Academic journal article Hecate

'A Country Practice:' Motherhood, Surrogacy and the Price of Love

Academic journal article Hecate

'A Country Practice:' Motherhood, Surrogacy and the Price of Love

Article excerpt

A Country Practice aired its last show in its present format in November 1993. In the week leading up to the finale, Channel Seven ran midday repeats of five of the most popular episodes of the long-running soapie--five weddings from the series. The Australian Women's Weekly (November 1993) as well, devoted a seven page colour spread to commemorate the grand finale--again featuring the wedding photos of the five happy couples. On the evening of the last show, which broke all previous ratings records, viewers were treated to an additional wedding, that of Dr Terrence Elliot to Matron Prior. These repetitions call attention to one of the hallmarks of the series--its ability to engage viewers in affective feelings of community and belonging, through the happy-ever-after fantasies of love and marriage. The series ended on a high with its reputation intact for being the longest running soap opera, and one of the most popular television programmes in Australia. Introduced in Australia in 1991, it has been internationally marketed, screening successfully in more than 31 countries. Why is it so popular, particularly for women viewers? What has been its formula for success?

The programme has often been praised for its progressive treatment of social issues, and even lauded as an agent for social change--although it has also been challenged for its perpetration of conservative ideologies and stereotypes. It has dealt with a variety of topical issues, including multiculturalism, inter-racial relationships, single parenthood, environmental destruction, unemployment, teen-age drug use, glue sniffing, herpes, marital breakups, AIDS, abortion, invitro fertilisation and maternal surrogacy. Its guests have included a host of stars--from Molly Meldrum, popular TV cult personality and former compere of the teen music programme, Countdown, to Bob Hawke, the former Prime Minister.

The show conforms to the genre of Australian family soaps with its episodic combination of domestic concerns and adventure drama, but it owes more to the British serial tradition of Coronation Street and All Creatures Great and Small than to the American variety prime-time soaps Dallas or Dynasty. Set in the country, it notionally appeals to a universal western Arcadian desire to recapture the flavour of a world gone by, while at the same time producing a specifically Australian atmosphere of the here and now. More of a dramatic serial, it deviates from the typical serial or soap in that it is presented as a two-part, self-contained but ongoing weekly drama which runs in the prime family viewing spot on Monday and Tuesday nights from 7.30 to 8.30 pm.

The programme plays to an international audience, but its values are mythically Australian. The setting, Wandin Valley, is a sleepy country town in the lush rural countryside of New South Wales. The show is littered with Australian icons of identity--Akubra hats, R. M. Williams jeans, Vegemite jars, Aussie rock star T-shirts, and a dialogue spiced with Australian idioms. Frank and Shirl, who had been for years a pivotal couple in Wandin Valley circles, even sheltered a pet wombat. Tulloch and Moran analyse the show extensively in their study A Country Practice: Quality 'Soap '. They delineate the four main categories of characters, each of whom, they maintain, represents a range of vocational, generic, historical and cultural determinants. They are the major and minor regulars and major and minor transients, referred to in the trade as the 'settlers' and the 'nomads'.(1) Aside from the doctors and nurses of the hospital staff, the regular stars have included a greenie, a pair of married vets, a copper, a couple of larrikins, and even a sticky beak. All are constructed (for local as well as overseas consumption) as "typical Aussie" types. Of course, all are mates.

Although connected to the larger world of social ills, the moral fibre of this community is conservative, even reactionary; the mood is nostalgic, and life, above all, is safe. …

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