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On track to make Aboriginal history

by Melissa Norris

UniSA Lecturer Tony Collins with Dennis Charles and Norbert Morris from PAW Media.UniSA is helping Australia’s PAW (Pintubi Anmatjere Warlpiri) Media to ensure the stories of Aboriginal stockmen in central Australia are not lost by providing a training program for radio broadcasters.

Earlier this year, PAW Media invited Tony Collins (pictured right), UniSA lecturer in the School of Communication, International Studies and Languages, to provide training in recording oral histories to three members of its radio staff. Collins has previously worked with PAW Media in the development of a radio documentary on the gospel churches of Yuendumu.

The result of their latest efforts is a 30-minute radio documentary, which gives an oral account of the lives of Aboriginal stockmen in the 1940s and 1950s.

“We’re finding out more about what people did, the sorts of roles, the treatment that Aboriginal stockmen got from the white station owners, and also the experiences that women and families had living on the cattle stations with their husbands and partners,” Collins said.

Collins travelled with the PAW Media team through some of the more remote communities of central Australia where interviews for the radio documentary were recorded, some of which took place in a dry creek bed in the desert.

“You don’t often get the opportunity to go to remote communities and to work closely with Aboriginal people and I find it incredibly enriching to be able to immerse myself in that kind of environment,” he said.

Collins said the strength of the project was that it captured the stories of Aboriginal stockmen while allowing them to speak in their native language and to be interviewed by people from their own culture.

The experience also encouraged the trainee broadcasters to further develop their skills at UniSA.

PAW trainees, Dennis Charles and Norbert Morris, along with PAW Radio Producer Rachel O’Connell, travelled to Adelaide from Yuendumu in remote NT to work with Collins at UniSA’s radio production facilities for a week of training in editing, story structure and vocal techniques for radio.

“UniSA’s involvement with PAW is sharing the kind of expertise that our students get here with an Aboriginal community media organisation, so they can access the same level of training and the same level of skills development that university students get,” Collins said.

“Hopefully we’ll be able to do this again in the future and develop a partnership with PAW Media and keep that exchange of skills going.”

The documentary was particularly special for trainee PAW Media broadcaster Dennis Charles, who heard stories of his grandfather and other relatives through the interviews.

“I’ve enjoyed travelling around and meeting people, Anmatyerr people, and interviewing them about their stories as stockmen,” he said.

The documentary takes the listener on an emotional journey of discovery as Dennis Charles finds out more about the cattle industry in the area where he grew up and the conditions that his grandfather and uncles endured.

“The people who worked in the industry were really fulfilled, really happy and today express a longing for that kind of lifestyle and desire to have that same fulfilment and employment for the next generation,” Collins said.

“I think everybody who’s involved with the project is really enthusiastic about getting those stories recorded for the future so the history’s not lost.”

The documentary will be broadcast on the PAW Radio Network and will be available online on PAW Media’s website.