By Hannah Nancarrow, Aboriginal Consultant, Public Speaker, Policy Writer.
Growing up in Australia during the 80s/90s we didn’t have Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or Snapchat. Television was it. It was how we worked out what was cool, what was in fashion and what we would talk about at school the next day. We watched, among others, The Simpsons, Home and Away, Blue Heelers, Heartbreak High, Family Matters, and Degrassi High.
And do you know how many of these shows had a female Aboriginal actress?
Zero. Sweet F’all. Zilch. Nada. Zip.
Television matters because it was, and still is, so much a part of contemporary daily life. TV dramas matter in particular because of their capacity to create emotional connections, insight and identity. It reflects our sense of who we are as a society, and who we might be.
Screen Australia conducted a study, Seeing Ourselves, to establish benchmarks for current levels of diversity in Australian TV drama through analysis of the main characters from 2011-2015 programs. They found that Aboriginal actors/actresses playing Aboriginal characters in Australian TV dramas over this time accounted for 5% of all main or recurring characters, which is comparable to the Aboriginal population in Australia.
This is good news.
Compare this with the results of Harvey May’s 2002 analysis Broadcast in Colour, which reported no main ongoing Aboriginal actors/actresses on screen in 1992 and only two in 1999 (both male).
Imagine me in the 90s, a brown skinned, brown haired little girl, and all my pop culture aspirations, even from Australian TV shows were women like Melissa George from Home and Away, Lisa McCune from Blue Heelers, Abi Tucker from Heartbreak High, and Georgie Parker from All Saints. All of these women were good actresses in their own right (well mostly) but none who I could identify with or felt I could aspire to. These women didn’t look like me and even though from my country they didn’t grow up in the same context as me. They seemed so unattainable.
It was trailblazers like Deborah Mailman, who came to prominence in the Secret of Life Us in 2001, Leah Purcell, in Police Rescue and Cathy Freeman, who won gold in the 2000 Olympics. They among others, gave me realistic role models and for the first time gave me a reason to think all Australians could see Aboriginal people as people to be celebrated and admired.
It’s encouraging to see that in 2018 young Aboriginal girls have an abundance of Aboriginal women on a variety of media and social media platforms they can aspire to be like. Whether its Madeleine Madden (pictured), the young gorgeous actress from Mystery Road, Courtney Ugle, who has overcome countless obstacles to play professional football, June Oscar, our fearless Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Megan Waters, an Instagram fitness guru and Tracey Westerman, Aboriginal psychologist and WA’s Australian of the Year.
Because of her, I can. Because of them, we can!