Australian Story is a weekly biography program, produced and broadcast on ABC Television. Australian Story has covered many people from diverse backgrounds and reputations. Examples include Ivan Milat, Dick Smith, Wayne Bennett and Hazem El Masri.The stories are 'narrated' by the profile subjects and other individuals such as friends and family members. The program aims to present a varied and contrasting picture of contemporary Australia and Australians, both known and unknown.
When screen legend Jack Thompson checked himself into Sydney's St Vincent's Hospital last year, he had no idea how sick he was. Unbeknown to Jack, his kidneys had failed and he was 48 hours away from death. Told that he would have to go on dialysis three times a week for five hours, he realised his acting career was in jeopardy. The film he was about to shoot was set in remote Kakadu, 250 km away from the nearest dialysis unit in Darwin. It looked like he would have to pull out of the movie — until a big purple truck came to the rescue, a gesture of friendship and respect from the Territory's Indigenous community.
Tim Duncan was a junior doctor, on the brink of leaving medicine for a filmmaking career, when he found himself in desperate need of medical care. Lying by the side of an outback road, with critical injuries, he knew his only hope for survival was immediate medical attention. In that moment, as his life was ebbing away, Tim made a pact: if he survived, he would devote himself to emergency medicine.
It’s widely accepted nowadays that pregnant women shouldn’t take any medication unless it’s absolutely necessary. But in the early 1960s that wasn’t the case. Reassured by their doctors, thousands of women around the world took the drug thalidomide as a treatment for morning sickness, only to be faced with babies born with catastrophic disabilities. Born in March 1963, Lisa McManus is one of Australia’s youngest survivors. She’s leading a group who have taken their fight to Canberra’s Parliament House, in a last ditch battle for recognition, compensation and an apology.
This week’s Australian Story takes viewers behind the scenes of the Australian effort to separate Bhutanese conjoined twins Nima and Dawa. It took a village of medicos, health workers and volunteers to bring them to Australia, perform the ground-breaking operation and assist in their five month recovery. The story features exclusive interviews and vision, including the first moments the toddlers reunite with their father in Bhutan as newly independent individuals.
Writer and comedian Rosie Waterland has made a successful career out of seeing the funny side of her traumatic childhood. Whether it’s growing up with alcoholic parents, hiding from welfare workers as a "houso" kid or finding her father’s 'dead’ body', the darker things got in Rosie’s life, the funnier she became. But as Rosie's star was rising, the trauma of her childhood caught up with her. It's been her three sisters, torn apart as children when the family disintegrated, who’ve been the ones helping her back to wholeness.
The extraordinary story of Behrouz Boochani, the man who won Australia’s richest literary award but remains unable to set foot in this country. The stateless refugee, who’s in detention on Manus Island, smuggled out his entire book text by text on a smuggled mobile phone. In January, No Friend But the Mountains won the $100,000 Victorian Prize for Literature, Born during the Iran-Iraq war and suffering persecution as a Kurd in his homeland, Boochani fled Iran, seeking refuge in Australia. Arriving on Christmas Island four days after the government toughened its stance on refugees arriving by boat, he was taken to Manus Island where he has remained for five years. This is the story of determination to celebrate life, even when virtually all hope of escaping a hellish situation has been dashed.
The Seekers were the trailblazers of Australian music in the 1960s, knocking heavy hitters such as the Beatles off the top of the charts in the UK and taking the US by storm. Best known for their unique blend of harmonies and the voice of Judith Durham, the band were unlike anything of their time. Now, fresh off the back of a record deal featuring their final tour, The Seekers are taking part in the first television documentary since their split 50 years ago. All four band members Athol Guy, Bruce Woodley, Judith Durham and Keith Potger discuss their music, the impact of sudden fame and the painful fallout from their famous parting.
How far would you push yourself for a cause you believe in? Australian CEO Mina Guli, 48, is on a mission to draw attention to the global water crisis. In order to do that she attempted a physical feat so extreme, most people would consider it impossible — running 100 marathons in 100 days across the world. Mina is driven by urgency: By 2030, it’s estimated the demand for fresh water will outstrip supply by 40 per cent. But when her body literally broke during marathon 62, Mina thought all was lost. Unexpectedly, the campaign took on a life of its own.
