Blue Heelers: articles

The end of the thin, blue line

Considering he’s spent his time in a bucolic country police station where all crimes are solved and the days end with a friendly beer down at the local, it’s been a tough 11 years for Detective Senior Constable P.J. Hasham.

Since Blue Heelers premiered in January 1994, Hasham has killed two people, made countless arrests, had a shag in a mineshaft and a bevy of lovers, two of whom met violent ends - Maggie Doyle, shot by her corrupt policeman brother, and Jo Parrish, blown up by a criminal with a hatred of cops.

There hasn’t been quite so much excitement in the life of Hasham’s alter ego, actor Martin Sacks, but much has changed since he joined Heelers at its inception as a single, globetrotting actor aged 33.

“It’s not surprising,” he points out, laughing. “I’ve spent a quarter of my life on Blue Heelers.”

One of the most recognisable faces on Australian television, Sacks has appeared in almost all the 483 Blue Heelers episodes so far, including last year’s live episode, the first for a contemporary Australian drama. Along the way he picked up a clutch of silver Logies, and PJ’s will-they-won’t-they romance with Lisa McCune’s much-loved Maggie Doyle, in the mid-to-late 1990s, was watched by up to 4 million viewers a week. AdvertisementAdvertisement

He also squeezed in roles away from Mt Thomas, playing a career criminal in British-Australian miniseries Do or Die, and wife-killer Andrew Kalajzich in the telemovie My Husband My Killer.

Now 45, Sacks married interior designer Kate Allen in 1999 and the couple have two sons, Jack, 5, and Ned, 3.

Last year, he fulfilled a long-held wish for a sea change and quit city life. The family now lives on a few hectares, 15 minutes drive from the northern NSW coastal town of Byron Bay, where Sacks helps coach his son’s soccer team, the Byron Bay Panthers, and the boys have joined the local surf-rider club. While dad works hard to improve his long-boarding skills, Jack Sacks recently won merit in a Future Legends Surf Competition, presented by past legend Nat Young. Sacks says the family had planned to stay a year but is now looking to buy and there is talk of the boys getting pets. Sacks is impressed with small-town living, the rural community and the opportunities local schooling will give his sons away from the “rarefied air” of urban private schools typically frequented by offspring of the privileged.

There is “an incredible socio-economic difference” that you see in the Byron Bay community, he says. “You’ve got this whole mix of people that are in this group and they’re just chucked together. If they go, they’ll go to the local school. It’s really good for the kids’ character.”

For six months, Sacks flew to Melbourne to film Blue Heelers two or three days a week. He decided to quit, with encouragement from his wife, after reassessing his priorities.

“I just want to be available to my family and be available to my boys,” he says. “This time is very precious and there’ll come a time when they don’t want to know so I want to grab on to that time now, while I can. We’re spending time doing simple things.” The hardest thing, he has found, is walking away from friendships cemented over a bumpy 12-year ride.

“But there comes a time when you have to say, this is what I want, these are the changes and you actually have to make the change… You can’t implement this sort of change and have fear, you just have to do it. No guts, no glory.”

After speaking with Heelers producer Gus Howard in October, Sacks agreed to delay his exit until mid-2005. He filmed his last scenes on May 31.

“The timing wouldn’t have been right prior to this… For many years it was just a very, very small cast and we were working extraordinarily long hours. These days there’s a large cast and its better able to cope with departures, I think.”

The delay also allowed him to realise an ambition to direct, something he’d wished for since writing and directing a short film, Crushed, in 2003. He has now directed two episodes of Blue Heelers and hopes to do a third later this year.

“I’d always quietly had one ear open, or one eye open, for what the director was doing while I was acting but I kept it to myself,” he says. “The whole story-telling aspect is something that I love about directing. Rather than be one ingredient as an actor, you are shaping the story. You are the storyteller.

“Obviously acting is my meat and potatoes so if there is a miniseries or feature that is available to do in a short burst, then that’s something that I’d continue to do.”

After a heady few years, he invested his earnings wisely and can choose not to work for a while if the right roles don’t come his way. “I guess also getting older raises issues about mortality and about reassessing what’s important, prioritising,” he says. “And how can I complain? Eleven and a half years of gainful employment, in this industry, is very unusual. It’s been a great innings and it’s time for a new adventure.”

After Hasham’s rough road, Sacks is happy with his character’s happy ending which sees him transferred to the homicide squad in Melbourne.

“The temptation is always for it to happen in dramatic circumstances. This is a very simple exit. He gets promoted and he moves on, he just leaves,” he says. “It’s a lot more realistic and, I think, a lot more grown up. It avoids the cliche, too.”

Does he think PJ will ever return to Mt Thomas?

“Well, you never know. It’s homicide and there’s a bit of homicide in Mt Thomas,” he laughs. “Who knows? You never know.”

In the meantime, viewers can rest easy knowing that the Mt Thomas police station remains under the capable eye of Senior Sergeant Tom Croydon and Detective Senior Constable Amy Fox. “I think the residents of Mt Thomas are in very safe hands,” Sacks says.

Blue Heelers screens on Wednesdays at 8.30pm on Channel Seven.

By Kylie Miller
July 21, 2005
The Age