Synopsis: The Secret River

Date posted: 4 Feb 2016Author: STC Production: The Secret River

The play is set on the Hawkesbury River, between September 1813 and April 1814. The Dharug people who lived there at this time knew the river as Dhirrumbim.



William Thornhill is an English boatman. Having committed a crime of petty theft, he and his wife Sal and two sons, Willie and Dick have been transported to Australia.



The Thornhills set up camp along the Hawkesbury and encounter the Dharug family who live there. Tensions between the two families escalate around access to the land.

The Thornhill and Dharug children become friends and play with one another. Sal reveals she is pregnant. William purchases a rifle.



William gives his son Dick a beating for swimming with the Dharug children. 

Time passes. The Thornhills’ crop of corn has grown successfully. They trade with the Dharug family. Sal becomes seriously ill. Another Englishman, Tom Blackwood, brings his Dharug wife, Dulla Djin, to help Sal recover.

Tensions increase. William visits the camp of Smasher Sullivan to buy dogs. He finds that Smasher has a Dharug woman held against her will.

Violence breaks out repeatedly on both sides. Smasher urges an attack on the Dharug’s camp. William agrees.



Ten years later. Ngalamalum, the one survivor of the massacre, meets William on the same spot by the Hawkesbury.


This synopsis is part of The Secret River program, which also features:

  • notes from Artistic Director Andrew Upton, director Neil Armfield and writer Kate Grenville
  • an essay from Andrew Bovell on adapting The Secret River
  • notes from designers Stephen Curtis and Tess Schofield
  • an essay exploring the history behind The Secret River by Professor Ann McGrath
  • an article on historical garden design by British academic John Barrell
  • biographies and photos of the cast and crew
  • photos from the rehearsal room
  • and much more!

Pick one up at the theatre for only $10


The Secret River, 1 Feb – 20 Feb 2016, Roslyn Packer Theatre

Seeing the show? Let us know your thoughts. Tag @sydneytheatreco and #STCSecretRiver


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Image: Trevor Jamieson in The Secret River (Photo: Heidrun Löhr)