Destiny brought Arthur Upfield (Robert Menzies) and Snowy Rowles (Luke Ford) together. It then flung them apart. Each had something to prove. Each contributed directly to the death of another human being.
Act 1. Inspiration
In the late 1920s Arthur Upfield raked together a living writing crime thrillers and repairing mile after mile of rabbit proof fence. As he trudged the fence line, with a couple of camels for company, he worked up story ideas for his fictional supersleuth, Napoleon Bonaparte (Bony). Upfield needed a new crime for Bony to solve; something that would set him apart from the rest.
Snowy Rowles, meanwhile, was rolling up his swag and strapping
it on the back of his motorcycle. He’d skipped gaol on a burglary
charge and was ready for a new job and a change of face.
When Rowles met Arthur Upfield he struck gold. Upfield was plotting the perfect murder for his fictional character Bony. For Rowles, this was a day and a conversation that was meant to be. He could kill a man and go free.
Act 2. Realisation
Writers aren’t usually accountable for their words. But Upfield was a participant. This was a true murder story of his own making.
His book, The Sands of Windee, was published as the Great Depression started to bite. Upfield returned to Perth, full of anticipation, but a virtual stranger to his wife, Anne (Anni Finsterer), and son he’d left many years before. He was counting on some good book reviews to keep his hopes alive.
Rowles, on the other hand, had little to show for his exploits, except the fancy new Ford he’d stolen from one of his victims. It gave him the status he craved but failed to keep the wolf from the door.
If ever Snowy Rowles needed luck on his side, it was now.
But providence was on the side of Harry Manning (Nicholas Hope), the detective assigned to the case. To Manning’s good fortune, the blueprint for the crime was laid out in print, for anyone to read and enjoy.
Bony’s fictional success became Manning’s reality. Rowles was duly charged with murder.
Act 3. Recrimination
Who says crime doesn’t pay? For Upfield, there appeared much to celebrate. His book became the talk of the town, serialized in the local newspaper. His destiny as a writer was finally validated and his passport to fame and fortune assured.
But where was the glory? What was the cost? Three men already dead and, Snowy, soon to be hanged, would make a fourth.
Snowy Rowles was executed in June 1932. Upfield lived until 1964. He would go on to create over 30 more crime novels and provide the inspiration for several television series. In many ways, he was a man ahead of his time (the concept of an aboriginal detective was truly daring in the 1920’s and crime fiction would become a major force in popular entertainment). Literary acclaim eluded him, though it didn’t seem to matter: he gave the readers exactly what they wanted.