How NITV and ABC News 24 have transformed my TV habits…

… and enriched my life.

I do not jest. They really have, and I can only commend you follow suit, if you are here in Oz. On NITV I have posted several times lately.

  1. Twenty years after Redfern
  2. Bran Nue Day (2009)
  3. Jimmy Little — 1 March 1937 – 2 April 2012
  4. On NITV again and related issues
  5. Women of the Sun on NITV on Tuesday nights
  6. NITV best option for Christmas Night–in my opinion

Even last night instead of watching Edwin Drood on ABC – I am sure it was excellent – I could not bypass seeing the third episode of Women of the Sun (1982) and am so glad I did. Heaven knows what I made of it way back in the 80s. Did I believe it? Did I think it was exaggerated? I really don’t recall. But it certainly didn’t occur to me then that the key incident in the plot – the 1939 mass walkout by Aborigines from a government mission – was pretty much just as it happened. And the screenwriter, the late Hyllus Maris, would sure have known.

Hyllus Noel Maris (1933-1986), Aboriginal rights campaigner, community worker, educator, poet and scriptwriter, was born on 25 December 1933 at Echuca, Victoria, third of nine children of New South Wales-born parents Selwyn Roderick Briggs, labourer, and his wife Geraldine Rose, née Clements. Hyllus was of Yorta Yorta and Wurundjeri (Woiworung) descent and spent her early childhood at Cummeragunja Aboriginal station, New South Wales. Her grandmother educated her in Aboriginal culture, genealogy and history, and both parents were activists; her father was also a prominent sportsman.

In 1939 more than 150 Aboriginal people ‘walked off’ Cummeragunja in protest at substandard conditions. Their actions provided a catalyst for the greater politicisation of Aboriginal people throughout Victoria. The Briggses were among a group who then settled on the ‘Flat’ in the Mooroopna-Shepparton area of Victoria. The Flat’s close-knit, family-based community championed social reform campaigns into the post-World War II era.

Growing up in a river-bank tent, Hyllus was acutely aware of the impoverished conditions under which many Aboriginal people lived. Her father was the first Aboriginal man to be employed by the Shepparton council, providing a regular income and stability for his family. She attended school and trained as a hospital dietician. Committed to securing basic human rights for Indigenous people, however, she decided not to follow that career path. In 1956 she married Andrew Marimuthu at Shepparton and adopted the surname Maris; they had no children and were later divorced. Moving to Melbourne, in 1970 she joined her mother, a sister—Gladys Nicholls, the wife of Pastor (Sir) Doug Nicholls—and others in founding the National Council of Aboriginal and Island Women, for which she worked as liaison officer. In 1973 she assisted in establishing the Victorian Aboriginal Health and the Victorian Aboriginal Legal services at Fitzroy…

See also Cummeragunja. Jimmy Little the singer also knew, as became apparent in the documentary about his life recently screened on NITV, though what follows is from ABC’s Message Stick, linked to the start of this sentence.

FRANCES PETERS-LITTLE: We go back now to Eddie Little, my dad’s grandfather. Now, his story is that he was born and found somewhere near a massacre site in Queensland. And he was found as a baby. And he was raised by a white family and they gave him the name Little. And then he came down to New South Wales and settled in the Southern Highlands area. And he met with Eliza Penrith and they married in 1902. And they had three sons and two daughters. And one of their sons was named James Edward Little, who we know now as Kunkas. And then he married Frances McGee at Cumeragunja. And their first child was James Oswald Little, which is Jimmy Little.
JIMMY LITTLE: I remember, fondly, Mum and Dad performing on stage. with other artists from the Cumeragunja Music Group, playing instruments, like mandolin, banjo, guitars of course, harmonicas. I thought – "Gee, that’s nice." Music had an attraction for me. As much as playing sport and just running loose around the bush… and hunting and all of that… One, two, three, four…

DEBORAH CHEETHAM: Well, it was three years ago I first discovered the story of the walk-off from Cumeragunja Mission. And I decided I wanted to create an opera around that story. And so writing an opera and writing a libretto around that story of the Cumeragunja walk-off, and then discovering that my own grandparents were part of that walk-off and that they took Jimmy as a young baby and walked across that river into Victoria in protest of how they were being treated To be writing an opera about that… (LAUGHS) ..to be in the process of writing it and then to discover that my own grandparents were part of it, I mean, it’s been a huge journey for me.
JAMES HENRY LITTLE: Right across the board, there are so many musical people in the family. Aunty Monica’s daughter, Deborah Cheetham, is a fantastic opera singer, who I never really got a chance to know growing up. I think she was taken away at an early age.
JIMMY LITTLE: I know about Deborah being part of the family… but I didn’t know the story behind her adoption.
DEBORAH CHEETHAM: I am a member of the Stolen Generation. I was taken from my mother when I was three weeks old. I was given to a family in Sydney. I’d be told, when I was very young, that I’d been abandoned by my mother, that she’d put me in a cardboard box and left me in a field. So as far as I knew, I’d been abandoned. Of course, this wasn’t the case but I didn’t learn that until much later in life.
JIMMY LITTLE: I was looking forward to eventually meeting her with her mum, my sister. And when that happened, there was a… there was a sadness and a gladness… to at least relate, family-wise, both ways.
DEBORAH CHEETHAM: I knew about the existence of Uncle Jimmy. In fact, I think when I was seven years old, I met him. My adoptive parents took me… I can remember quite distinctly, they took me to a shopping centre where he was making an appearance and I actually got to meet him…

Pastor Sir Doug Nicholls, eventually Governor of South Australia, was also A Boy From Cummeragunja.

