some ways Australian television has provided little representation
of that continent's Aboriginal inhabitants, in others it is impossible
to overstate the importance of Aboriginality to the medium. As with
many areas of Australian culture, the indigenous inhabitants have
been co-opted here in the formation of an Australian sense of identity.
It is unusual to watch an evening's television in Australia without
encountering some representation of Aboriginality--in an advert
for the Mitsubishi Pajero; a trailer for a Yothu Yindi concert;
or a news item on Aborigines' attempts for land rights. Aboriginal
characters and issues have appeared in most genres of Australian
television. Soap operas such as Neighbours, Home and Away and
A Country Practice have featured Aboriginal characters; as have
children's programs like Dolphin Cove and Kideo; game shows
like Wheel of Fortune and Family Feud; and even lifestyle
programs, with The Great Outdoors, featuring an Aboriginal
well as these insistent, unsystematic images of Aboriginality, Australian
television features areas where a greater weight of indigenous representation
has occurred. This is true both in Aboriginal produced and circulated
programming; and in the arena of the broadcast mainstream.
free-to-air broadcast television there is a fairly consistent representation
of Aboriginal people and issues on Australia's news programs. As
researchers have noticed, this often involves what are understood
to be negative representations--of crime, drunkenness, family problems,
victimhood and helplessness. Justified as realistic, these patterns
of representation are industrial clichés, familiar ways of organising
and creating stories in order to render them immediately legible.
Another popular pattern of news coverage is to construct stories
about Land Rights claims in terms of white versus black, two equal
and opposing sides.
As well as television
news programs, most representations of the Aboriginal on Australian
mainstream television occur in non-fictional modes. Four Corners
and A Big Country, two well-known (ABC) Australian documentary
strands, have both included reports on the "plight" of indigenous
Australians over the decades of their production (the former in
episodes such as "Black Sickness, Black Cure," 1983; the latter
in productions like 1974's "The Desert People").
There have also
been avowedly Aboriginal programs on mainstream broadcast television.
First in Line (SBS, 1989) and Blackout (ABC, 1989)
are both Aboriginal produced and presented magazine style programs.
Again, they largely feature non-fictional material, although the
latter has also increasingly involved comedy sketches and music
in its mix.
The ABC mini-series
Heartland (1994) is worth including in a category of its
own. This 13-hour long drama is a unique contribution to Australian
television. It is the only example of a drama program with an Aboriginal
hero. (In 1992, a detective series called Bony singularly
failed to do the same, taking a series of books with an Aboriginal
protagonist and casting a white actor in the lead part). Over the
weeks, Heartland presented a series of Aboriginal communities,
rural and urban, and a wide range of characters, all contributing
to a vastly increased range of available discourses on Aborigines.
As an entertaining, watchable piece of television, it is truly distinctive
in the history of Australian programming.
is responsible for a large amount of the Aboriginal representation
on Australian television in the early 1990s. As well as starring
in Heartland and presenting The Great Outdoors, he
has appeared on programs such as Dolphin Cove, Clowning Around,
Wheel of Fortune, GP, The Flying Doctors, and Heartbreak High
amongst many others. His presence is a large part of current Australian
of Aboriginal programming in Australia must also cover the material
which is made and distributed by Aboriginal groups and communities.
Broadcasting for Remote Areas Community Scheme (BRACS) is one of
a series of acronymically-entitled projects set up by Australia's
Federal government to ensure that Aboriginal communities at a distance
from the continent's urban centres can have access to broadcast
television. BRACS is the successor of such projects as RATS (Remote
Area Television Scheme), STRS (Self Help Television Reception Scheme),
RUCS (Remote and Underserved Communities Scheme) and the SHBRS (Self-Help
Broadcasting Reception Scheme). Funded by the 1987-88 budget of
the Federal Department of Aboriginal Affairs, the purpose of BRACS
was slightly different from that which had gone before. Rather than
simply ensuring reception of broadcast television, BRACS would provide
rebroadcasting and program making facilities in order to allow Aboriginal
communities to decide for themselves how much of the material received
should actually be shown in their communities, and to make their
own material to replace that which they did not want. In order to
make this possible BRACS supplies the community with satellite reception
equipment; a domestic quality video camera; 2 domestic video recorders
(to allow for basic editing); and the equipment to rebroadcast to
the community. The initial idea was that this would allow broadcast
in little-used languages (some Aboriginal dialects have less than
100 speakers), and to allow deletion of offensive material.
