How we're protecting 'Life on the Reef' - PBS series chronicles conservation efforts in Australia's iconic ecosystem.

LifeOnTheReefGreenSeaTurtleSwimsInGreatBarreirReef.jpg.653x0_q80_crop-smartA green sea turtle swims in the Great Barrier Reef in this image from 'Life on the Reef.' The three-part documentary that focuses on the coral habitat premieres July 22 on PBS. (Photo: Jon Shaw/Eye Spy Productions Trading as Northern Pictures)

It stretches 1,500 miles, is visible from space and is home to thousands of the planet's fish, plant and animal species, many of them endangered. It's Australia's Great Barrier Reef — actually 3,000 individual reefs that make up this World Heritage Marine Park — and efforts to protect it are the subject of the three-part PBS series "Life on the Reef," premiering July 22.

Humpback whales, green sea turtles, tiger sharks and manta rays are just a few of the species showcased in the series, which also focuses on scientists, conservationists, rescue squads and emergency teams that spring into action during cyclones, oil spill disasters and other crises.

Director Nick Robinson, who also served as one of the cinematographers, spent a year gathering 200 hours of footage for the series. He shared his insights about the series and this special place.

MNN: Why is The Great Barrier Reef so important to Earth's ecosystem?

Nick Robinson: As the world's largest reef system, the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) is a Noah's Ark for reef biodiversity at a time where we have already lost about 50 percent of the worlds coral reefs. Many species travel to and from the reef as part of their life cycle. Losing the GBR would mean losing a large number of species from the Pacific Ocean as a whole. If left unchecked, man-made climate change, pollution and overfishing will almost certainly wipe this vital marine ecosystem from our planet within our kids' lifetimes. We humans can decide to intervene to halt the decline, and the motivation to do so is growing stronger every day. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park realistically represents our best chance of preserving a large and functioning coral reef system. It's also the epicenter of reef conservation science, a place where we as a species are learning how to best look after our marine environments. Vital knowledge is being created every day that will hopefully be used in the near future to save the world's remaining coral reef habitats.

What was your approach to the special? What did you want to convey?

We made this series to give people insight into how extraordinary the reef is and how we as humans can help to protect it. We wanted to include the human story that is so often overlooked in wildlife films. We humans are the biggest predator/threat to the survival of most creatures on the planet so we thought it would be appropriate to highlight that friction point. It was also an opportunity to celebrate some of the great work being done to protect the reef and a chance motivate more people to get involved with marine conservation.

The Great Barrier Reef should become a great role model for the creation of other marine parks. It was also the perfect place to look at the complex environmental dynamic of balancing our needs with those of the natural world.

LifeOnTheReefLionFishSwimsInGreatBarrierReef.jpg.838x0_q80 A lionfish swims in the Great Barrier Reef in this image from 'Life on the Reef.' (Photo: Nick Robinson and Luke Peterson/Eye Spy Productions Trading as Northern Pictures)

What challenges did you face during the shoot?

The big challenges were logistical. The GBR is huge and much of the coast is hard to access by road so getting where you want to be at the right time of year was a permanent headache. Most of the barrier reef also lies at least twenty miles or further off shore. Weather, boats, camping on islands and finally finding the animals made for some great adventures. In most cases, however, we were following scientists that had a deep understanding of their subjects and that took a lot of the guesswork out of the equation. The creatures were generally where they said they would be and quite accommodating when it came to being filmed!

There are many spectacular sequences—which stand out to you?

I guess my favorite material is all the work we did on Raine Island. It's a restricted access island that very few people are ever allowed to visit because it's home to the largest green sea turtle rookery on the planet. Being on that small island with twenty thousand turtles in a single evening was nothing short of mind blowing. There were tiger sharks, hundreds of thousands of seabirds and some fantastic scientists doing an incredible job trying to find solutions to save this beautiful endangered species. The whole experience of being out there and seeing conservation work being conducted in its purest form was quite inspiring. It was also a place that drummed home the central theme to the series: connectivity.

Why was it important to emphasize the connectivity and conservation aspects?

Connectivity is the foundation of marine ecosystems and the more scientists learn about these environments the more we realize how important the big picture is. When you talk about the necessity of maintaining a marine park the size of France many people might think that's a little overkill, surely it could be a little smaller. Land-based national parks are nowhere near that big, so it's a fair question and we felt it deserved some answers in the series. We opened this series with the story of the east coast humpback whales. They travel thousands of miles every year from the edge of the ice in the Antarctic to calve up in the warm waters around the Great Barrier Reef. They need the Antarctic krill to survive but equally they need the warm safe place to give birth. Compromise either of these habitats and the species is doomed.

The humpback story is similar to so many other creatures in the sea: what happens on the reef has an impact all over the Pacific Ocean. Turtles, tiger sharks, marlin, tuna, seabirds the list goes on and on of creatures that roam the Pacific far and wide in their seasonal migrations. We also chose to open with the humpbacks because they are one of the great environmental success stories. Only fifty years ago these animals were disappearing through whaling. Less than 500 animals survived the slaughter on Australia's east coast. But since protection was introduced for them they have made a steady recovery. Over twenty thousand humpbacks visited the Great Barrier Reef in 2014, majestic proof that when we care enough we can strike a balance between our needs and those of the natural world.

LifeOnTheReefLiszardIsland.jpg.838x0_q80 Lizard Island is home to the Lizard Island Research Station, a facility dedicated to studying the Great Barrier Reef and other coral habitats. (Photo: Nick Robinson and Luke Peterson/Eye Spy Productions Trading as Northern Pictures)

Was there anything you wanted to include but couldn't get?

Not really. When things didn't work out we would have another go later on, but some of the best moments just popped up. Things like a cuttlefish laying its eggs or the aerial battle between frigate birds and boobies can be hard to predict, yet they all happened in front of our cameras while we were out looking for something completely different. Having a year to produce the program also meant we could be opportunistic and capture things like a cyclone that trashed a small town and a reef complete with before and after shots. Time was our friend on this series and I think the quality of the program is largely due to the time spent creating it.

What do you hope viewers take away?

