the Goddess of Wheat Street
Shari Sebbens shines on after The Sapphires
SHARI Sebbens gives a raucous chuckle, and goes there. “Gods of Wheat Street has been described as an Aboriginal Neighbours or Home and Away,” the indigenous actor laughs.
“But on set, we were calling it Black to the Rafters.”
The role of Isolde Freeburn in the six-part series is another delightful study in contradiction for the actress who, despite her proud indigenous heritage, always thought she’d have to “play white”.
“I’m the white sheep of the family,” chuckles Sebbens, whose mum is of Jabirr Jabirr and Bardi heritage and dad is Sydney-born and of English descent.
“I definitely take after my dad, looks-wise.
“It had never occurred to me that my colour – or lack of it – was an issue for some people, but then I moved to Sydney and apparently it was.
“People look at me and don’t see what they think is a typical Aboriginal. Thankfully, my mother raised me well in knowing where I come from and who I am and I’m proud of that.
“I’ve never been one to bow down to people who try to question my identity because I don’t fit their mould of what an Aboriginal Australian is supposed to be or look like.”
Sebbens, 29, blasted into the spotlight when, fresh out the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA), she landed a role in 2012 hit movie The Sapphires.
The film saw her cast alongside fellow-Darwinites – Jessica Mauboy and close friend Miranda Tapsell – and the woman who inspired her acting career, Deborah Mailman.
It also saw Sebbens – who grew up in Darwin, Broome, and Nuhulunbuy – “a little town of about 4000 in Arnhem Land” – pinching herself when she landed on the red carpet in Cannes.
Sebbens has since calmly collected the 2013 Logie for Most Outstanding New Talent after a stunning turn in award-winning ABC series Redfern Now.
Sebbens has little time for distinguishing between indigenous and nonindigenous drama – she just wants to do good work, and believes we are nudging closer to the time “good indigenous” drama finally has the label it deserves “of just good drama”.
Gods of Wheat Street follows the fortunes of the Freeburn family, with Odin (Kelton Pell) left at the head of the family after their mother passes away. It focusses on their dramas, loves, challenges, family connections (hence the Black to the Rafters comparisons), and also has a spiritual bent, with Odin’s special connection with their departed mother.
“The beauty for me is in the spirituality and the spirit of the show,” says Sebbens.
“I’ve realised the stories of our lost ones are about our connection to our loved ones.”
Logically, it makes sense to Sebbens, but in practice, she confesses, “I am shit-scared of that stuff”.
“I’m a believer but an unsettled one,” she laughs.
“I think it has something to do with the fact that my grandmother always told me she would come back and tickle my feet at night time when she passed away.
“She hasn’t gotten me yet. But I keep the blanket over my feet at night, no matter how hot it is.”
Bitten by the drama bug at 11, Sebbens’ parents backed her dream.
“Mum didn’t have an easy time growing up, nor did Dad, but they backed me all the way,” she says.
“I was talking to Miranda (Tapsell) about that and maybe it’s the fact our mothers were told the only thing they could do was be cleaners or domestics.
“I guess they never ever wanted to do that to anybody else, especially their own children.”
GODS OF WHEAT STREET SATURDAY, 8.30PM, ABC1