21 April, 2024
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‘Daring, naughty, creative’: What women got up to while men were at war


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As documented by the Australian War Memorial, when German troops invaded Poland in 1939, then Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies announced the beginning of Australia’s involvement in World War II on every radio station around the country.

“It is my melancholy duty to inform you officially that in consequence of a persistence by Germany in her invasion of Poland, Great Britain has declared war upon her and that, as a result, Australia is also at war,” he said in a 20-minute historic speech kept on record at the National Film and Sound Archive.

As a result, 926,900 men and 66,100 women would enlist and go on to serve throughout a six-year campaign (the Germans unconditionally surrendered on May 7,1945; the Japanese surrendered on September 2, 1945).

“I know that in spite of the emotions we are all feeling, you will show that Australia is ready to see it through.”

See it through, Australia did.

But what did all the women do back home during those six years, with almost one million men fighting in wars from Europe to the Pacific?

Fresh take on 1940s Australia

A SBS series premiering on September 27, While the Men Are Away, described as an “irreverent, wry and witty reimagining of 1940s Australia” attempts to shed light on how Australian women managed to get through every day without their men.

“The series is a fresh take on 1940s Australia, which was a time that was actually really empowering for Australian women,” lead actor Jana Zvedeniuk – who plays Esther, a naive, newly enlisted Women’s Land Army recruit – tells The New Daily.

“While the men were on the front line at war, women were suddenly able to work, to earn a wage, to be something other than a domestic housewife.

“So we get up to all sorts of mischief in this show!”

In the apple orchard keeping the wheels of industry going back home. Photo: SBS

‘Wildly historically inaccurate’

And it’s a feminist reboot.

It tells a queer, remixed version of the Australian World War II experience, focused on the women (and the few men) left behind on the home front and their pursuit of freedom, friendship, sex and love in dark times, reads the official synopsis.

The storyline is about an Italian immigrant who enlists two Women’s Land Army recruits, a draft dodger, and her Indigenous farmhand to help run the family’s apple farm.

“[It] is about people who don’t normally hold the reins of power suddenly having them shoved in their hands and told to giddy the hell up, according to the official synopsis.

“It’s about five individuals who find each other, and for a glorious moment in time, sample a life tinged with promise, hope and acceptance.”

It’s about social outsiders and the unlikely heroes of the time, “of new-found freedom and the urgency of sexual exploration and self realisation, created in terrible circumstances – but always with humour, a knowing wink, and tender humanity at its heart”, the synopsis states.

It’s also often wildly historically inaccurate, says SBS.

Young and old! Women worked hard to put food on the table. Photo: SBS

Regardless, it has the endorsement of Screen Australia, the producers and SBS.

The series is co-written for the screen by Kim Wilson, who wrote one episode of the Kate McCartney-Kate McLennan original, Deadloch and two episodes of The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart starring Sigourney Weaver.

While the Men Are Away is an absolutely delightful revisionist history with a twist of truth. It is warm hearted and clever and full of characters you will fall in love with,” SBS head of scripted Julie Eckersle said.

Starring alongside Zvedeniuk is Italian actor Michela De Rossi (Many Saints of Newark and lead in Netflix’s upcoming Italian epic Briganti), and a cast of new and experienced actors including Max McKenna (Open Slather), Gemma Ward (The Great Gatsby, Black Balloon), Sacha Horler (The Dressmaker, The Letdown) and Tara Morice (Dance Academy, Strictly Ballroom).

‘So exciting … so refreshing’

“Esther was so exciting to play! She’s a young Jewish migrant growing up in Australia, and when she arrives on the farm, she suddenly has all this freedom to discover who she really is, away from the paradigms of the outside world,” Zvedeniuk said.

“In the beginning, she’s sheltered, but we soon learn she’s actually daring, naughty, and very creative … it’s so refreshing to see a young Jewish girl on Aussie TV like this.”

Screen Australia’s CEO Graeme Mason describes the series as a “clever dramedy”.

“[This] series reimagines history with irreverence and charm, delivering a fresh take on Australia’s past,” Mason said.

It’s about “tackling aspects of our history that has so often been left off the page”, say the producers, trusting viewers will “connect with these (not so historical) characters, and be inspired to make a good fist of it, as the Women’s Land Army always did.”

While The Men Are Away begins on SBS on Wednesday, September 27 at 8.30pm and on SBS On Demand

The post ‘Daring, naughty, creative’: What women got up to while men were at war appeared first on The New Daily.