I guess the overriding message is simple: This planet of ours is awe-inspiring and provides us with everything we need to survive. Looking after it is an investment in our future as a species. This series is about a small but vital part of our planet's marine ecosystem, but it provides a wonderful micro-world through which we hope viewers will garner a greater understanding of the big picture challenges our marine environments face. We also hope the series gives them the hope and confidence to believe that we humans do have the means to look after our oceans.

Alexandra Hodgkinson joins Northern Pictures

Alexandra Hodgkinson has been appointed as co-head of factual at David Haslingden's Northern Pictures. She was a producer and senior journalist at the Seven Network's Sunday Night program. Before that she served as a producer and later as supervising producer at the Nine Network’s 60 Minutes and as series producer or EP of factual series such as Bush Doctors, Beyond the Darklands, Pride of Australia and Young Doctors.

“Alexandra is a first-class television producer and vibrant creative thinker with a substantial track record in factual television. She has spent more than two decades at the coal face of current affairs television and will bring immense energy, intelligence and experience to her role at Northern Pictures,” MD Sue Clothier said.

“Alexandra, along with Karina Holden who moves from head of production and development to head of factual, will be looking for opportunities to create factual programs for the international marketplace, as well as Australia.

"Northern Pictures and its affiliates have offices in Singapore, Beijing, New Zealand and Washington as well as Sydney, which gives us a unique competitive advantage in identifying programming opportunities with broadcasters.”

Northern Pictures is part of Haslingden’s RACAT, a global network of TV production companies: NHNZ based out of the Washington (US), Dunedin (NZ) and Beijing (China), Beach House Pictures in Singapore and Taiwan, and Northern Pictures.

Keshet Australia is a joint venture between Keshet International and RACAT; the latter produces more than 200 hours of programming for broadcasters including Discovery, National Geographic, History Channel, A&E Networks, NHK, ABC and TVNZ.

Recent programming highlights for Northern Pictures include the landmark series Kakadu, Life on the Reef and Changing Minds.

Marine biologist Mark Read in Life on the Reef

Marine biologist Mark Read in Life on the Reef. Mark Read is an optimist. As a marine biologist, he's fully aware of the many threats to the Great Barrier Reef. But he's also inspired by the people, like him, who live and work on it.

"My job is about identifying sensitive areas and making sure they are maintained for current and future generations," he said. "It's about working closely with the people who use the reef all the time - government, non-government, industry, traditional owners, the defence department - seeing whether the activities they are engaged in can be modified to actually make them more ecologically sustainable, while still providing a top-level product for their consumers.

"The interesting thing is that so many of the people that I would be talking to out there on the reef are already some of the best environmental stewards that we have. These are people that are constantly pushing the envelope to ensure that whatever they do allows them to make a living that minimises the impact on the reef. That's one of the lovely parts of my job that I get to rub shoulders with people like that who are just inspirational."

Read, who is manager of species conservation at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Parks Authority, is one of the characters you'll meet tonight in the ABC's spectacular documentary, Life on The Reef. He's forced to stay in an office in Townsville most of the week, but "any excuse to get out on the water, I'll take it or make it".

"I think we sometimes forget just what an amazing place the Great Barrier Reef is. You're talking about the largest living creature, or assemblage of creatures, on the earth. It stretches for 10,000 kilometres. You can see it from space. One of the things that's unique about the reef is the people who really feel passionately about it."

Read hopes the documentary will make Australians more aware of the threats, which he identifies as climate change through greenhouse gas emissions, unsustainable fishing practices, run-offs from the land, and the crown of thorns starfish.

"The starfish have been documented over the years as being one of the most significant contributors to the decline of the coral cover over the reef. There's a link between the success of the crown of thorns starfish and the amount of nutrients and sediments and run-off coming off the land."

What's his favourite place on the reef? "As soon as you mention the Barrier Reef, people think of coral, but for me I like the estuarine areas, the mangroves, because they're very diverse and they are places not a lot of people go to and value. I really like spending time there and going fishing."

Fishing? Doesn't that contribute to the stripping of resources? "Not at all - I'm not that good a fisherman. For me it's about being in the environment, so if I catch a feed, that's a bonus."

Capturing Nature's Best

The story of the Great Barrier Reef is told through breathtaking images in Life On The Reef, writes Emma Brown. Occasionally a show comes alone that is important beyond its entertainment value. One such show is Life On The Reef, a three part observational documentary series produced by the team who delivered the award-winning Kakadu last year.

Australian cinematographer Nick Robinson is the man behind the spectacular images captured on film which form the backdrop to the story of our Great Barrier Reef.

Filmed over the course of a full year, the three-part series follows people who live and work in this extraordinary environment.

"We spent a year on the reef following characters who are working to save the reef such as rangers and marine park offices, traditional owners, search and rescue crews, scientists and tourism operators," Robinson says.

"Some of the people we followed are very inspiring."

While the series highlights the environmental issues facing the delicate ecosystem of the GBR marine park it is more about inspiring people to care, rather than harping at them to do something, Robinson says.

Although Robinson thinks that if we continue down our current path with the reef the future for it is bleak, he does believe there are lots of things we can do to keep it.

"Many people have come up to me and asked is it (the reef) dead already? Fifty percent of it is but only a small part of this, about ten per cent, is due to global warming. Other things causing this are things we can change," he said.

One of these things is the Crown of Thorns starfish, a predator that eats coral on the reef, which has been responsible for 40 per cent of coral loss between Cooktown and the Whitsundays in the last decades.

"It would cost about $5 million to stop the outbreak of the COTS which isn't a massive investment to stop the decline in the reef. We also need to improve water quality, control shipping and manage risks," he said.

As the most important marine park in the world, the GBR runs from Fraser Island to Papua New Guinea . At 2,300 kilometres long, it is the length of the west coast of the United States. It is the world's largest living structure and one the richest and most complex natural ecosystems on Earth.

"The reef has a vital role in the whole ocean. Whales come to calf there and changes to it have a wide ranging impact on the ocean."

Set against a backdrop of extraordinary marine habitats, ranging from coral reefs to tropical islands, shallow estuaries to deep oceanic waters, Life On The Reef takes the audience above and beneath the waters as nature adapts to the changing seasons.

