Remote Area Nurse: articles

Porter pushing boundaries with RAN

Susie Porter's new TV drama series, RAN (Remote Area Nurse), pushes boundaries on a number of levels.

It is the first time Torres Strait Islander culture has been portrayed on television in a non-documentary format and it looks at issues not often discussed in the culture.

"It is completely ground-breaking," said Porter, who plays nurse Helen Tremain.

"A lot of people don't even realise that Torres Strait Islanders are an indigenous population.

"It is sort of like a lost world up there.

"People only know of it really by the forms you fill out asking if you are of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent."

RAN's six one-hour episodes follow a year in the life of Tremain, and the difficulties of providing medical assistance for a remote island community.

Porter's character struggles to fit in with the local people and, with a not so happy life off the island, strives for acceptance.

"I was very interested in the psychological reasoning behind these women, or men, who are nurses, and why they do this," Porter said.

"A lot of time there is a sense that they are running away from life. And I think in a lot of ways my character is wanting to find her identity, not realising that she already has one."

Porter stars alongside established actors Billy Mitchell, Luke Carroll, Peta Brady, John Brumpton, Gail Mabo and Bruce Spence.

Producers also unearthed a raft of untapped talent in first time actors such as Charles Passi, Merwez Whaleboat and Aaron Fa'aoso.

"There aren't that many Torres Strait Islander actors out there," said Porter.

"And if there are, they get cast as Aboriginals and they resent that, and I don't blame them."

RAN was filmed over three months on remote Masig (Yorke) Island.

The production crew lived in tents while actors shared homes given up by some of the 300 locals.

Porter kept herself busy learning lines, washing clothes and reading books during the down time, but said some of the cast and crew went a little "stir crazy".

She said Bruce Spence took on assistant director duties for one episode to keep himself busy.

"And he was a traffic controller because he would prefer to do something," Porter said.

The series looks at a range of issues including alcoholism, gambling, domestic violence and health, specifically diabetes.

"I like the fact that it doesn't hold back," she said.

"There is no point in doing a mini-series that is just all tied up in a pink bow because it doesn't do anything for anyone.

"Any culture has issues. No-one wants to have a completely didactic piece and no-one wants to be preached at."

Producers had maintained a good balance on the issues, Porter said.

"This shows both sides of things but doesn't take any judgment," she said.

"They don't candy coat it, which is good but there is also the fact that it is no holds barred and they show the other side, the humour of the culture and the dancing, the music and their way of life.

"So it is a good balance."

Living on the island wasn't always easy, Porter said, explaining the various ailments she suffered during her three months on Masig Island.

"I had a lot of bites, mosquito and flea bites, and I had a little tropical ulcer so I couldn't really swim with it because the water is so hot and all the micro-organisms survive," she said.

"Plus the sharks, there were lots of sharks. So I did swim but I had to be careful."

RAN will air during January and February, before the 2006 ratings season begins.

Porter is counting on people being eager to watch a strong Australian drama and suggested SBS would run the series again.

"I know they have chosen to put it to air in a non-ratings period, which is always a risk, but hopefully if the commercial stations are non-rating people will tune in," she said.

"But I have a feeling they will play this more than once."

And there is talk of RAN Two.

"Maybe the government might want to give the SBS more money to go and further the story with some of the other characters," she said.

"It was a really great project to be involved with and, in fear of sounding too earnest, it is full of integrity as a series."

Porter is known for such film roles as Better Than Sex, Paradise Road, Idiot Box, Two Hands, Feeling Sexy, Mullet and Bootmen.

Her television credits include guest spots on Secret Life of Us, Water Rats, Wildside and Silent Witness.

Prior to being offered the RAN gig, Porter had been living in London working on a West End theatre production.

So it wasn't a hard decision to choose a tropical island over winter in Europe.

Also, Porter was keen to work with producer Penny Chapman, who is known for her work on Brides of Christ.

"Once I saw the script, I saw that it was really great writing," she said.

"And the fact that Torres Strait Islander culture has never been shown in a non-documentary form before and no-one really knows about it.

"Plus, I just finished a play on the West End in London and winter was looming so it was that or a tropical island for three months."

Aside from RAN, Porter has a feature film, Caterpillar Wish, a small role in Steven Spielberg's Nightmare, a Dreamscapes TV series, and a guest appearance on Love My Way.

She will also appear in Bryan Brown's Two Twisted series.

"I try to let go of thinking about what my life will become because my life is what it is now," she said when asked where she saw her career heading.

"I don't know what will happen. I only get uncomfortable with myself if I think about the future."

December 23, 2005