Along with the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, Bondi Beach is one of the most postcard-worthy images of Australia. Carved elegantly into the coastline, Bondi is famously idyllic; a paradise just a stone’s throw from Sydney city. As with many places that seem almost too good to be true, however, there’s a dark passage in the recent history of Bondi. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, beyond the upscale, tourist-friendly core of the suburb, a spate of hate crime murders occurred resulting in the deaths of dozens of gay men. It is this dark history that forms the centre of Deep Water.
“Shaun Seet [Deep Water’s director] and I had a lot of discussion around how we wanted to portray Bondi as a character, because it really is a major player as a character in the mini-series,” AACTA Award-winning production designer Felicity Abbott told SBS on a set visit. “We wanted to focus on the multicultural aspect of Bondi as opposed to the gentrified, renovated end of the suburb. We were looking for the texture, the culture, the grit, the depth, so all our locations are carefully chosen to portray the different cultures that make up Bondi, not just the white middle class culture of the eastern suburbs,” she said. “It becomes a very different character at night.”
Australian cinema has a long history of juxtaposing the iconic imagery of its landscapes with melancholy and unforgiving human situations that often take place in the foreground of said imagery. Muriel’s Wedding’s Porpoise Spit appears like a gentle seaside town, but through the eyes of Muriel Heslop it’s a suffocating prison packed with mendacious people. Deep Water is perhaps, in this regard, most indebted to the classic Wake in Fright, in which a British teacher is exposed to the vicious, toxic flipside of a town in outback Australia. Deep Water’s vision of Bondi functions similarly – by appearances, there’s no reason to think it unsafe – and with a comparative perspective on how pernicious hyper-masculine attitudes lend themselves to violence.
“I do remember it, I was very young,” said Simon Bourke, who plays a supporting role in Deep Water. “I remember thinking – almost an internal homophobia – that’s someone else.” One of the most historically fascinating elements of these crimes is that they coincided with the HIV/AIDS crisis and the infamous advertising campaigns that came with it, which are referenced in the mini-series first episodes. But Bourke contends that this is more something that maybe fed the atmosphere that led to such crimes happening, but not necessarily directly influenced the crimes themselves. “I have to say that certainly from my point of view and my friends’ point of view that all lived in Bondi that you never equated the two things,” Burke said. “I’m wondering if that’s something that was applied after the fact.”
“I lived in Bondi in I think ’89 when all this stuff was happening,” William McInnes, who plays Inspector Peel, told SBS by phone. “It was whispered about, but that was as far as you let yourself think.” Deep Water’s title is all too appropriate; these murders became a secret buried on the ocean floor; culturally, Australians weren’t willingly ignoring them, but they were unwilling to confront them. In a special event on Sunday October 16, SBS will premiere Deep Water: The Real Story which investigates the real-life spate of murders which inspired the story of the miniseries.
"These murders became a secret buried on the ocean floor; culturally, Australians weren’t willingly ignoring them, but they were unwilling to confront them."
Documentary accounts of Australia’s LGBTQIA history are relatively few and far between; 2015’s Remembering the Man, the documentary account of Holding the Man author Timothy Conigrave’s relationship with John Caleo, provided a unique insight into queer Sydney in the ‘80s, while Swedish filmmaker Staffan Hildebrand’s 2014 documentary Transmission: The Journey from AIDS to HIV shows rare footage of Australians living with AIDS in the late ‘80s. Deep Water: The Real Story is a significant new entry in the documentation of Australian queer history onscreen and is not to be missed, supported by SBS’s incredible interactive online multimedia feature, The Gay-Hate Decades: 30 Unsolved Deaths.
Deep Water’s contemporised version of these events is a vital connection between the past and the present, in a year which saw the worst mass shooting in US history specifically target LGBTQIA people. In the midst of the plebiscite debate, Deep Water is an essential reminder that Australia has its own dark history with which to contend. Be sure to catch up on Deep Water’s first two episodes before the mini-series concludes across Wednesday and Thursday night at 8:30pm on SBS.
Watch episodes 1 & 2 of 'Deep Water' at SBS On Demand.
Learn more about 'Deep Water' on the program page.
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