The Circuit: articles

The Circuit breaker

A STRING of films including Rabbit-Proof Fence, The Tracker and Australian Rules have in recent years won critical praise for their insightful portrayal of Aboriginal culture.

When it comes to television, however, the industry's track record in telling stories about indigenous characters has been, with a few exceptions, pathetic.

Filmmaker Rachel Perkins has said the only time you're likely to see more than one Aboriginal person on TV is while watching the AFL.

Discounting the short-lived Channel 9 series The Alice, Perkins is spot-on.

In the '70s, TV dramas including Division 4 and Homicide included token roles for Aboriginal actors.

Most of those roles, actor Gary Foley wrote on the Koori History website, cast Aborigines as "baddies". One Aboriginal actor joked that he became sick of playing roles where his total dialogue was, "He went that way, boss."

There have been few Aboriginal faces regularly on television. Ernie Dingo, Deborah Mailman, Rachael Maza, Justine Saunders and Aaron Pedersen are among ones given the opportunity to make a lasting impact.

But there are many, some in ground-breaking SBS drama The Circuit, who have the talent but have had little chance to flex their acting muscles. Until now.

The Circuit goes boldly where so few shows portraying Aboriginal culture have gone before.

The series revolves around Drew Ellis (Aaron Pedersen), a city-educated Aboriginal lawyer who takes up a "tour of duty" in the Kimberley.

Gary Sweet plays the magistrate at the Kimberley Court Circuit, which takes in the remote communities of northwest Western Australia on a regular, five-day, 2000km round trip.

The Circuit has more balls than a bean bag -- a show that makes no attempt to tiptoe around the most serious social ills of the Outback.

Of significance, however, is that the show also captures a brand of humour that is self-deprecating to the extreme.

"We love the fact there is humour in this show," says Tammy Clarkson, who plays clerk of courts Bella.

"Laughing is how we (the Aboriginal community) heal. We constantly take the p--- out of ourselves and each other."

Originally from Geraldton, Clarkson has worked extensively in theatre since graduating from the WA Academy of Performing Arts in 2001.

She says The Circuit has restored some faith in Australian TV's ability to tell stories reflecting her culture.

"It's been a long, hard fight to reach this place," she says from a sun-drenched property on the outskirts of Broome.

"A lot of us (Aboriginal actors) are used to dealing with stereotyped casting, insensitivity and misrepresentation of values and a lot of indigenous performers I know have walked away from this business because there weren't any opportunities to do things that were rewarding.

"I've had to work my a--- off to get where I am and I jumped at The Circuit. It's a chance for indigenous roles to be poignant and earthy."

By Darren Devlyn
July 04, 2007
Herald Sun