First indigenous actor joins Neighbours cast

ELISSA BLAKE
Last updated 12:43 21/07/2014
Meyne Wyatt

JOINING THE NEIGHBOURS CAST: Award winner Meyne Wyatt.

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Meyne Wyatt is the first indigenous actor to join the main cast of Channel Ten's soap opera Neighbours since it began in 1985.

The announcement comes when Australia's stages and screens are again under scrutiny for a lack of cultural diversity and opportunities for indigenous actors.

A spokesman for Channel Ten said the decision to cast an indigenous actor was unintentional.

"While cultural diversity is definitely important, in cases where we don't need a specific ethnic background, our brief to agents is to put forward their best people and that was the case for this character," says Neighbours series producer Jason Herbison.

"Meyne is an exceptional young award-winning actor and very much on the radar of casting directors.  We feel very privileged to have him join our regular cast.  From his first audition, we knew we had found the best actor for the role."

Wyatt, a Nida graduate, will play Nate Kinski, a non-indigenous character loosely linked to two of Ramsay Street's longtime residents, Susan and Karl Kennedy (Jackie Woodburne and Alan Fletcher).

Susan was once married to Nate's uncle. The role is expected to be ongoing and Wyatt has already relocated to Melbourne and begun filming.

The first indigenous actor to appear on Neighbours was Tony Briggs, who went on to write the Helpmann Award-winning play The Sapphires, which he later adapted into the film.

During 1987 and 1988, Briggs, then 19, played the recurring guest role of Pete Baxter, a young bank clerk with a promising sports career, alongside Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan and Guy Pearce.

Briggs says he remembers the television industry debating colour-blind casting in the 1980s.

"Very little has changed," he says. "I've heard well established writers and producers say that marketing departments don't want to see black faces on TV.

"They think advertisers don't want to be associated with us. It's like Aboriginal people are not welcome in the living room. I just want audiences to see us represented as we really are, with humour and laughter and an open-hearted family life - that's our mob.

"There are extraordinary Aboriginal actors who can play these roles if they are given the chance."

Neighbours has come under fire for its all-white casting several times. In 1993, Bruce Gyngell, the late chairman of the Nine network, upset British audiences by claiming they loved Neighbours for its blonde and blue-eyed monoculture.

"The Poms delve into it to get their quiet racism fix," Gyngell told a conference at Melbourne University.

Herbison says the television industry has already changed. "Things have definitely changed since the late eighties," he says.

"There are now more young Aboriginal people pursuing acting careers, coming through drama schools and being put forward for roles which have no ethnic criteria which is the case with the Nate character. [The role] was not written as an Aboriginal character, however as the character is not a blood relative of existing characters, there were no ethnicity limitations.  We could craft the character's background story if necessary to suit the actor cast in the role."  

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Originally from Kalgoorlie, Wyatt, 24, is best known to wider audiences for his television role on the ABC's award-winning series Redfern Now. He is also one of the most in demand stage actors in Sydney. He has won critical acclaim in Peter Pan (Belvoir, 2013), The School for Wives (Bell Shakespeare, 2012), Bloodland (Sydney Theatre Company, 2011) and Silent Disco (Griffin, 2011), for which he won a Sydney Theatre Award for Best Newcomer.

Wyatt appeared in the film version of The Sapphires as smart-alecky Jimmy. At the time he said: "I can play the cheeky blackfella. But I also want to play more challenging roles, too. I want to play indigenous roles and non-indigenous roles in film, television or theatre. I'll do anything.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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