Monday, May 23, 2011
To The Torres Straits and Beyond!
To say the past 5 months has been a rollercoaster for my brother and I would be an understatement. After our mum passed away in December, I threw away my job with ABC radio and an opportunity to work for Triple J in January and moved straight back to North Queensland to take care of my brother full time. This has been my fulltime job since returning and as for radio; well it took a back seat in my life for the first time in 7 years.
5 months away in the radio industry is a LONG Time; Styles change, new people enter the industry, technology advances, music changes, news stories develop daily. While all this was occurring in the radio sector, I wasn’t even remotely focused on any of it, until the week that just passed.
There are many Indigenous radio stations all over Australia, from Capitol Cities and towns such as Sydney (Koori Radio), Darwin (Larrikia, Teeba Radio), Melbourne (3KND), Townsville (4k1g), Cairns (Bumma Bippera), to the most remote parts of the country (Pakam network), Alice Springs (CAAMA Radio, 8kin Fm), Maningrida and others. Indigenous Radio is not only important for the diversity of Australia, but for many of these communities, it is the heartbeat and the go to for community information.
I started my career in Indigenous media and still hold it in high regards. Indigenous media is constantly being watched and is never underestimated because it is a voice for Indigenous Australians and a way of being able to communicate, educate and entertain our people. As far as I’ve come since my years in Indigenous media, I still never forget where I come from and am proud to represent indigenous media to this day.
I was lucky enough to be asked by my old place of study, The Australian Film Television and Radio School from Sydney to help deliver a Radio workshop as a facilitator on beautiful Thursday Island in the Torres Straits in this past week. AFTRS runs and delivers 4 short radio workshops a year to indigenous communities all over the country, with the aim of refreshing and teaching Indigenous broadcaster’s basic radio skills to improve their on air skills and their overall sound of their respected radio stations. To be asked to help lecture a radio workshop to over 12 people in a community I’ve never been too was going to be a challenge, but one I took up, and with that, I was off to ‘T.I’...
Flying on the plane up, I was so amazed to see how beautiful our North Queensland coastline is. Looking out the window, you couldn’t tell where the sky started and where the water began, the blues were so bright and the water so calm. The Great Barrier Reef was on show to its full potential thanks to the beautifully sunny day we were presented with that Sunday arvo. I sat and listened to my specially made ‘T.I Beats’ playlist on my I-phone and enjoyed the hour and a half plane ride, all the while wondering what my co-lecturer looked like. To my surprise, ‘Mitch’ my co-lecturer ended up sitting in the seat behind me on the packed Qantas plane.
After a bumpy landing thanks to the strong sea breeze, we landed safely on Horn Island, aka walk across the tar mat through a colourful blue gate that says arrivals, right beside the gate that says departures. Our baggage was collected and put on a bus, and there I sat with Mitch chatting for the 10mins bus ride to the Jetty. Off the bus and onto ferry, and there we took a 5 minute boat ride across the picture perfect Thursday Island, then onto another bus to check into our hotel for the week.
The weather was so hot and sticky, a far cry from the cool Tablelands weather I had become used too in the past few weeks. Humidity and a burning hot sun hit me as soon as we left the hotel to have an afternoon walk. Later that evening, I met a few of the outer Island participants who had flown from their small communities (Warraber Island), (Yam Island), (Erub Island) to join in the week’s workshops. Harry, George, Raina and Rita were all really excited and ready to learn some new skills to later take back to their radio stations in their communities.
During our chats, a few of them mentioned that its common practice for them to sometimes be the only announcer for their stations on their islands, which for the most times requires them to be on air for over 12-14 hours in one day. As crazy as it is to believe, many do it straight or with minimal breaks in between because they love it and because they know they’re communities need it and expect it. Meeting such vibrant people who actually do this kind of hard work in radio, with average or below average equipment and resources, in townships of just over 250 people at times, earnt nothing but respect from me and after yarning for a good half an hour with the mob, the heat was getting to me and I called it a night. Air con pumping and a dark room, I slept soundly before my first day of lecturing the next morning.
Monday morning and day one of the workshop, Mitch and I arrived early to set up at Port Kennedy hall where the workshop was to be held and waited for the participants to arrive. One by one they came in and introduced themselves. The familiar faces I met last night were all smiles and eager to start. The main radio station on Thursday Island and for the Torres Straits is ‘TSIMA’ Or Torres Strait Islander Media Association’, Radio 4MW. The crew had shut their station for the weeks training and set their station to automation so they could all take advantage of the AFTRS training.
