YOU’LL SEE CHANGES IN PEARL BAY

BUT IN THIS RE­BOOT, THERE’S ENOUGH OF THE ORIG­I­NAL SEACHANGE WITH ENOUGH OF A RE­FRESH TO TAKE YOU ON AN­OTHER FLIGHT TO A SANER LIFE

Life & Style Weekend - - BIG READ - WORDS: SEANNA CRONIN

It may have only aired for three sea­sons, but Seachange left its mark on Aus­tralian view­ers.

The beloved com­edy drama and its colour­ful cast of char­ac­ters be­came a fix­ture in fam­ily lounge rooms and a topic of con­ver­sa­tion around the wa­ter cooler.

An un­prece­dented rat­ings suc­cess for the ABC, Seachange won a swag of awards, ce­mented Sigrid Thorn­ton’s sta­tus as one of TV’S lead­ing ladies and launched the ca­reer of David Wen­ham as quirky Diver Dan.

Even if you didn’t grow up watch­ing the show, its ti­tle has be­come part of the cul­tural ver­nac­u­lar.

Lawyer Laura Gordon’s hasty move to Pearl Bay in­spired a gen­er­a­tion to con­sider leav­ing the fast pace of the city be­hind for a more re­laxed life­style in one of re­gional Aus­tralia’s many coastal havens.

Now, 20 years later, it’s the show it­self that is en­joy­ing a come­back and its own sea change.

Orig­i­nally filmed in Mel­bourne and Gee­long’s Bar­won Heads, Chan­nel 9’s re­boot – with cre­ator Deb­o­rah Cox back at the helm – has moved north to Brunswick Heads, By­ron Bay’s quaint neigh­bour in the North­ern Rivers.

“The orig­i­nal in­tent was to film up here but 20 years ago there wasn’t quite the in­fra­struc­ture and sup­port base there is now. But now, 20 years on, here we are,” pro­ducer Fiona Eag­ger says dur­ing a visit to the set, which on this par­tic­u­lar day in­cludes Brunswick’s Toka­rina Beach and a high-set house on Park St.

“It’s fab­u­lous. You don’t have to cheat and pre­tend you’re by the sea when you’re not.

“The orig­i­nal Seachange was filmed out of Mel­bourne. Part of it was in Bar­won Heads, part of it was in Gordon Street Stu­dios and there was a mish­mash of Wil­liamstown and St Leonards. It was a patch­work to cre­ate Pearl Bay.

“The orig­i­nal was very well filmed and it was clever the way they filmed, but now we’re in the North­ern Rivers we don’t have to pre­tend.”

Sigrid Thorn­ton is cer­tainly smil­ing as she soaks up the win­ter sun. She’s days away from wrap­ping the 12-week shoot, and just in time too, with Splen­dour in the Grass rev­ellers pour­ing into town.

“A lot of the cast and crew are lo­cals, but there’s a num­ber of us who are Mel­bour­nites too and we are par­tic­u­larly happy,” she says. “It’s a won­der­ful way to spend the win­ter.”

Thorn­ton’s re­turn in this mod­ern re­vival was cru­cial. She’s back as Laura Gordon, but

this time she’s also an ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer.

“I didn’t think about it for that long. I’m an in­stinc­tive per­son and my in­stincts told me it was a good idea,” she says.

“I thought from the start there was a lot we could do with a new series. Also, I wanted to have a seat at the ta­ble. That’s been a re­ally in­ter­est­ing learn­ing curve and re­ally re­ward­ing.

“This is a show that is timely and per­ti­nent and still in the busi­ness of dis­cussing so­ci­o­log­i­cal phe­nom­ena but also with re­ally deeply per­sonal sto­ries. I thought there was a lot of scope in the propo­si­tion and my main fo­cus has been to find the heart of the orig­i­nal series and to pop­u­late the town of Pearl Bay with an ex­cit­ing, al­chemic, di­verse cast of char­ac­ters.”

So where do we find Pearl Bay and its in­hab­i­tants two decades on?

Well, the bridge into town is still a stick­ing point. But now it’s lo­cal ra­dio host Ri­ley Bolt (Wayne Blair) mon­i­tor­ing who comes in and out of town.

Laura’s fiercely in­de­pen­dent daugh­ter Mi­randa (Brooke Satch­well) is all grown up and fight­ing to pre­serve this lit­tle slice of par­adise as a park ranger. But she has a big se­cret – a child on the way that Laura knows noth­ing about.

Kevin is still in charge of the car­a­van park, which has had a much-needed update, and dodgy real es­tate agent Bob Jelly is back to his schem­ing ways de­spite just get­ting out of prison.

