When most people think "romantic comedy", they think of Drew Barrymore or Meg Ryan on a fabulous adventure with a Tom Hanks-type dreamboat, somewhere in America.

They're certainly not thinking of an Aboriginal woman in the outback of Australia. And that's the problem.

That's what Australian star Miranda Tapsell set out to change with her new film, Top End Wedding, that she wrote, produced and stars in.

The film follows Tapsell's character, Lauren, as she introduces her British beau, Ned, to the harsh Aussie outback and all the family and escapades that come along with it.


She never set out to make a political statement or even a particularly serious film but in telling her story through a rom-com with an Aboriginal woman in the lead, she made a stand regardless.

The film is very much about returning to her roots, reconnecting with her culture, and resuming her place in the family by returning home.

It is, Tapsell says, a story indigenous women know all too well. She herself moved from her hometown of Darwin to the big smoke of Sydney at just 18 and was "very much a fish out of water".

She says, "I just felt so lost in this new environment and even though it's been 11 years since I moved, I just always go back home to re-centre and ground myself - basically take that step back to remind myself of my priorities and what I think is important, because I can lose that when I'm in Sydney or Melbourne."

In those places, Tapsell often found herself "the only Aboriginal woman in the room". which made for a lot of discomfort on her part but prompted her tell her authentic story in a new way.

"I love rom-coms but I watched the ones with Reese Witherspoon and Meg Ryan and Katherine Heigl and Julia Roberts and, as much as I loved those stories, there was always a part of me that knew I didn't see the world like them.

Miranda Tapsell and her on-screen hubby Gwilym Lee in Top End Wedding. Photo / Supplied
Miranda Tapsell and her on-screen hubby Gwilym Lee in Top End Wedding. Photo / Supplied

"So while I have a strong understanding of who I am within the community I grew up with, I didn't quite know how to put that within the world of a rom-com. I felt like I was essentially marrying the two ideas, so that was very exciting and thrilling."

It wasn't just for herself either - it was for her "sister girls"; women like her who just want to see themselves represented in a genre they love.

"I feel like my sister girls deserve a night in as much as any other woman. I feel like Aboriginal women's dreams and desires often get policed and I want my sister girls to be able to be at home with a face mask and pizza and sit down and be told that they are valid and everything they want in their lives is valid, they're allowed to ask for that and they're allowed to have it. I think that's something that hasn't been shown yet, so it's unfortunate that it's kind of the first but I think that there's more to come."

Top End Wedding was also a chance for Tapsell to shine a light on where she comes from - and not just in the usual "tourism advertisement" kind of way.

She wanted to highlight the issues her community deal with and put faces to what would otherwise just be statistics.

The idea of home and familial connection drives this love story. Photo / Supplied
The idea of home and familial connection drives this love story. Photo / Supplied

"I feel like people can distance themselves from the issues that affect my community and this is my way of telling people this is why you should care. I feel like we waste a lot of time explaining why people should care … and I feel like bringing the rom-com world to my community meant people would go, 'Oh wow, like how kind and generous and creative and joyous this community is." We should be making the issues that affect them more of a priority.'"

And while the rom-com doesn't seem the obvious vessel for such a message, Tapsell says, "I think Aboriginal people deserve to have myriad ways to tell their stories."

"That's why, in Australia I push for diversity because when I tell a story as an Aboriginal woman there's so many things riding on my shoulders to get it right - because people depend so much on the one story to talk about a whole community, whereas we deserve more stories to show off more factors of the community."

So after all that work, thought, creation and activism, she must be proud. But is she also just a tiny bit angry that she had to do it all herself?

"Well yeah!" she says. "Especially because I feel like I've paid a lot of money to a culture that doesn't have women like me ... and I feel like it's important for those sort of stories to be told.

"You know, it's not so much that Aboriginal people and Aboriginal stories aren't visible - I'm so proud to say that Aboriginal people have been at the helm of [many recent projects].

"I guess now the conversation that people should be having is to make sure that indigenous stories aren't niche stories, that they are very much a part of the wider Australian story and that more indigenous creators should be thinking harder and more often about the way that they wanna represent indigenous people."

Who: Miranda Tapsell
What: Top End Wedding
When: In cinemas today