Actor, rapper and former Manning student Kyle Shilling is joining the cast of Home and Away as the show's first ever Indigenous main character.
The 28-year-old Widjabul man from the Bundjalung nation, will play the character of Mali Hudson when the long-running show returns to the small screen in early 2023.
He'll arrive at Summer Bay as long-time friend of Dean Thompson (played by Patrick O'Connor), but the exact storyline is still being kept under wraps.
"You see their friendship blossom again after reconnecting on screen, it's a great story," Shilling said.
Shilling, 28, is from a predominantly stage background, performing in Man with the Iron Neck, Role Model and Black Cockatoo. He's also danced with Bangarra Dance Theatre.
When he's not acting or dancing, he writes, records and sings rap music under the name Blacx.
An Aboriginal script consultant was vital in the conception of Shilling's on-screen character and his storylines, and was actively involved in creative decisions around Mali's introduction.
"Mali is fun, he's cheeky, he cares for his family," Shilling said.
"When I first found out I had the role they wanted to work this character around who I am, and what I brought to the audition."
Shilling grew up in Taree and Pottsville in northern NSW. In Taree, there was entrenched racism, poverty and violence, and he often found it hard to escape negative influences around him, he said.
IN OTHER NEWS
"I grew up with that mentality that if you can't beat them, join them. I grew up as a kind of angry, young Indigenous person," he told ACM earlier this year.
The chance to be a main character on Home and Away is an honour, Shilling said, and he hoped it will inspire Indigenous kids.
"I get to represent my people and hopefully make them proud to be who we are, and share our story and share our culture on an international TV show," he said.
I grew up with that mentality that if you can't beat them, join them. I grew up as a kind of angry, young Indigenous person.- Kyle Shilling
"When I was a kid and I didn't have this. There wasn't this Indigenous representation on TV. I never had that drive to really want to do anything, because I didn't think this world was for Indigenous people.
"I'm hoping that I'm going to be the inspiration to those kids to think 'we can do it'.
"No matter where you're from, or what you've been through, you've just got to put your head down and work hard for what you want. The only person that's going to say you can't get it or turn you down is yourself."
Shilling would love to have Indigenous dance or song included in future episodes of the TV drama, and while there's nothing set in stone yet, "there's been a few little ripples around the office" about it.
"There will be a lot of representation of culture and I hoping to have a moment of our traditional dance like they have for the Maori boys," he said.
Home and Away is well known for its star making qualities, with some of its cast going on to become heavyweights on stage and screen.
Across its more than 5000 episodes, some of those stars include: Chris Hemsworth, Naomi Watts, Isla Fisher, Heath Ledger, Melissa George, Guy Pearce, Isabel Lucas, Kate Ritchie, Dannii Minogue and Julian McMahon.
This is not lost on Shilling who's got his sights firmly set on Hollywood.
"I'll be the first Indigenous Avenger, you watch," he said.
Shilling's first on screen appearance is expected to be episode three in the new year.
Home and Away returns to Channel 7 on January 9, 2023, just a week before the show celebrates its 35th anniversary on January 17.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.