“I think it’s great not just for our Indigenous kids but for kids in general to have this view of Indigenous Australia,” Mailman says.
“These stories are really important for all of us. And even though the world, the environment is different from urban living, what kids go through is the same regardless of where they are.”
It’s about having questions, exploring the world, being curious, problem solving. “It doesn’t matter where you live there’s a universal truth in how kids’ minds develop.”
Mailman signed on to voice nine-year-old Big Cuz (Miranda Tapsell voices Little J, and the rest of the cast includes a who’s who of Indigenous Australian talent), and has just been back to make season two.
The show is part of a larger trend of Indigenous Australians not just being more visible on the small screen, but in more diverse ways, and in stories they’re generating themselves.
From almost the only black face on Australian television when cast in The Secret Life of Us, Mailman has ridden the wave that brought her, at the end of last year, to the astonishing Total Control. Like Little J, it was a show that was unimaginable 20 years ago.
“There’s been a massive investment in our artists over decades,” she says. “In terms of career pathways, training up our artists behind and in front of the camera. Taking our stories, reclaiming them.
“Having the platforms and the opportunities to tell our stories the way we want to tell them. That’s the result of a long process of investment, and it was always going to be an evolution.”
Little J is part of that evolution. As well as an all-Indigenous cast and crew, Indigenous writers from all over Australia contribute to the scripts, telling their own experiences and the stories they grew up with of freshwater, saltwater and desert country.
The show has also been translated into a number of Aboriginal languages. And it’s that behind-the-camera work that Mailman sees as the next vital step.
“I think as we keep going on this trajectory, training people, particularly behind the camera – that’s when things change. And extending that so we have Indigenous writers in any writing room, not just writing Indigenous stories. That’s where I’d really love to see that next leap happening.”
Mailman’s fortunate in that she’s found pretty steady work in a range of mediums and all kinds of stories. It’s certainly been a while since she’s had to wait tables between gigs (actually, she’s never waited tables, although she has pulled beers in a Mt Isa pub).
And of course when she’s not in paid work, she’s in her other full-time job – being a mum to Henry, 12, and Ollie, nine. Henry’s a bit too cool for Little J these days, “but Ollie loves it and I’m really glad they have a show like this that they can watch,” Mailman says.
“Even as an adult I’m learning heaps about practices in different parts of the country. How wonderful that our kids are growing up with their own stories.”