I’m not sure who first referred to the Rule family, the subject of their own new reality show on National Indigenous Television, as Australia’s Kardashians. I can’t figure out if the phrase first appeared in some NITV publicity material, or whether a journalist made the comparison that seems to have stuck, but it’s certainly a term that’s proven great headline fodder. So you’ll forgive me for using the K-word in mine.
In some ways, it’s a pretty poor comparison — the ten women who make up the Rule family haven’t lived their lives in the public eye, don’t seem to be particularly fame-hungry, and live in a comfortable corner of middle class Perth suburbia — but the style of the six-part reality show Family Rules is modelled closely on the style popularised by shows on the American E! channel, including Keeping Up with the Kardashians.
And it certainly proves to be an interesting way of capturing the everyday conflicts and challenges that a large group of young Indigenous women face living in an urban area — something rarely documented in any way.
Daniella is the head of the family, a single mother with nine daughters since her husband died from a coward punch in 2004. She proves to be entirely devoted to her daughters and places huge importance on education, both for herself and her girls. She has an “honour wall” in the family home, with graduation photos for the girls. They range from 12 years of age up to 29, and have each been given a “character” label by the producers, for example, the Rebel, the Quiet One, the Enforcer, the Thinker, the Baby.
But things start quietly in the first episode, which focuses on 17-year-old Aleisha’s graduation ball. She needs to find the perfect gown, but there are conflicting opinions among the women as to what that gown should be. Aleisha ‘the Rebel’ has her ideas about what glamour is, and likes to use plenty of makeup and bling, but her older sister Shenika, a professional model, believes Aleisha should wear much, much less.
The major conflict of the episode? Aleisha wants hair extensions for her ball, but she doesn’t want to pay for them. Will her mother and sisters help out?
In one particularly memorable exchange, Aleisha declares, “It’s not that I want hair extensions, it’s that I need hair extensions.”
There’s almost no mention of the family’s Aboriginality in the first episode, no exploration of how Daniella deals with the challenges life has thrown her way, and only relatively low-level conflicts. But it’s compelling viewing because of its ordinariness.
It may be that the stakes of the first episode are a little too low to keep audiences watching for all six episodes but it’s certainly a smart way of telling the stories of these women and a reminder as to the diversity of Indigenous peoples’ experiences.
They don’t conform to any stereotype applied to Indigenous women, but the family dynamic would be recognisable for anybody who has lived with a group of headstrong and confident young women.