The Secret Life of Us: articles

Edgerton, Budd, Karvan

City slickers: Joel Edgerton, Sibylla Budd and Claudia Karvan in The Secret Life of Us

A double take on the good life

Sydney has a body double. It is a city filled with beautiful, tanned people, gay and straight, who live by the sea and go out a lot. A city where the sun always shines. A city with palm trees and roller-coasters and cute soap stars. The other Sydney is called Melbourne and it displays itself every week on Channel Ten's hit series The Secret Life of Us, a show that has been described as a "home-grown amalgam" of This Life and Sex and the City.

In this secret Melbourne, St Kilda is a bohemian Bondi where attractive young doctors like Alex (Claudia Karvan) slum it in crazy shared households just a stone's throw from the beach. The gang sit around a rickety table on their rooftop and swig VBs while watching the sun go down over the moorish domes of The Palais theatre. Trams zoom by below. Screams float upwards on the warm night air as the Scenic Railway rolls up and down at nearby Luna Park.

When the deco apartment block gets a little too cosy, there are plenty of healthy distractions: a light meal in a sun-drenched restaurant; an informal game of soccer at the park down by the sea; or a swim at the local outdoor pool, which is guaranteed to be sparkling clean and nearly empty. (The flat Port Phillip sea is just for looking at in secret Melbourne—no-one actually swims in it.)

The people are as clean as the settings. Richie has lovely caramel skin and a waxed chest, Rex has his perfect teeth and Gabrielle is so well-groomed that she would qualify as "smart casual" in a bikini, sarong and thongs.

Actually, Gabrielle (Sibylla Budd) could be a pin-up for the new, glamorous Melbourne because she also starred in Robert Connolly's The Bank (2001). Budd plays a disaffected teller called Michelle and in one thrilling scene she and maths whiz Jim Doyle (David Wenham) take a water taxi underneath the Bolte Bridge and somehow arrive at a swish party at a house on the banks of the Yarra. It was beautiful, that taxi ride. The only thing missing was the Opera House.

But while Melbourne is becoming sun, money and six-packs on film and television, Sydney appears to be all surfed out. In the ABC's ill-fated series Love is a Four-letter Word, a bunch of pale, washed-up 20-somethings moped about in a dump of a pub that had been invaded by pokie machines. Occasionally, live music penetrated the gloom but even this was out of place when everyone knows that it is Melbourne, not Sydney, that has the pub-rock scene.

Likewise, in Alan White's terrific debut, Erskineville Kings (1999), two estranged brothers try to make sense of their lives after the death of their father. They drink, fight, talk and play pool at Kings Hotel in a run-down inner-west Sydney suburb, a place that has the same slightly deserted, melancholic atmosphere that Melbourne suburbs used to have in films such as Spotswood (1991), Death in Brunswick (1991) and Malcolm (1986).

It's hard to imagine where unusual, downbeat individuals like the tram-obsessed Malcolm (Colin Friels) or Brunswick's drunken chef Carl (Sam Neill) would fit in in secret, slick, seaside Melbourne. They wouldn't be in St Kilda, where the rents are too high and the rooming houses have closed. Perhaps they've moved to Sydney, where it's certain to rain some of the time and the odd power pole is allowed to puncture the rows of palms.

By Rachel Buchanan
April 17, 2002
Sydney Morning Herald