The Tailings takes us to a small, remote town tucked away in the mountains of Tasmania’s west coast wilderness. This story of two young women grappling with grief is a perfectly timed pandemic production, a story for anyone, anywhere, who’s had to deal with terrible events.
The six-part series centres on a troubled teen and a young teacher. When a man is found dead near a remote mining town, an inquest finds that his death was an accident. But his daughter Jas (Tasmanian actress Tegan Stimson in her first screen role) is struggling with her own feelings of guilt and grief, and refuses to accept the verdict. She's convinced he was murdered, and she's determined to prove it. Her actions put her in conflict with Ruby (Mabel Li), who comes to the town to take up her first teaching job.
Women are at the heart of this drama, on screen and off. As well as Stimson and Li (who has also recently completed shooting the role of Zhang Lei in goldrush drama New Gold Mountain, coming to SBS later this year), there’s experienced film and theatre actress Kris McQuade as Jas’ grandmother, Laurie, and award-winning actress Victoria Haralabidou (Brides, Deep Water, Barracuda) as school principal Sharon. The lead creative team includes writer Caitlin Richardson (herself a Tasmanian schoolteacher), director Stevie Cruz-Martin (Pulse) and producer/script editor Liz Doran (Please Like Me, Molly).
“Every head of department on The Tailings, production and post production, is a woman," Doran says. "This was party by design, partly through pure luck to find these skilled practitioners and partly because, for this story of two young women coming to terms with grief, it made sense to engage artists who related strongly to the material.
"We are certain that after The Tailings none of them will be considered ‘emerging’ again.”
Jas, who lives with her grandmother, is dealing with more than just the grief of losing her father, Brendan (played in a series of flashbacks by Shaun Martindale). Before he died, there were massive fights between father and daughter, and the guilt feeds into her obsession with proving that his death wasn't an accident. And while at first it seems that Ruby’s biggest concern is making a good impression in her new job, we learn that she’s got problems too. A fraudulent student teacher report is soon discovered, and her attempts to make friends in her new community bring back memories of a recent trauma.
And of course, there’s the mystery of Brendan’s death. As the series unfolds, there are accusations and revelations, including one that even Jas’s vibrant imagination doesn’t see coming.
Caught up in the unfolding story are mine manager Frank (Michael Earnshaw), Jas’ former teacher Marcel (Tai Nguyen) and fellow students Toby (Harry Prior) and Leo (Harry Radbone).
“The Tailings is a story from lutruwita/Tasmania, so it's a bit rough and a bit gentle, a bit funny and a bit weird,” says Richardson. “It’s about our tight-knit communities, creative talents, and pockets of wilderness that remain hidden to some, but are known to others. There is beauty in the landscape but it’s also imbued with sadness as the ravages of our brutal colonial history seep into everything.
"As a Tasmanian story, it focuses on people living on the geographic margins. There is space to think and breathe, which can be both liberating and deafeningly lonely. I understand some of the joy and despair experienced here - the combination of vast space and at times, claustrophobia. Through this series, I hope to shed light on some regional experiences that are real for me, but not often seen on screen.”
Appropriately for a show filmed in the middle of a global pandemic, The Tailings (the show’s name refers to a type of mine waste) reflects the importance of friends and community in dealing with hard times.
“The Tailings is about navigating through the struggle in the aftermath of terrible events. It’s about resilience in trying times, and the need for community wherever we are,” Richardson says.
Speaking from on set in Tasmania last year, Li said: "The West Coast’s moody mountainous backdrop has been the perfect setting to this dark, mysterious yet incredibly quirky story. Being isolated all in one place far from home has added an extra layer of intimacy to this production and I’m so excited for the world to see it.”
“There is a ferocity and a tenderness running through the core of The Tailings, it is raw, messy and at times embarrassingly awkward,” says Cruz-Martin. “It explores young women who, when faced with tragedy, tackle their grief in extreme contrast to one another on the surface, but ultimately find solace in sharing their vulnerability together.”
The Tailings is an SBS Digital Original streaming now at SBS On Demand. The Tailings is also available subtitled in five different languages including Simplified Chinese, Arabic, Vietnamese, Hindi and Korean. Watch episode 1:
Watch the trailer now: