Sydney Morning Herald

ABC ME leads the charge for next generation of TV viewers

Hardball_S1_EP6_DSC09262 copy.jpg

Watching Hardball, which commences Monday, April 22, on ABC ME, there's a jump-started narrative more enjoyably brisk than most adult comedies; the show doesn't dilute what works for an adult audience, instead it finds a tempo and tone that zips along for a tween crowd. 

Not emu-sed: Filming Australia's wildlife and its challenges


By Tosca Looby

As a nature documentary maker, I have spent days staring at a dog dropping. It was in a glass box. A multi-award-winning cinematographer sat beside me, macro lens trained on the scene, as we watched and waited for a swarm of blowflies to descend.

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.

The Wild Connection

It's rough, it's tumble, and Kakadu is downright dirty. In this era of dedicated documentary channels, David Attenborough on prime time, and Discovery network reruns played ad nauseam, it’s easy to become immune to the grand-scale awesomeness of a world shot in high definition.

Thanks to lavishly produced series coming from the BBC, among other broadcasters, we might now feel intimately connected with the wilds of Africa, the jungles of Asia or the isolated beauty of a frosty wilderness such as Antarctica, but save for those two-second bites on Qantas in- flight commercials, the epic beauty of Australia’s Top End has remained largely untapped.

Until now.

The ABC’s four-part series Kakadu, shot over a year at the park, is bringing the large-scale beauty of this wilderness to our living rooms. And the results are every bit as awe-inspiring.

“I knew Kakadu – I had been there [and] filmed there a couple of times over seven or eight years,” series director, producer and cinematographer Nick Robinson says. “I knew the landscape fairly well.”

“I knew it could be as big as the Masai Mara if we did it right. It should be that big… We have these incredible landscapes that have never been exploited in that same way. And I wanted to try and do that.”

As well as depicting the natural world in all its splendour, Robinson and his team on the ground – astoundingly, just four of them were shooting in the field – set about telling the stories of the people who work in Kakadu.

“Wildlife doesn’t exist in a bubble – we are obviously a part of it,” Robinson says.

“Kakadu is this amazing microcosm, and an example of how you can live in a place that’s wild, keep it wild and not change it to suit your own needs. We are not used to living in places and not changing them to become something more comfortable and less dangerous. And in the process we destroy those places.

"Kakadu is great mix of people living in a place, and they're not changing it; they're learning from the indigenous people there with their intimate knowledge of the workings of that natural world."

In the first episode of the series we meet ranger Kathy Wilson, a tough-as-nails woman who, along with her team, has been charged with hunting down the last remaining saltwater crocs left in the rivers and billabongs near Jim Jim Falls.

It's one of the park's most-popular tourist destinations - and must remain croc-free. What ensues is a weeks-long mission to round up the last remaining crocs and kill them before they can wreak havoc.

Robinson suspects the scenes of the rangers taking out the majestic four-metre croc, butchering it for its meat for the local indigenous land-owners and hauling it away in the back of a ute may cause some viewers discomfort.

"I think that's going to upset some folks," he explains, before going on to add that crocs are no longer a protected species and that they were traditionally hunted by the locals in the area.

"They eat croc, they hunt croc... so taking out a few crocs that might make their way to those areas, providing food to the locals... it's a win-win situation."

The rangers who work there admit it took a while to adjust to the cameras following them.

"When it first started it was a bit different," says Khan Spokes, the acting senior ranger for the South Alligator district. "But Nick [and his team] made it so easy.

"We had a laugh, so it just became real easy and good fun. I actually really enjoyed it, having the opportunity to showcase some of the things we do behind the scenes."

With the series likely to be sold overseas, still more people will get to see.

"I think the story is bigger than Australia," he says.

"It's people doing extraordinary things in a wilderness."

Kakadu, October 6, ABC1, 7.30pm.

TV Guide, Sunday 6 Oct

Kakadu, ABC1, 7.30pm This is supposed to be the next big thing from the ABC's factual department, but I'm not so sure. The cinematography is superb but there's something about its structure and focus that's a bit off-putting. A great deal of this first episode, for instance, deals with park rangers trying to get rid of crocs so the tourists can get in. Obviously this is an important part of business in Kakadu but it seemed odd to me that a celebration of one of Australia's great natural wonders should spend so much time tsk-ing over the pesky wildlife disturbing the tourist trade. Other aspects are more interesting but then we spend so long with anther group of rangers on the lookout for poachers I start to feel like I am watching Border Security. There is some engaging material here, but I switched on wanting to be amazed and inspired, and that just didn't happen.