When 21-year-old Menindee farmer Kate McBride came across thousands of dying fish in her beloved Darling River she was determined to tell the country what was happening. She posted the pictures on her family’s Facebook page and the images went viral. "I don't think there’s a way to put into words what seeing millions of dead fish on the river that you've called home for your whole life is," she remembers. "It was just pure devastation… these animals were suffering." By the time truckloads of fish were disposed of at the town dump, Kate was emerging as a fierce advocate for the health of the Darling River and a leader to watch. She’s been documenting local health concerns about water supplies from the river and is pushing for a Federal Royal Commission.
When Pamela Lawrence was brutally murdered in her Perth shop in 1994 police focused their investigation around one suspect, Andrew Mallard. He quickly became the victim of a miscarriage of justice, spending twelve years in jail for a crime he didn’t commit. Mallard’s family fought successfully to release him, enlisting then WA Shadow Attorney-General John Quigley and journalist Colleen Egan who uncovered a trail of deception and police misconduct. In this updated episode of Andrew Mallard’s story, Australian Story talks to the friends who stood by him until his untimely death last month.
This week's story tracks the fall and rise of Debbie Kilroy — from high security women’s prisoner to high-profile crusading lawyer. Debbie was sentenced to six years for drug trafficking. She began university studies in jail and made history when she became the first woman with a serious conviction to be admitted as ‘a fit and proper person’ to the bar of Queensland. Earlier this year, Debbie mounted a spur-of-the-moment crowd-funding campaign to pay off the court debts of Indigenous women incarcerated in Western Australia for defaulting on fines. The campaign raised over $400,000 and has led to the release of 11 women from prison.
Anthony Maslin (Maz) and Marite Norris (Rin) faced the unimaginable when their "whole family was shot out of the sky”. Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was struck by a missile over a Ukrainian warzone in 2014. The couple's three children, Mo, Evie and Otis, along with their grandfather Nick Norris, became the faces of a senseless war crime. As the five-year anniversary approaches, Maz and Rin share, for the first time, how they are coping with their loss and moving forward with strength, positivity and compassion.
Encouraged by her friends to look for love online, Queensland teacher and mother-of-two Yoshe Taylor swiftly found herself immersed in the stuff of nightmares. Communications with a man calling himself "Precious Max" led to a visit to see him in Cambodia. When Yoshe cooled on a relationship, her suitor switched tacks and suggested she work with him in an arts and crafts business instead. The business was revealed to be an international drug smuggling racket that had also ensnared other unsuspecting Australians. Sentenced to 23 years in a Cambodian prison for unwittingly carrying heroin, Yoshe was helpless and largely forgotten until a group of lawyers teamed up to fight her case. Six years later, she shares her story for the first time, in a warning to others about the perils of online romance.
Left alone in a Cambodian prison, Australian mother-of-two Yoshe Taylor had all but given up fighting for her release. "I actually thought the death penalty was a much better idea than being in jail for 23 years," she says. The local court rejected Yoshe's claims that she was set up by a drug syndicate via a dating website and she was concerned for her children's ongoing welfare. "I did not want to spend 23 years away from my children… it's just causing them pain, hoping that I'm coming home," she says. It wasn't until a group of lawyers joined forces that the tide started to turn in Yoshe's favour. The lawyers discovered that three other Australian victims had been scammed by the same drug syndicate and then released — but that somehow this evidence hadn’t been shared in time to rescue Yoshe from serving six years in jail. Now back in Australia, Yoshe is sharing her story for the first time, in a warning to others about the perils of online romance.
Remembering the late Tim Fischer, who died on August 21, 2019, age 73. A widely respected and quirky political figure, Mr Fischer's remarkable career began as a 20-year-old conscript fighting in the jungles in Vietnam and ended in the Vatican as Australia's top diplomat. But the Boy from Boree Creek (a tiny town near Wagga Wagga) made his greatest contribution in politics as the deputy prime minister, and will be remembered for the key role he played in reforming Australia's gun laws. Recently as his health faded, Tim’s family invited Australian Story to join them on what turned out to be one of his last trips to his home town of Boree Creek.
