'Yet Another End of Another Aboriginal Filmmaker's Journey': A Personal Account of Aborigninal Documentary Filmmaking in the ABC

Article excerpt

When I was thirty years old I landed a job in 1989 as a television documentary researcher, quite by accident. I was an undergraduate media student sharing a house and a huge phone bill with six other UTS communication students. Just hours before the phone was disconnected the series producer Martin Rooke from Blackout called to offer me a fortnight researching for documentary films. Seven years later I left the ABC as a producer. In that time I had worked in the Aboriginal Programs Unit on over sixteen documentary films, researching, writing, directing and producing, as well as co-ordinating a four one-hour international co-production series. The first film I worked on for the ABC was a 30 minute documentary film for the second series of Blackout entitled Civil Rights which aired in 1989, which was about the Freedom Ride protesters who travelled to Walgett and Moree in 1965. In this episode I conducted vox populi interviews with Aboriginal people in my own community of Walgett at the annual Aboriginal football knockout, and also in Moree. We aimed to take the same trek the Freedom Rides took back in 1965. The director David Sandy was from Moree and I from Walgett. It was the first time a documentary had been made about the Freedom Rides since the news and current affairs items in the mid 196os, although there had been several television profiles of Charles Perkins that briefly mentioned them. For both of us it was the first time in many years that we returned to our own communities to interview those family and elders who we had grown up knowing were involved with the civil rights protests in the sixties. It had already been agreed that this series was going to be distinct from the first series, a magazine format program that had Aboriginal presenters in a studio type situation reading cue cards and casting over to roving Aboriginal reporters.

The other program I directed in my first year on Blackout was the Education episode, again with a vox populi format, using as many black faces as possible, cross-referencing nationally. This episode focused upon racism in schools. The reason for cross-referencing nationally was to indicate that the issues that affected Aborigines in central Australia were similar to the issues experienced by Aborigines living in Redfern and so forth. The national cross-referencing on topics meant that at any given time a director and researcher in Perth would be asking the same questions as the director and researcher in Walgett, Kempsey or Wagga Wagga for example. On their return to Sydney each team would log out segments for the other team. The Walgett/Moree team headed the Civil Rights episode, but the Wagga Wagga or Perth teams for example would give their answers to the questions about civil rights to the Walgett/Moree team. Likewise with the Wagga Wagga team, they headed the Education episode, and while they gave the other team the civil rights questions the civil rights team gave them their education questions. The aim was to get a national perspective on all. the episodes in the series. All teams were given instructions on how the visual style would work so there would be a visual style that would be easy to edit in the fine cut.

Each episode had a music clip breaker of unknown Aboriginal bands. We did a deal with them to produce music clips for us that they could also use for promotional purposes, as well as getting extra air play on Rage or Radio Triple J. This series launched many bands and singers; Paul Kelly first noticed Archie Roach from a Blackout episode and rang the ABC to find out how to contact him. Other emerging Aboriginal bands and artists at the time of Blackout were Mixed Relations, Scrap Metal, and dancers who are now with the Bangarra Dance Theatre. Other artists like Yothu Yindi, Kev Carmody, Jimmy Little, Maroochy and Leah Purcell were also screened nationally on Blackout. The Songlines programs covered many bands that would otherwise not be seen on television, concerts in Broome from 1992 to 1994, the Building Bridges and Survival Day concerts from 1988 to 2000, and the Yepperenya concert in Alice Springs in 2001. …