This thesis examines Australian historical miniseries considering them as heritage artefacts rather than as historical records. Historical miniseries are interrogated for the nature and significance of their interpretations of events from the nation’s past as being the heritage of all Australians. How and why miniseries imagine the past as heritage establishes heritage interpretation as being related to, but not the same as, historical interpretation. The argument is made that the makers of historical miniseries are best thought of as ‘heritage interpreters’ bringing a heritage imagination to their storytelling. These miniseries makers are shown to have much in common with professional heritage interpreters working in museums and other cultural venues, where heritage interpretation is designed to inform, educate, and entertain audiences, viewers, and visitors. Consequently, particular attention is given to the specific heritage rules and expectations discernible in a historical miniseries production that have parallels to the rules and expectations evident in the work of the heritage professional and practitioner.
There has, to date, been no study that systematically considers the many parallels and intersections between Film and Television Studies and Heritage Studies and what these similarities and connections might mean when analysing the historical miniseries or film. This thesis is concerned with outlining and elaborating these parallels and intersections. It is particularly focused upon: firstly, those processes of imagining, interpreting, representing, and communicating a version of the past developed by historical miniseries producers and comparing these processes to those applied by heritage practitioners; second, examining the nature and scope of the historical worlds created for historical miniseries and those constructed within cultural heritage institutions; and third, outlining the intersections of approach and object between Film and Television Studies and Heritage Studies.
The peak period of Australian miniseries production between 1978 and 1995 is examined to reveal how and why historical miniseries makers interpreted and represented aspects of Australia’s past as heritage. A number of key Australian historical miniseries are singled out as case studies. The miniseries examined are Bodyline (1984), The Cowra Breakout (1984), Anzacs (1985), The Dunera Boys (1985), Vietnam (1987), The Leaving of Liverpool (1992), and Bordertown (1995). These miniseries offered audiences challenging and innovative – and often provocative – heritage interpretations and representations of events from their nation’s past. They were made in a cultural and political environment dominated by official multiculturalism, the Australian Bicentennial, and Australia’s increasing engagement with Asia.
Assessments are made of the heritage value and cultural significance of the stories and historical worlds visualised and actualized in the miniseries, and an evaluation is undertaken of the miniseries themselves to determine their value as heritage items with cultural significance. This assessment and evaluation process employs an interdisciplinary approach combining perspectives from Film and Television Studies and Heritage Studies, as well as from Cultural Studies and History. Andreas Huyssen’s notions of ‘monumentality’ and ‘public culture’, John T. Caldwell’s discussion of ‘televisuality’, and the Australian heritage sector’s significance assessment processes, will be combined and adapted to assess Australian historical miniseries. This thesis seeks to show how Film and Television Studies can productively engage with many of the principles, orientations, theories, and practices of Heritage as a disciplinary and institutional field.