SADISTIC: Pamela Rabe plays fearsome new prison governor, Joan “The Freak” Ferguson on Wentworth.
The characters had ripper nicknames like The Freak, Queen Bea, Boomer and Vinegar Tits.
The sets were cobbled together from hardboard so flimsy you could see the walls wobble if someone slammed a door.
To heighten the mood and disguise the low-budget sets, the lighting was dimmed down until everything looked as grey as an incoming storm cloud.
There were steamy lesbian liaisons in the prison laundry, heroin overdoses in the dunnies, pervy prison wardens, amorous electricians. There were drug-induced flashbacks, gratuitous cavity searches, riots, suicides, arsons, and alarming outbreaks of forced cunnilingus.
There were bashings for Africa; if a new inmate clashed with the tough old chick who was “top dog”, she might find her life leaking away on the shower-block linoleum, having been stabbed through the heart with a sharpened toothbrush.
A melodramatic soap opera that recalled a badass Neighbours, set behind bars, cult Aussie series Prisoner ran for a marathon 692 episodes between 1979 and 1986, its far-fetched stories derived from the power struggles of inmates and staff within a women’s prison in Melbourne. Viewers loved it. Like Acca Dacca, budgie smugglers and shark nets, the thing became an Australian institution.
“Oh, good god, yes,” says Pamela Rabe, one of Australia’s greatest actresses. “And not just here in Australia, either. It screened all over the world. I grew up in Canada, but my Australian husband got me watching it over there on late-night TV. When we moved out here in 1983, I discovered just how much people loved it and the huge effect it had on popular culture.” (more…)