Above the reef aerial photography from helicopters show the enormity of the marine park, giving macro coverage, while underwater photography shows some of the best microscopic coverage of the reef ever filmed.

Time-lapse and high speed cinematography is used to stunning effect, capturing the true nature of the area and the bizarre, beautiful and sometimes deadly creatures that call it home.

The series is narrated by Australian actor Rupert Reid who is best known for his roles as Declan in TV show Heartbreak High and later, Jack Dawson on Blue Heelers.

For Robinson, a trained marine biologist, the story of Life On The Reef is something he has always wanted to tell. As a cinematographer who shoots and directs documentaries, the success of last year's Kakadu means more opportunities to work on projects of his choosing.

Kakadu took out a gold medal at the prestigious New York Festival World's Best Television and Films competition and was awarded at a local level in January with a Best Cinematography for a documentary at the AACTA Awards.

As a fly-in fly-out worker Robinson and his other two crew members were often assisted by the Great Barrier Marine Park Authorityy (GBRMPA) and Queensland National Parks.

"They helped us out a lot by dropping us places while their scientists were working - we were very privileged."

For people who are interested in helping the reef Robinson suggests there are many ways to get involved from contacting politicians to joining a reef organisation.

"Volunteer, they need the manpower. Connect with other individuals and you can go out and have a reef experience and help at the same time."

Life on the Reef premieres Sunday 1 March 2015 at 7.40pm on ABC.

Review of Life on the Reef - Daily Telegraph

This one's a no-brainer. Each shot more beautiful than the next, it explores who lives on, in or around the Great Barrier Reef. Irish diver and marine biologis Paddy Colwell likes to kick his fins off and go for a stroll on the ocean floor around Osprey Island.

Bonus points for anyone who can guess the former Heartbreak High and Blue Heelers actor who narrates it.

4.5 stars out of 5

Review of Life on the Reef - Green Guide

Life on The Reef captures a year in the life of the Great Barrier Reef

Kakadu was always going to be a hard act to follow.

The ABC series was lauded for the way it captured the natural world at its most beguiling, with breath-taking visuals giving insight into why there is nowhere more primal, frightening and entrancing.

After delivering such an acclaimed series, director and cinematographer Nick Robinson could have been forgiven for putting his documentary production cue back in the rack, but he felt his work was far from done.

Daunting as it seemed, he and his team set out to create another epic series, this one filmed over a year on The Great Barrier Reef.

The result is spectacular, allowing us to be present as the seasons change and an array of bizarre, beautiful and deadly creatures fight for survival. But it's not just about animal life above and below the water. Life on the reef also profiles park rangers, traditional owners, coast guard, scientists, fishermen and residents as they interact with animal life and the sometimes violent forces of nature.

It turns out that marine animals have been getting up to all kinds of drama and mating mischief in Queensland long before schoolies thought they made it fashionable.

In spring, rising water temperatures make the reef prime for reproduction, prompting billions of coral polyps to release eggs and sperm into the ocean. Swept up in the excitement are worms and clams, who eagerly release their own eggs and sperm into this mating minestrone.

Reproductive behaviour can also mean violence, illustrated when Robinson and his team plumb the depths to deliver extraordinary images of shark feeding and mating frenzies.

Tiger sharks travel thousands of kilometres to feed on exhausted green sea turtles, but there's a chance they'll consider taste testing a documentary maker who's in the wrong place at the wrong time. A dropping of the fins and a head wobble can be signs a shark is considering adding you to its menu.

"To watch sharks in the mating process is one of the most incredibly violent things you'll see," Robinson says.

"But we try to be careful. I have no desire to get eaten by a shark and you always have to be aware (when it seems safe) that there could be one that behaves differently to the others. We have a rule when we are working that we get out of the water when there are more than two tigers around because more than two lessens your chances of seeing one coming. I was diving with Jon Shaw. I had a $7 broomstick and he had the camera. Sharks have a good sense of self-preservation so if you give them a swipe with a stick you are usually fine."

There are times though when even a diver as experienced as Robinson begins to question his judgement.

"At one point I decided I'd swim a bit to film a silver tip shark and when I began swimming I thought it was about two metres in length," Robinson says.

"When I got there I realised it was four metres. And it was pretty frisky, so I had to do a bit of back-peddling." It's pretty well documented that crocodiles can also be a bit unfriendly. Plenty of people who've wandered into their habitat have found themselves in the grip of a death roll in some murky river. Filming them on land can be tricky, too.

"I've filmed a lot of crocs and I remember one that had amazing speed and aggression," Robinson says. "It came out of the water faster than I could run, that's for sure. If I'd not been watching, I would not have seen it coming.

"There was another one we were filming from a helicopter. He decided to bite the skid and was hanging off it and we couldn't get away. So this croc was right under my feet and I thought, this is interesting, this helicopter is not going to be able to lift this crocodile."

Life on the Reef, ABC, Sunday, 7.40pm

Review of Life on the Reef - The Australian

“THIS story has no beginning and no one knows what its end will be,” wrote poet Judith Wright of the Great Barrier Reef in her 1997 book Coral Battleground. Though written more than three decades ago and focused on documenting that era’s campaign to protect the reef from oil and gas mining, that line and the rest of Wright’s insightful book remain just as relevant today. The remarkably diverse natural wonder is the focus of this stunning three-part series. It comes from the team behind the 2013 award-winning documentary series Kakadu, the four-parter following the heavily armed rangers who patrol the flood plains and ancient sculptured escarpments of Australia’s largest terrestrial park. Much of Kakadu was filmed with hand-held cameras by embedded fly-on-the-wall operators travelling with the ranger units. The storytelling was driven largely by the commentary of these units, who turned back to chat or comment to camera, and by the actions of those with whom they came into contact.

Life on the Reef, narrated with just the right kind of weathered-voiced Queensland insouciance by actor Rupert Reid, is more cinematically conventional but has the same understated, but deeply held, politics at its heart. The reef is still under attack, now from increased threats of climate change and approvals of projects such as the Carmichael coalmine.

