Mystery Road

The photo of Aaron Pedersen as Jay Swan is from a promotional site with the addition of a ‘film’ frame.

Some time ago I watched a film, Goldstone, which was meant to be a stand-alone. I was confused by much of it. The story, an ordinary thriller, set in the Australian outback, was clear enough, but I didn’t seem to grasp the character of the lead detective, Jay Swan.

I then gathered that it was in fact a spin-off from the TV series, Mystery Road, which I hadn’t seen. That explained things. I liked the setting and direction so when Mystery Road Season 2 appeared on our screens I went to iPlayer to download it. (I never seem to be able to watch things exactly when they’re aired.) I was pleased and surprised to find that the whole of Season 1 was also available. I’ve been binge watching!

I absolutely loved it. The series is made by Australians using Indigenous Australian actors, and the plot lines revolve around the treatment of Indigenous communities. Incidentally, I have never understood why the term ‘Indigenous’ is used when clearly the people came from elsewhere in the first place. However, it has to be better than the previous ‘Aborigine’.

The main detective is an Indigenous Australian. In the first season he works with a white police officer whose family have been involved in cheating communities out of water rights. The murder of a white boy is investigated, leading to all kinds of secrets being discovered, and also to drug running which then leads into Season 2.

In Season 2, the drugs case is ongoing, set against the background of a university archaeological dig on community property. Jay works with a local Indigenous police officer and the various threads of community feeling and responsibility are deftly woven together, as are the problems of racism, both overt and subtly patronising.

Knowing that the show was made with the full involvement of the Indigenous people gave the themes a gravitas that I think they would not have got if a less diverse team had made the programmes.

I’m aware that some viewers found the premise of the drug dealing preposterous. Perhaps, but drugs are a very real problem in rural Australia as well as in the cities, and as they form the basis of a lot of crime stories they were a good ‘hook’ on which to hang the real story, which is not a detective ‘thriller’ at all but that of a changing society. The drug dealing also led to some very violent scenes but those, and the car chases, might well have been inserted to attract viewers (especially in Australia) who would not otherwise watch a show about Indigenous problems.

The filming was excellent. The direction and photography were extremely good and the acting was at times superb and always competent. It was lovely to see some affirmative action for Indigenous actors and I really hope some of the actors find work in the wider film industry as a result of their performance here. It doesn’t hurt that Aaron Pedersen, who plays Jay Swan, is very easy on the eye!

The locations were well chosen and made me feel nostalgic for the time I spent in Australia. I didn’t in fact go to that specific area but the ‘outback’ was lovingly depicted and so were the small towns.

The music was gorgeous. There was a mix of Indigenous Australian music and classical religious song. I have created a short playlist for myself on Spotify – if anyone wants to listen, it’s called Mystery Road Favourites By Lizzie.  

As well as Goldstone, there’s another film, simply called Mystery Road and I am intending to watch it as it’s available on Amazon Prime. I understand it either follows Season 2 or very closely precedes it.

The TV series are available for about a year on BBC iPlayer so I would recommend them to anyone with an interest in Australia, a concern about racism in any form and a liking for police dramas. I certainly won’t remember the details of the drug busting, but the communities and individuals will stay with me for a long time.

5 thoughts on “Mystery Road

  1. An interesting review.

    Aaron Pederson is quite well known here as is David Gulpilil (Goldstone), while Ernie Dingo (Mystery Road TV series) is just about a national treasure. Yes, I looked up the cast! Unfortunately our ABC doesn’t keep shows on iview for very long, so I can’t watch the series at the moment, but there might be repeats, which I will definitely watch. Not sure why you think Australian’s wouldn’t watch shows about our indigenous people. The ABC isn’t the most popularly watched channel, but it is watched and has some excellent dramas. I agree that ‘indigenous’ rather than ‘Aboriginal’ is better usage, but our indigenous peoples have been here for over 60,000 years, which makes them fairly indigenous I would have thought. First People is now in common use as well.

    • I don’t think Australians in general wouldn’t watch! I just think there’s a demographic of viewers anywhere who would only watch if there were exciting car chases etc. and they’re probably the ones the film makers want to target! In UK, that would be viewers who are hard to attract to films dealing with serious issues and I’m pretty sure the makers of Mystery Road were anxious to reach an audience who would turn away from more ‘sober’ or documentary presentations. That, for them, would be particularly important within Australia, though it would apply world wide, too.

      • I see what you mean, and yes, there is often a perceived need to add ‘dramatic’ elements like car chases to productions. In this particular instances it might perhaps have detracted from the production rather than opened it to a wider audience.

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