The gods and ghosts of Wheat Street

The new indigenous TV series The Gods Of Wheat Street, which is about to air on the ABC, was filmed in small-town northern NSW.

It's a stinking hot day in Lismore, near the end of four months' filming in northern NSW on the ABC drama The Gods Of Wheat Street.

The cast and crew are putting the finishing touches to the series, which was also filmed in nearby Coraki and Casino.

We're at the former Masonic Hall - the production office - speaking to Jon Bell, who grew up in Wheat Street, Casino.

Maybe it's the heat but Bell appears unusually relaxed, chatting to us but never mentioning he's the series' writer and co-producer.

The family in the show have Bell's mother's maiden name, Freeburn, so perhaps the series of six one-hour episodes is just a bit autobiographical.

But then it also has a ghost in it, so maybe not.

"It's a point of view of a child looking up at this thing that happened ages ago, this mythic quality," Bell says.

"That's the most autobiographical thing about it."

The head of the family is mechanic Odin Freeburn, played by Kelton Pell.

The ghost is his mother, Eden (played by Ursula Yovich), who died in a car accident when he and his siblings were little. She appears to some, but not others, Bell explains.

"She's concerned with the destiny of the family. She's kind of cheeky and kind of pushy," he says. "She's the age she is when she died. It's a younger woman treating this older man like a child (but it has) still got that mother-son dynamic."

Out the back of the hall, a cell (based on one at nearby Grafton jail) has been built for scenes with Odin's prisoner brother. He's just one of many pressures Odin must deal with.

There's also the wife who ran away, the sister-in-law who's in love with him, his children and siblings in need of parenting - and a family feud with other mechanics.

The story is about how he copes with his life, lets go of the past and saves the future.

The gods of the title are the mythological names of the children, including Odin's daughters, Electra and Athena - an attempt at making them powerful and important.

Co-producer Lois Randall admits it's a complicated story.

"At the beginning of the series Odin's wife has left him. The workshop he lives in - a mechanics' workshop - and the house get put on the market. He's facing how to look after everybody with no work and no house.

"There's a lot of humour around the family pulling him in every direction."

The main characters are Aboriginal, but Randall says the story is universal.

"Parents and families will connect with the eternal juggling... and parents putting themselves last."

The Gods Of Wheat Street is the next cab off the rank of the ABC's Indigenous Department, which also brought us Redfern Now.

Bell wrote Sweet Spot, an episode of Redfern Now.

Directors Wayne Blair and Catriona McKenzie also directed episodes of the gritty Redfern series, plus their own films, The Sapphires and Satellite Boy. The other director is Adrian Wills, of Boxing For Palm Island.

The Coraki house that's being used as Odin's home and mechanics workshop looks like any you'd find in a typical country town, right down to the old bombs in the garage.

As director McKenzie puts it: "The pub, the crossroads in Coraki... it was like everything was waiting for us."

Both the location and the filming have a western feel that suits the family feud aspect.

"In one of the scenes I had I saw this woman leading a horse. I said, `Let's get that horse back', because I hadn't really seen this world in television before," she says.

The series takes from the up-and-coming Aboriginal musical scene, using a score from people that many viewers may never have heard of.

Actor Pell can relate to the tragedy. Like most Aboriginal people, he's seen it all. His daughter took her own life, he says.

"I said to somebody last year we have to stop doing emotionally draining stuff. But with this material it's called for."

Shari Sebbens, who played Kay in The Sapphires, has the role of Isolde in this. Isolde is the boys' sister, on a mission to take over the fashion world from her Casino bedroom.

Sebbens says the series is "probably the closest thing to a true representation of Australia" with rural Aboriginal people living opposite whitefellows.

"What I love about this the most is I'm the whitest person in the show but it's like my family. They look like me."

Lisa Flanagan, who plays small-town accountant Libby, Odin's love interest, thinks the supernatural and spiritual element is "brilliant". As a child, she says, she used to see her cousin, who had died after being hit by a car.

"Nan would say, `What are you doing?' and I would say, `I'm taking some milk and biscuits to Darryl'. And I'd jump in the back seat of the car and I'd talk for hours to this kid."

So maybe the series is Bell's autobiography after all.

* The Gods Of Wheat Street airs on ABC1 at 8.30pm on Saturday, April 12.

Source: AAP