A World Heritage site since 1981, the reef is famously the only living structure that can be seen from space. Described by astronauts as “a thin white line in the blue ocean”, the reef covers a total area of 344,400sq km — larger than Switzerland, The Netherlands and Britain combined. Like Kakadu, Life on the Reef focuses on the aesthetic beauty of the subject but also significantly on the people who call it home.

There’s an Aboriginal family that has lived off the sea for generations; an enthusiastic diving instructor and naturalist from Ireland; a critical flight paramedic for Queensland Ambulance Service; and a team of scientists desperately trying to protect the nesting ground of the endangered green sea turtle. These people are described by our soothing narrator as those seeking the “crucial balance between economic and ecological”, though the series is not afraid to get a little bit more political.

We are reminded that a thriving ecosystem such as that of the incredibly diverse reef is extremely delicate. Biologists calmly explain the innumerable conditions that must be met for coral growth and species survival. These explanations are accompanied by soaring overhead shots of the picturesque coastline and islands, and remarkable underwater scenes of the brightly coloured fish and coloured coral that thrive beneath the surface.

The photography of series director Nick Robinson, Luke Peterson and Jon Shaw is spectacular, much of the filming done in challenging environmental conditions beneath the surface. The divers are sometimes surrounded by huge tiger sharks taking advantage of the green sea turtle rookery on the reef’s most protected place, Raine Island.

“Save the Barrier Reef” was the first bumper sticker used in Australia, and unfortunately, as this series so poignantly reminds us, it remains a necessary sentiment today.

But Life on the Reef is also a testament to the enormous power of nature, showcasing the reef’s deft adaptations from season to season and the strength of many of the creatures that dwell there.

The series is a reminder that our premier story­telling medium has become the primary source of encounters with the natural world. It’s easy to get the impression these days that nature really only exists so that it can entertain us on television. It’s the only place most of us will encounter wild animals, as we do here, or for that matter the natural world itself.

The series may well boost the numbers (already 1.6 million per year) of tourists visiting the reef, determined to witness for themselves the area poet Kenneth Slessor described so marvellously as: “Flowers turned to stone! / Not all the botany / Of Joseph Banks, hung pensive in a porthole / Could find the Latin for this ­loveliness”.

Two wins at 2014 Australian Screen Editors Awards

Two editors working on Northern Pictures productions have won awards at the Australian Screen Editors Awards: Melanie Annan won "Adobe Award for Best Editing in a Documentary Program" for Cronulla Riots: The Day That Shocked The Nation

Caspar Mazzotti won the "TwoDogs.TV Award for Best Editing in a Documentary Series" for Kakadu (Episode 4).

Congratulations to both!

The full list of winners and nominations can be found here.

Changing Minds Feedback Page

A selection of feedback on Changing Minds: The Inside Story

"Surely one of the most important programs in Australian television history" The Sydney Morning Herald


"Challenging, grimly funny and possibly the most memorable, gripping and thought-provoking three hours of TV you're likely to see." The Age, Green Guide


"I suspect the ABC will have shown few more important and influential series than #ChangingMinds. The whole series is up on #iview. #mentalas" Mark Scott, Managing Director of the ABC


"The good judgment, delicacy and attention to detail on display throughout the production resulted in a magnificent TV event that had everyone here feeling ten feet tall" Phil Craig, Head of Factual, ABC Television.


Thought Changing Minds last night was exceptional. My congratulations to all concerned. Andrew Denton


Just watching your show on iview. Bloody fabulous. Good on you for producing such an important piece of TV Magda Szubanski


Wishing you all the best for a hugely successful 3 nights with Changing Minds. There is certainly a buzz. I’ve heard the series being talked about all over the place. Fabulous! Gretel Killeen


"Thanks for undertaking this difficult task. I think showing the wider public so accurately what takes place is a real public service and may help to normalise what is a very common occurrence but one not often seen. I feel privileged to have had a small part in it." Rob Wheeler, Legal Aid NSW


In my opinion this is a profound piece of television, which sensitively follows the patients who generously agreed to share their journey to recovery, and give hope to others affected by mental illness.

I believe the series will do much to raise awareness and challenge the stigma and misconceptions of mental illness. As a community it is important we encourage open discussion about mental health issues and I believe this TV series will start many important conversations.

- Dr Mary Foley, Director General of Health, NSW Government


Initially I was concerned that filming might cause distress to our consumers and their families and that staff would not wish to participate and would find the presence of the film crew in clinical areas to be intrusive and disruptive.

While I was somewhat reassured by initial meetings with the production team, who I found to be collaborative, warm and enthusiastic, I remained somewhat sceptical until I saw the first rough cut of the footage.

I had not expected to see something that made me laugh, choke up and kept me engaged from start to finish.

It’s impossible not to care for the people whose stories you see.

I came away confident that the program will give viewers a better understanding of the challenges faced by people who experience mental health problems, their families and loved ones and the staff who do such a great job in caring for them.

- SWSLHD Transitional Director Mental Health Dr Claire Jones


When one of our mental health inpatients Patrick said, “I used to think people with mental illness were weak…and they were pretending to get sympathy or benefits. Obviously I don’t think that now.” it was clear that we had done the right thing by allowing the Northern Pictures crew into Liverpool Hospital’s Mental Health Service. If we are to help shift public opinion on mental illness and remove the stigma that surrounds it people needed to see the touching stories of the patients and their families.

With one in five people being experiencing mental illness in their lifetime, there are few people who are not affected by the illness in some way, either themselves or through others.

While mental illness is not as stigmatised as it used to be, there are still many myths about what it is like to live with a mental illness, what the treatments are and what the recovery journey holds.

While we recognised that mental health patients are vulnerable, it was clear after speaking to patients and their families, that some people wanted their story told. They wanted to increase public understanding and debate about mental illness and to remove the secrecy surrounding it.

With the support of the Chief Executive we hoped that by agreeing to take part in the program our mental health patients and staff would have an opportunity to challenge common misconceptions and provide inspiration to others.

