Tony’s Notes From The Bony Novels (Part 2)

Posted on Wed 10/27/2010 by



The original television series was made by a company known as ‘Norfolk International Productions’, and, in point of actual fact, they did quite a good job of the ones that were televised. Inside the cover of each of those books with the red covers was a small note explaining the reason for the changed spelling of the word ‘Boney’. This series of television episodes starred James Laurenson in the title role as ‘Boney’, and these books with the red covers all show a picture of the actor and a scene from the television series as the front cover picture, with the spelling as ‘Boney’. Evidently, the spelling for the television series added the letter ‘e’ to the word Bony, and the explanation for this was that the viewing public might not be able to distinguish the word as being Bony, and to pronounce it as ‘Bonny’, a fact that I find a little irritating, as it gives the impression that the viewing public was being perceived to be nothing but fools, unable to correctly pronounce words, when from the first scene of the television series they would find the character being called Bony, and being pronounced as such.

James Laurenson as Boney

The television series was done in a series of single episodes dealing with each of the books, as was the case with a lot of television series in those days, especially those originating from the United States, even though ‘Norfolk International Production’ looks to be an English Company, who were also based in Australia. I think there was a minor controversy at the time regarding the selection of James Laurenson in the title role. I’m not sure of the details, but I think it had to do with his being an English actor, evidently residing in New Zealand at the time, and having his skin coloured for the role, and if this was supposed to be about Australia, then why couldn’t they have used an Australian actor.  Having said that, Laurenson did a surprisingly good job of portraying Bony, and when viewing the series, I was not all that concerned about who was in the starring role, as the story was the most important thing. He did, however, bring a certain believability to the role.

There seems to be a minor school of thought that they couldn’t use an aborigine or even a half caste in the role, as that might not have been acceptable to the public, again an example of the television industry treating the viewing public with less respect than they gave us credit for. The problem that they may have had at the time of making this TV series was that there would not have been very many actors from an aboriginal background, and rather than pluck an amateur from obscurity, the production company decide to go with an established actor, and just shade his skin to make him look as if he were from an aboriginal background.

As is usually the case with one hour television episodes, advertising breaks inclusive, not all the story was in each of the episodes, so a real sense of the books was somehow lost. The time was also brought into the present, this also becoming something of a necessity, because of the nature of television, and the perception that the public wanted to see something that was up to date, and not something perceived to be dredged up from the past.

Some excellent information about the series is shown at this link.

Some of the novels published by Pan also feature a scene from the television series and a photograph of the actor in the title role.

A television series in a similar fashion was revived at a later date, in the early Nineties, a series also titled Bony. This series however bore no resemblance to the books, or for that matter, to the original television series. It starred Cameron Daddo in the title role of Bony, in this case David Bonaparte, a descendant of the original Bony. This series was done more in the style to most of the other Police series doing the rounds at that time. It was produced by two German Companies in association with the Seven Network from Australia. In this series Bony was a young constable, (whereas the original Bony was a full Detective Inspector) the sidekick of an experienced Detective Sergeant, who, it seems was of German origin, so that it had some sort of German origin for the sake of the producers. The pair of them went around solving crimes in and around Sydney, showing the bush surrounding that city for a supposed insight into the Australian bush. The stories themselves bore absolutely no similarity to any of Upfield’s books. There was only one production run of 13 episodes for the series and it was discontinued after this first run. Being an avid reader of credits at the conclusion to most things that I watch, I was interested in the series for only one thing, and that was to read the credits at the end, and from these credits, I gained some very interesting facts. It gave a credit to Arthur Upfield, saying that the series was based on the characters created by Arthur W Upfield. The most important thing I found in the credits was a direct mention that the series was made, having consulted with the Koori Nation. I  always had the impression that the Upfield books were not very well accepted by the Aboriginal Nation as a whole, so this mention was quite encouraging as it seemed that the books might now be gaining some form of acceptance, as I thought that Upfield always seemed to treat the aborigines, and their culture with a certain respect that was not at first perceived to be the case. The series also starred in a minor role the late and revered Burnum Burnum, as this Bony’s uncle, and showed a direct aboriginal involvement in the series. What cheered me the most was this inclusion of the character in the series and the selection of Burnum Burnum in the role, as he was a person  involved in seeking better rights and conditions for the aborigines, and if he was involved with this series, then it seemed quite conceivable that the Upfield books were now gaining some sort of acceptance.

As a minor sidelight, and nothing to do with Upfield or Bony for that matter, the mention of Burnum Burnum as an agitator for aboriginal rights brings to light a memory I have of him, that dates back to the celebration of the foundation of the colony of Australia by Arthur Phillip in 1788, this celebration being held in 1988, and was a very big thing at the time. Burnum Burnum travelled to England and stood on the white cliffs at Dover, and in a direct parody of what Captain Arthur Phillip did when he landed at Sydney Cove on the 26th January 1788, Burnum Burnum claimed all of the British Isles on behalf of the Aboriginal Nation.

This act of Burnum Burnum’s also brought to mind a small, largely unseen, and mostly forgotten little television one act play I saw on the ABC titled BabaKiueria. It showed the crew of a boat coming ashore. The crew were all aborigines, dressed as sailors in a similar vein as Arthur Phillip’s crew might have been in 1788. In this small ‘mockumentary’, the Captain wore the uniform of a naval captain at that time, and spoke in a very cultured English accent. The place where they came ashore was a well manicured picnic area, and there was an extended white Australian family there having a picnic and barbecue. They were all dressed in shorts, tee shirts, terry towelling hats, and thongs. The aborigine dressed as the captain walked up to the man, and in a very cultured voice, asked the Australian yobbo, ‘what call you this area, my good man?’ upon receiving the answer, the aboriginal captain then planted an Aboriginal flag in the soil, and said, ‘on behalf of my people, I claim this land, and name it BabaKiueria’. This is a clever play on the words barbecue area. At most public parks and some beaches is an area set aside for this purpose, and there are brick barbecue structures with pas as you use gas bottles to fire the barbecues. Theses area are well designated with a small sign that says ‘Barbecue Area’.

As evincing a personal preference, if the series was to be further revived, and if the aboriginal community could be persuaded to believe that this series of books was not as bad as they might have thought them to be, in this day and age of reconciliation, then I think that there are now actors from an aboriginal background who could quite effectively play the part of Bony, and one of those would be Ernie Dingo, who I think would make a remarkable Bony, and would lend something to the series that was not present for the first television series. Dingo’s laconic style would add further credence to the character, as Bony himself was portrayed as being quite laconic, and laid back in the way he operated.