Advance Australia fare

Advance Australia fare

It's been a big year for Important Television. The period crime genre has broadened out to Historically Significant Drama - Preferably Featuring Hair Like Ben Affleck's in Argo. For Australian storytelling, after years of saying nothing about ourselves, in our own vernacular, suddenly we're babbling like guests on Ellen.

Remember when All the Rivers Run ran, and suddenly the wardrobe from Picnic at Hanging Rock was turning up nearly every Sunday night on the ABC? We were all riding horses and wondering about our inner bushrangers. Well, we've moved on. Having graduated from the Man from Snowy River era, we're madly telling recent tales of vast local resonance. Mabo, Howzat!, Puberty Blues, Beaconsfield, Underbelly, Curtin, Dangerous Remedy, Paper Giants, Underground: The Julian Assange Story, Killing Time. That's a lot of local content for one little, mostly indifferent nation to swallow. Our relatively recent history is a source of nostalgia and fascination.

Pride before the fall &#8230; Deborah Mailman and Kelton Pell in <i>Redfern Now</i>.

Pride before the fall … Deborah Mailman and Kelton Pell in Redfern Now.

Devil's Dust (ABC1, Sunday, Monday, 8.30pm) is the latest instalment. A period drama, spanning decades, it promises a short walk to the Logies podium next year for all the blokes who missed out on a gig in Howzat! An ABC drama about an ABC journalist, Devil's Dust is our very own cross between Erin Brockovich and All the President's Men. And we've had the good sense to keep actors who look like Julia Roberts and Robert Redford out of it.

In the lead role, the amazing Anthony Hayes not only ages, but matures. Nothing about the young Bernie, as we met him in the beginning of Devil's Dust, dropped any clues about a future in activism and advocacy for a group that, by its very nature, could only dwindle, not grow.


Devil's Dust ticks so many boxes of current relevance. It's all about fat cats in big business abusing a whole lot of decent, hard-working, plain-speaking men who all look like Anthony Hayes. (Casting presented me with a real problem in the first episode.) Like Mabo, this was a news story that appeared to run for our entire lives, that perhaps only those personally affected could follow thoroughly. And like Mabo, a lot of flawed, not-entirely sympathetic characters find themselves as unlikely leaders and heroes. That is becoming a recurring theme as we reflect upon our recent true stories. Perhaps we are still a pack of scrappy bushrangers, after all.

Redfern Now (ABC1, Thursdays, 8.30pm) is probably as important as any drama produced this year. This is really mature and clever storytelling with the strangest taste of an old O. Henry morality tale. In last week's episode, Kelton Pell and Deborah Mailman were perfectly matched as an apparently successful, highly respected couple in the Redfern community. A father of four with a lovely wife, he was something of a poster boy for the upwardly mobile indigenous man. The small matter of diddling Centrelink out of 60 grand shouldn't have presented any impediment to his collecting an important award for community service, right? Well, pride and falls and prejudice and paranoia came into play with real dramatic intricacy.

We should not be surprised that such subtle stories about such particular relationships are being told by indigenous actors and filmmakers. It's just that work of this quality simply isn't turning up anywhere else, with the possible exception of Tangle, which was a long time, and a whole lot of white people, ago.

The Important Television genre provides a welcome counterpoint to the Blonde Reality genre. Important TV is predominantly, not exclusively, the domain of powerful game-changing men. In the opposite corner, we've got Brynne, Lara and a whole lot of nasty work from The Shire. Surely Ita's story can't be the only one worth telling?

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