TV Review: Redfern now

TV Review: Redfern Now

The ABC drama giving us a rare cultural insight into Sydney

By Mark HadleyWednesday 14 Nov 2012TV and StreamingReading Time: 3 minutes

The new show from the ABC bringing us a rare cultural insight


RELEASE DATE: Thursdays, 8:30 PM

Redfern Now
is a real achievement for the Australian film and television industry, introducing local audiences to the depth of talent that can be discovered in our Aboriginal community. But the question remains, how accurate a picture does it present of its plight in inner-city Sydney?

Redfern Now consists of six one-hour episodes focusing on different aspects of the Aboriginal experience in the Sydney suburb that has become synonymous with the first Australians. In fact the series is produced by Blackfella Films, the company also responsible for the benchmark documentary series First Australians and the telemovie Mabo. The production also draws together the country’s top indigenous directing and acting talent including Deborah Mailman (The Sapphires, Bran Nue Dae, Mental), Leah Purcell (Lantana, Jindabyne) and Jimi Bani (Mabo, The Straits). It was developed for the ABC by UK screenwriter Jimmy McGovern (The Street, Cracker) working with local indigenous writers.

So the program’s pedigree is sound, but what’s the result?

The first two episodes have uncovered the strong role Australia’s Aboriginal women play in sustaining and developing their community. Episode one, Family, introduces us to Grace (Leah Purcell) the mother of a materially successful indigenous family who is determined not to let her less fortunate relatives slip through the cracks. Her sister Lilly suffers from a mental illness that frequently leaves her two young children in the worst circumstances. Grace tries to find a temporary home for them while mum is in treatment but is everywhere confronted by disinterested relatives, culminating in her own husband.Eventually her household has to decide whether the blessing of family is worth the associated inconvenience.

In episode two, Joyride, we meet Coral, another matriarch in her mid fifties who runs a food van satisfying Redfern’s late night appetites. Her business brings her into contact with the shadier sides of the suburb including victims of domestic abuse. When her daughter comes home with a bruised face Coral assumes it’s more than the result of the accident she offers, and her boyfriend comes in for a serious tongue-lashing.

Redfern Now is earthy and includes language that’s not suitable for children. But brick by brick it’s building a solid picture of the family structures holding communities together in a culture under assault from drugs, unemployment, pop culture and personal indifference. The problems faced are actually not that dissimilar from those confronted by many Australians. I couldn’t help thinking you could easily substitute Aboriginal Redfern with Anglo Penrith, Asian Cabramatta or Arabic Bankstown. And the lessons are just as relevant, with enduring relationships and a strong moral compass acting as a safeguard against the social forces that threaten to erode the values God instilled in every human being.

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If there is a downside to the series, it has to be its initial lack of acknowledgement of the good Christians have contributed to Redfern’s community. In Family a ‘born again believer’ is condemned for not taking care of his children, and he would certainly receive the same condemnation from the Bible. However when Grace realizes she is the only one ready to care for her niece and nephew the camera inserts an ironic cutaway to a flaking sign that reads ‘Jesus Saves’ – clearly not in this case.

But is that a fair representation of life in Redfern? I’m not talking about predominantly white churches coming in and preaching a pristine Gospel from on high. I’m referring to the numerous black initiatives by Christ-inspired Aboriginals that have been serving the dispossessed and desperate for decades. If Grace had been aware of their efforts, she might have found her own grace there. Instead the episode ends with a rapid turnaround by her selfish husband and self-absorbed kids, sending Grace driving off into the sunset for a family camping trip. Is this Redfern Now? Or more a scriptwriter’s hope than reality?