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Australian Television  
 
page: 1  2  3  

The mid 1970s, with Australia spreading its wings under the radical government of Gough Whitlam before he was summarily dismissed by the Queen of Great Britain's representative, were a high water mark for the regular airing of gay lives.

However, as well as the euphoria induced by fine upstanding if rather dull Don and his various lovers, boyfriends, and one-night-stands, there was the occasional recognition that there was another, less accepting Australia. In one edition of the ABC's current affairs program The Monday Conference (1976), human excrement was thrown at a gay rights activist who was being interviewed before a generally fair-minded audience in the mining area of Mt. Isa in Queensland.

Sponsor Message.

Lesbians remained relatively invisible, with a couple of exceptions. There was a wicked lesbian in a late 1970s serial called Skyways. She had her comeuppance in the shower: stabbed 47 times.

Much more to the lesbian community's liking--and to a cult television audience all over the world--was Prisoner, also known as Prisoner--Cell Block H (1979-1987). Set in a women's prison, the series sought to tease out all possible emotional and sexual frissons involving inmates and staff--women characters tough and tender, cynical and naïve in profusion. Queening it over all was a sadistic lesbian warder nicknamed "The Freak": growly of voice, beady of eye, and thoroughly convincing in Maggie Kirkpatrick's imposing black gloved hands.

Public broadcasting was far less committed to lesbian and gay stories. Apart from occasional episodes in short run drama series, the only thing the ABC could offer that was remotely challenging was a mini-series called Players to the Gallery (1980). A story seen from three different viewpoints, one gay, it bravely focused on the plight of a political activist whose own personal life is totally taken up with his landlady and her young son. A custody case hinges on possible corruption of the child by the tenant who is presented throughout as just the sort of mother/father society should be encouraging to parent its children.

1980s and 1990s

Financial constraints, the need for overseas sales, and co-production money seemed to force Australian television away from the relative radicalism of the 1970s. The portrayal of gay men and, apart from Prisoner, lesbians virtually ceased for fifteen years.

Making the greatest impact during this period were occasional documentaries, such as Something to Sing About (the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Choir) and Positive Art (HIV/AIDS and its impact on gay culture), and, notably, a 1991 interview with conductor Stuart Challender in which he revealed he was dying of AIDS.

Fictional representations were mainly medical, consisting of a few episodes of A Country Practice and G.P., issue-based, and well researched. Their intention was missionary and awareness-raising.

Both series were much loved by middle Australia. G.P. courted and received some adverse criticism when, in 1994, its makers included a young gay doctor, played by Damian Rice, among its regulars. Even this mutedly negative reaction seemed to sap the producers' resolve, so the character never developed to anything like his full dramatic potential.

Although the high definition bravado of the 1970s seemed a far distant memory, a cannonball hit the Australian viewing public full in the face in the mid-1990s in the form of "edited highlights" of Sydney's Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.

Initially--and bravely in the teeth of much church and state opposition--this event was brought into the homes of mythical average Australians, including not a few diehard ocker homophobes by the ABC, who cited its long-held commitment to showing all aspects of the country's human condition.

Taken over a few years later by commercial Channel Ten, the Mardi Gras seems to have become an annual fixture. However, it is seen by not a few people as presenting lesbians and gays as a freak show, light years away from the integration and honesty of Number 96's Don and his day to day world.

The political message of Mardi Gras can be discerned beneath all the glitz and surging flesh and pulsating techno. Just.

Current Conditions

What is glaringly obvious in the Australian television landscape of today is the complete lack of any regular and open discussion of lesbian and gay issues and lives; and almost no dramatization of same. Recent soaps featuring gays and lesbians in prominent roles were poorly promoted at home and failed to "sell" overseas. There is a total absence of a Queer as Folk or a Tales of the City made in Australia about queer contemporary or past Australian culture.

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