The self-made showrunner: Leah Purcell to deliver 2018 Hector Crawford memorial lecture

The Hector Crawford Memorial Lecture is a significant public statement of the screen and broadcasting industries given by a leading media and entertainment figure each year at SCREEN FOREVER. It is with great pride that Screen Producers Australian and Film Victoria announce Australian icon, Leah Purcell, as this year’s special guest lecturer.

Actor, writer, director and producer – Leah Purcell wears all hats and does so with finesse and aplomb. Her nomination this week for the 2018 AACTA Award for “Best Lead Actress In A Television Drama”, thanks to her outstanding performance in Wentworth, merely adds to her already impressive list of accolades, with 2017 alone heralding wins at the AWGIE Awards, Helpmann Awards, UNESCO City of Film Awards and Victorian Premier Literary Awards, all based on her retelling of The Drover’s Wife. But for a Goa-Gunggari-Wakka Wakka Murri woman from the Queensland bush, success and stardom have not come without their fair share of struggle.

As a young Indigenous girl who dared to dream of a career in film, stage and television, Purcell’s first professional break came in 1993 when she was cast in Bran Nue Dae, touring Australia to rave reviews. Moving to Sydney following the death of her mother, Purcell’s seminal play Box the Pony was the smash hit of the 1997 Festival of the Dreaming and has since played to sell-out seasons at Belvoir St Theatre, the Sydney Opera House, the 1999 Edinburgh Festival and a season at the Barbican Theatre in London in 2000.

Whilst roles in Police Rescue, Jindabyne and The Marriage of Figaro followed, Purcell was not content with the pervading view at the time that her “blackness” be viewed ahead of her considerable array of talents. As such, out of necessity more so that ingenuity, Purcell established her first independent Indigenous production company, Bungabura Productions, in 1996 and began developing her own slate of projects with an authentic Indigenous voice. 

Black Chicks Talking, Coloured Inn and Moxie Girls were all created, written, creatively produced, directed, acted and musically inspired by Purcell. Long before the term “showrunner” was part of the entertainment vernacular, Purcell was taking control and steering the creation of her own intellectual property. In setting out to carve a new pathway where none existed before, Purcell has opened the flood gates for a new generation of Indigenous talent.

In 2016 Purcell’s career shifted radically thanks to her ground-breaking interpretation of The Drover’s Wife. In only 33 shows at the Belvoir St Theatre, Purcell had created a modern Australian classic which has now been commissioned for a film, television series and novel. Speaking to Screen Australia about reimagining Henry Lawson’s classic tale for a modern audience, Purcell stated “I want to put my black pepper on anything I touch. I’m always asking – how can I put my blackness through this? I love history and if I can tell a story that can also tell my Indigenous heritage and culture then I’ll absolutely do it.” 

Speaking about Purcell’s inclusion on the 2017 Australian Financial Review Magazine’s Cultural Power List, Oscar-winning actress Rachel Griffiths named Purcell “a true penetrator and a true outlier”.

“Against the milestone of the 25th anniversary of Screen Australia’s Indigenous Unit, Leah’s story is a triumph unlike any other in our industry when you consider the breadth and range of her work to date,” said Screen Producers Australia CEO, Matthew Deaner. “Leah is not only an accomplished creative in her own right, but also a fierce advocate for Indigenous storytellers involved in every facet of the creative process, and a loyal supporter of the ‘Make It Australian’ campaign – a campaign in fact started by the namesake of this Memorial Lecture”.

Purcell will deliver the 2018 Hector Crawford Memorial Lecture at 12pm on Thursday, 22 November at the Crown Conference Centre, Melbourne.

The Hector Crawford Memorial Lecture was first instituted by Screen Producers Australia as a keynote feature of the annual conference in 1992. The lecture was designed ‘to honour the pioneering work of Hector Crawford (1913-1991) in the development of Australia’s film and television industry and to emphasise the importance of independent production in Australia’s cultural life’. Melbourne based Crawford Productions made over 4,000 hours of television including early iconic Australian television drama series such as Consider Your Verdict, Homicide, Division 4 and Matlock Police. Hector Crawford also led the original ‘Make it Australian’ campaign.