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Tasmania: sex, death and apples

Kettering is a small town about 30 kilometres south of Hobart that few have heard of. But if all goes as hoped, this town of 1000 souls might soon be swamped with tourists. Tasmanian Premier Lara Giddings has high hopes for The Kettering Incident, the state’s first ever home-grown television drama, which producers are describing as the state’s answer to Twin Peaks.

Remember Twin Peaks? David Lynch’s creepy 1990 television thriller about a lumber town where a teenage girl’s body was dumped in a river and viewers then spent the next two seasons wondering which of the town’s oddballs murdered poor Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) by shrink-wrapping her in plastic? It was Lynch who introduced the creepy heightened reality of his movies, including Blue Velvet, into network television and pioneered the use of the dwarf in prime-time drama.

Anyway, Giddings says The Kettering Incident — a “psychological drama” to be told in eight one-hour episodes and funded by Foxtel, BBC and Screen Tasmania — will be a “game-changer” for the Tasmanian screen industry. She says the $15 million production should create about 100 jobs for locals and Screen Tasmania’s $1 million investment will bring $5 million into the state’s economy.

Let’s face it, the Tasmanian TV industry hasn’t been the same since the of cancellation of The Collectors. Tassie’s cute take on the Antiques Roadshow concept valiantly dribbled along after the arrest of its host, Andy Muirhead, for the possession of child pornography. ABC TV eventually euthanised the once-cheerful show and thus ended Tasmania’s flirtation with upbeat local television shows, not to mention the opportunities for hopeful viewers asking the panel for help in identifying the provenance of the ceramic cat-shaped salt and pepper shakers they had bought at a fete in Burnie in 1952.

Well, Tasmania isn’t making optimistic TV shows like that any more. Oh no. There’s no more switching off the tele and heading off to bed at 9.30pm with that warm feeling that the next day holds the promise that rooting about under the incinerator might unearth some piece of junk to enter on the “Mystery Object” segment and then flog on eBay.

There’s no chance of hopeful now because The Kettering Incident signals it’s back to the sad-sack, gloomy, moody, creepy Tassie we know all know so well from that genre of popular culture that has lazily become known as “Tasmanian Gothic”.

Just as some people devour Scandinavian fiction for its tales of depressed, psycho killers skulking about on barren outcrops, rocky isthmuses, and spindly forests under leaden skies, we know that any story set in Tasmania will feature some hooded-eyed wacko channeling the inevitable ghosts of the past.

The critics lap up anything Tasmanian so long as it involves child killers, cannibals and any references to Truganini, even if it’s set in 2004. If an author can also inveigle a thylacine, a Tasmanian Devil or at the very least a Cape Barren Goose into a plot (never penguins; too cute), the critics will describe it as “cathartic”, “lyrical” and “hauntingly” something or other. This might result in the author selling the rights to a film producer no one has ever heard of for a feature that almost certainly will never be made because it’s all too time-consuming to be on Webjet trying to find cheap flights to Launceston.

But some films have managed to be made in Tasmania in recent years.Like Dying Breed in 2008 (pictured above, a zoologist goes to Tasmania looking for a Tasmanian Tiger but finds cannibals descended from convicts who try to eat her), Van Diemen’s Land in 2009 (a bunch of escaped convicts eat each other), and The Hunter in 2012 (Willem Defoe plays a mercenary working for a biotech company in search of a Tasmanian tiger’s DNA but various people, and one tiger, end up dead).

Now Screen Tasmania has worked up the money and contacts to plunge into TV production and has chosen to wallow in the same Gothic grave. The Kettering Incident, according to Foxtel:

“… begins as Doctor Anna Macy finds herself inexplicably linked to the cases of two girls who have mysteriously disappeared in identical circumstances in the wilds of Tasmania 15 years apart. To clear her name, Anna must delve into her troubled past and face some truths about herself and the otherworldly nature of this gothic land.”

What, no mangy Tasmanian tigers?

The show’s writer and co-creator Victoria Madden says The Kettering Incident has its genesis in real life. “There are a lot of unsolved mysteries here, a lot of people that have disappeared, and we are borrowing from that. We are exploring all of that,” she told the ABC.

Yes, well. Tasmania may have its fair share of serial killers, but does it have to air its dirty laundry in a television series? Would you catch South Australia exploiting the blood lust and body disposal fetishes of its creepier citizens on prime-time TV? Well, maybe in the occasional feature film, but even in that SA tourism ad with the scary Nick Cave soundtrack it manages to make digging holes in its rich soil for whatever nefarious reason look kind of classy and good for cultivating semillon grapes.

It seems Giddings has been visiting David Walsh’s Museum of Old and New Art again and has fallen under the spell of degenerate art and its goings on about sex and death. Sure, MONA is a huge success, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors, bringing tourists to the state for the first time, and putting not only Tasmania but Australia on the international art map. But what about some nice stories about Tasmania? What about an eight-part series about Mary Donaldson and her rise from Taroona High school girl to become Mary Crown Princess of Denmark? There’s nothing gothic about Mary.

Whatever happened to Tassie, the happy Apple Isle?

4 responses to “Tasmania: sex, death and apples

  1. Catching a re-run of Deliverance the other night on commercial television (insomnia paradise,1 a.m) perhaps the producers of The Kettering Incident should search out some Tassie version of the type of people who frequented that classic horror/drama film with a dose of Twin Peaks weirdness as a companion. The 2012 film The Hunter had some interesting yet stereo-typical characters (redneck, beer-swilling forest workers) and perhaps that economics/vs/greenies dynamic could work as a storyline ? Whether it garners a new breed of Tasmanian tourist is most likely debatable as well, perhaps Tasmanian Premier Lara Giddings is positioning herself for a board position in the film industry, post her political career. As Mike Basil said, a film about Tasmania’s darkest day (Martin Bryant and the Port Arthur massacre) is never going to happen.

  2. Bit hard to imagine a Tassie “Twin Peaks” but best not slag off on this effort just yet. It may surprise! Oh and no-one is interested in a biopic on “Our Mary” because they’d have to leave the saucy bits out.
    Oh and a film about Bryant won’t be made in Tassie for a very long time. It would be poison.

  3. I imagine the horrifying gothic of the series “Trees, Death and 1080”.

    In which the greedy Gunns’ Monster lays waste to vast swathes of the land, poisoning every plant and animal with enthusiastic government permission, and installing instead vast swathes of unsaleable E. nitens and E. globulus plantations.

  4. Oh, Raymond nobody is interested in Mary Donaldson… Nobody male, and no female with maturity past the princess and fairy myths. If you want a nice story maybe a biopic on Bob Brown… but probably the next Tasmanian film will be about Martin Bryant.


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