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For her blockbusting novel, Big Little Lies, Liane Morriaty's drew inspiration from the communities of the Barrenjoey Peninsula on Sydney's Northern Beaches. Through its unique demographic profile and idyllic locations, she exposed a world of consensual spousal abuse just festering below a pristine world of perfection. The television series successful relocated the ambience to Monterey, California, maintaining many of the parallels.
In Big Little Lies, Morriarty skilfully peels back the protective layers that securely encase a teeth-sparklingly perfected couple and their gorgeously-accessorised, pair of twined moppet boys. So perfectly-perfect, they appear made to order, delivered with the groceries. It’s hard to believe they were ever messily farmed on-site.
But all is not as it appears. The family’s flawlessly perfect existence is fatally flawed. It conceals an ambiguously consensual saga of on-going and degrading spousal abuse. Taking the queue from home, the moppets indulge in their own brand of dastardly deeds. Dispensed with an angelic mien, the cycle is destined to continue.
In a mysterious but inevitable process, a silent vortex forms around the abuse. It grows, till it eventually sucks in the whole town. Ultimately it spins out of control in a single act of untamed, collective vengeance, resulting in an unregretted murder. With a moral ambiguity that matches the circumstances of the abuse, the perpetrators positive revel in the death; released and reaffirmed in their partnership of crime.
In exposing such secure spawning grounds of spousal abuse, Morriarty articulates for many, a latent, festering, indignant rage. It broils away, just below—unacknowledged, unexpressed and unchallenged in such privileged settings.
In exposing the social moreș of people who lives are otherwise crowded out by the usual first-world problems, Morriarty's story is as subversive as it is sardonic. And with a second series, there is plenty more to expose beyond what was in the book.
It's early February and it’s hard to determine the contours of Barrenjoey. The upper reaches of the real-life Pirriwee are strangely devoid of visible life.
In the Southern Hemisphere, summer has passed its peak, but is far from spent. A disquieting silence has settled over Upper Pirriwee. A sometimes sea mist rolls in as the deep, colder ocean currents lunge torwards the surface. Fogs form when the cold currents overwhelm the humid, sunlit surface airs.
Sounds are limited to those made by tradies—a distant chain saw, a persistent lawn mower. The low drone of endlessly-rolling and crashing waves backdrop the soundscape, accompanied by a descanting choruses of squawking cicadas who never take a breath.
Around the plunging hillsides, proud houses of every contortion, take their own protective measures against the sun’s rays, as they crowd out the original clapboards. They jostle and twist into precarious positions, claiming for their owners their own unique and unshareable views. Having staked their claims like a sponsored box at the opera, it appears no one is actually there to take–in the endlessly reforming spectacles of sun, storms, swells and mists.
In late summer, Upper Pirriwee could jus as well be an abandoned set for the Truman Show.
There are occasional random stirrings. A pure-breed dog wanders aimlessly down a road, like staggering tumbleweed. Exotic lizards, fixed in inverted yoga poses, indolently claim their lazy sun spots.
There is a general air of abandonment which suggests that Upper Pirriwee could yet return to the embrace of nature. Maybe, like the medieval Amalfi Coast, it might all one day, just slip into the sea...
So, how do humans connect in a seemingly disconnected landscape ?
Across Upper Pirriwee, there is a string of coffee shops and eating establishments that miraculously and successfully manifest interactions at their strategically located human hubs. Collectively, these solitary but strategic placed human meeting zones suggest the café where Morriaty’s characters meet to connect and confide (strangely blind to the idea that the sensitive new-age male barista, is not necessarily gay!!)
With carefully co-ordinated, nonchalant designs of nautical strippings, whitewashed floorboards and, decorator dinghies stuffed with pots of succulents—they offer a breezy, re-assuring self-representation of how Pirriwee’s residents might imagine their own self-envied lifestyles...
Despite the artificiality of the rusticated oceanic branding, not everything in Upper Pirriwee relies on designer interpretation to add meaning.
At the back of Pirriwee, beyond the mangrove swamps, is an authentic nautical world of working boat sheds and slipways. Grand old yachts are left, cradled on slipways, or swinging quietly at their moorings. From a shaded shipwright's workshop floats a muffled, post-modern, woodworking symphony of sanding machines, scrapings sounds, strange whirrings, metallic taps and the occasional hard bang with thump. People have got subsidies for less.
On the sparkling waters, there are working dinghies of many shape, sizes and age, all happy to bob away without the weighted encumbrance of potted succulents. It’s an indolent sort of place. Kookaburras let off their unscheduled sirens. Pelicans glide cheekily by, with one eye firmly fixed on their human company. A shaggy dog lays splayed-out on rough wooden decks, dead to the world... waiting for nothing to happen. Time is gloriously slow.
So, what else might Ms Morriarty be looking for on this diverse peninsula?... Surely Pirriwee is a gift that keeps giving. But there may be only so many layers, beyond which is just more human nature...made opaque by perfected and curated lives..