Crime drama and national identity on Australian television, 1960-2019



Publication Details

C. Sharp, 'Crime drama and national identity on Australian television, 1960-2019' in K. D. Weinert, K. Crawley & K. Tranter(eds), Law, Lawyers and Justice: Through Australian Lenses (2020) 20-41.


For over six decades, Australians have regularly been tuning in to be informed, entertained, challenged and comforted by the various products of the small-screen industry. Far from the post-war setting of 1956, when television was launched in Australia, today's viewers have the greatest access they have ever had to both local and global content - and a multiplicity of viewing options. Despite changing political landscapes, advancements in technology and disruptions of distribution by new competitors, Australian television has managed to successfully adapt and evolve in response to the new opportunities of the 21st century. As a result, Australians continue to embrace television with significant passion, and the last 60 years have facilitated the production of numerous notable television series and mini-series, many of which were framed around dramatic issues of criminal detection, adjudication and punishment. This chapter, while charting the development of Australian television with a particular focus on crime and justice, seeks to elucidate the elements that have engaged the hearts and minds of Australian viewers. The television crime drama series remains a persistent and resilient narrative framework through which to deal with issues of social and cultural relevance, and the chapter explores how the Australian television landscape became the petri dish in which crime drama series proliferated. Of particular focus is the impact of a political push for visual representations of national identity and the use of the police procedural formula and 'real-life' crime stories as vehicles for social and cultural commentaries. In reflecting on the nature of crime and justice TV shows produced locally over the last six decades, the chapter shines a spotlight on the elements of an Australian 'identity' that have been represented within Australian crime dramas.

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