Rain Shadow: articles

Victoria Thaine and Rachel Ward

Hot work… Rachel Ward (right) with Victoria Thaine in Rain Shadow.

Not a McLeod in sight

RACHEL WARD NEEDS a slap. A big one. One symbolic slap, from all the women of Australia. She wears a filthy hat and a threadbare T-shirt like nobody else. Her demeanour, the shy, sly smile, screams, "OK, all you various women related to some dead guy called McLeod! This is how it's done."

And just as well, because not a whole lot goes on in Rain Shadow. I love a good drought story, some crusty characters and Shannon Nolls who appeared to have strayed from Drovers Run onto Paringa. Love 'em. Just wish they did a bit more.

Paringa, the sad and sorry setting for this glacially slow but not cold or wet saga, is hot but no hotbed. We enter with newbie vet Jill Blake (Victoria Thaine) and meet the drought-stricken prunes and roadkill of the district through her eyes. Obviously nothing can happen, because each and every character needs to stop and tell his life story or describe the life story of the crusty character we have met in the scene before. And so we have a sick cat and a sick dog and a stoic, but mean, widowed vet played to dusty perfection by Rachel Ward. And nothing as lively or colourful as the car wash in the opening credits has happened since.

Perhaps the writers are trying to get the audience to feel the plight of the desperate farmer who has been waiting for rain in a rain shadow for 12 years. I feel it. After one long hour I wanted a drink.

Actually, Rain Shadow looks great and there is a parched, ominous tension that gives us some hope of action but the quibble must be made over the visual outback language. Just because we live on this side of the Blue Mountains doesn't mean we can't imagine people who haven't been grown on Drovers Run. At least Molly on A Country Practice had the visage of an individual but ever since we've stopped dead at Moleskin Central Casting. Must all young men have golden hair on their forearms and a disgruntled squint that can only be melted by the smile of a Hooters cowgirl? Rain Shadow tries to get to the core of the human issues of drought and possibly climate change.

Without a cast full of stars, Rhoda Roberts manages to put a human face to racism and grief with her own take on the meaning of the Australian bush to her people in A Sister's Love. This is not a great film but Roberts is a great storyteller. The story of how her twin sister went missing and was eventually found bound and beheaded months later may be known to many but Roberts's telling makes compelling viewing. In her quest for answers, Roberts shares the story of her bi-racial family and the fear, growing up in the '60s, that they would be taken from their homes. Twin sisters followed different paths: Rhoda to acclaim and success via the very upright field of nursing and Lois to brain injury, Nimbin and a death that local police appear not to have investigated because they assumed the girl had gone walkabout.

This is not a forensic documentary. Roberts doesn't interview anybody involved in the case except her family. Hers is a personal journey navigated by gut feel as she grapples with her own guilt. Lois taken and murdered, Lois's daughter given at birth (before authorities could step in) to Rhoda. Another black child not raised by her own mother. Rhoda and Lois's mother, an obviously brave woman who has seen too much, can no longer remember the funerals of her husband or daughter.

Throughout the exploration we go deeper into the Lismore bushland, which is seductive, beautiful and dangerous. Even Roberts gets spooked revisiting the site where her sister's body was discovered.

Nutters torturing innocents in the bush, where no one can hear their screams for help: it's becoming a story as intrinsically Australian as drought or mindlessly marching off to war to fight other people's battles for all the wrong reasons.

Bugger, now I can't write about Bionic Woman. Instead, applause for The Gift, the new series that tracks transplants patients' desperate wait for organ donations. Tonally this material could be mawkish and awful. Instead Tara Brown strikes just the right tone and manages to insinuate herself into a delicate situation with wholesale tabloid invasion. It's enough to make you bring out the bits you barely use.

By Ruth Ritchie
October 13, 2007
Sydney Morning Herald