14th October 1989
TV’s favourite township has to fight for its very existence.
WANDIN VALLEY is under threat of extinction in the record-breaking 700th episode of A Country Practice.
The episode, called Future Shock, brings Dr Terence Elliott (Shane Porteous) to grips with some of the most momentous decisions he has had to make as figurehead of the Wandin Valley community.
“We learn that a multi-national coal company wants to open a mine near us,” says Shane. “And they want to dam and flood the valley.”
Dr Elliott, having resolved not to follow his wife Dr Alex to the Northern Territory, but to stay in the valley where he belongs, has to decide what role he should take in saving the community and the valley’s environment.
For Shane, there is a small irony in Dr Elliott’s dilemmas. Shane once had to decide whether to stand for pre-selection for the Australian Labor Party in the Blue Mountains electorate where he lives (he decided not to stand) … and where he takes an active role in the preservation movement.
In the Future Shock story, to screen this month, Dr Elliott leads the fight for Wandin Valley in the parish political jungle.
He confronts the local MP (played by Noel Trevarthen) and the shire chairman (Brian Moll), who have “insider” information on the mine project and use it for their own ends.
Park ranger Cathy Hayden (Kate Raison) joins the fray by tracking down an environmental impact study.
To add to the drama, there is an earth tremor which reveals what may be an ancient Aboriginal burial ground.
“There’s a lot going on in this story,” Shane says. “It is very busy.”
Shane is one of the few original ACP cast members left in the show since its debut in November 1981. Lorrae Desmond, Brian Wenzel and Syd Heylen are the others.
After playing Dr Elliott for eight years, Shane says he knows his character “reasonably well”.
“When he started he was a morose character, carrying huge loads of guilt over his failed marriage, the death of his son and the fact that he’d run away from it all,” Shane says.
“He obviously was a good surgeon but he was bad with personal relationships. Over the years he has become more relaxed, more confident, a lot more open. He’s changed a lot.
“Viewers write to me for help about illnesses. I had a letter from an anorexic girl in Victoria. She didn’t know what to do.
“I wrote back, saying she had to talk to the doctor. She had to overcome the idea that she couldn’t express herself properly. I wrote a longish letter setting out what I thought she was trying to say and suggested she take it to her doctor.
“I suppose it was like a letter of referral! She was in her early 20s and had difficulty explaining herself face-to-face. I heard from her again. She was still fairly depressed but she did say she had been seeing doctors.
“Some people write to me in confidence as they would to their family doctor,’’ adds Shane.
“They are obviously identifying with the character of Terence and the way he has been written, as having a solicitous, caring ear.”
For his “credible bedside manner … all the doctoring stuff” he thanks ACP’s three staff nursing sisters and ATN7’s Dr John D’Arcy, who “have been terrific on all sorts of things”.
He says the success of ACP (the previous long-distance champions were The Young Doctors, a half-hour show totalling 698 hours, and Prisoner at 692 hours) is a lucky combination of factors.
“Tf there was just one particular secret of success there would be a lot of other shows doing the same thing,” Shane says.
“But the fact that ACP is set in a small country town is very important. It means that, credibly, the doctors, the police, the nurses and the vet all know one another.
It allows all the regular characters to get involved.
“Then there is the humor. People like Syd and Gordon Piper and Joyce Jacobs give the valley its color, its flavor.”
Shortly before episode 700 screened, Shane was scheduled to take a two-week break. He had business to attend to in the Blue Mountains.
He has written and is to narrate a video program for the Blue Mountains Rescue And Emergency Services.
“It’s about how not to get lost in the mountains” he says, “and how to make the most of them without destroying the environment.
“Anybody who thinks at all realises it’s a resource which is being destroyed too fast. Forests are renewable but they aren’t renewable as fast as they are being destroyed.”
Story: Christopher Da
Cover and picture: Ross Coffey
(wombat and kangaroo courtesy Featherdale, Wildlife Park, NSW)
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