Stan television series Black Snow focuses on Australian South Sea Islander history

A horrific crime that rocks a small town.

A teenage girl murdered and the killer never found.

It is the premise of a new television series set to begin filming in Queensland this month and released on Australian streaming service Stan later this year.

However, it is more than the classic “whodunnit”.

The storyline is deeply rooted in the history of its North Queensland backdrop.

Producer Kaylene Butler said the six-episode series, Black Snow, acknowledged the Australian South Sea Islander community and their significant place in history.

A group of people stand around talking in front of a playground.
A community information session was held for locals to ask questions about the show.(ABC Tropical North: Hannah Walsh)

“We never had the opportunities to have our stories told within history or our curriculum with schooling,” Ms Butler said.

“We are known as the forgotten people.

Ms Butler said her experiences growing up as an Australian South Sea Islander shaped the making of Black Snow.

“My great, great grandfather was chief and was taken in the black birding era,” she said.

She said she had been working with family members from Tana Island and Queensland.

Show delves into history

Black snow is the nickname for ash which falls from the sky when cane is burned and, one can speculate, is one of the reasons for the name of the show.

Sugar crop alight in the Clarence Valley
Cane burning is an old tradition in the sugar industry for farmers.(ABC: Kim Honan)

The show focuses on the fictional murder of Jasmine Baker, which devastates her Australian South Sea Islander community.

It is not until 2019 that a time capsule unearths a secret that puts cold-case detective James Cormack on the trail of the killer.

Black Snow was created by Lucas Taylor, who Ms Butler said grew up with Australian South Sea Islanders.

“He was probably curious and did a lot of research on our forgotten people and I think he wanted to bring it to the screen,” she said.

“He has done it in a beautiful way … even though it’s a cold case murder mystery.”

The experience of working on the show has brought many emotions to Kaylene Butler, including feelings of immense joy but also post-traumatic stress.

An indigenous woman and south sea islander woman stand together smiling at the camera.
Series creators have relied on the experiences of Indigenous and South Sea Islander people.(ABC Tropical North: Hannah Walsh)

She said the show addressed how character Jasmine Baker’s family came to be in Queensland in the 1990s.

“This is how we’ve come to adapt to be where we are and who we are.”

She said it was time for Australian South Sea Islander people to tell their stories.

“There’ll be a lot of questions and I’m hoping this could be a start of many answers,” she said.

casting call

The town of Proserpine will provide the backdrop for the fictional town of Ashford.

A dirt road leads to mountains in the distance with cane fields either side.
The series will be filmed in Proserpine, about 100km from Mackay.(ABC Tropical North: Hannah Walsh)

Members of the crew recently threw a community barbecue information session for the local community.

Community elder Marion Healy said she had been working with the team behind Black Snow for two years.

“We need the representation of the fields. We need the representation of the mill. We will see people in the street that look like us,” she said.

There have been a number of casting calls made to locals in surrounding regions, requesting their involvement.

“We understand that many of our young people have a dual identity … many of them are Australia South Sea Torres Strait or Australian South Sea Aboriginal,” Ms Healy said.

“We ask that they recognize their cultural identity and, while they’re young or old, we are needing those characters in the series.”

cultural awareness

Ms Healy became an official cultural advisor to the series in September last year.

“It’s my lived experience,” she said.

She is also running a cultural awareness program for the cast and crew.

“Using my knowledge of the history documents that I’ve read over time, in my own experience, I put together a workshop and tour,” she said.

Two south sea islander women sit at park table in conversation.
Marion Healy has been teaching Australian South Sea Islander history for years.(ABC Tropical North: Hannah Walsh)

Ms Butler said it was keeping her information alive.

The sentiment is shared by many South Sea Islanders who grew up in Queensland.

Ms Butler said the cultural awareness sessions brought everyone together.

“There’s a lot of emotion within that room,” she said.

“We’ve set a benchmark of being together in a cultural way, as well as being able to tell this beautiful story.

“I hope it opens the door for more people to understand us and know us.”

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