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Navy’s starring role

ON THE DOTTED LINE: CN VADM Russ Shalders, AO, CSC, RAN, signs up with TV producers Hal and Di McElroy.

Navy patrol boats will feature in a new $15m, 13-hour mini-series called Sea Patrol.

The series will be shot on HMAS Ipswich and also involve the former HMAS Wollongong.

Sea Patrol will star well-known Australian actors Lisa McCune (Blue Heelers) and Ian Stenlake (Stingers).

Sea Patrol is expected to screen in 2007..

By Barry Rollings
Volume 49, No. 18 , October 05, 2006

Navy’s coming out of television dry dock to play a pivotal role in a new $15m 13-hour mini-series called Sea Patrol to star Lisa McCune and expected to screen on Channel Nine in the second half of 2007.

Reminiscent of, but in no way connected to Patrol Boat, which starred Andrew McFarlane, and screened on the ABC in the 1970-80s, Sea Patrol will employ HMAS Ipswich when it shoots at Dunk Island and Mission Beach south of Cairns, and the former HMAS Wollongong in Sydney.

Many of the crew of HMAS Ipswich and perhaps some of those at Sydney’s HMAS Waterhen and their platforms will be featured in the dramas that will unfold around the fictional command NAVCOM.

Lisa McCune, famed for her role as Constable Maggie Doyle in Blue Heelers, will play executive officer Kate McGregor to Ian Stenlake’s (formerly of Stingers) commanding officer.

The 60-minute episodes, already titled and scripted with technical advice from the Navy, will have self-contained stories but will feature the continuing thread of a mystery introduced at its debut and not solved until the final instalment.

Melbourne-born, and now Sydney-based husband and wife co-producers, Hal and Di McElroy, are the veterans of 24 productions (among them Blue Heelers, Water Rats, Return To Eden, Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Sum of Us) in their 34 years in the business, including about 1000 hours for television.

They said it was not a sequel to, nor the next series of, the old show but rather a brand new series about the RAN patrol boat service. They hope to do at least three series.

Mr McElroy described it as a drama of character, action and warmth with some lighter moments.

Though the target audience would be men and women of 25-49 years, he said it would have broad appeal, a family show expected to attract both young and old.

“I think it [Patrol Boat] first went to air in 1979, so that was a long, long time ago,” Mr McElroy said.

“Understandably, Navy is proud of the original series and sees the similarities but that was 27 years ago so we began anew because Navy has changed a lot since then.”

At officer level, crews were now mixed and tasking was very different in an environment of genuine threats at all sorts of levels.

“Let’s be honest; it was a much more benign environment back in the late 70s and early 80s,” he said.

“Today, the tasking of the patrol boat service is very difficult and necessarily, therefore, our stories are very different. Frankly, they are much more dramatic than they were back in the earlier days.”

Not surprisingly, the series will deal with issues such as illegal fishing and immigration, boat people, drug-running, people-smuggling and a whole range of other issues.

The McElroys decided it was pointless doing such a series without Navy’s approval. They approached the then CN VADM Chris Ritchie, who was enthusiastic from the outset and agreed with their instincts that it should be about a small platform such as a patrol boat.

“We thought that the series should be about a small ‘family’,” Mrs McElroy said.

“The important thing for me is seeing how this ‘family’ of people operates on a patrol boat.”

“Its all about Navy’s heroes; not about flawed heroes with feet of clay,” Mr McElroy added. “We really want to show audiences what it’s like to live and work on one of these boats, in extremely arduous conditions on a small platform of 42m and 24 people, in the tropics, 24/7, in any weather.

“Our stories will show good young honest Navy people doing a dangerous, difficult, very tough job, not getting paid fabulous money, but loving it.

“That’s a pretty remarkable thing all in a pressure cooker in which the cast all become friends for life against the backdrop of political and media scrutiny and the need for scrupulous ethical behaviour.”
Patrol Boat began filming with the Attack Class craft and progressed to the Fremantle Class.

The Director of Navy Reputation management CMDR Richard Donnelly, who has liaised with the McElroys on the series, sees a “nice synergy” going from the Fremantle Class, hopefully to the Armidale Class in future series.


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