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Australia's Aboriginal Cultural Resurgence as New TV Drama Airs

  • Phil Mercer

Aboriginal men perform part of the Woggan-ma-gule ceremony with their contemporary interpretation of a creation story from the Yuin people during Australia Day celebrations in Sydney, Australia, January 26, 2011.

Aboriginal men perform part of the Woggan-ma-gule ceremony with their contemporary interpretation of a creation story from the Yuin people during Australia Day celebrations in Sydney, Australia, January 26, 2011.

Australia’s first-ever indigenous television drama has had its premiere on national television. Redfern Now explores the gritty reality of drugs and poverty in an inner city district of Sydney, and is part of a cultural resurgence within Aboriginal Australia.

Redfern Now is the first Australian TV drama produced by indigenous writers and directors, who worked in collaboration with the award-winning British scriptwriter Jimmy McGovern.

The six-part series features a mostly Aboriginal cast. It took two years to film and was partly funded by the Australian government.

TV critic David Knox says it’s a realistic depiction of life in Redfern, an inner suburb of Sydney.

“One of the things that really strikes me about this series is that in the face of adversity, where it’s poverty, alcoholism [or] violence, it is the unconditional love that comes to the fore here,” he said.

Redfern has had a troubled past. There were riots in 2004, and while poverty and disadvantage persist, tribal elders say the new TV series will be a source of great pride for the indigenous community.

The series is being shown on Australia’s national broadcaster, the ABC.

Producer Rachel Perkins says Redfern Now follows other recent Aboriginal artistic successes in film, dance and theater.

“There’s been a lot of investment to get where we have, and it is a moment to mark and celebrate, I think, that we are now on, you know, the ABC in [a] primetime slot showing this great, quality content that is punching above its weight, and some of the best content [and) filmmaking that is coming out of Australia at the moment,” said Perkins.

Redfern Now is partly produced by the Aboriginal team that worked on the acclaimed Australian film, The Sapphires. It was released earlier this year and tells the story of four young Aboriginal women who were discovered by a talent scout singing in the Australian outback and who went on to entertain U.S. troops in Vietnam.

Based on a true story, the indigenous singers were plucked from obscurity and named The Sapphires, and were billed as Australia's answer to the famous American group, The Supremes.

Indigenous dances troupes and artists have also enjoyed success in recent years, as Australia discovers a deeper appreciation of a heritage that stretches back more than 50,000 years. It has brought positive benefits. The making of Redfern Now created about 250 jobs for Aborigines in Sydney.

Aborigines make up about 2 percent of Australia’s population, and are by far the country’s most disadvantaged group, suffering disproportionately high rates of poverty, unemployment and ill-health.
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