In Sylvania Waters, they still shudder to recall the reality television show of 20 years ago, chronicling the sometimes cringe-worthy life of a nouveau riche family in the waterside Sydney suburb. Now a similar programme, focusing on a wider area and modelled on Britain's The Only Way is Essex in the offing – and the locals are not pleased.
Despite pleas by councillors and MPs, filming will begin next week on The Shire, described by its makers as "a bold, highly addictive dramality [reality drama]". Like the British show and the US series Jersey Shore, it will follow a group of young people who indulge in inordinate amounts of sex and conflict.
The series is set in Sutherland Shire, a chunk of southern Sydney often lampooned by outsiders for its monocultural insularity. Sylvania Waters is among the beachside suburbs in the Shire, as the locality is known locally. The shire's Cronulla Beach was the scene of race riots in 2005, where white surfers attacked Lebanese-Australian youths.
After seeing a leaked clip of footage for The Shire – showing "beach babes and dudes" talking about getting drunk and getting "boob jobs" – Sutherland's mayor, Carol Provan claimed she had been misled by the producer, Shine Australia, which promised the show would boost tourism, "putting out to the world and to all of Australia what a wonderful place we are – our beaches, our bush, national parks, our restaurants, our coffee shops". Instead, she fumed, it was clear The Shire was to be a "drunk and disorderly promotion".
This week Ms Provan, and the area's state and federal MPs, Mark Speakman and Scott Morrison, met executives from Channel Ten, and implored them to drop the show. Ten was unmoved. Another councillor, Craig McCallum, told the local paper the people of Sylvania Waters were "still suffering the stigma" of two decades ago.