“Culled out – Cal Cullen speaks his mind” Patrol Boat 14th April 1982

The Australian Women’s Weekly
14th April 1982

HALF A CENTURY AGO, visionaries imported an oversized maccano set and constructed a bridge over Sydney Harbour.

To mark the 50th anniversary of the old coat-hanger, the authorities stopped traffic and allowed pedestrians to wander at large upon the roadway. A nice gesture, but hardly novel. Nothing has been able to move there at more than a walking pace for years.

The TV industry celebrated the occasion with an outburst of artistic creativity. Every news service did its thing, and there was a welter of lightweight documentaries. Sadly, none were very praiseworthy.

Worst of all was the ABC’s effort, which coincided with its own 50th anniversary. It was outstandingly dull. The research was superficial, the script amateurish, the commentary monotonous. Even the archive footage was uninteresting.

It was apparently underwritten in some way by the NSW DePartment of Main Roads, which makes it even more an inexcusable waste of public money. After all the Bridge itself isn’t yet paid for, and by the time the State of NSW frees itself from the clutches of the moneylenders the poor old thing will be falling down.

The Bridge is more than a landmark, more than an engineering feat’ It is a national symbol. And when it does finally succumb to rust and metal fatigue, the pity is that probably only this dreary, inept documentary will survive to recall its days of glorY.

OF COURSE, THE FINANCIAL involvement, direct or indirect, or other government bodies in ABC projects – logistical help, for instance is a good idea. Visionary. Far-sighted. In line with suggestions made in the Dix report.

The subject of money used to be a sordid one at the ABC, unless it involved squandering vast sums on something silly. a few years back,I remember, there was acute embarrassment when the publishingr division, with a mere handful of staff, actuallY oPerated at a Profit.

In drama, the ABC has involved itself in a number of co-productions which might, or might not, have ended up in the black. It doesn’t much matter. At least, it was trying, and the idea of using outside investment to boost local production budgets is commendable.

But there are wicked whispers of interstate rivalries frustrating the commercial aspirations of ABC producers. There are irresponsible rumours of an unfinished studio limiting colour production. There are shocking stories about erased tapes of saleable episodes of the serial Certain Women.

There is a terrible tale regarding a series called Patrol Boat. This was never what could be called a hot property. It dealt with the men of a branch of the service which protects our shores from invasion of one kind or another.

Mostly, the actors were called upon to salute and say “sir” a lot as they bobbed up and down upon the waves. It was so genteel, so neat, so crisply starched and pressed. Young Andrew MacFarlane was made to look more like an air hostess than a naval officer, and the rest of the crew resembled a chorus line about to burst into song and do a quick number from Anchors Aweigh.

But the series had enough going for it to be sold overseas. The buyers wanted more, another series in fact, for which they were prepared to pay big bikkies. Alas, the ABC could not oblige. Dear me, it hadn’t been allowed for a budget planning. Perhaps in a year or two…

Well, three or four years have passed, and I hear that the series is about to be revived. I understand that Ted Roberts has been rented to write 13 episodes. Mr Roberts is a good hand, with a talent for turning out marketable stuff. If the ABC leaves him alone, it might find itself with something viable, even profitable, on its list.

I must point out that there is nothing novel in this, either. There are some clever people at the ABC with a cunning eye upon the main chance, sweating on a chance to demonstrate how they can snap up a quid out in the market place.

As proof, I offer a thing called Auntie Jack. This alleged entertainment featured a man in drag wearing boxing gloves, and was watched by practically nobody. It was, like most ABC comedy, a waste of money. But a few weeks back, some of that money came back. Not from the sale of the show, of course. From the sale of a chair. Yes, the very chair upon which Auntie Jack sat brought $350 at an auction of surplus government stores.

Which proves that there are still visionaries about. Whoever chose that chair for Graham Bond to park his bottom on was a very far-sighted fellow indeed.

Original content copyright The Australian Women’s Weekly.