- James Yeandel, Director of Media and Communications


From Twitter:

#MentalAs is probably the best idea in television history. Spreading the message of "No one's alone" so openly is fantastic. Awesome job ABC

#ChangingMinds on @ABCTV, & the whole #MentalAs week; possibly the most outstanding thing I've ever seen in the media

#MentalAs #changingminds @ABCTV you have done more for mental illness in a week than govts have done in decades. #thankyou

I don't think I've ever seen such a stunning documentary as #ChangingMinds tonight on @ABCTV

Well, @postboxadam can attest I spent most of #ChangingMinds in tears. It brings so much of my own experience into full relief. #MentalAs

Fascinating and compelling. Thanks to all who have made it possible. #ChangingMinds. More tomorrow night 8.30pm #ourABC #MentalAs

@ABCTV @northernpics #changingminds now trending nationally on twitter! Great to see Australia joining the conversation. #MentalAs #ourABC

A unique insight into lived experience on the ABC, it should be mandatory watching for all: #MentalAs #MentalHealthWeek

Compassionate television. Educational. "Therapeutic alliance" great insights between patient and doctors #mentalas #ChangingMinds

Can we all just agree that the #MentalAs programing by #ourabc is a great use of taxpayer funds. It'd never happen on a commercial channel.

thanks @ABCTV for #ChangingMinds. Family just watched it & we FINALLY had a good conversation about mental illness (& I'm a MH Nurse)

I don't think I've ever seen such a stunning documentary as #ChangingMinds tonight on @ABCTV

Make no mistake, #ChangingMinds on @ABCTV right now is a game-changer for how we view #mentalhealth care in Australia #MentalAs - Black Dog Institute

Sydney Morning Herald Editorial

ABC's Mental As program healing and inspirational

Revelation: Liverpool Hospital's Dr Mark Cross and colleagues altered Australians' perceptions of mental illness on Changing Minds. Photo: Michele Mossop

Australia occasionally experiences an epiphany about what really matters.

This week has been just such a time.

Thanks to the ABC, mental illness has emerged from the dark and entered the hearts of anyone who has seen or heard the inspirational programs in the national broadcaster's Mental As campaign.

Full marks to everyone involved in the initiative corresponding with World Mental Health Week and Mental Health Day on Friday.

Rarely have the ABC's reach, reputation and resources been employed so constructively for the nation's benefit.

Mental illness has been neglected, stigmatised and talked about in hushed tones for too long.

Mental health has been taken for granted, like sunny days and open spaces.

Thanks to Mental As, now we know we have to work at keeping our minds fit for life.

Thanks to the generosity of spirit of patients and family, and the people who help them, now we know that sufferers of mental illness are just like us.

Thanks to the likes of Liverpool Hospital head of psychiatry Mark Cross and his colleagues in Changing Minds – surely one of the most important programs in Australian television history – we now know that within every mentally ill person there is someone who can joke, love and respond to kindness just like us.

Thanks to discussions on radio, we now know that we have to see people, not as they are at their low points, but as their "longitudinal" self: the person they were and the person they can be, with the right treatment now to return them to good health.

And thanks to the changing of so many minds, Australia might be more willing to support research into mental illness.

As ABC managing director Mark Scott says, almost every family and household will encounter mental illness in some way.

Yet we don't have a conversation about it.

We need to talk.

Mental As has been a great conversation starter.

TV Tonight review of 'Changing Minds'

2014-10-06_0011 Central to the success of many documentaries is gaining the access and trust of your subject. It can make or break a good doco.

In ABC’s Changing Minds, Producer Karina Holden from Eye Spy Productions, has managed just that: first-time access to Liverpool Hospital’s Mental Health Unit.

Capturing footage of patients, staff and families, this 3 part doco is sometimes confronting, but never dull. Hearing the perspectives of three groups of people as they all aim for the same outcome -but with differing agendas- is fascinating.

The magnet throughout this series is the patients. All have consented to be filmed (with formal consent given after their recovery) and the spirit of many will draw you in. Grandmother Sandra lost her grip on reality following the death of her brother. She is loud, rude, fragile, brash and impertinent to younger staff who she deems unqualified to deal with her case. And she is infinitely more interesting than anyone you will see on Big Brother.

Sandra represents what Changing Minds seeks to reveal to a wider audience: that losing your grasp on reality can happen to anybody, but gaining it back can remain out of reach. That’s despite the caring efforts of skilled medical staff and the best of intentions by family to facilitate a healthy recovery.

Cameras are there when Sandra, who demands to be released, has her case heard by the authorities. They are also there when her sons discuss her progress. You feel for everybody in the room.

Other patients featured in the series include a man who believes he is pregnant with God’s baby, a man who was brought to Liverpool after an altercation with his neighbours (under the impression he would be there a few hours only) and a man who agrees to electro-conversion therapy -it’s nothing like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, thankfully.

The degrees of health vary from patient to patient. What is remarkable is that most appear to grasp that they are unwell. While the documentary does not shy away from despair, there are also lighter, even funny, moments to avoid this becoming a lesson in worthy storytelling.

Clinical Director Dr. Mark Cross and his team also keep us grounded in the medicine, indicating how patients have progressed, or in some cases, regressed. Behind the professional doctoring, it’s easy to see they are personally connected to those under their care.

Changing Lives has an agenda in mind in broadening our understanding of the issues and the individuals surrounding this most delicate subject, but it achieves it with insightful and entertaining skill.

8:30pm Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday on ABC

Northern Pictures makes Walkleys longlist for 'Changing Minds' and 'Cronulla Riots'

2014 Walkley Documentary Award – Longlisted finalists announced

Six outstanding documentaries longlisted for the 2014 Walkley Awards for Excellence in Journalism will be screened at the State Library of NSW in Sydney in October, giving the public a free viewing of the finest work in the field over the past year.

The films capture diverse moments in contemporary life and explore the debates surrounding race, religion and mental illness. They range from the National Black Theatre movement that burgeoned in Redfern in the 1960s and 70s, through to the search for a love marriage in Kabul.

All six films will be screened free for the public at the State Library of NSW over the two days of Friday October 17 and Sunday October 19. Each screening is free, but RSVP is essential.For screening times and to book your place, visit

The Walkley Documentary Award shortlist of three films will be unveiled at the State Library of NSW on Thursday October 16. The overall winner will be announced at the 59th Walkley Awards for Excellence in Journalism in Sydney on December 4.

