Where I’m from – Wollongong – there’s a suburb called Fairy Meadow. When you grow up in a place, names lose their meaning, but that name has always been met with incredulity by outsiders. Especially since Fairy Meadow is one of the last places you’d expect to see pixies idling in a sun-dappled, dandelion-kissed field.
Sunshine is like that – such a happy name for such a local punchline. Years ago, when I first mentioned moving to Melbourne, my southern friends laughed that that’s where I should set up shop. Now, years later, I’m finally setting foot in the place, courtesy of a cabbie who gave me a card for his Yarra-cruising business. It’s overcast, which completely ruins the idea I had for a headline here, but that’s journalism.
Today I’m visiting RecWest Braybrook, where some basketball scenes are being shot for Sunshine, SBS’s South Sudanese-Australian-focused series. The car park is full of trailers, trucks and supplies – I’m led to sit by myself at a long stretch of tables with a coffee and my hastily bought clipboard as I watch the world go by. People work steadily around me as I mentally ask myself who the hell has a clipboard in this day and age while pretending to go over notes. I also remind myself not to use the phrase “cultural melting pot” in any articles I write about Sunshine.
“It wasn’t like the first week,” cultural liaison Ez Deng later explains to me of Sunshine’s cultural melting pot. “The crew, they were a bit stunned by these... a lot of numbers of African people in one place. You know? They're talking loud, laughing loud, pushing each other. Very crowded. Very excited.
“And then last week on the shoot, we see this beautiful exchange between the crew and the cast, as if they were in a boot camp. All of them together, learning from each other. It was just a wonderful exchange to see.”
After interviewing a serious (but willing to indulge my jokes about Empire Records) Anthony LaPaglia and a supremely jetlagged yet still friendly Melanie Lynskey, I head into the giant basketballing hall to watch director Daina Reid and her crew shoot the same scene over and over again. It’s half on the court, half on the sidelines. Kym Gyngell is telling his team they’re about to forfeit due to low numbers... until a tardy player turns up. Behind the action, locals drawn from the actors’ families and the broader community sit in the stands as extras. They’ve brought their own comfortable, colourful blankets to sit on and don’t seem to mind having to stay in the same spot.
Then the basketball starts. Joe Hooks is the “choreographer” here, teaching both teams which moves they have to make over and over again, so the camera knows who’s where and it always looks the same. He looks serious about this task and berates the boys as though this is an actual game he needs them to win. It’s awesome to watch him in action, shaking his head when they stuff up and nodding happily when they get it right.
I ask if I can speak to him, but am correctly advised that it might be best to try again when he’s not in the coaching zone. Not wanting to be yelled at by an enormous, whipped-up ex-NBA player, I concur.
With all this repetition, the boys get restless. They’re joking around and not paying attention, so Daina strides over and gets them running laps of the court. It’s a good way to get them back on task like a PE teacher – and help them look puffed on camera.
Lunch is as amazing as you’d imagine, and while I chat to various people, I soak up the atmosphere Ez will later mention to me. There’s a strong sense that this is a community project, with in-jokes, laughter and none of those lunchtime cabals you see in American high school movies. The subject matter might be dark, but sitting there with a second serve of ice-cream, you can tell Sunshine has already built some bridges.
Now, can we get Matt Cameron and Elise McCredie to write Fairy Meadow?
Sunshine will air over two big weeks, premiering Wednesday 18 and Thursday 19 October at 8.30pm on SBS. You can watch an encore screening on SBS VICELAND at 9.30pm or stream it online on SBS On Demand.