Premiering May 31 on the ABC, Peter Duncan's drama Operation Buffalo finds humour and horror in the 1950s atomic testing zone of Maralinga

Ewen Leslie and Jessica de Gouw star in Operation Buffalo, which premieres 8.30pm Sunday May 31 on the ABC.

Ewen Leslie and Jessica de Gouw star in Operation Buffalo, which premieres 8.30pm Sunday May 31 on the ABC.

Aussie Attorney-General Richard Wilcox is fuming. "Do you know what they're actually doing here?," he asks his federal cabinet colleague as they wait for an audience with the British High Commissioner at the top-secret military base at Maralinga in outback South Australia.

"I'm just the Defence Minister, they wouldn't tell me," equally unimpressed politician Philip Lachlan growls.

It's 1956, the height of the Cold War, and the Menzies government is permitting British atomic bomb testing in this remote, supposedly uninhabited expanse of desert. Not that the Brits are sharing any of their scientific secrets.

Wilcox suspects his PM doesn't know or even care what's going on at Maralinga: "Whatever Churchill and Eden ask him, Ming just drops 'em without even blinking".

James Cromwell (from the movie Babe) stars in Operation Buffalo.

James Cromwell (from the movie Babe) stars in Operation Buffalo.

Welcome to the rakish vernacular and darkly comic intrigues of Operation Buffalo, the new six-part ABC drama from Peter Duncan (of Rake acclaim) starring Ewen Leslie (Sweet Country, The Gloaming), James Cromwell (Babe, Succession) Jessica de Gouw (The Hunting, The Secrets She Keeps) and Tony Martin (Wildside, Blue Murder).

Set during a grim chapter in Australian history and blending espionage thriller, political satire and M.A.S.H-style military camp capers, the handsomely filmed series begins with a pre-credits statement that it's "a work of historical fiction" - a claim immediately followed by the qualifier "but a lot of the really bad history actually happened".

Operation Buffalo, the new six-part ABC drama writtten, directed and produced by Peter Duncan (of Rake acclaim), is set in Maralinga in 1956.

Operation Buffalo, the new six-part ABC drama writtten, directed and produced by Peter Duncan (of Rake acclaim), is set in Maralinga in 1956.

It's an early signal of Duncan's tone - a potentially uncomfortable mix of horror, humour and human foibles.

As Duncan recently told Variety: "I guess it's somewhat macabre but I found this story to embody many of my passions. Atom bombs, politicians, diplomats, soldiers, a down-trodden first people, spies - it was irresistible. I also think at the heart of it lies the notion of betrayal - which I think can be a compelling driver of drama. Arthur Miller said: 'Betrayal is the only truth that sticks'."

- JAMES JOYCE

This story Buffalo roaming first appeared on The Canberra Times.