Sarah Snook and Oliver Jackson-Cohen in a scene from the TV mini-series The Secret River.
Sarah Snook and Oliver Jackson-Cohen in a scene from the TV mini-series The Secret River. ABC TV

A collision of cultures in the ABC's new mini-series

TWO worlds collide in the ABC's new mini-series The Secret River.

Based on Kate Grenville's award-winning bestselling novel, the mini-series tells the story of William and Sal Thornhill, early convict colonists who lay claim to a plot of land on the remote Hawkesbury River.

The drama, inspired by Grenville's family history, imagines the challenges faced by the colonists and the indigenous Australians they gradually displace.

Sarah Snook plays Sal, who sails from London to NSW to reunite with her husband, who has been sentenced to the far-off colony.

With a child in tow, she gives birth to their second son on the long voyage.

"You think about doing that these days and it's kind of crazy," Snook tells APN.

"We don't have a real idea of what isolation is anymore. We're so connected through the internet.

"They are absolutely having to rely on themselves.

"Even sailing a boat up from Sydney Cove to the Hawkesbury River would have been dangerous."

Inspired by the success of fellow colonist Thomas Blackwood (Lachy Hulme), Will stakes his family's future on the money to be made cultivating the land and ferrying goods up and down the river.

His fiery wife Sal reluctantly leaves behind the safety of colonial Sydney.

"She compromises only because she trusts that he will hold to his promise," she says.

"Her main objective is just keeping the family together.

"It was nice to play a character whose maternal instincts and pride of her family were so strong. She's a housewife who is very bad-ass and courageous."

But settling on a plot of land isn't that simple.

They soon find themselves caught up in the conflict between the river's colonists and the local Aboriginal people.

"A sequence of events leads both sides to make decisions to protect their families and their way of life," she says.

"That's the problem; they just can't come to reasonable and fair agreement with communication. They don't have the same language or any concept of the other side's cultural ideals."

The mini-series also stars Tim Minchin and Trevor Jamieson.

The Secret River debuts tonight at 8.30pm on ABC1.