Category Archives: Australian television history

Phoenix: down Melbourne’s 1990s means streets

The recent inclusion of the 1995 Australian true crime mini-series Blue Murder as an offering on Netflix Australia provided an opportunity for many critics, present company included, to once again laud it as our best piece of true crime television made so far. While not walking back on this claim, there is another show that I would argue gives Blue Murder a run for its money in terms of being a gritty, true life depiction of policing, which I watched recently – the thirteen-part 1992 Australian Broadcasting Commission series, Phoenix.

A lot of 1990s Australian popular culture exists in a rather liminal space for me due to the fact that I spent a large chunk of the decade working in Southeast Asia. I don’t think I saw any episodes of Phoenix when it first came out, but I am pretty sure I caught parts of the first series (there were two) on VHS tapes that my partner’s mother sent us in the post when we were living in Hanoi, Vietnam. I am not even sure if Phoenix has as a current DVD release, as the discs I found were second hand and seem to have been released at least a decade ago.

Phoenix focuses on the Major Crimes squad, an elite group of Victorian cops.… Read more

Ghostly Messages: Australia’s Lost Horror Anthology, ‘The Evil Touch’

In a June 2017 article in Fortean Times, the British magazine concerned with strange and paranormal phenomena, writer and broadcaster Bob Fischer discussed how the sensation of not being exactly sure what you were watching on television, or not being able to recall the details with any precision, was a common experience in relation to consuming visual culture in the 1960s and 1970s, before the advent of streaming, DVD, and VHS. This sense of “lostness”—of incomplete and unverifiable experience—is also what makes these memories such powerful nostalgia prompts.

The television viewing experience that most encapsulates this sense of lostness for me is a little-known, American-backed, Australian-made horror anthology series, The Evil Touch, that debuted on Sydney screens in June 1973 and in Melbourne a month later. Largely forgotten now, American critic John Kenneth Muir referred to the show in his 2001 book, Terror Television: American Series 1970-1999, as the “horror anthology that slipped through the cracks of time.” The Evil Touch has never had an official DVD release, although poor quality versions of some episodes can be found online, or as bootleg editions originally copied from television on VHS. It is not even known who now owns the rights. But the program was significant in many ways.

You can read the rest of the piece in full here at the We Are the Mutants site.Read more

Rosaleen Norton ‘The Witch of Kings Cross’

Rosaleen Norton aka ‘The Witch of Kings Cross’

I was familiar with the name Rosaleen Norton long before I watched Sonia Bible’s excellent documentary about her, which takes as its title Norton’s long running nickname, The Witch of Kings Cross.

In an attempt to cash in on the upsurge of public interest in the occult that occurred throughout the west in the 1960s, the long defunct Sydney pulp publisher Horwitz Publications put together a number of salacious tabloid style non-fiction books on the so-called rise of witchcraft and Satanism in Australia. My favourite of these, which I wrote about on this site some years ago, the 1965 book Kings Cross Black Magic, was a direct attempt to piggyback on Norton’s fame.

Norton was also a semi-regular presence in the bachelor and barbershop magazines that proliferated on the shelves of Australia’s newsagents in the 1960s, titles like Adam, Man, Pix and Australasian Post. These magazines, incredibly tame by today’s standards, were once seen as very risqué. The activities of Norton slotted in well with their steady diet of stories about UFO sightings, white slavery, heroic Anzacs, shark hunting and out of control teens.

So great was interest in the occult in mid-1960s Australia that the subject even featured in a 1965 episode of the high rating locally produced Crawford TV crime show, Homicide.… Read more

10 great Australian westerns

To mark the UK release of The True History of the Kelly Gang (2019), Justin Kurzel’s bold reimagining of the sage one of Australia’s most famous myths, bushranger Ned Kelly, the British Film Institute asked me to write about my ten favourite Australian westerns. Not only is Ned Kelly Australia’s most famous bushranger – the name given to convicts who had escaped and survived Australia’s harsh environment to become outlaws – his legend forms a mini industry in film and television. In addition to Kurzel’s, Kelly has been the subject of eight films. The Kelly filmography forms part of a larger of body of Australian westerns, made by overseas and local concerns. You can read my piece in full at the BFI site here.

   … Read more

The Evil Touch talk at the Australian National Film & Sound Archive

I know from previous mentions of the show this site, that there are more than a few fans amongst you of the early 1970s Australian television horror anthology show, The Evil Touch.

For those who live in Canberra or nearby, I’ll be giving a talk on the show at the National Film and Sound Archive from 6pm on Friday, September 6.

The late 1960s/early 1970s was viewed as the peak period for horror anthology television. The Evil Touch is Australia’s only contribution to this particular broadcast niche. Made specifically for the American market – at a time when little Australian TV was made, let alone exported overseas – it bombed when it aired locally in 1973 and the 26 episode show is now largely forgotten and remains unavailable on DVD.

Although cheaply made, the show remains strangely effective, at times, genuinely disturbing viewing. The grainy look and surreal narrative style give it the feel – to use the words of American television critic John Kenneth Muir – of ‘a low grade transmission straight from hell’.

My talk will look at the show’s origins, making and reception. As part of the event, the NFSA will also screening two episodes: the debut episode that aired in 1973, ‘The Obituary’, starring Leslie Nielsen, and what I think is the most innovative episode, ‘Kadaitcha Country’, starring Leif Erickson as an alcoholic Christian missionary assigned to a remote outback mission, where he immediately comes into contact with an Aboriginal ‘witch doctor’ called the Kadaitcha Man.… Read more