Posted by: Lisa Hill | July 4, 2021

Top End Girl, by Miranda Tapsell

The last time I read an actor’s memoir was in 1998 when I read Ruth Cracknell’s A Biased Memoir.  Since (like everyone else who saw her in the ABC TV series Mother and Son) I thought she was wonderful, I was rapt when The Offspring gave it to me for Christmas.  It was #Understatement a disappointment.  Like others who reviewed it at Goodreads, I thought it was just an endless roll-call of the people she shared the stage and screen with over her career, most of which was entirely lost on me since I only occasionally go to the cinema or the theatre. This is why my review policy advises that I do not read celebrity memoirs.  I am hopeless at anything involving popular culture.


Cultural warning to Indigenous readers: This post may contain the names of people who have passed away.

So, truth be told, the reason I picked up Miranda Tapsell’s memoir Top End Girl was because I am always on the lookout for books to feature during Indigenous Literature Week.  When Jennifer reviewed it at Tasmanian Bibliophile at Large, I reserved it at the library.  That was back in August 2020, and it’s obviously a very popular book because what with Covid closing libraries and books being quarantined for a fortnight after each return, it took ages for me to have my chance at reading it.

And in between, I bought the DVD and watched the rom-com Top End Wedding.  

And accidentally bought a second copy of the DVD when it was on special at Readings, which I am now offering as a Giveaway to anyone with an Australian postcode.  Express your interest in comments below and I’ll do a draw in a day or so.

This is the blurb for the book from the Hachette website:

‘Sharing my story is important … I think it is true that you don’t aspire to be what you cannot see. I would like this book to show you that you can push yourself to do things you never dreamed you would do.’

As a young Larrakia Tiwi girl Miranda Tapsell often felt like an outsider. Growing up, she looked for faces like hers on our screens. There weren’t many. And too often there was a negative narrative around First Nation lives, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women especially. As she got older, Miranda stopped expecting others would help change things and set about doing something herself. Combining her pride in her Aboriginality and passion for romantic comedies with her love of Darwin, the Tiwi Islands and the Top End, Miranda co-wrote, produced and starred in the box office hit Top End Wedding.

In this engaging memoir, Miranda shares the path she took to acting and how her role in The Sapphires and then in Love Child inspired her to create a film about coming back to family and culture. And, it would turn out, that as she was writing her romantic lead she was also conjuring up some magic that saw a real-life love ignite. This deadly, ballad-loving rom-com nerd also asks us all to open our minds and our hearts to the importance of country and culture, In doing so, Miranda shows us how we will all be richer for it.

The memoir is more or less chronological, beginning with Tapsell’s childhood and education in Darwin-Jabiru-Darwin.  She came from a large extended Larrakia-Tiwi-Irish-Catholic background, but was herself an only child.  Isolated from Australia’s main centres of cultural activity, she nevertheless had a burning desire to perform, and with very supportive parents, was able to access a NIDA scholarship in her final year at Darwin High School, and gained entry to NIDA after she finished school.  Her ‘lucky break’ came early when she was cast in The Sapphires but she has been in constant work in film, theatre and television.  Top End Wedding came about because she wanted to extend the diversity of representation in popular culture:

I have never understood why some non-Indigenous creatives see diversity as a block to their creativity.  I believe it’s a weak excuse to be told that it’s a token gesture to write a person of colour into your script.  You lack originality and enterprise if you erase the people who live in the world—regardless of whether they live in your street.  Also, judge me all you want, but I love pop culture.  My favourite conversations with family and friends have been over the books they couldn’t put down, the TV shows they binged on till 2am and the films they’ve loved or loathed.  But a lot of the things I read, see and hear are speaking from a different place from where I’ve been. […] If we can believe in crazy ideas like a game called Quidditch or a throne that a fire-breathing dragon melted—it shouldn’t be a big stretch of the imagination that someone who lives differently from you exists in your kitchen sink drama.  (p.82)

She was, however, on a steep learning curve when it came to the realities of film-making beyond acting.  From funding to casting, to liaising with cultural owners in the places where they wanted to film, she had a lot to learn, but she acknowledges the help and support she had from everyone involved.