2014 Walkley Documentary Award Longlist

“Changing Minds: The Inside Story”

Alison Black, Cian O’Clery, Jenni Wilks and Karina Holden, Northern Pictures

A ground-breaking documentary series, filmed inside the Psychiatric Unit of Liverpool Hospital, which reveals the nature of mental illness in Australia. The judges felt that the filmmakers, through their incisive interviews with patients, doctors and families, take the viewer into a world that has never been seen before. This observational documentary exposes the audience to characters and situations that will inform and enlighten them about mental illness.


“Love Marriage in Kabul”

Pat Fiske and Amin Palangi,Bower Bird Films

Mahbooba Rawi is an Afghan-Australian woman who has established an orphanage in Kabul. The film follows Abdul, one of Mahbooba’s rescued orphans, as he attempts to negotiate a love marriage. The judges described “Love Marriage in Kabul” as a finely crafted character-based documentary that provides a compelling insight into traditional Afghan culture and the challenges facing this rapidly changing nation.


“Code of Silence”

Dan Goldberg and Danny Ben-Moshe, Mint Pictures & Identity Films/ABC TV

“Code of Silence” is the story of a fight for an investigation into allegations of child sex abuse at an Orthodox Jewish boys’ school in Melbourne. The judges felt that the use of interview and actuality, rather than the shorthand of voiceover, makes the narrative even more gripping. As the case against the abusers continues to make news, the documentary is timely and ground-breaking.


“The Redfern Story”

Sue Milliken and Darlene Johnson, Samson Productions

“The Redfern Story” is a history of both a theatre company and a community, told through the story of the Black Theatre Company, which was formed in the political and cultural ferment of Redfern in the 1970s. The judges felt this meticulously researched and carefully structured documentary sheds new light on a significant moment in Australian history that has strong resonance today, when community groups are struggling to stay afloat.


“Sons and Mothers”

Louise Pascale and Christopher Houghton, Pop Pictures/ABC TV

“Sons and Mothers” uses creative techniques to focus on the abilities, rather than disabilities, of its subjects. The judges felt that by allowing those in the film to tell their own stories, the film makers take a difficult subject and turn it into a compelling documentary.


“Cronulla Riots: The Day that Shocked the Nation”

Sue Clothier & Jaya Balendra, Northern Pictures and SBS Online

“Cronulla Riots” is a documentary just as relevant today as it was almost 10 years ago, when tensions spilled over on a Sydney beach. The judges felt the film is a beautifully shot, edited and structured documentary that looks at all sides, as well as exploring the local and international events that led to the riots.

Talking 'Great White Matrix,' shark demonization

Paul de Gelder has every reason to steer clear of the ocean. In 2009, the former daredevil Navy clearance diver was attacked by a bull shark in Sydney Harbor. He lost his right arm and leg in the process. Images of reenactments, which have become synonymous with Shark Week, are likely filling your head right about now. This, however, is not an attack story.

Saturday, de Gelder will return to the water, this time with great white sharks, to investigate a spike in deadly shark attacks in Australia for Great White Matrix. De Gelder, who had never seen a great white shark until making this program, will co-host alongside long-time Shark Week filmmaker Andy Casagrande.

The pair have undeniable chemistry (“We get along like a house on fire,” de Gelder says), but Casagrande was initially wary about telling a shark attack story, fearing they would demonize sharks. His concern quickly changed upon meeting and subsequently working with de Gelder, who is making his hosting debut. “He once told me it definitely wasn’t a great thing to get attacked by a shark, but it sort of allowed him to actualize, not his goal in life, but why he’s here,” Casagrande says. “He’s a champion for sharks and conservation.”

For de Gelder, it’s simple: Having faced death, there’s not much else to be afraid of, which is why he’s back in the water, working to protect the declining species. “The bottom line is knowledge dispels fear,” de Gelder says. “The more we can teach people, the more they can understand and respect, and be in awe of these animals; the more they’ll fall in love with them, the more they’ll want to protect them, just like Andy and I want to do.”

In Great White Matrix, de Gelder and Casagrande hope to answer a number of questions: When do shark bites turn into fatalities? What do juvenile great white sharks tell us about adults and attacks on humans? Is every mature great white shark a man-eater?

By the end, they only scratch the surface (we’ll avoid spoiler territory), but they learn about the myriad attack styles of great white sharks using multiple GoPro cameras to capture the different angles of a bite. In the process, the sharks are shown baring their jaws, lunging toward prey, and acting violently.

This is where the criticism comes in. Though the show has yet to air, Casagrande is a vet, and expects at least some backlash for showing such predatory behavior and further “demonizing” sharks. “The reality is, I say it in the show, if you’re going to showcase the world’s greatest athlete, you’re not showing him sitting on his coach, hanging out, drinking coffee, just chilling out there,” Casagrande says. “You’re going to show his amazing or her amazing athletic prowess: how fast she is, how high she can jump, her strength. That’s what we do on these shows.”

Criticism aside, both would love to make a tentatively titled follow-up, Great White Matrix 2. If not a sequel, they have a few other ideas up their sleeve (which they declined to share at this point). There’s still much more to explore with the elusive great white sharks and we can certainly expect de Gelder to get back in the water.

“There’s so many unanswered questions and that’s true with a lot of sharks, but great whites are sort of a mystery still,” de Gelder says. “It’s kind of like hunting Big Foot, except you know Big Foot’s there and now you just want to learn about him. It’s just an enchanting sort of exercise in a world where we kind of know everything about everything or we think we do. There’s still these unanswered questions about one of the oldest species of animals on the planet.”

Great White Matrix airs Saturday 16 August 2014 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Discovery Channel.

Kakadu wins Gold at 2014 New York Festivals

10 April 2014 Australian documentary series Kakadu was awarded a Gold World Medal at the New York Festival's Worlds Best Television and Films competition in Las Vegas on Tuesday night.

Kakadu was honoured the Gold World Medal in the Nature and Wildlife category.