As everyone took their seats, Mitch and I began the workshop by introducing ourselves and I began by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the country as always. I found their reactions of ‘OOHHH SO YOUUUURR HER’ quite funny when I mentioned to everyone that I used to do breakfast radio at 4k1g (Sister station to their station) under the radio name of ‘CJAY’. One of the participants ‘Uncle Walter Lui’ came in late to the workshop and missed the Introductions came up to me in the morning tea break and looked at me with a confused look on his face and asked me reluctantly if I was ever on 4K1G, and when I explained to him my former position, he said he knew it was me (CJAY) because he had recognised my voice. He said he’d followed my career and remembered when I finished my last day on radio in Townsville and tuned in for it. I have been off air from 4k1g for just over a year and a half now and for him to say that to me was very humbling.
Industry Overview, Clocks and content, Content for Radio; selecting, preparing and writing were the first issues covered in the day and my first taste of Radio again in over 5 months. Finishing the day off, I went back to my hotel and sat at the Hotel Bar to hack into some wireless and felt that buzz of media come flooding back to me. I loved every minute of it and couldn’t wait to start the next day.
I went to school with a few girls from T.I, I studied at University with a few mob from T.I, I worked with a lot of Torres Strait Islanders and a lot of my best friends are Torres Strait Islanders, so over the years and friendships, I’ve come to learn and understand the lingo that is Creole. Broken English if you aren’t used to it, can be difficult to comprehend and can seem like a whole other language, so when it came to breaking down the information of the workshops, I felt I did it with ease. It was helpful for a lot of the participants as well as many of them didn’t shy away as they normally would to strangers and felt comfortable to ask me questions and know that they weren’t going to be understood when they spoke. Having the opportunity to speak and understanding basic Creole again felt deadly and was something I hadn’t had the chance to do as much since leaving Townsville.
Day two of the workshop, and I started to feel more confident with teaching and delivering some of the modules. ‘Interviewing and Developing Pre Recorded Packages’ were on the agenda and the group loved the exercises we would get them to do after each session. Well some did... hehe
The people of Thursday Island were all really friendly, and the surroundings were equally inviting. It’s the kind of place where people say good morning to you, where the sun beams early at 6am, where the water is so Blue and turquoise, the sea breeze blows strong and the food expensive but fresh. The hotel we stayed at had expensive meals, so each night we had a pub feed, with Reef and Beef, seafood baskets, fresh barra and salads on the menu, oh and did I mention, a crayfish pie for breakfast one morning.? Ah yeah, only on T.I...
Day three and the last day of the workshop started at the TSIMA studios where Mitch and I took two separate groups and got them to work on Audio Production and creating a pre-recorded package. Mitch headed back to Brisbane early and I was left to hold the forte for the rest of the afternoon. As the day came to an end, I was sad to say goodbye to the staff from TSIMA and the deadly mob from the outer Islands. I had my last dinner on T.I with Rita, and a enjoyed a few beers with Walter and Harry that arvo. The next morning I woke to turkeys squabbling just outside my hotel window and was wide awake way earlier than I needed to be. Not long after, I jumped on the 8:45am bus to the ferry, and as the sun rose over the water, I farewelled beautiful T.I and set sail for Horn Island, then back to cairns by plane by 12pm.
What an experience; flying to the tip of Australia for my very first time to the Torres Straits and for my first taste of Radio in 5 months. I’ve always had a dream of teaching radio to my own people, Indigenous People, but never thought in my wildest dreams that I would ever get the chance to do it at the age of 26. The feeling was nothing like I’ve ever experienced. The thrill of giving back, teaching, on top of my passion of radio, was truly unbelievable and I actually didn’t want to leave. I feel so fortunate for the opportunity and am looking forward to my second workshop at the end of next month in Sydney where I get to do it all over again with another group and another community. Bring it on!!
To the participants and the people of the Torres Straits, mina big essos to you pla for the warm welcome and hospitality you showed to me while I was on your beautiful country. I am blessed to have met you all and I can’t wait to one day go back to visit you all... Till next time... Yowal,
One love and one life.