Behind the drama, Justine Clarke looks to the skies.
She may be an 'avgeek' but Justine Clarke finds deeper meaning behind RFDS.
She has a long history of Australian TV drama, and even Children’s TV, but Justine Clarke never managed to make an appearance in The Flying Doctors.
When the Crawfords drama was on air she was busy playing teen Roo Stewart on Seven’s Home & Away.
“I watched it,” she tells TV Tonight. “I was a big Rebecca Gibney, Peter O’Brien fan. That was a ship that I totally loved.
“It’s extraordinary the reach that show had internationally, and how much influence it had on overseas recruitment.
“There’s no denying how many people you speak to, particularly internationally. People who have come to Australia as a doctor or nurse… so many people have been influenced by it.
“What I love is when it has a broader reach and purpose”
“What I love is when it has a broader reach and purpose, beyond drama. Not that there’s anything wrong with just watching something (just) really good.”
Clarke was the first cast member signed for RFDS, having worked with producer Imogen Banks on Tangle. Prior to the series she flew with the Mt. Isa branch of the Royal Flying Doctor Service, on a clinic run to Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander patients.
As Base Manager Leonie Smith, she takes a senior role in the series.
“Being the Base Manager I didn’t do much flying. Having said that, they made this extraordinary set of the inside of the of a plane which is so accurate to what they like inside. So the crew and cast spent a lot of time in the studio.
“You realise how deep everybody’s connection actually is”
“Leonie’s at a point in her life where she has the time to invest in everybody in her workplace. As you get further into the show, you realise how deep everybody’s connection actually is with each other.
“When you first meet her, you don’t really know what her connection is to everybody around. But her wingman and best friend is ‘Rhiannon Emerson’ (Kate Mulvaney), who is the sister in law of Stephen Peacocke’s character.
“Through the series she deals with losing her main support person… the person who’s been there for her and, and how she readjusts and continues to find her way forward on her own terms without her closest colleague.”
Filming on location in Broken Hill was not without its challenges, including with COVID disruption. But while the isolation had an unexpected upside, Clarke maintains that the elements were the most difficult part.
“We had all manner of seasons during our time there.
“There was an actual dust storm while we were there”
“There was an actual dust storm while we were there, trying to shoot through it. It’s so rare for people from the city to actually be in one. And it was absolutely freezing cold when we first arrived. There was a lot of rain, which was fantastic for all the stations, but not so great for a show that was set in a drought,” she continues.
“And then it was extraordinarily hot. We were there for three months.
“No one could go home. Usually, everyone would be flying in and flying out, having contact with their real lives. But it was old school. We were all stuck out there together, which I think helped the camaraderie and just the kind of the style, I suppose.”
“It’s been part of my life forever”
Having also fronted SBS documentary series Australia Come Fly With Me, Clarke concedes she is an ‘avgeek’, which she attributes to so much travel, starting with Home & Away commitments.
“We were on planes every other weekend. I’ve always been on them. As an actor you’re constantly travelling, and as a musician. I suppose it’s just drawn to it because it’s been part of my life forever. We’re all global citizens. It’s a big part of all our lives. I think it’s only recently that we’ve stopped to really assess how much we’ve relied on them and used them, now that they’re all grounded.
“The only planes I’ve been getting on were Rex planes to Broken Hill!”
RFDS double episode 8:30pm Wednesday on Seven.