Series Producer, Director and Cinematographer Nick Robinson said, "We are thrilled that the series has been honoured at an international level. The credit belongs to the people of Kakadu. The series wouldn't have been possible without their contribution - Kakadu is their story."

The series was a coproduction between Northern Pictures and Singaporean production company Beach House Pictures. It was broadcast on ABC1 in October 2013.

At last month’s 2014 AACTA Awards, Kakadu (Episode 4) also won Best Cinematography.

Nick and the team from Kakadu are currently working on Life On The Reef, a three-part series for ABC TV about the Great Barrier Reef.

Luke and Nick backstage

The New York Festivals honours TV and Film productions of all lengths and forms and this year received entries from over 50 countries. A list of finalists and medal winners from every category can be found here.

Kakadu wins Best Cinematography at AACTA Awards

The 3rd AACTA Awards Luncheon presented by Deluxe was held on Tuesday 28 January at Sydney’s The Star Event Centre, where the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA) announced the first group of the 3rd AACTA Awards winners. The charming and often hilarious actor Patrick Brammall, who won the AACTA Award for Best Performance in a Television Comedy for his depiction of entrepreneur Sean Moody in ABC1’s comedy series A MOODY CHRISTMAS in 2013, hosted the sold out event.

The group of awards presented at the 3rd AACTA Awards Luncheon presented by Deluxe recognised the talent and innovation of practitioners working across television, documentary, short fiction film, short animation and feature film categories.

Joining Brammall to present the day’s 22 Awards was AACTA President Geoffrey Rush, and actors Richard Cawthorne & Damian Walshe-Howling (BIKIE WARS), Glen McMillan from WONDERLAND, Abby Earl and Arianwen Parkes-Lockwood (A PLACE TO CALL HOME). WENTWORTH’S Leanna Walsman, and BETTER MAN’s, Remy Hii - just to name a few.

Kakadu's Cinematographer Luke Petersen (left) and Cinematographer/Director Nick Robinson (right) with Geoffrey Rush. 3rd AACTA Awards Winners Announced

    The Australian feature film category was dominated by Baz Luhrmann’s THE GREAT GATSBY which won each of the six Awards for which it was nominated, including Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design, Best Editing, Best Sound, Best Original Music Score presented by APRA AMCOS; the film also received an AACTA Award for Outstanding Achievement in Visual Effects. The news had the 3rd AACTA Awards Luncheon host suggesting the word “Baz” be added to Australian dictionaries. Brammall explained the word would be used as a verb with the meaning “to gild or embroider an established thing until it sparkles; or the process of transforming the commonplace into the fabulous.”

    In Television drama, Jane Campion’s TOP OF THE LAKE proved to be the most awarded production winning two of the day’s six possible categories including Best Cinematography in Television and Best Sound in Television – both for Episode 5 The Dark Creator. The other four Television categories – Best Editing, Best Costume Design, Best Production Design and Best Original Music Score in Television Presented By APRA AMCOS – were won by MRS BIGGS, MISS FISHER’S MURDER MYSTERIES, PELEDA and REDFERN NOW.

    Three ABC TV documentaries received awards. Best Editing and Best Sound went to DESERT WAR, and Best Cinematography went to KAKADU. The fourth documentary category went to ABC’s REDESIGN MY BRAIN which won Best Documentary Television Program.

    Luke Peterson and Nick Robinson accepting the award. Photograph by Fiora Sacco

    HAMISH & ANDY’S GAP YEAR ASIA won Best Direction in a Television Light Entertainment or Reality Series and Best Children’s Television Series went to NOWHERE BOYS.

    The day’s AACTA Award for Best Short Film went to THE LAST TIME I SAW RICHARD and the AACTA Award for Best Animation went to A CAUTIONARY TAIL.

    Speaking of today’s Awards, AFI | AACTA CEO Damian Trewhella said: “Today we announced our first 3rd AACTA Awards category winners at a wonderful luncheon event at The Star in Sydney. The event highlighted the exceptional work of our craftspeople during 2013, and I congratulate all of the nominees and today’s winners on behalf of the Australian Academy.

    “Many involved in today’s event are staying in Sydney and attending the 3rd AACTA Awards Ceremony on Thursday where we will reveal our next group of Award winners, including Best Actor and Actress and Best Film.

    It is going to be an amazing occasion in this week of Australia Day celebrations where we pay tribute to some of best screen talent and screen ambassadors including Jacki Weaver who will be presented the AACTA Raymond Longford Award for her service to our industry and Baz Luhrmann who through a wonderful performance will be celebrated for his creative power and the opportunities he provides to members of the Australian industry that work with him to realise his vision.

    I encourage all Australians to support these Australian legends and our hard working screen industry by watching the 3rd AACTA Awards Ceremony on Network Ten on Wednesday night to see which films and television productions are awarded as our nation’s best.”

    Nick Robinson and Kakadu's Commissioning Editor Karina Holden (right) with actress Jackie Weaver.

    NSW Minister for Tourism, Major Events and the Arts, George Souris, congratulated winners at the 3rd AACTA Awards Luncheon presented by Deluxe: “NSW is home to an impressive concentration of world-class creative skills, both in front of and behind the camera. More than half of national screen businesses, nearly 60 per cent of all Australians employed in the screen production industry, and 40 per cent of Australia’s creative industries workforce, is based here,” Mr Souris said. “The AACTA Awards, which is supported by the NSW Government through its tourism and major events agency Destination NSW, plays a key role in reinforcing both Sydney’s position as the creative services capital of Australia and NSW as the creative hub of the Asia-Pacific Region.”

Jeff Lee nominated for Australian of the Year

JeffLee Jeff Lee, one of the stars of Kakadu has been nominated for Australian of the Year.

Mr. Lee is the only member of the Djok clan, and the senior custodian of the Koongarra uranium deposit. He controls the fate of Koongarra and has decided never to allow the ecologically sensitive land to be mined. Koongarra is an area surrounded by the Kakadu National Park.

