never see each other there, but she says they need the money to get a home she wants. He says he told her that they would have to keep on the move. She says she is getting older and is scared. She is trying to look ahead, but he says he is going on Saturday with her and Sean or without them.
Outside the workers tell Paddy that the contest is set up, but Paddy says they can get someone else. The workers wonder what they will tell the Mulgrues.
Sean goes in and tells Ida that Paddy is refusing to be in the contest set up for Saturday; but she says he is leaving on Saturday, and they are going with him. She tells Sean that she will always choose to go with Paddy.
Sean finds Paddy lying down in the tent and asks him why he is leaving rather than being in the contest. He says they called him a dingo. Sean calls him a dingo for running out on mom and him. Paddy gets up but refrains from hitting him. Sean says the men are there.
Paddy comes out of the tent. Rupert says they have a new plan to raise money for a worthy cause such as Bluey’s baby. Paddy says that changes his mind. Mrs. Firth comes over and invites them to a party in honor of Bluey’s baby and Paddy, the people’s choice. She asks Rupert to walk her to the car, and he does so. Paddy tells Ida that since he is staying for the contest, he might as well stay for the end of the season. Ida offers him food, and he puts his arm around her.
At the shearing contest Paddy comes in with Rupert and Quinlan. Herb Johnson (Wylie Watson) comes in and says he is the challenger, but he says he is the worst man they have. Rupert tells Paddy that 290 will do it. Johnson gives his false teeth to Wilson to hold for him. They think the Mulgrues must be daffy to put up a man in his eighties. Paddy places a bet. Halstead announces the rules and says the score will be kept by Quinlan and Wilson. The bell rings, and the Paddy and Johnson start shearing. They finish the first sheep at the same time. At the end of two hours they each have done 61. They drink water, and a man wipes the sweat off Paddy while Johnson smokes his pipe. Paddy says he is not human. Sean says he can’t keep it up. After the short break the bell rings again. In the second session they each do 65. Men carry Paddy out of the building and set him down on a bench. Sean says he has an hour and urges Paddy to lie down. Rupert says that would give Johnson a psychological edge. Johnson comes walking out, and Paddy says he is going to lie down in the tent and admits he is psychologically licked.
At the end of the contest Johnson has 231 to 210 for Paddy. The men settle the bets. Outside Paddy tells Bluey he is sorry he did not win for his boy. Johnson puts his money in his hat and thanks them for asking them.
Ida tells Sean that the farm in Bulinga is still for sale for £2,000.
In the saloon Ida asks the men who is for peeling potatoes. Quinlan comes in and invites the men to play a game of two-up, and they all run out. The women realize they will peel the potatoes.
The men are betting as they toss two coins. Sean bets too.
While Mrs. Firth, Jean, and Ida peel potatoes, they talk about the gambling. Paddy comes in and asks for beer. Mrs. Firth tells a man that he can have a room, and Paddy introduces himself to him and offers to take care of his horses.
Paddy goes out and admires the white horse.
At the game Sean tells Paddy that he won four quid, and he offers Paddy a loan. Paddy borrows one quid and wins.
Mrs. Firth says she gets drunk now and then as an example to the customers.
Paddy bets two and wins again. He wins another time, and Ida comes in and says the food is ready. They say Paddy has won 17 times in a row, and he has 200 quid. The gambler says he has no more money, but Paddy bets him against the race horse. He wins again, and Ida realizes they have the money too to buy the farm.
Paddy and Sean watch the horse run around the corral. Paddy says since he was a kid, what he wanted was a horse like that. Sean rides the race horse as others watch. Ida says he is a beauty and asks what he will do with him. Paddy says they will race him around there and see how he does. Ida suggests they go to Bulinga. Rupert says he was brought up with English horses. Paddy says they will be traveling again but this time as race-horse owners. They think of names, and Ida suggests Sundowner. Rupert asks what that means because he has been called that. Sean explains it means someone who does not have a home.
Rupert sits down at the dining table, and Ida pours tea for him. She asks what he is going to do about Mrs. Firth, but he says he is going to say goodbye to her. She says she will be better off without him. He does not feel that happy right now. He says a man becomes attached when he finds people who belong together like Paddy and she do.
Outside Bluey hands the baby to Liz. Bluey and Sean see the dog running back to the cookhouse. Bluey tells Sean that he hopes his kid turns out like him. Mrs. Firth tells Rupert that they had a lot of fun. She tells him to drop in again some time and take his chances. Ida says she couldn’t pin him down. Sean ties the race horse to the wagon. Quinlan leaves with a truck full of men.
A band plays at a desert race track. Sean is riding Sundowner while Paddy and Ida watch. In the race Sundowner takes the lead and increases it, winning by five lengths.
The wagon travels across country. At a farmhouse Paddy shows off Sundowner. Paddy hears about a farm, and Ida says the Bulinga place is still for sale. Paddy says he got Sundowner just in time before she got him pinned under a mortgage.
By a river Rupert is getting undressed.
Ida uses a key to open the door of the house. She, Paddy, and Sean look around the empty house. She likes the stove, and Sean says there are two bedrooms. Sean suggests they stay there tonight, but Paddy says it does not belong to them. He asks how much it costs, and she says it is 2,000. She suggests they risk some more money on Sundowner. She says this is a good place for raising horses, but he says it is getting stuck. He admits it makes sense and says yes. He is going into town to get their bets down. He asks for 50, and she gives it to him. He says he will be back as soon as he can and goes out. Sean asks her if he means it, and she is excited and says they can stay in the house.
Ida is waiting at the table and hears something. She goes out in the dark and finds Paddy sitting on the porch. He says he lost all the money in two-up by writing IOUs. She goes in the house. He finds her in the bedroom and says he must have hated both of them. He says he only meant to get drunk, but he will make it up to her. She is crying and tells him not to talk about it.
In the morning Ida and Sean come out of the house and put their things in the wagon. Rupert says he has about £100. She gives Paddy the jar of money and says he will need it to settle his IOUs. He says they will have £50 if Sundowner wins the race.
Sean is on Sundowner and nods to his parents. He has trouble controlling the horse and gets a very bad start and is running last. Paddy says he is catching up, and Sundowner passes all the horses to take the lead. In the stretch another horse moves up, but Sundowner wins. Sean comes over, and they congratulate him. Paddy says he made a deal for Sundowner that gives them £400, but Ida says she does not want him to sell the horse. They argue. A man announces a protest has been lodged over the last race. Sean is ordered to report to the steward’s room. The man announces that the protest was upheld, and Sundowner was disqualified for interference. Paddy shouts who is running the racetrack. Ida laughs and says they both lost their chances to be noble. They all laugh. A man comes over and offers 25 quid for the horse. Ida says he is not for sale, and Paddy says she is the boss.
They move on in the wagon with Rupert riding along.
This family drama depicts the Australian countryside and the sheep business. The story is charming and quite positive in that people have loving relationships and manage to settle the conflicts with communication.