ABC’s Mystery Road: an Engaging Depiction of Aboriginal Identity in Contemporary Australia

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I found myself checking flight prices from Sydney to Western Australia after watching ABC’s new outback drama series Mystery Road. I wanted to fly right into the rich culture and brutally beautiful landscape captured on screen.

The series reinvigorated the western genre, adding contemporary Indigenous Australian perspectives and the  breathtaking desert-meets-ocean setting. This collaboration of Bunya Productions and the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) is directed by Warwick Thornton (of Samson and Delilah and Sweet Country) and Wayne Blair (of The Sapphires and Cleverman). The series uses the western genre conventions in contemporary Australia. Detective Jay Swan (Aaron Pedersen, from Arrernte and Arabana country) must arbitrate both the law and deep lore (Indigenous Australian traditions and knowledge) in the fictitious town Gideon – captured by Western Australia’s Dampier Peninsula.

I came to a deeper appreciation of this series by analysing it with reference to a variety of academia:

  • Characterisation in the series demonstrates an understanding of how many different parts of a person’s identity can compound to create marginalisation (e.g. discrimination not only as a First Nations person – racism, but also a woman – sexism), corresponding with the work of Joyner et al. (2018) on intersectionality.
  • Unlike much Australian media, which undermines Aboriginal political aspirations, the series doesn’t. It aligns with Thomas et al. (2019) description of the empowered sovereignty/nationhood narrative.
  • Within a society built on British colonisation, many white Aussies have a sense of belonging to this land. This complicates the sense of belonging felt by our First People, who don’t always align with values and traditions of the contemporary mainstream society. The Indigenous Australian directors of Mystery Road, as well as the majority of the writers and cast, demonstrate a breadth of belonging experiences in Australia, as explored by Moreton-Robinson (2015).

Overall, I found Mystery Road (especially Season Two) to be an engaging western with a modern Indigenous twist – I highly recommend it!

I’ve also done an academic analysis :)

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