Sea Patrol: articles

Testing the waters

NESTLED on the northeast coast, about 360km north of Townsville and 250km south of Cairns, is Queensland's Mission Beach. And as the locals will tell you, it's about as close to paradise as you will ever get.

Sunny one day, perfect the next.

But not today. Nor yesterday.

For two days a tropical storm poured from an overcast sky, frustrating cast and crew of the Nine Network's new Aussie drama series, Sea Patrol. At almost $900,000 an episode, Sea Patrol is the most expensive, 13-part, one-hour local television series ever to grace our screens (see box).

On a half-decent day you can sit on the pool patio of the Mission Beach Resort and take in the superb view of the boating activity around Dunk Island, a few kilometres off the mainland shore.

But for two days, Sea Patrol executive producers, Hal and Di McElroy, have watched the tropical downpour rain on their parade, washing a few hundred grand of their production money into the Pacific without a single frame of footage to show for it.

"The weather was so bad you wouldn't believe it," says series star Lisa McCune, between juggling parenting duties to her three children, who are on location with her, and reading scripts.

"They were losing so much money, but it made us all go, 'Right, we're not going to let this beat us'.

"We knew we were starting behind the eight-ball. We felt like the underdogs and knew we had to get out there and do it. It made everybody jell and pull together."

No one is doubting the importance of Sea Patrol to Nine. At $900,000 an episode, it's one hell of a commitment in a bid to boost the network's fortunes for the second half of the year.

Sea Patrol tells of the men and women of the Royal Australian Navy Patrol Boat Service placing their lives at risk as they defend Australia's 35,877km of coastline.

McCune heads a solid cast as Lieutenant Kate McGregor, second in command of the fictitious HMAS Hammersley to Lieutenant Commander Mike Flynn (Ian Stenlake, Stingers).

Leading an excellent supporting cast is Steve Bisley (Water Rats), Matthew Holmes (Blue Heelers), Saskia Burmeister, Sibylla Budd (The Secret Life of Us) and Martin Lyons.

Undoubtedly Australia's most popular female actor, McCune is a multi-gold Logie winner with a set of Silver to match, thanks to a fearful crime rate in a fictional, tiny rural Victorian township called Mt Thomas.

The series was Blue Heelers, which due to astute casting and production went on to become one of Australia's most successful TV series of all time.

But in this candid interview, McCune reveals that, while being a part of a smash hit drama is every actor's dream, the life of a television actor is not so much about skill but about basic viewer appeal.

The trials and tribulations of filming those early scenes at Mission Beach are now long gone.

We are sitting in the Melbourne Theatre Company's cafeteria, where McCune is rehearsing for her role in the stage production of The 25th Annual Puttnam Spelling Bee.

"Australians fall in love with the characters in their dramas," she says, "but the characters don't have to be perfect.

"I was certainly no oil painting as Maggie Doyle, but I did really well out of Heelers.

"However, the truth is someone else could have played her. They could have gone for a real spunk to play Maggie, but they went with me."

McCune's popularity with Australian audiences has followed her through a remarkable 16-year stint in film, musical stage, commercials and television.

But along with the rewards, McCune confesses also to having to cope with a fair amount of frustration.

"Some people seem to want me to play nothing but Maggie Doyle," she says.

"That's why I've looked to play different roles, different outlets, be it stage, television, film, comedy or drama, but they haven't all been hits, I'm the first to admit that."

There's plenty riding on Sea Patrol for McCune, given Australian audiences wouldn't accept her in the failed drama Marshall Law.

"There could have been a lot of reasons for that (the Marshall Law failure). It's often hard to be objective when you're assessing your own work. But if you were to list the work I've done, I think I've been pretty lucky in that I've had the opportunity to do a lot of different things," says McCune.

"I know audiences, generally, like to see you in one way," she says, "but as long as you're prepared to forgo concerns regarding the kind of love/war relationship that can develop between you and your audience, I don't care if I only play a baddie.

By Robert Fidgeon
July 04, 2007
Herald Sun