Blue Heelers: articles

Scripts get a magic touch

Cassandra Carter, a writer for Blue Heelers, knows a thing or two about her craft. And not just the craft of writing. With the show about to celebrate its 300th episode, Carter has lent her own magic touch to Mt Thomas in more ways than one.

Carter, who joined the show soon after its debut in 1994, is the author of a book, Every Day Magic, and while some would call her a "witch'', she explains it another way. "I don't describe myself as a witch mainly because that means I spend more time explaining what it is I don't do than what it is I do,'' Carter says.

Carter is interested in "Old Religion'', including Celtic spirituality and "what I would call Celtic wisecraft rather than witchcraft, mainly because a lot of witchcraft is, in fact, what we would call psychological process''.

"The old village wise woman, which is the tradition in which I basically am working, was a very sound psychologist - she understood the people she was working with and for.''

In addition to having a master's degree in mediaeval studies, you may wonder how all this affects Carter as a Heelers writer.

Carter, a large woman with an imposing presence, walks with a hand-carved wooden staff. She is insightful, passionate about nuances and cadences. She introduced witchcraft to Mt Thomas in 1996 with the character Siobhan Kennedy (Rosalind Hammond), who Carter describes as "a 20-years-younger alter ego''.

"In life there are always situations where you think later, 'Oh, I wish I had thought to say such and such' and here's an opportunity to polish my dialogue.''

Carter is one of 14 freelance writers who pen one in 10 episodes and it was her turn to write the 300th. She says "Tough Nut'' revolves around Senior Sergeant Tom Croydon (John Wood) and the newest cast member, Sergeant Tess Gallagher (Caroline Craig). A child-abuse case stirs emotions in Tess about her own childhood.

Was there a brief for the 300th episode? "They wanted an episode that was going to showcase some of the new characters while reminding people why they watch the show in the first place.''

Carter attributes the show's success to its ability to "touch the heart'' and to explore "the nature of our ongoing characters through their interaction with guest characters''.

Carter says another key is allowing writers to explore stories they want to do. Her interests include dealing with mental and emotional disorders, and non-English speaking characters. So far, she has written about schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, euthanasia, motor-neurone disease and she introduced the Turkish Demir family. "There are not as many non-Anglos in country towns as there are in the city, but there are enough. You can't and shouldn't ignore it,'' she said.

Even when not scriptwriting, Carter is still switched on. She lives in Regent, north of Preston - "a very European area'' - and enjoys sitting in her local coffee shop to "listen to what's going on''.

"I joke that you can usually tell a writer at a party - they're the one sitting in the corner listening and watching.''

Carter was born in Britain, grew up in Brisbane and later returned overseas, working as a literary agent in London. A spate of IRA bombings made Australia look attractive.

"I've been in television since - how could I forget - April Fool's Day 1980.'' Starting as a script editor for Crawford Productions enabled her to "see the mistakes other people have made and learn how to avoid them''. Her first writing job was for Carson's Law.

On Blue Heelers Carter has not only raised social issues; she saw the creation of Siobhan as an opportunity to correct community prejudice about witchcraft. "When I first started writing her all of the old prejudices were still in place and I wanted to write a character who's in the community and she's just there.''

What does the future hold for the show beyond 300? Carter says it's in the exploration of its characters. "When everyone said, 'Oh, when Lisa McCune leaves, the show is going to fall apart' - it hasn't. Every time we get in a new character the dynamics change, so from a writer's point of view you get to explore different aspects of the regular characters, as well as gradually reveal the new character.''

Carter lives inside her characters' heads and it's a wise craft to have.

Blue Heelers screens on Wednesday on Channel Seven at 8.30pm

March 22, 2001
The Age