Open Letter to Australian Miniature Producers

Club member James Wright has some interesting things to ponder regarding an Australian cultural take on miniature gaming.

For a while I have been considering cultural Australiana in the context of the programme Cleverman (Wayne Blair & Leah Purcell, AUS, 2016), a nominally science fiction series broadcast on the ABC, a review of which can be found on my blog (James Wright, “Superhero Media: Cleverman”, 2016). That the pop-cultural ephemera produced in Australia is unique to the point often being inaccessible is no new revelation, as evidenced by Mark Hartley (AUS, 2008), but it is how said ephemera has translated into the hobby of miniature wargames that has been occupying my thoughts as of late. This piece is not so much intended to be a demand of “where are my Australian horror miniatures?”, but rather, an attempt to puzzle out why this gap exists in the hobby.

From my perspective, Australian culture has made two significant impacts on the global miniatures scene (in that players outside of Australia play these games regularly); the Colonia era and Post Apocalypse. Due to the unfortunate and ongoing nature of cultural genocide and colonialism in Australia, the concept of “Australian Colonial” gaming (beyond Bushrangers in some circumstances) is highly uncomfortable for me and, I believe, best avoided. In contrast, whilst the Science Fiction sub-genre of the “Post-Apocalypse” perhaps owes its birth to H.G. Wells’ The War of The Worlds (1898) and John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids (1951), it is practically undeniable that the semiotics of the genre were birthed by George Miller (AUS, 1979) and Peter Weir (AUS, 1974). To create here even a brief list of Post-Apocalypse miniature wargames and miniature producers would be a futile exercise, a simple Google search will reveal dozens of each in a variety of scales and game styles; even the gaming behemoth Games Workshop produced “Gorkamorka” (Andy Chambers, Rick Priestley & Gavin Thorpe, 1997) which combined the Miller aesthetic with that of the Warhammer 40,000 “universe” (Chambers & Priestley, 1987). Even media that attempts to combine Post-Apocalypse with a sense of traditional Americana cannot help, it seems, evoking elements of Australian “landscape horror”, used to great effect in Greg McLean’s Wolf Creek (AUS, 2005). Given that Australian culture has never been a world-leading standard to follow like that of the United States of America or Great Britain before it, I contend that we’ve done pretty well in terms of impact on a comparatively small and niche industry like miniature wargames.

Much of what I’ve been discussing so far, in terms of Australian media, falls into the broad categorisation of “cult”; by implication sitting outside of mainstream tastes and affections (regardless of the popularity of Miller’s “Mad Max” series). As demonstrated so clearly by Mark Hartley (AUS, 2008), Australian cult cinema has a “flavour” that is utterly unique in the world, though the classification of “Ozploitation” as never enjoyed such international success as Wuxia, Kaiju or Bollywood have. Now, to my knowledge, there are no Bollywood miniature wargames in publication (though I’m happy to be proven wrong there), but there are plenty of Wuxia and Kaiju systems to be found. Wizkids, who made their money and name on the “Heroclix” collectable game, also produced “Horrorclix”, an underrated collectable game of competing horror film monster tropes, including nods to films such as Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (Nathan Juran, USA, 1958) and Firestarter (Mark Lester, USA, 1984). Neither of these films are truly influential cultural tentpoles, yet Wizkids thought that a miniature wargame that included similar elements was worth mass-producing in pre-painted 28mm plastics. My, somewhat-belaboured, point in all this is why has no one produced a line of miniatures based on Ozploitation and Australian cult and pulp? Sure, it wouldn’t be an industry-defining range like Minifigs, Citadel or Wyrd, but in a world where multiple different versions of “Steampunk Batman” are not only produced, but commercially viable, this seems a little bit of a missed opportunity.

What I am imagining isn’t so much an “Official Mad Max Miniatures Game” or new Ozploitation Horrorclix expansion, but rather a small collection of uniquely Australian miniatures. Even leaving aside cinema for a moment, how many people would probably buy one or two 28mm “Drop Bears” or “Hoop Snakes”? What about a Bunyip or Yowie? I know that Mick Taylor, Koen West and even Mick Dundee would be at home in many collections of “not-“ miniatures. Unlike European horror, Australian horror grew up from the 1950s onwards, giving us a truly modern and postmodern sensibility that is not present in other media, just look at Wake in Fright (Ted Kotcheff, AUS, 1971), where the horror is derived merely from being separated from the comforting familiarity of urban sprawl.

I doubt that a game or set of rules would function well trying to encompass what I’m discussing here (other than Horrorclix, but that’s a moot point), however, why not a small range based on cult Australiana that isn’t derived from Miller? I’m sure there would be a market for it with the loose collection of “loveable weirdoes” that are miniature wargamers. Food for thought and all that. So to any sculptors, 3D-designers, artists and casters out there, maybe give some Mutant Kangaroos, Razorbacks or coma-bound psychic killers a go next time you break out the tools.

James Wright, Nunawading Wargames Association Inc.

Bibliography

Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, Dir. Nathan H. Duran, Writ. Mark Hannah, Allied Artists Pictures Corporation, USA, 1958

Firestarter, Dir. Mark Lester, Writ. Stanley Mann, Dino de Laurentiis Company, Universal Pictures, USA,

Gorkamorka, Andy Chambers, Gavin Thorpe & Rick Priestley, Games Workshop, Nottingham, 1997

Mad Max, Dir. George Miller, Writ. George Miller and Byron Kennedy, Kennedy Miller Productions, 1979. DVD

Mad Max 2, Dir. George Miller, Writ. Terry Hayes, George Miller and Brian Hannant, Kennedy Miller Productions, 1981. DVD

Not Quite Hollywood, Dir. Mark Hartley, Writ. Mark Hartley, City Films Worldwide, 2008. DVD

Superhero Media: Cleverman – Season 1, James Wright, http://leadcapes.blogspot.com.au/2016/10/superhero-media-cleverman-season-1.html, 2016. Web

The Cars That Ate Paris, Dir. Peter Weir, Writ. Peter Weir, The Australian Film Development Corporation, Australia, 1974

The Day of the Triffids, John Wyndham, Penguin Modern Classics, London, 2001 (1951)

The Proposition, Dir. John Hillcoat, Writ. Nick Cave, Surefire 3 Film Production LLP, Pacific Film and Television Commission, UK Film Council, 2006. DVD

The Tracker, Dir. Rolf de Heer, Writ. Rolf de Heer, Australian Film Finance Corporation, 2002. DVD

The War of the Worlds, H. G.Wells, Penguin, London, 2005 (1989)

Wake in Fright, Dir. Ted Kotcheff, Writ. Evan Jones, Madman Entertainment, Australia, 1971

Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader, Rick Priestley & Andy Chambers, Games Workshop, Nottingham, 1987

Wolf Creek, Dir. Greg McLean, Writ. Greg McLean, Dimension Films, Film Finance Corporation, South Australian Film Corporation, Darclight Films, Mushroom Pictures, 403 Productions, 2005. DVD