Sea Patrol: articles

Jeremy Lindsay Taylor and Lisa McCune

Jeremy Lindsay Taylor and Lisa McCune in Sea Patrol.

Sail of the century

Many television producers live a private hell while creating a new drama: will its potential audience like the show?

When that drama is the major release for a hit-starved network and is, coincidentally, the most expensive Australian TV production ever made, you'd imagine there would be even more concern.

But for Hal McElroy, who with wife Di produced Sea Patrol, any mounting tension has been tempered by the fact that he's already been through hell just getting it made and is pretty happy the show will get to air without anyone being killed.

Filmed on the Royal Australian Navy patrol boat HMAS Ipswich off Queensland's North Coast, this was very much a production where a lot could have gone wrong.

"I remember, right at the beginning, we'd been shooting for about three days and then the weather changed," McElroy said.

"There was a two- to three-metre swell, driving rains and the wind. We couldn't even get the film crew on to the ferry to get them out to rendezvous with the patrol boat. It was scary as hell."

That was the beginning of 36 shooting days at sea on or around the 220-tonne Ipswich, which had been assigned to be used by the production crew for just seven weeks.

Cramming as much as they could into every day, two film crews worked almost constantly, filming scenes for up to five episodes a day that would eventually become 13 hours of television.

In the process, McElroy said, they made 1241 boat transfers (navy officials counted every time the film crew was either picked up or dropped off) in seas where sharks, sea snakes and nasty jellyfish were common.

Stress aside, the result is a uniquely Australian drama following the men and women who patrol our shores.

Starring (among others) Ian Stenlake, Lisa McCune, Jeremy Lindsay Taylor, Steve Bisley and Sibylla Budd, the series combines the action of a naval patrol with the drama that comes when people are pushed together by circumstance.

"We knew it was going to be risky, we knew it was going to be dangerous, but we got through all the scary stuff at the beginning without even the loss of major equipment, and after that the studio-bound stuff was just such a joy to do because we could get stuck into the characters and the relationship and the comedy," McElroy said.

"And the cast did such an amazing job in bringing the stories to life, it's just magical.

"I know everyone says this, but we really did have such an incredible cast and crew and we've all worked hard in getting every single element and aspect as good as we can. I really think this is something special."

Flashback: Lisa McCune

Lisa McCune should look very comfortable in the Royal Australian Navy uniform from this week - she spent six years in uniform as Senior Constable Maggie Doyle in Seven's Blue Heelers and won four gold Logies as Australia's most popular television personality in the process. So popular was her character that one of those wins came in 2001, long after she was a part of the show or even appearing on television.

On the high seas again

If you start to feel a bit of deja vu watching Sea Patrol, don't worry - there's a good reason. The stories and faces are new but it's not the first time we've been taken on board an Australian naval vessel to patrol and defend our shores. Back in 1979 and again in 1983, Andrew McFarlane and Robert Coleby took to our waters in Patrol Boat, set on HMAS Ambush and HMAS Defiance. Produced by the ABC in co-operation with the Royal Australian Navy, the series followed naval officers and crew as they (and this will sound familiar) patrolled our coastline in search of smugglers, illegal immigrants and fishermen and lost sailors.

By Scott Ellis
July 2, 2007
The Sun-Herald