Justine Clarke explores country music in the ABC series Going Country

Justine Clarke takes to the road and explores a much-maligned musical genre in the ABC series Going Country.
Justine Clarke takes to the road and explores a much-maligned musical genre in the ABC series Going Country.

Going Country: 8.30pm, ABC - Tuesday, November 2

Country music tends to stir one of two emotions in most people - love or hate.

For many of us there is no middle ground, we're either a fan or we just can't stand the genre.

Kriv Stenders is one who had been converted. Last year the director has made the documentary film Slim and I, about Joy McKean and her husband Slim Dusty.

This year, he's followed that up with the two-part ABC series Going Country. After all that exposure to the genre, he now declares himself a country fan.

As for the intense dislike country music seems to inspire, Stenders reckons it comes down to a misunderstanding.

"I think people categorise it for one small subset of the genre and that cancels out the entire bandwidth of it," Stenders said.

"It's actually a very, very rich, very broad genre - it's not as specific as people think it is.

"I think it's had a history of being redneck music and then being working class music. I think a lot of people look down their noses at it wrongly because it's actually timeless, great music and that's what we discovered when we made the show."

In fact, part of the idea behind the show is to open up the idea of country music to people.

"From the beginning of the show we own the fact that is a genre that has been maligned but we say 'let's actually look at it and let's make you see it from another perspective, from a number of other perspectives'," Stenders said.

Slim and I had piqued Stenders' curiosity about Australian country music and so Going Country came along at just the right time for the director.

"I was approached by company I'd made a couple of documentaries before with Sam Neill," Stenders said.

"They asked if I'd be interested in making a documentary about the history of Australian country music. I said 'well, funnily enough I've just done a documentary about country music and I feel I've only just scraped the surface'.

"It's a great opportunity to dig deeper and wider into a really amazing genre."

The two-part series sees Justine Clarke taking to the road in a classic car and visiting locations that have played a vital part in the creation of iconic country songs.

Stenders had the idea to approach Clarke for the project about a year into its development.

"She was an idea that popped into my head right before we started shooting," he said.

"There was a lot of back and forth with the ABC about what kind of host we needed and how it was going to be. They've got a lot of boxes they need to tick.

"I've known Justine for a long time and we've worked together before. She popped into my head and I thought she was the perfect fit.

"Not only is she wonderful on camera but she can sing and she's got a passion for music."

The two-part series also plays into the ABC Arts Know My Name project. Started by the National Gallery of Australia, the project aims to address gender bias in visual arts.

The ABC Arts took the concept and use to to ensure women are represented in projects.

Stenders said that was easy with Going Country because there was a wealth of female musicians to choose from.

"It was definitely something in the contextual stage that we were going to look at," he said.

"We wanted to look at the role of women in country music - that's an underlying theme that's in the show.

"Country music is the one genre in which there's a long and strong tradition of great female talent.

"We look at a woman called Shirley Thoms, who was around the 1940s and who paved the way for women like Joy McKean who ended up being Dusty's partner and then went on to write some of the most iconic country songs ever.

"Then you've got numerous musicians who followed her - Kasey Chambers, Gina Jeffreys and even now, Fanny Lumsden and Emily Wurramara.

"That is a very long and strong tradition."

This story Getting in tune with the country first appeared on The Canberra Times.