tele­vi­sion: All Aussie drama in Red­fern Now ...................

The ABC’s new Abo­rig­i­nal drama se­ries is a great op­por­tu­nity for the in­dige­nous cre­ative community to be brave, writes Guy Davis

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - PLAY -

ON a tram, train or bus, you’ll see ev­ery eth­nic­ity un­der the sun and the con­duc­tor will usu­ally be white, says ac­tor and di­rec­tor Wayne Blair.

‘‘But if you see a tram or train on TV, the pas­sen­gers will all be white and the con­duc­tor will be Asian or In­dian or what­ever. So we’re just try­ing to turn things on their head a lit­tle here.’’

Blair is talk­ing about the ground­break­ing new ABC se­ries Red­fern Now, the first ini­tia­tive by the broad­caster’s In­dige­nous Depart­ment.

A minis­eries from renowned pro­duc­tion house Black­fella Films ( Mabo), it fol­lows a va­ri­ety of dif­fer­ent sto­ries in the in­ner-city sub­urb of Red­fern, with ev­ery episode writ­ten, di­rected and pro­duced by Abo­rig­i­nal artists. The in­dige­nous lineup in­cludes Deb­o­rah Mail­man, Leah Pur­cell, Jimi Bani and Kel­ton Pell.

‘‘We have as­sem­bled an as­ton­ish­ingly tal­ented team of in­dige­nous writ­ers and di­rec­tors and some of the best ac­tors in the coun­try to cre­ate what we think will be some of the most pow­er­ful, heart­felt and dra­matic tele­vi­sion of the year,’’ Black­fella Films’ Dar­ren Dale says.

So what is the re­ac­tion of Blair, di­rec­tor of the big-screen hit The Sap­phires, to the de­vel­op­ment of a se­ries like Red­fern Now? ‘‘Well, it’s about time,’’ he says. ‘‘But it’s also a chance for our cre­ative community to be brave and bold.

‘‘In­dige­nous projects have been on the up. We’ve al­ways known we’ve been do­ing great stuff, but now it’s fi­nally be­ing recog­nised by the wider community.

‘‘I hope peo­ple who watch pro­grams such The Slap or even over­seas shows like Break­ing Bad will recog­nise that this drama is just as pow­er­ful and af­fect­ing.’’

The creators of Red­fern Now are pre­dom­i­nantly Abo­rig­i­nal but there are a few Cau­casians in the mix, some on the screen, some be­hind the scenes.

One is Jimmy McGovern, the ac­claimed UK screen­writer of such iconic se­ries as Cracker. McGovern is on board as story pro­ducer, help­ing in­dige­nous writ­ers with the me­chan­ics of sto­ry­telling.

He calls the project ‘‘the most in­ter­est­ing thing I’ve been in­volved in’’.

It was his friend­ship with Aus­tralian writer Mac Gud­geon that led McGovern to con­duct work­shops with Abo­rig­i­nal writ­ers. Sally Ri­ley, head of the ABC’s In­dige­nous Depart­ment, then re­cruited him to help out on Red­fern Now.

‘‘I think ev­ery­one in­volved thought it would be eas­ier if it wasn’t a white Aus­tralian in the role, so I went along know­ing noth­ing about Abo­rig­i­nal his­tory, noth­ing about the sub­tleties and nu­ances of Abo­rig­i­nal life and I blun­dered my way through, of­fend­ing peo­ple left and right and act­ing like an ig­no­rant Pom,’’ McGovern says.

‘‘I think I was a good choice, not be­cause of what I knew, but be­cause of what I didn’t know.’’

With­out pre-con­ceived no­tions about Abo­rig­i­nal so­ci­ety, McGovern con­cen­trated on ‘‘rip­ping the sto­ries to shreds, ex­am­in­ing them from all an­gles and putting them back to­gether’’.

‘‘I never wrote a word of any of the scripts,’’ McGovern says. ‘‘I was help­ful with the build­ing blocks of the sto­ries, the cause and con­se­quence, but that was as far as my in­volve­ment went.’’

He felt a con­nec­tion be­tween his own work­ing-class roots and the at­ti­tude of Red­fern Now’s char­ac­ters.

‘‘I think we share a great sus­pi­cion of author­ity, a mis­chievous sense of hu­mour and an ir­rev­er­ent out­look on life .’’

For Kel­ton Pell, star of Tim Win­ton’s Cloud­street, a role in Red­fern Now is more than just a job; it’s a priv­i­lege.

‘‘When I was grow­ing up, you never saw a black­fella on TV,’’ says Pell, who plays the ti­tle role in Red­fern Now’s third episode, Ray­mond.

‘‘The first ones I saw on tele­vi­sion were David Gulpilil and Tom E. Lewis and they were my idols. They were my in­spi­ra­tion. Watch­ing them on that lit­tle screen . . . wow. It made me proud, and ev­ery Abo­rig­i­nal per­son I knew was just as proud. So that’s some­thing I’m try­ing to carry on to­day. I’m hon­oured to be a mes­sen­ger for my peo­ple.’’

What’s more, Pell – like ev­ery­one as­so­ci­ated with Red­fern Now – views the show as the be­gin­ning.

‘‘What we are do­ing is por­tray­ing life,’’ he says. ‘‘I’ve lived this but it’s great to be able to por­tray it and share it with the rest of Aus­tralia and the world. This is one great big step up and we’re go­ing to continue step­ping up.’’

Red­fern Now: Thursdays,

8.30pm, ABC1.

Red­fern Now star Kel­ton Pell.

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