To be honest I was really hoping to enjoy Shadow Trackers.
The NITV show featuring actors Hunter Page-Lochard (Cleverman) and Zac James (8MMM) “ghost-hunting” Indigenous legends sounded like a clever and accessible way to explore cultural history.
Instead of going down the ‘worthy’ path of presenter giving us history lessons, here are two energetic lads ready for a thrill-ride into the unknown. I’m good with that. It’s fresh and spooky. But you also have to deliver on the premise.
The opening episode heads to Mununjali land in Queensland to investigate the Il-Bogan -yes that’s the name of a mythical Bunyip that supposedly lurks in the rivers where Hunter grew up. His family members still live here, Uncle Bevan Page, Aunty Levina Page along with other local Elders.
Lochard-Page, who made a strong debut in ABC’s Cleverman, reminds us he is a Mununjali man. Accompanied by Zac James in a modern 4WD, the two are ready for an adventure in this rural setting.
Uncle Bevan tells the boys when it comes to Indigenous spirits, “There’s good and there’s bad it all depends.” But the story of the Il-Bogan bunyip is the stuff of local legend, seen as a creature rising out of a lagoon with hair visible on the water’s surface. There are tales it devoured animals. Hunter and Zac’s eyes light up hearing the spooky tales -challenge accepted.
At a local historical museum they are shown 1908 newspaper clippings that reference a “crouching beast with glaring eyes” that even growled like a lion. The plot thickens.
But before they can start ghost-hunting, they must undergo a Welcome to Country tradition. Hunter, as one of the Mununjali mob, reconnects with the land in a smoking ceremony, while Zac James announces that he is a respectful visitor who is only coming to observe and won’t be taking anything from the land.
The late-night ghost-hunting is where our intrepid duo arm themselves with cameras and lights around the dark lagoon, hoping for a sighting of the Il-Bogan bunyip. It’s all very Blair Witch as they split up, with cameras attached to their heads for a first-person perspective. We are off and running, literally, as excitable presenters are determined to see something in the distance to back up the local legends.
But while the boys are invariably shocked, or possibly scared by their own shadows, none of this translates well to television. While they are convinced at spotting something indistinguishable, the video proof is weak (and that’s being generous) and the chase lacks genuine tension.
Clearly filmed on a shoestring budget, the production also would have benefitted from more high-tech equipment that is usually par for the course in serious ghost-busting, paranormal television. There were also some camera angles in interviews that could have elicited better reactions.
The end result was that I felt like the set-up of the Il-Bogan bunyip wasn’t adequately paid off, or that our spirit chasers didn’t really want to admit failure. If they really did sight something then it’s a visual disconnect from a storytelling perspective -either way this fell flat with me. Perhaps other episodes will stump up with the goods….
That said, Shadow Trackers is ultimately only using spirit stories as an entry into Indigenous culture and one that rarely gets much airtime. So it’s heart is totally in the right place. Next time if we can please get the cameras in the right place too?
Shadow Trackers premieres tonight at 8:30pm on NITV.