In the 13 years since watching the final episode of SeaChange on the ABC, I’ve never forgotten its humour, its landscapes, its characters, and the heartbreak and resolve of those final episodes. My housemates and I have recently been re-watching the show. It began with just the few of us on the couch, but as word spread of our Saturday nights in, soon there were 13 people strewn around the living room, reliving the acme of Australian dramatic television on those fictional shores of Pearl Bay.
Why were so many people attracted to watching SeaChange at my house? It wasn’t necessarily the pull to remembering the Melbourne and the surrounds we grew up in (although to me that connection still persists), as many of my friends are from interstate. Filmed across the Bellarine Peninsula and in Barwon Heads, the simple main street and the rolling hills by the highway could have been one of many Australian coastal towns. I guess we all know somewhere like it.
Watching it now, I know that of course I am attracted to the passion of its romantic story lines, but also to its creation of memories and friendships. I hardly need to say anything about Diver Dan (and his neckerchiefs) or Max (and his sparkling, brooding eyes) – both characters almost universally adored by viewers. I loved them then, I love them now.
As soon as we began watching, I was already fearing the third and final season: a season sustained by the culmination of such heartfelt longing, desire, and the unfortunate but inevitable tension of adults making the worst kind of mistakes. As a 13-year-old I felt that immensity so deeply that I can still bring it up, now more immediate, 13 years later. I was devastated when Diver left, but so happy that Laura ended up with Max. But it wasn’t only the romantic leads who held that viewer/character chemistry – almost everyone in SeaChange became our friend.
In the end, I don’t know if my love for SeaChange belongs in a category any different to my other screen loves. But when something is such a formative part of your past, and when its presence is so strong in your memory, does it matter whether TV show itself is average or extraordinary? I think it does matter, and there are other shows that don’t have the same hold. It is the warmth and softness of SeaChange that’s missing from so much other television, that makes it feel so very – perhaps mythically, powerfully – Aussie.
That said, I really do think there’s something marvelous, something unique, about SeaChange and the change it brought to local television. In the late 90s, it was a romantically stressful, but refreshingly intense dawn on a horizon of sharp comedies and satires – shows that I loved but had no thought for beyond their airtime. SeaChange was the first Australian show that had characters I felt close to, efforts I could really empathise with. The Secret Life of Us came next, but it sadly wore itself out, cursed by too many seasons and not enough development. Later shows that might have made an impact were put on pay television: Love My Way, Satisfaction, Tangle. Most recently there’s Top of the Lake, whose opportunity for fiscal and cultural gain in Australia has been threatened by changes to production and a withdrawal of ABC support. With TV series moving away from free-to-air television, they have little chance to get into the minds and memories of people today.
At the time, SeaChange was one of the most popular, and sometimes the most popular, show on television. Everyone I’ve spoken to in the past few months either watched it and loved it, or remembers their parents watching it every week. SeaChange is the only Australian show that continues to remind me of my own sense of place, and to which I feel my own life sometimes refers. (Unfortunately its soundtrack is the one element that’s terribly dated, but the show’s main theme still holds up.) Its appeal crosses age groups, demographics, and centuries. And who doesn’t sometimes dream of a sea change?
Eloise Ross is a Killings columnist and PhD candidate at La Trobe University. Her research interests include cinematic affect, phenomenologies of sound, and the senses. She infrequently writes at cinemelo.wordpress.com, and tweets more often at @EloiseLoRoss.