When Emma Watkins became the Yellow Wiggle in 2012, she overcame a backlash to make the yellow skivvy her own, winning over a new generation of fans. As Emma's star rose, behind the scenes her health was failing. Eventually she was diagnosed with endometriosis and her decision to go public brought much-needed attention to the disease. Her health problems led her to re-evaluate other areas of her life and at the beginning of the year she separated from her husband, fellow Wiggle Lachlan Gillespie. Emma speaks exclusively about the separation, its fall-out and the couple’s determination to continue working together.
The South Australian steel town of Whyalla was facing extinction two years ago. A one-company town, its big employer, Arrium, went bust and the jobs of 3,000 steelworkers were hanging in the balance. But the town was determined to save itself. Workers voted in favour of a 10 per cent pay cut and were rewarded when British billionaire Sanjeev Gupta came to town.
Prince Harry has spoken exclusively to Australian Story ahead of the Invictus Games which will open in Sydney next week. Founded by His Royal Highness, The Duke of Sussex in 2014, the Invictus Games is an international sporting event for wounded, injured and sick servicemen and women, both serving and veteran. One of those competitors will be Garry Robinson who credits His Royal Highness and the Invictus Games with saving his life. In 2010, the former commando narrowly survived a Black Hawk helicopter crash in Afghanistan. After two years in rehab, he returned home to the challenges of learning to live with a traumatic brain injury and significant physical disabilities. Garry struggled to cope and it wasn’t until his rehab team at Holsworthy Army base encouraged him to enter the inaugural London Invictus Games four years ago that he found a new lease of life.
Over many years, Australian Story has followed the efforts of farmer Peter Andrews to drought-proof the land. His unorthodox approach, which involves planting weeds and installing 'leaky weirs', was once considered heretical but a growing band of supporters has taken up his cause At Mulloon, outside Canberra, Tony Coote and a group of like-minded landholders set out to prove that the Andrews method works. Now, during one of the worst droughts in living memory their results are cause for hope and have attracted the eye of Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
When former Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer and his wife Judy learned that their young son was autistic, they were told he would probably never have a job or live independently. But Harrison Fischer, now aged 25, has defied everybody’s expectations. Harrison has a job helping primary schoolers in Wodonga, is paying tax and has his own home. As his father Tim Fischer, one of Australia’s most-loved politicians, battles a life-threatening illness, Harrison’s growing independence is a source of joy for the Fischer family.
By the time this year’s Queensland schoolboy rugby union season was over, four teenagers had broken their necks, their lives changed forever. Two of them, Conor Tweedy and Ollie Bierhoff, should have competed against each other. Instead, after separate accidents a week apart, they found themselves side by side in the Spinal Injuries Unit contemplating quadriplegia. In hospital, both boys threw themselves into their recoveries. One had a recovery deemed ‘miraculous’; for the other, the road back is much steeper.
When Kerryn Phelps first spoke to Australian Story in 1998 she was a celebrity TV doctor with no public political aspirations. Twenty years later she defied the odds to pull off the upset political victory of the year, winning former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s blue-ribbon Sydney seat of Wentworth as an independent following his departure from politics. But making history is nothing new for Kerryn Phelps and wife Jackie Stricker-Phelps. Dr Phelps was the first female leader of the Australian Medical Association and is a long-term community health educator and same-sex marriage advocate. We join Kerryn Phelps and her family and friends behind the scenes to learn about the extraordinary personal events leading to her new career in Canberra and ask: can she win Wentworth a second time when next year’s federal election comes around?
As the 10th anniversary of the Black Saturday fires approaches and the nation braces for another devastating bushfire season, we examine the fatal Churchill blaze and the investigation that led police to the enigmatic arsonist, Brendan Sokaluk. The story retraces Sokaluk's footsteps on the day and delves into his past to look for clues to why he lit a fire on a day of extreme fire conditions. His actions led to the death of 11 people and the widespread destruction of property, wildlife and bushland. Featuring never-before-seen police interview footage of Sokaluk, The Burning Question asks what we can learn from the events of that day and how we can use this case to identify potential arsonists in the future.
In a television exclusive, the untold story of James Ricketson, the Australian filmmaker locked up in Cambodia for 15 months on espionage charges. Ricketson endured squalid conditions and failing health as he found himself a pawn in much larger game of Cambodian politics. Meanwhile in working for his release his family faced a dilemma — to go along with the Australian Government’s "softly, softly" diplomatic approach or ceding to James’s demands to shout injustice from the rooftops and risk even harsher punishment.