Aaron Pedersen: “High Country can kill you if you don’t respect it”

The bush is both beauty and beast but for Aaron Pedersen there is a maturing of First Nations inclusion by industry.

High Country actor Aaron Pedersen is pleased to see the new Binge / Foxtel drama respects the lands of the Taungurung and Wurundjeri Peoples upon which it was filmed -both in storylines and during production.

Shot in part around the Victorian High Country town of Jamieson, it fuses the landscape of conflicting mythologies with a modern crime story.

“The High Country story hasn’t really been told in this format before,” he tells TV Tonight.

“Apart from The Man from Snowy River. There’s a fine line between beauty and beast. The danger element of High Country is unbelievable. It can kill you in no time if you don’t respect it.”

In his 30 years in show business,  Pedersen has played his share of good guys and occasionally bad guys  -from cops on Water Rats, City Homicide, Mystery Road, Blue Murder: Killer Cop, to lawyers in The Circuit, Wildside to a baddie on Killing Ground.

Yet as former park ranger Owen Cooper turned local trails tour guide, his role is more grey.

“I’m not the bad guy at the moment,” he teases. “But where it goes from there, we’re not sure.

“The beauty of it is everything’s a bit unexplained. We’ll soon find out at some point that somebody is not a good person, and that would incorporate a second series and third series if that’s possible.

“But I’ve played cops. Look, anything works for actors to get your teeth into. That’s the beauty of it, I suppose. You get an opportunity… it’s a kaleidoscope of options and opportunities in your career and your life.”

High Country‘s lead character Sergeant Andie Whitford (Leah Purcell) also turns to Owen for local tracking knowledge. But Owen’s Aunty (Trisha Morton-Thomas), a Taungurung elder, is surprised that Andie knows nothing of her own Indigenous heritage.

“Their relationship is built more through time spent with Andie and her connection to her people in country. She’s trying to navigate her way through it all. Owen just happens to be one of the only connections,” Pedersen explains.

“Andie finds herself in precarious position, lost in the bush and I try to track her down and help her get back on her feet. That’s how the relationship builds.

“He’s a great tracker. Obviously he knows country like the back of his hand.

“It’s a pretty laid back character. But what happens afterwards, I’m not sure. So, for the time being, he sits in a good place.”

Rising star Pedrea Jackson (Sweet As, Robbie Hood, Crazy Fun Park) plays his teenage son, Ben, who hangs with town’s local River Kids while an ongoing crime storyline puts everybody in jeopardy.

“There’s a killer out there”

“There’s a fear amongst the township that there’s a killer out there. He’s got a young son and obviously friends, and he’s part of the community. So you worry about the area that you live in, and the safety of everybody else.”

Pedersen, who handed on the (police) baton when Mystery Road shifted to Mystery Road: Origins with Mark Coles Smith is a believer in making pathways for the next gen.

“They went in a different direction which was good for Mark. They went younger, which is good. It’s good for the industry. Good for the next generation. I did that for 10 years, I think. You don’t want be typecast. All people could see me in was a white hat and cowboy boots. So it’s nice to wear a cap!” he laughs.

“You’ve got to pass it on”

“You’ve got to pass it on. That story belonged to everyone. Apparently he’s done a good job with it. I haven’t seen it but I’ll watch it later.

“I did ring him up and say ‘Congratulations.’ I didn’t think I was that good looking!”

With a three decade career Pedersen also acknowledges better inclusion of First Nations faces both on and off-screen, as well as in respectful storylines.

“It has shifted in the industry. There’s a consciousness with it all. But there’s also a deliberate understanding and connection to it. If you’re doing it right, then you know, you’re on the right journey. And if you’re not, then you’re stuck in the past,” he continues.

“We’re maturing and growing up”

“That’s with anything in this country, I suppose. It’s just a feeling of where we all are in the world with each other, and how we treat each other. So yeah, it is respectful, and it’s beautiful to see. It means that we’re maturing and growing up. You can only be grateful for that.

“I think at the end of the day, it’s imperative that we shape the country for the next generation too. I’m kind of excited for it, because it only gets better and better. It seems that way. The stories get stronger and stronger, and they get shared.”

High Country continues 8:30pm Tuesdays on Showcase / Binge.

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