Wednesday, 13 June 2018

TV review: Back Roads, series 4 episode 1, ABC (2018)

Monday night’s show was the first episode in the program’s new series and it contained interesting ideas because it centred on stories about people living along a road in northern New South Wales, the Waterfall Way. The route took Heather Ewart from Ebor, a town east of Armidale in the New England tablelands, down the mountainside to Sawtell on the coast south of Coffs Harbour. The route took in Dorrigo and Bellingen.

The region is known best for alternative-lifestyle communities, where young people moved in the 1970s and 1980s to escape from city rhythms and to live lives animated by values closer to the ideals they held than those which regulated the routine of existence for people in Australia’s big cities. It was an aspect of the post-war counterculture that continues to have currency today and Ewart commented as she drove through the landscape on how the land has been regenerated in places she visited on this trip by people who have progressive political views.

The shots of the waterfalls up in the high part of the journey were accompanied by an uplifting, bucolic tune played by an orchestra and you wondered if the program’s producers had the music written especially for the episode or if they had found it on a recording somewhere. The sensations created by the combination of video and music was generally optimistic, giving you an impression that the district is a part of the country that is blessed with many fruits. Shots of the host with her companion Erica Jessup and their horses with the leaves of a tree and small, yellow wildflowers in focus in the foreground emphasised this feeling.

Ewart went to meet Lorraine Gordon, who runs a retreat in the tablelands that offers a range of activities designed to help people unwind. The retreat is called Yarrandoo and was set up to help carers of people living with mental illness maintain their own good mental health.

The show then took in Dorrigo, where you can find the Dangar Falls. The name Dangar is prominent in Australia because it was the name of the owner of a number of cattle runs in the colonial period, notably the Myall Creek station where the famous Aboriginal massacre occurred in 1838. No mention was made in the program of this or of how Henry Dangar resourced the legal defence of the men accused of committing the murders that terrible winter. The men were acquitted but retried after a public outcry and some were found guilty and hanged at Darlinghurst Gaol. The name Dangar was given to a sports field belonging to my secondary school in Sydney, Cranbrook, where presumably one of the scions of the family went to school in the early 20th century. There’s also a Dangar Island in the Hawkesbury River near Brooklyn.

Ewart did meet an Aboriginal elder in Dorrigo, Uncle Mark Flanders, who showed her the Great Dividing Range from a tall tourist lookout that has been built in the rainforest. There is also a raised and fenced path on the forest floor that you can walk on to experience what the eastern slopes of the ranges are like close-up.

Andrew Turbill in Thora Valley lives with his family in a house that is part of a shared community that comprises about six different families who occupy the same piece of land in the bush. He moved there in his twenties, he told Ewart, and built his home himself. His children are Hugo, Winona and Floyd. He knows the names and calls of all the birds in his district and can copy the sounds they make. Hugo plays violin in the Bellingen Youth Orchestra, whose patron is pianist David Helfgott, who was portrayed by Geoffrey Rush in the 1996 movie ‘Shine’. Ewart went to Helfgott’s property where he displayed a curious need for physical contact with the people he talks with. Ewart took everything in her stride and also talked with the pianist’s wife, Gillian. The couple moved to the place in 1989.

In Sawtell, on the coast, Ewart met a sea-changer named Stephanie Ney, who moved from the northern beaches of Sydney to the small town. She had been living in the inner west of Sydney with her husband but when her marriage broke down she had moved back to the northern beaches. She was running a not-for-profit in Sydney and found she was drinking too much on weekends. The move north to Sawtell was good for her and she told Ewart that she hadn’t had a drink for 11 years. She has instead taken up the ukulele and teaches classes in the Country Women’s Association hall.

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