Miriam Margolyes: “I had always thought I wouldn’t get on with bogans”

British-born, Australian-naturalised actress Miriam Margolyes admits she never expected to like the Aussie bogan.

In her second documentary series for ABC, Australia Unmasked, actress Miriam Margolyes travels across southern Australia to explore social injustice.

Her roadtrip, she admits, was a collision of class sometimes with surprising results.

“I met a great variety of people. People that I wouldn’t normally, in my life, meet. I met some bogans, for example. I had always thought -because I’m very opinionated- I wouldn’t get on with bogans… they’re not ‘my kind’ of people,” she tells TV Tonight.

“On the contrary, they were some of the most warm-hearted, delightful, fun people that I could possibly have met. So that taught me a lot.”

At 81 years of age, Margolyes is worried that the global pandemic has left many people isolated and divided, undermining our commitment to the quintessential Aussie “Fair Go”.

“Everybody had heard of the ‘fair go,’ and knew what it was. But is it still going?”

“It’s a phrase that is actually enshrined in the constitutional document that they give you, the pamphlet that you get when you become an Australian, as I did in 2013. It’s an interesting concept and I wanted to know, does it still exist? Do people believe it? Do they know what it is? And everybody did. Everybody had heard of the ‘fair go,’ and knew what it was. But is it still going? That was the question,” she explains.

“In a sense, I didn’t learn anything that totally surprised me, because I feel I know Australia a bit now. But there are gaps in the fair go that perhaps this new government will fill.”

Is she referring to gaps experienced by Indigenous Australians?

“Not just Indigenous, but poor people and people who are disabled, and not particularly well-educated – people at the bottom of the pile. They do slip through the net and that is a pity. I mean, I’m broadly speaking, on the left of the party. I care about people who don’t have much, I’ve always been on their side. So this is to find out how many of them there are and what we can do to make things better. Because we all want Australia to be better. I don’t think it’s wrong to to criticise it. ”

The series follows her successful, sometimes controversial Almost Australian documentary. This time  it takes the 81 year old and a Southern Pictures documentary for primetime television to turn the spotlight to disenfranchised Australians and questions around social injustice. Yet with Margolyes as host, it’s also achieved in a broadly entertaining, sometimes humorous, package.

Often-known for her forthright opinions, Margolyes also has firm views on Australian politics.

“I do think 10 years of the coalition became very tough, very hardline, on those who come from other countries. Those who come in as asylum seekers or migrants -whatever you want to call it. Now, I’m not supposed to be political. This is not what I’m supposed to say. So I’m stepping out of line when I say all this. It’s possible that the ABC will be very disappointed with me. But I think that the way that the fair go has been under threat is a political reason. It has been acknowledged, most of the people that I talked to, they would acknowledge it.

“The result of the election shows that Australia has a heart”

“But the result of the election shows that Australia has a heart and that’s what I was interested in discovering. Because I would have put it a different way … Has Australia got a heart?”

The three part series filmed in Tasmania, Victoria and South Australia sees Margoloyes behind the wheel of her campervan. Her journey begins in Lutruwita, Tasmania, as she explores how the Fair Go could have taken root in such a notoriously harsh convict settlement.

“Tasmania is obviously extraordinarily beautiful and under threat. I mean, that was something I didn’t know …how the developers and the timber people, and the mines and the fishing…. it’s all eroding the purity of that place. But I saw for the first time as we drove through great stretches of South Australia, for example, how beautiful those landscapes are.

“You can’t travel around Australia and not be intoxicated by the country.”

“You can’t travel around Australia and not be intoxicated by the country.

“It is a ravishing country and it is worth getting in a van and going around, which a lot of people do.”

Episode Two sees her arriving back in Melbourne to investigate class – and the impact this has on the Fair Go. She then heads to South Australia, to hear what it means for the most vulnerable in society.

“One of the problems about just living in the world these days is that we’re all separated”

“I met quite interesting, and sensitive Aboriginal families… several of them. I’ve ‘palled up’ with an old lady who’s still in my life, and that pleases me very much. I think that one of the problems about just living in the world these days is that we’re all separated. We don’t mix in. We’re with our own kind, and we don’t get to meet the others. But because of this program, I have met the others. Auntie Patsy is somebody I’ve really palled up with,” she reveals.

“I didn’t know that she would even remember me, but she phoned me up the other day and I was so thrilled I felt kind of honoured that she had thought enough of me to bother to stay in touch. So we phone each other up and have chats.

“Australia mustn’t be a hardline country. It’s always been a country that’s welcomed people. It’s got its richness, it’s got its diversity, that throbbing heart from the way that people have come into the country.”

Miriam Margolyes: Australia Unmasked airs 8:30pm Tuesdays on ABC.

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