The TV Mini-Series Comes of Age: Liz Jacka

The TV Mini-Series Comes of Age: Liz Jacka

In this clip, Liz Jacka talks about how the revival of the Australian film industry in the 1970s also led to a golden age of TV mini-series in the 1980s.

In 1981 an adaptation of Neville Shute's novel A Town Like Alice went to air on the Seven Network. The production was a blockbuster event, screened over three nights – a drama series with three episodes each of 120 minutes. A Town Like Alice was a national (and later international) success with audiences, and stimulated the interest of television networks in mini-series.

At the same time, 10BA tax concessions provided investment funding for quality film and television productions for filmmakers to explore ideas and techniques. Productions became more adventurous and inventive, drawing on European and American styles of production but reflecting Australia cultural and special themes. These factors created the conditions for the production of dozens of high-rating mini-series that were snapped up by television networks and eagerly consumed by the viewing public.

At first, historical themes dominated, ranging from the portrayal of life in the penal colonies in For the Term of His Natural Life (1983), Sara Dane (1982) and Under Capricorn (1984); bushranging in The Last Outlaw (1980); the pioneering spirit in All the Rivers Run (1983); the rise of nationalism in Eureka Stockade (1984); the treatment of Aboriginal Australians in Women of the Sun (1982); industrial unrest in the 1920s in Waterfront (1984) and, in the 1990s, convent life in the 1960s in Brides of Christ (1991). In 1985 Return to Eden broke new ground with a story set in the contemporary world of corporate high-flyers.

The Kennedy-Miller organisation – creators of the Mad Max films – also produced a set of mini-series that dealt with major historical events in new ways: The Dismissal (the downfall of the Whitlam Labor Government); Bodyline (the controversial Test cricket series between Australia and England in the 1930s); Cowra Breakout (the Second World War and a massacre of Japanese prisoners-of-war in Australia); and Vietnam (dealing with Australia's involvement in that war).

The mini-series also explored contemporary Australian life in detail with the ABC's Scales of Justice (1983), The Magistrate (1989) and (later) Blue Murder (1995), and SBS's In Between (1987). In Between was the first large-scale local mulitcultural productionn for the ethnic broadcaster.

Liz Jacka researches in the areas of broadcasting history and policy and is Emeritus Professor at University of Technology Sydney.