Ben (Dan Wylie) is the owner of the lo­cal pub and Anna (Ka­t­rina Milo­se­vic) is do­ing her best to show overzeal­ous young cop Lil­lian (Kate Lis­ter) that polic­ing a small town re­quires a soft touch.

“You have to think care­fully of why you would go back. Why would you touch it?” Fiona says. “There was enough from our point of view about com­mu­nity, di­ver­sity and ac­cep­tance that it felt like a good time to bring back some­thing that cel­e­brates peo­ple and how you can be very dif­fer­ent peo­ple in the com­mu­nity but you can learn to get on.”

For Brooke, it felt like the pow­ers to be steered her to­wards the pro­ject.

“When the au­di­tion came up I was ac­tu­ally in the mid­dle of mov­ing house – it had been this epic move as I was work­ing at the same time – and the prospect of pre­par­ing for an au­di­tion was a lit­tle beyond me at that point,” she says.

“It was the day the mov­ing truck was com­ing and I was sit­ting around all these boxes and I’m meant to be at this au­di­tion and I was think­ing ‘Oh God, Oh God’ and some­thing in my gut said you just have to get there, and I’m so glad I did.

“There have been so many co­in­ci­den­tal and serendip­i­tous things hap­pen­ing that made it re­ally feel like we were sup­ported in do­ing this.”

She and Sigrid have formed a close friend­ship while play­ing mother and daugh­ter on screen.

Their re­u­nion, after a lengthy es­trange­ment, is at the heart of this new series.

“WE’VE TRAV­ELLED 20 YEARS FUR­THER ... BUT LIKE ALL THINGS IN LIFE SOME THINGS HAVE PRO­GRESSED AND SOME THINGS HAVE RE­GRESSED. YOU’LL RECOG­NISE IT IM­ME­DI­ATELY; IT’S FAM­ILY, IT’S COM­MU­NITY, IT’S BE­LONG­ING.”

“Laura’s been in Africa do­ing aid work and prior to that she was in Lon­don, so there is an es­trange­ment of sorts,” Brooke says.

“Laura thought she was re­spect­ing Mi­randa’s wishes to stay with her fa­ther in Pearl Bay, and Mi­randa thought her mother was dump­ing her – that old chest­nut – and those pat­terns have per­pet­u­ated and ex­panded as these two women have moved through life.

“The con­cep­tion of the child is an is­sue it­self sto­ry­line wise. Mi­randa has a lot of shame and guilt around that, and it was eas­ier in the ini­tial stages to not bring in other opin­ions. She’s very com­part­men­talised and very good at de­nial for such an open-hearted, save-the-world type of per­son.”

Mi­randa finds an­other na­ture lover in ma­rine bi­ol­o­gist Find­lay Knox (Dar­ren Mcmullen), who is em­ployed as an en­vi­ron­men­tal consultant by a sand min­ing com­pany.

He swims into town to ad­dress com­mu­nity con­cerns.

“I didn’t re­ally un­der­stand how big a deal it was un­til after I got the role, and luck­ily enough be­cause that pres­sure wasn’t on ini­tially,” Dar­ren says.

“It was only when I got the role and I was telling peo­ple what I was do­ing peo­ple said they’d say ‘Oh my God, I love that show so much. I’m so glad it’s com­ing back’.

“It’s one of the best roles I’ve ever done in my life.”

There will be the in­evitable com­par­isons be­tween Find­lay and Wen­ham’s Diver Dan.

“He’s a ma­rine sci­en­tist and bi­ol­o­gist, so he’s quite in­tel­li­gent but emo­tion­ally stupid – es­pe­cially when deal­ing with hu­mans in a ro­man­tic sense,” he says. “He’s more com­fort­able with an­i­mals and na­ture than he is with hu­man be­ings. He’s a salt of the earth kind of guy who’s hap­pi­est in his scuba suit div­ing un­der the wa­ter.”

She may be lead­ing the cast of fresh faces, but Brooke as­sures re­turn­ing fans that there’s enough of the orig­i­nal DNA of Seachange to make them feel at home.

“What’s been re­ally ben­e­fi­cial is hav­ing so many orig­i­nal cast mem­bers re­turn­ing for the re-imag­in­ing; that pro­vides a touch­stone for us,” she says.

“It’s still very much in the ter­ri­tory of mag­i­cal re­al­ism. It has that whimsy and that heart. Yes, we’ve trav­elled 20 years fur­ther in time, but like all things in life some things have pro­gressed and some things have re­gressed.

“You’ll recog­nise it im­me­di­ately; it’s fam­ily, it’s com­mu­nity, it’s be­long­ing.”

Seachange pre­mieres on Tues­day at 8.40pm on Nine.

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