Rarely, very rarely, will a new program engage the viewer from the outset. Such was the effect of Redfern Now. Although I’d seen countless promos in the preceding weeks, one grows sceptical, not wishing to be seduced by the usual hype. But the reverse was the case with the first episode entitled ‘Family’ screened last Thursday. No number of promos could have prepared the viewer for just how riveting this new, indigenous drama series is. If the remaining five episodes are equal to the first, then Redfern Now is required viewing.
Perhaps it’s because I’m a Sydney-sider and, as a uni student, eons ago, walked daily to and from Redfern railway station through The Block and its decaying terraces, but Redfern Now spoke to me. It belatedly fills a gaping chasm in local TV drama production; an examination of the contemporary lives of urban aboriginals and who better to produce it than a company called Blackfella Films. It’s long been such a self-evident truth as to be a cliché that the average Australian knows more aboutUS history and popular culture than they do about our own. This is particularly true when we consider the original, pre-white inhabitants ofAustralia.
Leah Purcell’s character, Grace, is the forty-something mum who holds the entire dysfunctional, extended family together. Warm and strong, she’s mighty impressive in a down-to-earth, totally believable way. Her husband, Wesley (Alec Doomadgee) doesn’t make any decisions because, “she’s never let him”. And their son, Malakai, and daughter, Jasmine, are, in Grace’s own words, spoiled brats. This is a comfortably well-off family living in a double-fronted brick bung on a suburban, quarter-acre block in a quintessential middle-classSydneysuburb complete with late model Volvo station wagon in the driveway.
The episode opens with the family preparing to leave for the airport for a much anticipated family holiday but the phone rings and Grace, hearing her distressed young nephew’s voice, answers it thus setting in train a sequence of events which totally derails the planned holiday. This is the recurring device, the unexpected event which links all six episodes.
Redfern Now is professionally produced, with considerable subtlety and humour and, thanks to the quality of the writing and acting, it is compelling and challenging viewing which should resonate with a contemporary Australian audience. Well done Auntie!
Redfern Now ABC 1, Thursday, 8.30 PM.