This is without a doubt the biggest and best thing I have done in my career so far. The production – co-created and co-written with my very dear friend Tony Morphett, godfathered by Scott Meek, produced by the brilliant Gus Howard and EP’d with just the right firmness of touch by Miranda Dear and, later, Amanda Higgs of the ABC. Click here to see a trailer. The actors were superb from the top of the cast list to the bottom and the haunting music by The Audreys sounded as if it had been written for the series (it wasn’t).
The story of how it came about is interesting. I was in London when the ABC announced its new head of drama, Scott Meek. Tony emailed me and said, “he’s in London, you’re in London, he’s Scottish, you’re Scottish, call him.” So I did and to my amazement he took the call and we chatted for about 20 minutes, which if nothing else made it easier to get his attention when he eventually arrived in Sydney to take up his new position.
So we met and Tony and I pitched various drama ideas – old one, new ones – anything we thought he might like, but nothing. Then eventually Scott asked, has anybody ever done a vet show? Now, of course , there was A Country Practice but that was a long long time ago and wasn’t exactly what he meant. So Tony and I went off and came up with a (merely) brilliant proposal which was basically “All Creatures Great And Small (And Marsupial)”.
Now, Scott kind of liked this but not quite enough. We were experiencing what can only be described as “creative wheelspin” – lots of noise and energy but no forward movement – so we decided to go to Southern Star (with whom we’d both been talking anyway) and told them we had a foot and half a leg in the door at the ABC but we needed someone who could talk producer to producer.
Southern Star pointed us in the direction of Gus Howard who’s just come off seven years of producing Blue Heelers and was keen to get a creative challenge. Gus flew us down to Adelaide and drove us round the area where the TV series would be eventually shot. Over the course of a weekend, as we visited half abandoned towns and dessicated farms, All Marsupials Great and Small became the dark, brooding Outback Gothic piece which is available on DVD today. During production the crew often commented on how close the scripts were to the location – and the simple reason for that was that the locations were part of the story before a word was written.
Our final meeting with Scott Meek at the ABC before we signed up for the series was one of those stories that can only happen in TV. Everyone was happy with what we were doing and how we were going to do it and Scott announced that we had earned ourselves a lunch and if we would just wait downstairs in the foyer, he would go and get his jacket and answer any urgent calls that were waiting for him. So Tony and I went downstairs and waited and waited until eventually we , being insecure writers, decided we must be waiting in the wrong place. So we called back to the drama department and Miranda Dear came down and told us that they were very sorry but something had come up on another project and we knew how it was etc etc and Scott was very apologetic.
And we did know how it was etc etc so we went off and had a celebratory lunch on our own. We found out later that Scott had walked back to his office and had been handed a letter telling him his services were not longer required by the ABC. We were his very last meeting there. How Hollywood! But the show survived and Miranda stepped seamlessly into the breach and Scott got another great job and everything was fine.
But I do have one quibble. Someone somewhere did a deal with the ABC that said the DVD would only be sold via ABC shops and their website – nowhere else. That Christmas, I went into three ABC shops to see what kind of display it was getting and only one had it on the shelf. Considering it had been rating its noo-nahs off just a couple of weeks before, and that they were the only outlet, you’d think they could have squeezed a bit of space inbetween their BBC costume dramas and Two Ronnies boxed sets for a bit of local product. Even today, you can go to JB-Hifi and see an entire display dedicated to ABC product and still not find Rain Shadow – because they only sell it in ABC Shops which do, however, have very good displays of All Creatures Great And Small.
Oh, and if anyone ever wants to do All Marsupials Great And Small – have we got a concept for you!