In 2006, a single-vehicle car crash near Byron Bay killed four teenagers, making headlines nationally and prompting a change in laws for new drivers.
Now new ABC drama Deadlock explores the impact that such an incident could have on the lives of the local youth in a small-town community overwhelmed with grief.
“The accident was really the catalyst for thinking about how different the lives of young people are and how sub-terrain they are in a town like this,” producer Deb Cox said.
“In some ways it’s quite a tough life for kids [in small towns] because there’s not a lot to do, the transport is difficult — it’s not like growing up in a big city.”
Ms Cox, who co-produced the new series with Fiona Eagger, has produced many prime-time dramas for what is usually an adult audience — including Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, Newton’s Law and Seachange.
She is also a mother — and said that her thoughts about this accident on a rural road near her home town would not go away, 12 years later.
“I do remember the night because we were very close and we heard sirens,” Ms Cox said.
“My kids, who were at Byron High School, knew kids who knew kids who were involved — and bit by bit you hear little pieces of the puzzle about what happened.”
Conscious of the grief, she reached out to the parents of the boys, in particular Rob Wells, who lost his 17-year-old son Bryce in the accident.
“I approached Rob Wells very early in the process and said I was developing this project — but it wasn’t about that accident and it certainly doesn’t mirror it in any factual way,” Ms Cox said.
“It’s not a carload of boys, so it’s not drawing on that or making any judgements about responsibility and I made it clear to Rob.
“And every time I talk about it I clarify that was the catalyst to tell a story about youth, but it’s not about that accident at all.”
Mr Wells, of Lismore, has helped bring in passenger restrictions for younger drivers.
It has been his mission since his son was killed in the crash near Byron Bay in October 2006.
He said he was thankful to Ms Cox for her approach to the series.
“I think Deb is very sensitive in the way that she’s done this,” Mr Wells said.
“I think it was great that there were so many young people involved in making it, because young people are more likely to listen to young people instead of old people like me and they’ll relate to it.”
Inspired by British teen drama Skins
Deadlock might have been Ms Cox’s idea, but its creation has been very much driven by young people.
“From the moment that some of the young cast read the script they said ‘oh we love it,’ — that’s what you want it to be like,” she said.
“You don’t want them to feel like they’re watching a sanitised version of their lives or a version that underestimates them, you want them to feel like, yeah that could be us, we could be there.
“It’s not just a soap drama — it has a kind of magical quality to the landscape and there’s a dreamlike aspect — you see kids in the landscape and you see the kinds of ways they try to make sense of their lives.”
Ms Cox said to get a version of a young life that is less sanitised, the development of Deadlock needed a totally different approach and took its cue from the hugely popular UK teen drama Skins.
“I don’t think I really tried to get into the teenage headspace, but I tried to work out how we could access that,” she said.
“Skins was a very polished series but seemed very authentic.
“Bryan Elsley, who produced that, did it with his son — and I thought ‘that’s how you do it’.”
Teens ‘workshopped’ the script to give an authentic voice
Luring Mr Elsley to Byron Bay wasn’t too difficult.
There they created a workshop space and paired local teenagers with emerging playwrights from across Australia with Mr Elsley leading the process.
“Bryan Elsley has a way of drawing stories from young people that’s very sensitive, he has a way of making [the workshop] very intimate and emotionally truthful,” she said.
Actor Connor Sloane, 18, who plays the part of Eddie in Deadlock, is from Lennox Head — not far from where the 2006 incident occurred.
He grew up with the crash never far from his mind — and certainly on the minds of his parents.
“As soon as we got our Ps, we all had [that incident] in the back of our minds — I honestly think it actually does change the way we drive,” Mr Sloane said.
He said he hopes that Deadlock will influence others.
“Like that, you can be here one moment and gone the next, you know?” Mr Sloane said.
“For a lot of teenagers, the series is pretty dramatic and it’s confronting so it will spark something, hopefully.
Rob Wells said he hopes so too.
“Hopefully they’ll think about their actions, to think about not only themselves but the effect that their actions have on the whole community,” Mr Wells said.
“Because to lose a son or a daughter, it’s monumental.”
Producer Deb Cox said she hopes the series rings true for teenagers across regional Australia.
“The issues of to leave home or not, which is a big thing for kids living regionally, how to make your own fun, how that gets out of control,” she said.
“I think those issues are common to youth growing up in regions anywhere.”
The series is available on ABC iview from Friday July 20. It can be seen weekly on ABC TV at 10:00pm from Friday July 27.