Award winning mini-series Redfern Now, centred around modern inner-city Indigenous life, now sits in Australian television history as the first drama series by Indigenous Australians. This program was a creative vehicle for Indigenous writers, producers and acting talent.
But as the Sydney Morning Herald's media critic, Gordon Farrer wrote in 2013, "No matter who made it, this series is some of the best drama you will see."
Upon its release the year prior, Redfern Now immediately grabbed the attention of critics like Farrer, and audiences across Australia. The power of Indigenous storytelling, something that is often missing in commercial media, was finally being recognised by the mainstream.
In the first series in 12 episodes, audiences were introduced to six different families whose lives are changed by a single, seemingly insignificant incident. What unfolds, with clever writing, talented actors and beautiful cinematography is an impactful set of stories that all remain as fresh as when they first hit screens six years ago.
Produced by Blackfella Films, in partnership with ABC's Indigenous Department, Redfern Now was a first in its vision and mission. Post-Redfern Now, the Sydney suburb was only represented in media on the 6 o'clock news or talkback radio for its bad reputation. Riots, violence, drugs, impoverishment and squalor was the general depiction of the small, tight-knit community on the infamous The Block. This kind of reporting had a lot to do with negative stereotypes associated Indigenous Australians, who were predominantly and had been for a long time, the residents of Redfern.
Two years in the making, Redfern Now was an opportunity to dismantle and/or provide context to such stereotypes, with the series focused on universal themes of ordinary people through an Indigenous experience.
Rachel Perkins, founder of Blackfella Productions and one of the directors of the series, told ABC TV in 2013 that in developing Redfern Now, it was important to offer a different perspective of life in Australia that was not being represented. “It’s made by Blackfellas and it’s about Blackfellas, and that’s a really important thing for us.”
"It’s just great to see people who aren’t all blonde, blue-eyed people that live on the coast of Australia. Which is predominantly the images that we see on Australian television, so it’s really refreshing and I think people like that. They connect with the reality of it.” Perkins said.
It’s made by Blackfellas and it’s about Blackfellas, and that’s a really important thing for us.
It started with a call out for story entries, with a prerequisite that they had to be set in Redfern. A select group of finalists were chosen, and to work with BAFTA-award winning and highly acclaimed UK screenwriter Jimmy McGovern who would support the writers during their process.
McGovern said that knowing very little about Aboriginal Australia himself was an advantage, because it left the writers unguarded and more open. The workshops were eight hours each day, with McGovern admitting the writers were really driving into the ground.
The result? Two screenplay nominations and one win. Actor Noni Hazlehurst, who appeared in Season 2 of the series, said that the writing's strength came from its honesty. “I think that when you tell a story that is real and true to the environment from where it springs, it resonates with other human beings.”
Deborah Mailman who won Most Outstanding Actress for her role as Lorraine Blake also spoke highly of the experience as both an actor and artist, “... Because we haven’t had this type of storytelling like this before, set in a community like this before, I think first and foremost there is a great curiosity that comes with this sense of community.”
“There’s great craftsmanship in the writing, there’s great craftsmanship in the performances, and all that has come together and created something incredibly unique that has never been seen before in Australian drama, so that’s why Redfern Now has received the attention it has.” Mailman told ABC TV.
At the time, the series offered a timely spin on something different in the landscape of Australian television, the reception by the local and wider community was overwhelmingly positive.
Upon its initial release, Redfern Now snagged the 'Critic's Choice' and 'Show of the Week' in various media outlets.
The Age's Melissa Houston praised the show for not falling into the trend of being a highly anticipated drama that disappoints on the first episode. "It makes for television that works on every level," she wrote. "As an important cultural contribution, as a vehicle for sensational actors, writers, directors and technicians, as a great conversation-starter and as a fabulous piece of drama. Exhilarating."
The viewing public agreed with the critics, and the show won Logies for Most Outstanding Drama series in 2013 and 2014 (up against shows including Rake, Puberty Blues and Offspring) and also dominated the AACTA Awards. Leah Purcell, Deborah Mailman and Shari Sebbens all picked up Logie and AACTA awards for Most Popular Actress, Most Outstanding Actress and Most Outstanding New Talent. In total, Redfern Now has been nominated 49 awards in it's five year production, and won 19.
Filmed on location in Redfern the cast and crew interacted closely with the community and actor/director Leah Purcell said at the time, that this brought a great sense of pride, not only for herself but for all the cast, crew and locals, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous. "This is history-making television. It's about stories, not obviously politically based. It's the reverse of what we see on the news that incorporates people, it's from the heart. It's our yarns."
Redfern Indigenous leader Millie Ingram, spoke at the time of filming that the community were proud to have the production made locally, “As a proud Aboriginal Elder of Redfern, I wish the production of Redfern Now every success in bringing an unseen and positive side of our community to Australian audiences.”
Redfern Now airs Thursdays, 7.30pm on NITV. Season 1, Episode 2 airs tonight at 7.30pm (Ch. 34)
Watch Redfern Now Season 1, Episode 1 on Demand