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
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,