Time Slot: Sundays, 7.30 pm
In the late 1800s the Windsor & Richmond Gazette recorded the amusing story of a stranger who wandered into a labourers’ camp to warn them that bushrangers were coming through that evening.
They agreed the best thing to do would be to collect their valuables and bake them into the day’s damper.
When the dough set the stranger congratulated them on their cunning, revealed a pistol and thanked them for both their meal and their money.
It’s just one of the strange-but-true crimes that colour Australia’s colonial past, but don’t look for it in Wild Boys.
Southern Star has bypassed history for the sake of a fictional period as familiar as Packed to the Rafters.
Wild Boys chronicles the adventures of mythical bushrangers Jack Keenan (Daniel MacPherson) and Dan Sinclair (Michael Dorman), who perpetually rob traffic in and out of the equally fictional settlement of Hopetoun.
Thanks to the PG rating no one gets hurt (who doesn’t really deserve to) and even the robbed are the well-deserving rich.
Yes, Jack and Dan are bushrangers with morals, bringing a touch of Robin Hood to the Australian bush.
Wild Boys makes no real attempt at historical authenticity. It’s a very modern drama draped in the trappings of a period piece – dress-ups for the cast of Home and Away, if you like.
The men are bearded ruffians sporting well-sculpted bodies and naturally hairless chests. The women are hard-working frontier types with flawless complexions and well-set hair. Neither are the issues they face the day-to-day depredations of The Drover’s Wife. Bartender Mary struggles to choose the right man for her single-parent family, and larrikin Jack has trouble trading his raunchy adventures for a responsible life.
But there’s no doubting that Seven’s commercial take on our colonial history has struck a chord with audiences.
The series debuted with 1.68 million viewers nationally and has continued to push over the million mark in recent weeks. I think it’s because Australians are prepared to bear with the historical anachronisms for the myths they long to hear.
Bushrangers may rob the mail coach but it’s authority that’s under fire. Wild Boys feeds a typically Australian disrespect by making the police the enemies of every larrikin who’s just trying to get along … er … with a gun.
Christianity is also stripped of its moral authority by referring to it as ‘religion’ and reducing it to church attendance – more a pastime than a means of explaining the world. In a recent episode a ‘dishonest’ bushranger spends his days posing as a preacher to throw everyone off the scent – everyone except those armed with the right Christian clichés:
Mayor’s wife: “I notice with some interest that you’re drinking wine. I’ve never known a preacher to drink alcohol before.”
Preacher / Captain Moonlight: “Jesus Christ turned water into wine. What’s good enough for him is good enough for me – and I dare say it’s good enough for you…” (helping her to another drink)
But the audience already knows he’s lying, so what he says about Jesus comes off as a convenient manipulation. Faith ends up the refuge of the gullible and the tool of the hypocrite.
However I think there’s a better reason for Wild Boys’ success that goes beyond a longing to ‘stick it to the man’.
Australians despise authority because they desire justice. Jack and Dan are honest in their own way, doing their best in a game that’s stacked against them. Their definition of good relies more on what a man does than what he says, and their greatest enemy is not the Law but those who enforce it. They wouldn’t mind their day in court if they could trust their judge to take everything into account. But the only court likely to set Jack and Dan free is one where a friend sits on the bench.
What a pity, then, that Wild Boys doesn’t lift Jesus higher than a good bloke to get a drink from. On the last day he’s exactly what every Australian will need: a friend on the bench.