Rachel Griffiths ‘deeply moved’ by devastation found while filming new series

Watching a man clean the remnants of a devastating flood from his home was a sobering moment for actor and producer Rachel Griffiths.

She was traveling across Australia filming earlier this year when a painting by Arthur Streeton drew her to the Hawkesbury River in New South Wales.

Griffiths was met by a community recovering from their third flood in 12 months.

“Standing with a guy who’s pressure washing his house for the third time and feeling deeply connected to a place he isn’t sure he has the ability to deal with or accept nature’s fury — that was one of our deeply moving times,” Griffiths said .

She never imagined that local Rohan Smith who she interviewed would be doing a fourth clean-up just weeks later.

Griffiths has come away with a heightened appreciation of the harsh realities of Australian landscapes.

Life after lockdowns

Presenting the new ABC art series Great Southern Landscapes, she has taken a deep dive into some of Australia’s most iconic landscape paintings and hopes the prime-time series will inspire wanderlust for our own backyard.

Rachel Griffiths sits in a boat with Erin Wilkins which is being driven down the Hawkesbury River.
Darug woman Erin Wilkins takes Griffiths down the Hawkesbury River to share about its history.(ABC: Great Southern Landscapes)

The Melbourne-based actor and producer came out of pandemic lockdowns hungry to explore the natural beauty and she’s done so through the eyes of some of our greatest artists.

An art-lover herself, Griffiths wasn’t disappointed.

“It was wonderful to fly across the great breadth of the country after the borders opened and I think what I really loved hearing was how people outside of Melbourne experienced the past few years,” Griffiths said.

The six episodes capture the devastation of recent flooding, the cultural significance of the landscapes and the painful history that has played out.

Lake Eyre in South Australia, Western Australia’s Exmouth and Cottesloe Beach, and Warrnambool in Victoria are some of the backdrops to feature in the 30-minute episodes filmed from February to July.

Griffiths cherishes the time she spent exploring the landscapes that surrounded Albert Namatjira, a pioneer of contemporary Indigenous Australian art.

Rachel Griffiths stands on a bridge over a river with her arms spread.
Melbourne-based Griffiths was keen to explore Australia when the borders opened. (ABC: Great Southern Landscapes)

In one episode, she will take viewers to Namatjira’s house at Hermannsburg in the Northern Territory to hear about how pivotal he was in sharing knowledge of country and inspiring other artists to do the same.

It’s in her blood

Griffiths herself grew up inspired by artists from all walks of life.

She had a passion for art through school and trailed her mother Anna Griffiths around galleries.

“For me it’s part of my day-to-day language because I’m the daughter of an artist and I’m married to an artist and I’m a performing artist,” Griffiths said.

Her love of landscapes is reflected in the films that have captivated the actor.

Griffiths described mystery film Picnic at Hanging Rock as formative for her, fascinated by the idea that the landscape could be a place that could eat girls.

“I think what put Australian filmmaking on the map was our cinematographers and our directors before our writers,” she said.

“Whether it’s Baz Luhrmann’s Sydney in Strictly Ballroom to Tracks, I think our filmmakers have always sought to do justice to the incredible vistas that we have.”

Rachel Griffiths stands in front of a grassy landscape.  She is wearing a brown hat.
Griffiths has loved art her whole life. (ABC: Great Southern Landscapes)

She hopes Great Southern Landscapes will also do justice to our country’s precious natural environment, just as the featured artists have done.

Griffiths said it would be great to give ABC viewers some inspiration to see what their own backyard has to offer.

“I hope to inspire people when they do go to that viewing spot — rather than get out of the car, run over, take a selfie and fall off a cliff — you actually Google who was here, whose land you are on and what stories were here,” she said.

“And you understand the place in a lightly deeper way than just the five-minute Instagram.

“The purpose of a view should not just be for an Instagram post but to really have an understanding of our European history and the 60,000 years before we arrived of what these places were.”

What’s next?

Aside from the series set to premier at 8pm on August 9, Griffiths has her fingers in several pies which are yet to be revealed.

She has a string of awards behind her including for her roles in Muriel’s Wedding and Six Feet Under.

The Melbourne actor said she was “on hold” for a role in a big US show and was waiting to find out more.

She is also the co-creator and executive producer in a few shows which she is pitching internationally to various streamers.

“I’ve always got something cooking,” she said.

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