Then just the other day I was delighted to be able to see again my good friend Kristina being beautiful and brilliant in the 1986-7 AFI winner The Fringe Dwellers.

The-Fringe-Dwellers

Kristina – just as she was when I first met her in Roy Garner’s Forest Lodge Coffee Shop in 1987.

There is a very strange Indian article on Aborigines in Australian cinema I have just found. It does tell you a lot about The Fringe Dwellers, but the folk at Dear Cinema seem to have let their prejudices and apparent ignorance of Australian film since around 1990 allow their thesis on Absence of Aborigines in Australian Cinema to run rampant.

Year – 1987. Even as ‘white’ Australia was preparing to celebrate 200 years of white settlement, the oppression of aborigines – the original inhabitants of the continent – continued apace. The oppression is naked and heartless in outback settlements, but exists in subtler forms in Australian towns and cities. I have in one of my scrapbooks an agency report dating back to that year which speaks of a high court judge who wept as he listened to harrowing accounts of racism and denial of justice to aborigines in a remote New South Wales community. The judge wept and said : “I have been to Soweto in South Africa, to German concentration camps, but this is my own country…”

Despite an occasional admission such as this, not many white Australians are willing to face the truth that colonization has done little to improve the lot of the indigenous people. Australians are yet to acknowledge in large numbers that prejudice against the remaining 150,000 aborigines is rife. Unlike recent arrivals from Asia and Europe, many of whom are more than comfortable in the role of the comprador, the aborigines have never been integrated into the mainstream. In a society predominantly by, for and of white Australians, it is hardly surprising that the aboriginal question should be calculatedly glossed over…

Seeing that I marched with the Indigenous in the 1988 Bicentennial and had the enormous privilege in Kristina’s loungeroom in Forest Lodge of being told a dreaming story by a genuine songman, meeting at least one of the Page boys now so famous in Australian dance, and so on and so on, I rather resent the absences in Mr Chaterjee’s account of Aborigines in Australian cinema. And that is not to deny things in Indigenous Australia could be a whole lot better. However, the presence of Indigenous Australians in music, cinema, theatre, dance, the arts is actually quite remarkable given their numbers… Not to mention sport!  So save your snootiness, Mr Chaterjee, and concentrate on the many and varied injustices of your own country, of which lately we have had a glaring example. And now that we have a dedicated mainstream free to air channel for Indigenous programming – which has thus far no problem finding things to show – Indigenous stories are there for all Australians to share.

Back to NITV then. They constantly surprise me, one example being a scoop that seems to have passed over the heads of too many of us: Join NITV’s Political Correspondent Jeremy Geia with his exclusive documentary Julian on the Inside.

Recently too there was a brilliant documentary by Ivan Sen on the death of the sister of actor/presenter Rhoda Roberts: A Sister’s Love (2007). Then there is a quite delightful and informative children’s program, also seen on ABC3 – Bushwhacked.

Bushwhacked!’ is a 13-part series hosted by Brandon Walters and Kayne Tremills as they set off on the adventure of a lifetime to remote corners of Australia, meeting the country’s weird and wonderful wildlife, and learning about Indigenous rites and rituals. The series brings the bush to the ‘burbs, as Brandon sets Kayne a new challenge each episode, to track down one of Australia’s unique animals. But it is as much about the journey as it is about the destination. It’s a fun-fuelled, adrenalin-pumping, fast-paced adventure following these two colourful characters — one an ice cool bushman; the other a skateboarding city-slicker who’s never been into the heart of Aboriginal Australia. Whether it be chasing down dangerous spiders, killer sharks and venomous snakes, or friendly penguins and loveable turtles; adventure is never far away, as the boys challenge each other with rock climbing, skydiving and zip-lining. Along the way, Brandon introduces Kayne to friends from local Indigenous communities who get the boys involved in everything from traditional smoking ceremonies to investigating local bush tucker and bush medicine. Humour and high spirits are a trademark throughout the series, as Brandon and Kayne often find themselves out of their comfort zones as they take the journey of a lifetime together.

As if all these examples are not enough to persuade you to sample NITV – but you may get hooked! – then there are odd movies that you may not see elsewhere. For example, Christopher Reeve being very good as NOT Superman in The Aviator (1985), which I saw during the past week.

And The Motorcyle Diaries is coming up next Sunday at 9.30!

The remit of NITV extends to world Indigenous TV, so I saw a brilliant documentary about the Mohawk construction workers of New York.  Did you know about this? I didn’t.

Meanwhile I have grown fond too of ABC News 24. Check out just one of their regular offerings: One Plus One. The episode of 28 December had passionate educator and composer Richard Gill saying just what needs to be said about education these days.

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