Waters, a documentary television series which followed the lives
of an Australian family, premiered on Australian television in 1992.
A 12 part co-production by the Australian Broadcasting Commission
(ABC) and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), the controversial
program chronicled the existence of couple Noeline Baker and Laurie
Donaher and their largely adult offspring. The series took its name
from the wealthy harbourside suburb in southern Sydney where Noeline
and Laurie reside.
as a "real-life" soap opera, Sylvania Waters was shot over a six
month period by a camera crew who lived with the Donaher/Bakers.
According to an agreement struck with the family, the crew was allowed
to film "anywhere, at any time--except when family members were
using the bathroom or making love". While ABC publicity for the
documentary series emphasised the couple's new found wealth and
luxurious lifestyle, the tightly edited result ruthlessly scrutinised
the entrenched interpersonal conflicts which lay beneath the surface
of the blended family's easygoing facade.
its 1978 British prototype, The Family, which brought instant
infamy to the Wilkins family of Reading, and the 1973 U.S. program
An American Family, which chronicled the lives of the Loud
family in Santa Barbara, California, Sylvania Waters focused
a national microscope on the values and behaviour of the Donaher/Baker
family. Noeline and Laurie's unwed status, Noeline's drinking problem,
Laurie's racism, their materialism and the family's routine domestic
disputes, all became issues discussed widely in the Australian media.
particularly passionate public debate erupted over the question
of whether executive producer of Sylvania Waters, Paul Watson,
who also produced The Family for the BBC, had chosen an Australian
family which pandered to a British stereotype. Writing in The
Sydney Morning Herald popular cultural critic Richard Glover
summed up these concerns when he wrote that the family were "hardly
a surprising British choice: in Noeline and Laurie, every British
preconception about the Aussies comes alive...Meet Australia's new
ambassadors: a family whose members are variously materialistic,
argumentative, uncultured, heavy drinking and acquisitive".
debate intensified when the series screened in Britain and became
the subject of widespread commentary in the press there. The tabloid
newspaper The Sun headlined a story on the series "Meet Noeline.
By Tonight You'll Hate Her Too," while The Guardian criticised
"Noeline's bigotry and gruesome materialism." Critics of Sylvania
Waters argued that this adverse publicity was proof that the
producers of the series had effectively "set up" the Donaher/Baker
family to feed British prejudices about Australians.
the screening of the series, Noeline Baker, Laurie Donaher and their
extended family, also became the subject of intense media interest.
While a number of family members claimed that the series had caused
a family rift, they continued to give numerous press, radio and
television interviews and guest hosted radio and television programs,
both in Australia and in the United Kingdom.
the level of genre, Sylvania Waters was also widely understood
as representing a new trend dubbed "reality" television. This ambiguous
term--generally identified by the use of unembellished documentary
style footage of ordinary people for entertainment purposes--has
been used to describe a number of programs which debuted in Australia
in the early 1990s, including Cops, which showed footage
of police arresting suspects, and Hard Copy, a current affairs
program which made frequent use of amateur video material.
Paul Watson, Pamela Wilson
HISTORY 12 Half-hour Episodes 21
July 1992-6 October 1992 Tuesday
Stuart. Contemporary Australian Television. Sydney, Australia:
University of New South Wales Press, 1994.