‘Cowboy without a horse’ takes aim again

Seventies television detective Kojak had his lollypop. Another classic TV detective Colombo had his rumpled beige raincoat. And ’80s TV private eye Magnum had his colourful Hawaiian shirts.

Actor Aaron Pedersen’s outback detective, Jay Swan, who returns to Australian television screens next month in a six-part series, Mystery Road, has his cowboy hat and his feel for country.

“He’s a cowboy without a horse,” says Pedersen, the acclaimed actor and Arrernte-Arabana man from Alice Springs.

Pedersen first played Jay Swan in the 2013 Mystery Road film, directed by Ivan Sen and set in Queensland, and then again in a sequel, Goldstone, released three years later.

The Mystery Road TV series finds Pedersen in Western Australia’s remote and majestic east Kimberley investigating the disappearance of two young farmhands from an outback cattle station.

One of the boys is a local Aboriginal football hero and the other a backpacker.

Chronologically the series fits in between the original Mystery Road film and Goldstone.

Pedersen says he didn’t need to think twice about stepping back into the role of Swan, a detective with one foot in Indigenous Australia and the other in what Pedersen calls “hybrid” Australia.

“The thing that Jay carries for me is the strong presence of country,” Pedersen says. “A strong presence of his own journey between two worlds and his silent questions.

“I always found that that was a beautiful thing to unnerve certain suspects.

“That’s what I like about the Jay thing. Jay can turn up into a strange town and that town doesn’t know anything about him so he can pretty much traverse his way through it all and sort them all out just without saying anything.

“It’s a strong approach as a detective, but for me he also has the questions of the country.

“That’s what I really love about him. He is both sides — hybrid nation and First Nation.”

The series, which will screen on the ABC, was directed by acclaimed Indigenous filmmaker Rachel Perkins.

Its cast includes a ‘who’s who’ of Indigenous actors such as Deborah Mailman, Wayne Blair, Ernie Dingo, Aaron McGrath, Madeleine Madden, Meyne Wyatt, Tasia Zalar and Ningali Lawford Wolf.

Judy Davis plays the role of a local policewoman who works with Swan.

Pedersen, known for roles in programs as diverse as Water Rats, The Code, The Circuit and The Secret Life of Us, says the Kimberley landscape is “a character that’s bigger than everybody”.

“I suppose the nature of it, to find a couple of lost boys in a place like that is a needle in a haystack scenario,” Pedersen says.

“It just means the country itself is just as beautiful, but just as dangerous.

“For us being there with the people, they embraced us.

“I loved it. I was up there a good decade ago only for a couple of days, but this time I had the chance to immerse myself in the land and the people. That’s the beauty of the job; the world is our office.”

The cast spent three months in Kununurra filming during the dry season. Pedersen’s younger brother Vinnie, who has cerebral palsy and for whom he is carer, was with him in Kununurra for the filming.

Pedersen says he would like to go back for the wet season.

As for Swan, Pedersen hopes he is a character that will return to the screen in future series or films – a detective made for Australia.

“I think the questions of behaviour and acceptance and how we treat each other and what’s our attitude towards Indigenous Australia and non-Indigenous Australia, what’s our attitude towards what type of country we perceive ourselves to be – that’s the main objective of a character like him,” Pedersen said.

“Because it’s just not straight-forward and the complications and layers you peel back from it allow you to reveal that it’s not just him that’s being affected by what this country does to him, but the whole nation is affected by it because we really, and in real time, need to accept where we are, see where we are and know where we are.

“You can’t ignore the things that are evident around you. White Australia has a black history and it’s as simple as that and you can’t go around ignoring that.

“It’s something that’s very much alive and well and we’re a nation of people who have to embrace each other, on the right terms too. Not necessarily dictated too. It’s a lesson in life and you try and make it as balanced as possible because it’s a simple journey too.

“We’re all the same. I don’t understand how because of our different colours or cultures. I’ve always said there is one country and it’s called Earth and there’s one race and it’s called the human race.”

  • Mystery Road begins with a double episode on the ABC and ABCiview on June 3 from 8.30pm.

Wendy Caccetta

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