A COUNTRY PRACTICE

Australian Drama Series

A Country Practice, one of Australia's longest running and most successful drama series, aired on Australian Television Network (Channel 7) in Sydney and networked stations across Australia from 1981-1993. Produced by Sydney-based company JNP, the series consistently drew high ratings in Australia and also screened on the ITV network in Britain, on West German cable television, on the European satellite system Sky TV, as well as in the United States, Italy, Sweden, New Zealand, Eire, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malta and Hong Kong. In the mid-1980s, executive producer, James Davern estimated an audience worldwide of between five and six million people.

In their comprehensive book-length treatment of the series, John Tulloch and Albert Moran, identify A Country Practice as "quality soap". While produced on a modest budget, it was noted for the high priority given to creative script development and its sometimes provocative treatment of topical social issues. It was particularly important in the context of Australian television for staking a position somewhere between the high-cultural production values of the government-funded Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the often narrow commercialism of Australian drama screened on the privately owned networks.

Set in Wandin Valley, a fictional location in rural New South Wales, the series focused on a small medical practice, a site which provides a window into the life of the wider community. Key founding characters were Dr Terence Elliott (Shane Porteous), his junior partner Dr Simon Bowen (Grant Dodwell), the doctors' receptionist Shirley Dean (Lorrae Desmond) and her daughter Vicky (Penny Cook), a local vet. The mainstay of narrative development was romance, the most notable instance being the evolving relationship of Simon and Vicky which culminated, at the high point of the series' ratings, in their wedding in 1983. Against this background, and the general peace of the rural community, were introduced more disruptive or confronting episodes, often dealing with illnesses or deaths encountered in the medical practice, but also taking up issues such as youth unemployment, the problems of aging or the position of Aboriginal people in Australian society.

Much of the interest of the series was generated by this ongoing tension between romanticism and realism. On the one hand, it was a conscious policy, as producer James Davern put it, "to reinforce the positive values of human relationships". The series rarely featured violence, frankly presenting itself as an escape from the harsher realities of news and current affairs and implicitly distancing itself both from the dominant strain in imported U.S.-produced drama and from other long-running Australian series such as Prisoner and Homicide. The rural setting provided ample opportunity for mid-range shots of outdoor scenes as well as the inclusion of animals. It also established the series within the tradition which has been most successful in giving Australian audio-visual product international exposure, a tradition which includes feature films such as Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Man from Snowy River and Crocodile Dundee. More recently, the international appeal of Australian settings as a site of innocence and harmonious community has been spectacularly demonstrated by the success of Neighbours in the United Kingdom.

On the other hand, the series became widely recognised for its topicality on medical and social issues and responded closely to the immediate concerns of its largely urban audience. Material for episodes was often directly inspired by news or current affairs stories or by suggestions from viewers and organisations such as the Australian Medical Association. Particularly in the medical area, A Country Practice was overtly pedagogical, providing basic information on problems such as heart failure, leukemia, epilepsy, alcoholism and leprosy. Working from the relative safety of this base in questions of technical expertise, it also took positions on more controversial issues, suggesting for example, in one notable episode, that unemployment cannot be blamed on a lack of motivation of the unemployed themselves. The series employed naturalistic dialogue, sets and action and strove to avoid what is often identified in Australia as "Hollywood" sentimentality.

A Country Practice ceased production in 1993, largely as a result of staff losses. In the history of Australian television, it remains a landmark for its success in overseas markets and for setting a standard in quality low-budget production.

-Mark Gibson

 


A Country Practice
Photo courtesy of JNP Films Pty. Ltd.

CAST

Ben Green................................................ Nick Bufalo Alex Fraser/Elliottt......................................... Di Smith Jo Loveday/Langley......................... Josephine Mitchell Cathy Hayden/Freeman ............................Kate Raison Matt Tyler................................................ John Tarrant Lucy Gardiner/Tyler.............................. Georgie Parker
Dr. Chris Kouros................................... Michael Muntz Jessica Kouros.................................. Georgina Fisher Julian "Luke" Ross....................................... Matt Day Dr. Terence Elliott.............................. Shane Porteous Sister Shirley Dean/Gilroy.................. Lorraie Desmond Sgt. Frank Gilroy................................... Brian Wenzel Vet Vicky Dean/Bowen............................. Penny Cook Dr. Simon Bowen.................................. Grand Dodwell Melissa "Molly" Jones............................. Anne Tenney Brendan Jones................................ Shane Withington Vernon "Cookie" Locke............................. Syd Heylen Bob Hatfield........................................... Gordon Piper Miss Esme Watson................................ Joyce Jacobs Nurse Judy Loveday.......................... Wendy Strethlow Matron Sloan ..........................................Joan Sydney

PRODUCERS

James Davern, Lynn Bayonas, Marie Trevor, Bruce Best, Forrest Redlich, Bill Searle, Denny Lawrence, Robyn Sinclair, Peter Dodds, Mark Callam

PROGRAMMING HISTORY

Seven Network
1,058 Episodes
November 1981-January 1982...................................... .........................................Monday/Thursday 7:30-8:30
February 1982-March 1987.......................................... ....................................Tuesday/Wednesday 7:30-8:30 March 1987-April 1993........ Monday/Tuesday 7:30-8:30

Ten Network
29 Episodes
April 1994-May 1994.................. Wednesday 7:30-8:30 June 1994-July 1994....................... Saturday 7:30-8:30 July 1994-November 1994............... Saturday 5:30-6:30

FURTHER READING

Tulloch, John, and Albert Moran. A Country Practice: Quality Soap. Sydney, Australia: Currency Press, 1986.

 

See also Australian Programming