In 1973 ABC-TV produced a television version of Basically Black, a revue of comedic, satirical, political sketches and the first formal theatre production of the National Black Theatre.
Basically Black was the first all-Aboriginal television show in Australia.
The ABC-TV production was a heavily censored and politically ‘watered-down’ version of the stage production that had been so successful at Sydney’s Nimrod Theatre the previous year.
One of the characters written into the revue is Lionel Mouse who fights racism as ‘Superboong,’ a strange visitor from a northern tribe who comes to the city possessing powers far greater than mortal Kooris, faster than a killer boomerang. An incident of racism in a nearby hotel sees Superboong leap into action, but he unfortunately can’t do anything, because Aboriginal people are barred from entering hotels; he is forced to go off in search of incidents that he can fight. This ironic treatment of the superhero shows that even superheroes will be discriminated against, when he is not allowed in a hotel to change into his costume.
Other sketches include a satiric take on the boxing troupes that plied their trade as part of carnival side shows during the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s; the ‘Bennelong’ sketch, in which Bennelong is presented at a London garden party in beautifully tailored clothes but also in a gilded cage; and a sketch played out between an aggressive white labourer and an Indigenous industrial designer, which ends with the latter being viciously beaten and then arrested for assault.
The TV version was a success, but not enough to make the ABC proceed with a planned series. It never proceeded beyond a pilot, and only ever screened once in prime time. But the pilot is still occasionally screened late at night, or as a token gesture around National Aborigines Week every few years.