MEDIA RELEASE 14 OCTOBER 2013 COMMUNITY ADVOCATES RECOGNISED FOR THEIR OUTSTANDING CONTRIBUTIONS IN NORTHERN TERRITORY AUSTRALIAN OF THE YEAR AWARDS 2014 Finalists in the Northern Territory Australian of the Year Awards 2014 include an environmental custodian, indigenous community advocate, historian, youth mentor, animal carer, singer-songwriter and charity fundraiser. The Northern Territory award finalists for 2014 are:

NORTHERN TERRITORY AUSTRALIAN OF THE YEAR 2014 Jeffrey Lee AM - Environmental Custodian (Kakadu) Shellie Morris - Singer-songwriter (Alawa) Richard ‘Reg’ Ramsden - Social Entrepreneur (Alice Springs) Giovanna Webb – Business Woman and Mentor (Leanyer)

NORTHERN TERRITORY SENIOR AUSTRALIAN OF THE YEAR 2014 Fran Briggs – Volunteer (Darwin) Klaus Helms - Indigenous Community Advocate (Gunyangara) John Obolevics - Event Promoter and Charity Fundraiser (Leanyer) Eddie Webber – Historian (Mataranka)

NORTHERN TERRITORY YOUNG AUSTRALIAN OF THE YEAR 2014 Jameson Casson - Community Contributor (Tennant Creek) Amy Hetherington - Youth Mentor (Parap) Jesse King – Teacher (Katherine) Emily Osborne - Youth Advocate (Nhulunbuy)

NORTHERN TERRITORY LOCAL HERO 2014 Chris ‘Brolga’ Barns - Animal Carer (Alice Springs) Tony Burns - Charity Fundraiser (Fannie Bay) Karen Eva-Stirk - Disability Support Worker (Alice Springs) Nicole Gallas - Mental Health Advocate (Alice Springs)

The Northern Territory Australian of the Year, Senior Australian of the Year, Young Australian of the Year and Local Hero Award recipients will be announced on Thursday 7 November 2013 at the Darwin Convention Centre. The Northern Territory recipients will then join award recipients from all other States and Territories as finalists for the national awards, which will be held on 25 January 2014 in Canberra.

National Australia Day Council CEO, Mr Jeremy Lasek, said the Northern Territory finalists were a diverse group of a people whose achievements and contributions were truly inspiring. The whole of the Territory is well represented in this group of 16.

"The Northern Territory finalists are all amazing people dedicated to helping communities in the Northern Territory and beyond," said Mr Lasek.

"The work they do reflects the variety of talents of the people of the Northern Territory and we are privileged to be able to celebrate these great Australians."

The Commonwealth Bank has been a Major Sponsor of the Australian of the Year Awards for more than 30 years. Chief Executive Officer Ian Narev congratulated the Northern Territory finalists.

“On behalf of the Commonwealth Bank, I congratulate the finalists in the 2014 Australian of the Year Awards across all States and Territories. To emerge as a finalist from the thousands of nominated Australians is a great accomplishment. I wish you all the best of luck in the next stage of the program,” said Mr Narev.

For more information on the Australian of the Year Awards visit

Kakadu: natural wonder

It is a single word that symbolises Australia's beautiful remoteness, a vast landscape filled with nature's most extraordinary secrets and an area that has been home to indigenous culture for tens of thousands of years. That's not to mention its wild creatures - crocodiles in particular - that have long left people agape in wonder and fear. Kakadu.

But now television viewers can go beyond the mythology of the word and see the real workings of the Kakadu National Park, in an extraordinary ABC series created by producer, director and cinematographer Nick Robinson.

The four-part series shows the wilderness that is so famed and revered but not often seen up close by those in other parts of Australia. But it also reveals the people of Kakadu, those who work and live in the region.

That includes longtime park ranger Garry Lindner, who says working in the park is an "extraordinary privilege".

Kakadu will show the work being done to protect one of Australia's most important wilderness areas, he says.

"There is a mosaic of people here, from the commercial fisherman and tourism operators to the traditional owners," Lindner says.

"We're trying to preserve and conserve the natural heritage of Kakadu. [This series] is about the landscape but also the people who've lived here for a long time.

"They go hand in hand."

Lindner is among the rangers shown on the series, working in the park in a range of senior roles including crocodile management (an extraordinarily suspenseful thing to see on screen) and coastal management.

With regard to all the crocodiles he's come across in 27 years working in the park, Lindner says he never takes his skills for granted.

"Once you relax, you get blase and that's when things happen. You're dealing with different crocs with different personalities - and that keeps you on edge."

But the big creatures don't worry Lindner nearly as much as the small, pestering ones.

"There's plenty of flies," he says, swatting them away during our interview. "I'd take a crocodile over a fly any day - I hate them," he adds with a laugh.

Amid the incredible, sweeping vistas and intricate filming details, it's almost hard not to expect the voice of Sir David Attenborough when Kakadu comes on screen. But the wise and resonating voice of narrator Tom E. Lewis (the respected stage and film actor, who first found fame in The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith) also helps make Kakadu a stand-out.

Lewis says he was proud to be involved. "I got a phone call saying, 'Come and do this job please,' and when I went there I was blown away [by the footage]. Everything I dream about was in front of me."

Lewis says an Australian documentary series such as this has been a long time coming. "It's good for the people up there and it's good for their countrymen to know what's happening in that region," he says.

"It doesn't glorify, but it says we've got to look after country - that's the message."

He compares the use of "people power" in the Franklin Dam decision (in Tasmania) to the current importance of all Australians knowing about Kakadu - and what continually protecting the area means to the entire nation.

"There's so many beautiful things coming, in the four episodes of this," Lewis says. "We've got to look after it."

Kakadu was a true labour of love for director Robinson (who was also a producer and cinematographer) but it wasn't just a one-man show. Cinematographer Luke Peterson also worked on the spectacular series.

It was produced by Screen Australia, Northern Pictures and Beach House Pictures in association with the ABC. Importantly, it also had the full co-operation of the Kakadu Joint Board of Management.

Lewis says it meant an enormous amount to the entire team involved to be documenting such an important part of Australia.

"It's about respecting country … respecting each other, working together."

Kakadu airs Sunday on ABC1 at 7.30pm.