Anika Van Cleef (Marta Dusseldorp) is a powerful “toorak mom”. She is CEO of an investment company she took over from her controlling father and now runs it with her new partner, Johann (Nikolai Nikolaeff).
But Anika is betrayed by Johann and becomes the target of an assassination attempt. She soon discovers that Johann has hired professional thugs to murder her and her children, Otis (Imi Mbedla) and Iris (Ava Caryofyllis).
A mysterious police detective, Airini (Rachel House), shows up at a convenience store. To escape the threat, Anika and her children must be forcibly (and reluctantly) relocated to a remote Tasmanian town.
They find themselves in Mystery Bay, humorously characterized by a Canberra politician as a place “no one has heard of, has no features and no outsider wants to visit.”
Bay of Fires, the new ABC drama, is riveting, dry and fast-paced. It brings new insights to the national understanding of the divisions between town and country and explores the isolation of small towns as a means of social control.
But perhaps most interesting is the way the genre of australian goth in humorous and unexpected ways.
an aussie goth
Mystery Bay is a quiet, island community, nicknamed Misery Bay by the locals.
The locals watch the arrival of the coroners with forensic attention. They are variously distrustful, hostile, and strange. As we get to know the townspeople, they open the door to a gothic world of mystery and the supernatural.
The rural Tasmanian landscape has a dark power, but the haunting sights pale in comparison to the layers of criminal activity and depraved lives that make a living in tangled community relations.
Australian Gothic began in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, combining elements of the traditional european gothic literature – characterized by horror, mystery and the supernatural – mixed with Australia’s unique landscape, history and cultural identity.
The harsh and unforgiving Australian environment provided fertile ground for the development of a distinctive Gothic tradition.
Vast, desolate landscapes, rugged coastlines, and extreme weather conditions replaced European cathedrals and cemeteries. Settlers faced isolation, death, and the brutal realities of the convict system. They encountered other worlds through indigenous Australian communities.
These experiences became a central theme in Australian Gothic literature and the subgenre. Tasmanian Goth.
There are notable resonances between Bay of Fires and early examples of Australian Gothic, such as Marcus Clarke’s novel For the Term of His Natural Life (1874), which portrays the horrors of the penal colony system and the brutal treatment of convicts.
As with Clarke’s novel, Bay of Fires is set against the backdrop of the harsh wilderness of Tasmania. Both explore themes of oppression and isolation. The first moments of Anika and her children’s arrival in Tasmania clearly mark the landscape as dangerous. They hit a big kangaroo on the way to Mystery Bay and their BMW was completely written off.
The machines are no match for the wild animals of Tasmania.
The genre is not without levity. Such Is Life (1903), by Joseph Furphy, is a wry, blackly humorous portrayal of rural life. Mystery Bay continues this in a dry satire of rural life. Stores will not open for new arrivals. People are highly suspicious of them, and basic life tasks become nearly impossible due to the hostile nature of the local culture.
The Gothic tradition extends into Australian literature in the works of contemporary authors such as Peter Carey, Kate Grenville and Tim Winton, and in film (Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Babadook), visual arts (Arthur Boyd, Fred Williams) and the music (Nick Cave, The Church).
twisting the genre
Bay of Fires is a continuation of this important Australian genre.
It draws on the conventions of traditional Gothic literature in its reflections on the harsh realities and haunting beauty of the Australian environment and the mysterious, indeed treacherous, characters of the cold townspeople.
However, there is wry humor and astute commentary on social class that offers a new dimension to this colonial Australian tradition established by settlers. Otis (Imi Mbedla) is particularly funny, offering ongoing critical commentary on race, class, and gender.
This insightful humor is a new angle on Tasmanian Gothic’s blend of horror, mystery and grotesque. When her sister asks why all the townspeople are staring at them, Otis replies, “Because she’s a Toorak asshole and we’re private school idiots.”
This tongue-in-cheek comment breaks the traditional dark and atmospheric tone of Tasmanian Gothic which, when it employs humour, often has elements of black humor, black comedy or irony. Bay of Fires has a much stronger emphasis on humor and comedy that is almost slapstick.
The series captures dark and mysterious aspects of the nation’s past and present that shape our national imagination and the Australian Gothic genre, all with playful wit.