The scheme has had varying degrees of success. Difficulties have
included the lack of well-trained personnel to look after the equipment;
the built-in obsolescence of domestic equipment; the fact that it
is not designed to cope with desert settings; lack of consultation
with Aboriginal communities as to whether they wanted the equipment
in the first place; and limited-range capability of the rebroadcast
equipment. However, it seems that the scheme (available to over
80 Aboriginal communities by 1995) has at least taken into consideration
the ways in which communities might want to use television. Although
the difficulties with lack of training, equipment and money cannot
be ignored, many of the BRACS communities are finding the scheme
useful, taking advantage of the chance to produce local material.
Programs produced include news, health information and music request
programs: all with an intensely local orientation.
the most active examples of such local television production are
the Aboriginal communities in Ernabella and Yuendumu. Both of these
towns pre-empted the government's BRACS scheme, establishing their
own pirate television broadcasting well before BRACS legitimised
the idea. In the latter community, the Warlpiri Media Association
has produced hundreds of hours of programming: records of community
life, travel tapes, and Manyu Wana, an Aboriginal version
of Sesame Street designed to teach local children the Warlpiri
is also Aboriginal video production from a series of media groups.
CAAMA (Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association), TAIMA (Townsville
And Aboriginal Islander Media Association), TEABBA (Top End Aboriginal
Bush Broadcasting Association), WAAMA (Western Australian Aboriginal
Media Association) and TSIAMA (Torres Strait Islander And Aboriginal
Media Association) produce video and radio material. The radio programs
are often carried on the networks of the Australian Broadcasting
Association. Larger organisations than the media producers in the
BRACS communities, these groups make material that is less locally
oriented, and has an address wider than a single community.
broadcasts commercial television to the inner part of the continent
on the satellite Aussat. Several Remote Commerical Television Service
(RCTS) licenses were sold on this satellite; one is held by the
CAAMA group mentioned above. All of the bidders for these satellites
were required to guarantee that their services would include material
specifically commissioned for the Aboriginal people who formed a
relatively high proportion of their audiences (up to 27% in some
cases). All did so, but none have done particularly well in keeping
to those promises. The Golden West Network has one Aboriginal magazine
program, Milbindi. Queensland Satellite Television broadcasts
material provided by the government Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander Commission and the Queensland State Government, programs
which present carefully positive images of Aboriginality.
despite being Aboriginal-owned, has found constraints of economy
have made it difficult to produce broadcast-quality Aboriginal material.
The amount of indigenous programming on the channel has varied.
When it started broadcasting in 1988, Imparja featured an Aboriginal
magazine-style program, Nganampa Anwernekenhe. By contrast,
in 1990, the station's Aboriginal broadcasting consisted only of
community service announcements.
overview gives some idea of the vast range of material encompassed
by the term Aboriginal broadcasting of Australia: mainstream television
on Aboriginal issues; Aboriginal programs broadcast on the mainstream;
and Aboriginal produced and controlled broadcasting which is allowing
Aboriginal groups in Australia to interact assertively with new
technologies, negotiating the places these will hold in their communities.
Christine. "White Media Rituals About Aboriginal Media." Media
Information Australia, November 1983.
Eric. Bad Aboriginal Art: Tradition, Media, and Technological
Horizons. Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press,
1993; St. Leonards, NSW, Australia: Allen & Unwin, 1994.
Steve. "Visions of Disorder." Cultural Studies (London),