TBH There was more about the processes of film-making than I really wanted to know, but I was intrigued by this snippet:

Do you know why actors from Australia do so well in Hollywood?  It’s because not only are we inundated with film and television from England and America (so we’ve developed an ear for those accents), we also only get two takes to get it right.  I would have loved to make a blooper reel for this film but had I messed up my lines the way so many actors get to in Hollywood comedy, I would have been ‘that wanker’ who wasted everyone’s time and money.  No one on an Australian film set finds multiple falling-over-laughing mistakes charming in any way.  The amount of time actors have to bond on a Hollywood set is so foreign to me.  Every actor has to build that trust with others, but time is a luxury. (p.203)

As an ambassador for diversity in film, Miranda Tapsell makes a powerful case for Australian creatives to be more representative, less judgemental and much more imaginative.  I hope her colleagues in the industry read it.

Miranda Tapsell is a Larrakia woman from the Northern Territory.  She lives in Melbourne.

Image source:

Author: Miranda Tapsell
Title: Top End Girl
Publisher: Hachette, 2020
ISBN: 9780733642432, pbk., 303 pages
Source: Bayside Library

 


Responses

  1. Thanks for the link, Lisa, and yes I’d love to be considered for your second DVD of ‘Top End Wedding’ :-)

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  2. Not interested in DVD as don’t have a decent player and I like deep drama, haha. Ruth Cracknell’s bio was a massive disappointment. And I go to a lot of theatre. Or did🙄. This book sounds far more interesting. I don’t read many celebrity bios as hard to know which ones will be any good.

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    • Ha ha, it’s not my kind of book either but I enjoyed it anyway!

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  3. This does not strike me as a “Lisa book”, but sounds intriguing nonetheless. I saw her interviewed a few times on various TV shows at around the time the book was published and she seemed like a happy bubbly type of person. I only know her from The Sapphires, which was an amazing film!

    Ps. Please don’t include me in your draw; I don’t own a DVD player.

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    • LOL we are so Last century here!

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      • I didn’t like to say 😉 we do have a DVD player in London; I just didn’t bother buying one here as I tend to use a lot of streaming services instead.

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        • That makes sense. It’s what I’d do if I were starting from scratch myself.
          OTOH We have a great DVD collection, and the only streaming service we tend to use is SBS. We pay for Netflix through our Telstra account, but we’ve never used it.
          Horses for courses!

          Like

  4. […] See Lisa’s ANZ LitLovers review […]

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  5. Hey Lisa, I’ll be in the draw. I could do with another movie for my NT “collection” – Jedda, Yolnu Boy, Ten Canoes … mmm, that might be it.

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  6. She’s such an infectious but thoughtful person. I have seen The Sapphires (great) and Top End Wedding (fun rom com) – and some TV outings. And, in Black is the new white. She’s a force.

    BTW I always meant to read that Ruth Cracknell, but haven’t. Given what you say I probably won’t!

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    • LOL You know I don’t review theatre here — but I’ve reviewed Black is the New White in its book form:) I would go and see that play again in a heartbeat, I love humour that’s used to make a serious point.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I watched a video interview with Miranda Tapsell discussing her career and memoir. Tapsell sharing her life story with the world is inspiring, particularly for young females of color aspiring opportunities to enter the entertainment field. I enjoyed the films, The Sapphires and Top End Wedding. I look forward to viewing other films and shows with Tapsell in the near future. Thank you sharing your book review Lisa.
    Sonia

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    • I agree, she’s a wonderful role model. I think the film industry has been on pause during the pandemic, but there are some places in Australia where it’s been able to continue so I hope her projects are underway.

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  8. I can just imagine how many youths would be inspired by her story. And don’t need to actually imagine it, given how long you’ve had to wait for a copy from the library. That’s wonderful.

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    • What’s good is that she doesn’t just deliver the same old ‘you can do anything/ follow your dreams’ stuff. She writes about the difficulties *and* the luck.

      Liked by 1 person


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