‘Secret City’ director Emma Freeman

Stephanie Van Schilt


Quick, quick, I’ve got to get home … the premiere of Secret City is about to air … who are these idiots running across Commonwealth Avenue Bridge .. get out of the way … ahh, maybe not so close to the railing there dude .. you didn’t have to jump into the lake to avoid me .. what’s going on?

Secret City is what’s going on, Foxtel’s latest Showcase mini-series shot here in town and inspired by the books by political journalist Chris Uhlmann and Steve Lewis (I’ve known Chris for 25 years, worked with him on my first night here at The Canberra Times). He knows how to tell a good story, this is going to be good.

First up, though, we detour to Beijing, “Free Tibet, free Tibet”, some young woman is yelling and then, whoops, she sets herself on fire. Six months later we’re on the Bridge, a guy swallows a SIM card and jumps into the lake.

Now we’re in the bedroom of an unknown woman, she must be a journalist because she’s 30 something and still gets the actual paper delivered. Or is she, because next thing she’s rowing on the lake, on a clear Canberra day. Show me a journalist who’s out of bed at 6am and rowing on the lake.
She notices some action on the lake’s edge. A body, a couple of cop cars. She glances over her shoulder, back to Parliament House. There’s obviously a connection. Maybe a public servant who decided it might be easier to swim to work rather than find a car park in the Parliamentary Triangle.

She was a journalist, Harriet Dunkley, she’s at work now, discussing the news of the day with more journalists than I’ve seen in a newsroom in Canberra for years. Political spills, the burning girl, and then she finds a mysterious photograph on her desk. Last mysterious thing on my desk was a coffee mug full of mould.

Now we’re at the Big House. Parliament House in all its glory. Looks quite schmick from above. A very serious meeting about defence matters. Military action, governments on high alert, submarines, Beijing v the United States, a defence minister who isn’t paying attention to the guys and girls in uniform who are giving him advice.

And that pretty much sums up the plot of Secret City. But let’s face it, for most of us, this will be about where in town things have been filmed so we’re going to play spotto now. Let’s go.
Spotto. Parkes Way. Can someone tell me if it really is the morgue?

But who is this manly looking woman monitoring Harriet’s phone calls?
Spotto. Now Harriet’s meeting the monitoring woman by the lake, nice view back to Black Mountain Tower. They obviously know each other and have a past. Someone’s watching them too
Spotto. Is that Julie Bishop? Or Julia Gillard? Or Bronwyn Bishop? Or some weird genetic amalgam of all three. No, it’s Jackie Weaver. Vote 1 Jackie.

Spotto. Back to the Bridge. Hang on, is that my car in the background?
Spotto. A fabulous house which is where? Can anyone help?

Spotto. Gandel Hall at the National Gallery of Australia. Good scene, “So how are you finding Canberra, Ambassador?”, ask defence minister Mal. “Cold.” Cold. There’s a drinking game to be had here.

Spotto. University Avenue, back to Bruce Hall. Harriet’s on her way to Llewellyn Hall. She’s starting to put two and two together, the burning girl and the jumping man knew each other.

Spotto. It might have something to do with the Chinese Embassy. She’s there now. Can you actually get into that place? Harriet’s asking probing questions. Again, someone’s watching her.

Another secret meeting by the lake. It’s night. Glittering lights.

Another fabulous house. Where is this one? Help please.

Couple of sex scenes. This can’t be Canberra. Harriet’s fella has his lap top on his well balanced thighs. They’re hacking some ANU records, feeling lonely and desperate.

And then bang, another dead body near the lake. Bang, back to parliament house. Bang, back to some interrogation room at the Chinese Embassy, bang to the morgue.

A typical day in the nation’s capital.