1 9 7 9 (Australia)
1 x 60 minute episodes
4 x 30 minute episodes
This children’s drama series from the Australian ABC television network was set in a pleasant white middle-class riverside suburb of Sydney, which was a “step-up” for the Aboriginal Jackson family who had moved there from the underprivileged inner-city suburb of Redfern to give their son Paul (Patrick Matthews) a better chance in life.
At school, Paul and Brett Towers (Michael McGlinchey) weren’t really ‘top mates’ until the day they ran away together.
That was the day Brett got into a fight at school. Although Paul was a new boy, he defended Brett. Later, Paul found the headmaster (Alan Tobin) taking sides against him because he was an Aborigine.
The boys’ friendship developed during their series of adventures. On their first night as runaways, they sought shelter in a deserted terraced house, disturbing the resident drunken ‘derro’ (John Ewart) who borrowed their money for booze. The next day, the boys resorted to stealing food.
Other elements of the series revolved around Brett’s sister Liz (Angela Gauci) and her best friend, Rachel Marsh (Candy Williams). In one episode, the girls caused a mini-revolution at school by attempting to get into the cricket team.
Another episode concentrated on the boys’ schoolmate Tony Fabiani, whose migrant parents were considering giving up and returning to Italy. The scene in the Fabiani household was spoken mostly in Italian.
All of the ‘mates’ had their differences and problems, and all of their parents had their own prejudices – although their sons had gone missing together, Mrs Towers (Tessa Mallos) would not ask Mrs Jackson (Justine Saunders) in for a cup of tea because she was Aboriginal.
Written by Margaret Kelly and Anne Brooksbank, the disturbingly real Top Mates won both a Sammy Award and a Penguin Award for ‘Best Children’s Drama’. The school sequences for the series were filmed at Narremburn Primary School in North Sydney.
The series was repeated on the ABC in Australia in 1980 and 1981 and subsequently sold to Denmark, Holland, Sweden, West Germany, Norway and New Zealand.
Mr Young (Headmaster)