What’s inducing that queasy feeling? The revelation that Network TEN is making a reality TV show called “The Shire” or the sneering comments from latte-sipping journalists who couldn’t find their way out of Sydney’s inner-west with a seeing-eye dog and a GPS?
“Reality TV” is an oxymoron. There’s nothing “real” about it. What goes to air is selectively-edited lowlights, cut in a way to bring out the worst in us.
A declaration of interest: I lived in the Sutherland Shire for 20 years. I’ve swum at Cronulla Beach. I’ve shopped at Miranda Fair and I’ve sat on the hill at Shark Park. I didn’t go to the Australia Day riots - but I know someone who helped start them. On the advice of police and following death threats, he was last heard of living in Melbourne with a shaved head and under an assumed name.
I don’t have an emotional connection to The Shire and recognise that some people who were born there will die there without ever feeling a need to cross the Georges River.
The Shire is an up-market version of Sydney’s Northern Beaches – like Manly-Warringah it’s an insular peninsular but without the bush ticks.
The Shire’s coastal end shares the same characteristics of most urbanised beach suburbs with a high transient population. The inland parts are middle class suburbia dotted with older houses and more recently built McMansions.
Four-in-ten people who live in The Shire also work there. Eighty percent of the locals are Australian-born. There are fewer Chinese as a proportion of population than anywhere else in Sydney and it’s generally an ageing and conservative area.
So what’s in it for reality TV?
Big audiences. It’s OK to hate The Shire. It’s not elitist and it’s not like deriding lower socio-economic areas like Sydney’s south-west. Having a football team that’s never won a premiership is only the tip of the iceberg. There’s Lara Bingle, the stereotypical blonde Shire girl. Ricky Pointing also calls the area home - but let’s gloss over that.
Filming someone making a fool of themselves in Cronulla Mall after the pub shuts is like filming interviews with Mid-Western Americans and leaving in only the idiotic statements. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel.
When the local mayor - fittingly, a former fashion catwalk veteran- starts threatening legal action and says she’ll barricade roads into the area, you know the producers are going to have plenty of material to work with.