Director Fred Schepisi is working with Jan Sardi on the adaptation of Kate Grenville's novel The Secret River. While a script has yet to be written, the Australian producers have announced they have acquired the three-year option.

'It is a landmark book and we just wanted it known how excited we are about bringing it to the screen,' said Stephen Luby, who is producing with Mark Ruse, his partner in Melbourne-based Ruby Entertainment, and Schepisi. Palace Films are supporting the project.

The film is set in Australia's convict past: it tells how a young family was transported to Sydney as convicts from the slums of London in 1806 and go on to win their freedom and become landowners. But it also tells the difficulty of surviving in the harsh land and the brutal clash between the white newcomers and Australia 's original black residents.

'Hopefully we can make the film give people the experience they get in the book of what is really behind the sometimes very fraught relationship between black and white,' said Luby. 'But it is also the whole compelling story of life in the frontier. It is the essence of what began the contemporary Australian soul and that is what attracted me.'

Schepisi also made a film in 1978 about the early conflict between black and white in The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith.