Indian Pacific, another SBS ‘slow TV’ show, manages to be both boring and profound

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Updated

January 06, 2019 06:21:23

“C’mon, Rex,” my mother would say, most Friday and Saturday nights.

She was not referring to the dog. Her teenage son liked nothing more of an evening than riding shotgun while she ferried my older siblings to parties or the movies. This sobriquet meant it was time to go.

I could have stayed home. I chose not to because staring out at the trees and bitumen and people bathed in the patchy glow of street lights was alluring for reasons I could not comprehend.

Until now.

I hadn’t thought about that period (or that nickname) for 15 years until I watched Indian Pacific, the latest venture by SBS into “slow TV”.

Slow TV had a moment in this country a year ago when SBS stuck a Go-Pro on The Ghan, the Adelaide-to-Darwin train, and hundreds of thousands of people sat captivated for hours like it was the latest Jack Reacher thriller.

The internet had a good time talking about what a surprisingly good time The Ghan was.

The medium was a transplant from Norway, where the national broadcaster found surprisingly large audiences in the 2000s by screening train and boat journeys “minutt for minutt”.

With Indian Pacific, the first of several slow TV journeys on SBS in January, we get much the same thing as The Ghan, though instead of south-north it’s west-east, as the name suggests, starting in Perth and ending, three hours later (in the initial edit), in Sydney.

There are no ad breaks, no dialogue and minimal on-screen graphics.

We get a rotating cast of camera angles: from the side of the train, from above the train, from ahead of the train and — my personal favourite — from the cab, the kind of view a gamer might call first-person-shooter. The train passes grain silos, red-dirt backroads and a former World War II internment camp.

We also get the occasional shot of Damon Waterman, the locomotive’s driver, thumbing his control lever or waiving at a nearby tractor.

I felt a bond with Damon. I liked to imagine his nickname growing up was also Rex. He must have one of the best jobs on the planet.

This (virtual) train journey and my (real) car rides have something in common

What I enjoyed about Indian Pacific was that it offered the same thing as those night-time ride-alongs, which let me know, for a fleeting moment, the lives of others.

As a shy kid, my curiosity about how the world functioned could be satiated in way that didn’t require me to actually talk to anyone. I could look and learn, unnoticed.

There is also a sense of freedom in perpetual motion, whether by car or virtual train. You are outrunning anything that might try to hold you back.

Of course, much of this train journey involves parts of the country that are barely inhabited. Life in suburban Perth gives way to the quietness of regional and rural Western Australia.

In this way, the joy of this television experience is not just its voyeurism but the way it reinforces your size, that you are a single tile on the great mosaic of human existence.

I suspect these feelings are what accounted for the unexpected outpouring of love for The Ghan, which had an average audience of 600,000 last year, according to SBS.

I also suspect that, in the quiet of the first week of January, when everyone needs an escape from go-go world of 40-hour weeks and 24-7 news, Indian Pacific will inspire in many a wanderlust — or whatever it was I used to find in those night-time car rides.

So, bravo for boring television. Here’s to all you other Rexes out there.

The Indian Pacific 3-hour version is on SBS tonight at 7.30, the all-day version Saturday, January 12 on SBS Viceland.

Topics:

television,

arts-and-entertainment,

perth-6000,

sydney-2000

First posted

January 06, 2019 06:00:35



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