Australian Story


Returns Monday 1 February at 8.00pm

Celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2016, Australian Story returns with more unique stories that provide an insight into Australian life with all its complexities and challenges.

Archived topic Australian Story

###Australian Story: Phantom of the Opera House

Monday 1 February at 8pm

Introduced by Caroline Jones

“Hall was the man who buggered up the Opera House.” - Philip Drew, architect and writer

“Why was my father treated so badly? And why did he die a destitute, broken man?” - Willy Hall, son of Peter Hall

“I think Peter Hall probably had the short end of the stick in this job.” - Jan Utzon, son of Jorn Utzon
Australian Story returns on Monday, February 1 at 8pm with a gripping story that turns everything you think you know about the design of the Sydney Opera House on its head.

For more than 50 years, the celebrated Danish architect Jorn Utzon has been internationally acclaimed for creating the iconic building.

But few people have heard of Peter Hall, the local architect who completed the design after Jorn Utzon’s resignation, mid-way through the project.
Hall was just 34 and had recently left the NSW Government Architect’s office when he was approached to take on the job of completing Utzon’s work.

He went on to completely redesign the building’s interiors, turning the main hall into a single purpose concert hall and controversially shifting opera to a smaller space that had been intended for drama performance.
He also resolved the problem of how to build the glass walls on the north side of the Opera House, an issue that Utzon and his team had struggled with.

But Peter Hall’s decision to take on the Opera House job came at a heavy price. For the rest of his career, he was ostracised by many in the architectural community who wanted the New South Wales government to bring back the “genius,” Jorn Utzon.

In this episode of Australian Story, Peter Hall’s children speak for the first time about their father’s sad, lonely and premature death.

“My father was portrayed as a strike breaker and a mediocre architect who took on a job he shouldn’t have taken,” says Willy Hall.

“There were times when he found it unbearable.”

Peter Hall was just 64 when he died in 1995, destitute and an alcoholic. His family sees him as a tragic victim of “that incredible building.”

“To say it destroyed him is a very strong thing, but yes I think so,” says his first wife, Libby Turner.

Willy Hall has unearthed hundreds of his father’s personal diaries, letters and photographs, a collection which gives a new slant to his father’s role in history.

“Utzon did a beautiful job of designing the concept, but unfortunately he wasn’t able to finish it. A very worthy team of talented Australians was able to finish it, and the history needs to be put right.”

Jorn Utzon’s son Jan, also interviewed for the program, says both architects deserve to be put on a pedestal for their contribution to the building.

“My father felt that this young, promising architect, who he had actually met in Denmark many years previously, was probably a good successor in the way that he would carry my father’s ideas onwards.”

###Australian Story: Sea of Doubt

Monday 8 February at 8pm

Introduced by ABC journalist Emily Bourke

When Coffs Harbour handyman Andrew Witton sailed out of Sydney’s Pittwater in 2006 it was supposed to be the trip of a lifetime. Instead he was dead just a few months later, vanishing inexplicably from the deck of his beloved yacht Kaileia in a remote and inhospitable part of the Pacific Ocean.

“Every time I think about Andrew it grates on me. What really happened – if only the boat could talk to you and tell you the whole story. It’s just an absolute mystery.”– Hamish Dickson, sailor

“Never, never knowing what happened to Andrew, how it actually happened is the hardest part of all.” – Louise Witton, Andrew Witton’s sister

“I’m not pretending to be an angel. But I’m not a murderer… I lead an adventurous life. I’m not going to abide by all laws, no. But I do have good morals.” – Simon Golding, crew mate & convicted drug smuggler.
According to the last entry in Andrew Witton’s boat log, the day he disappeared was calm and clear with very little wind.

By coincidence, a few weeks later friend and experienced sailor Hamish Dickson arrived in the Galapagos Islands to find Andrew’s boat deserted and stripped. Hamish reviewed Andrew’s final log entry:
“Someone that’s been at sea for 40-plus years falls off the side of his own yacht in flat, calm conditions. It’s pretty unheard of. In saying that, it is possible,” he told Australian Story.

There was only one witness on the day Andrew Witton disappeared: his crew mate, Simon Golding. The men had been friends and fellow residents in Coffs Harbour.

Simon Golding’s account of what happened has remained to date the only testimony of Andrew’s disappearance.

But Andrew’s family, led by older sister Louise, unearthed compelling information, questioning Simon Golding’s version of events.

Since Andrew’s disappearance, Simon Golding has been involved in a separate matter in relation to drug running across the Pacific. In one of Australia’s biggest cocaine hauls, along with others he was convicted of importing nearly 400 kilos of cocaine, with a street value of at least $160 million.

The program includes an exclusive interview with Simon Golding, recorded before his imprisonment, in which he maintains his innocence and bewilderment over Andrew Witton’s disappearance:
"I did not push Andrew overboard,” he says. “I never liked Andy’s boat. I could quite easily go to any marina and pick out a boat of my choice and take it.”

###Australian Story: Nugget of Gold

Monday 15 February at 8pm

Introduced by cricketing legend Adam Gilchrist

This week’s program returns to the remarkable story of Barry “Nugget” Rees who for nearly six decades has been revered and nurtured by Australia’s cricketing elite.

Nugget Rees’ story was first revealed on Australian Story nine years ago. From the most unlikely circumstances he rose to become the trusted confidante and companion of cricket’s biggest names – led by every Australian captain from the Chappell brothers, Steve Waugh, Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke through to the current team under Steve Smith and David Warner.

“The first time I met him, I was like, who is this guy that’s in the rooms and everyone was like, what do you mean, what are you talking about. This is Barry “Nugget” Rees. He’s a legend. He’s been here for years and it was great hearing a couple of stories about how long he’d been around and the amazing things he brings to the team.” - Steve Smith, captain Australian cricket team

“You’d come off the field and you’re bleeding from your toes and Nugget would take your shoes off for you and have a cold drink ready and you could joke with him and against him. It was the full package. The guy is just a legend to us players.” - Dennis Lillee, former test cricketer

“It’s a wonderful story of how cricket and cricketers, and footballers too, have taken to Barry and greatly enriched his life. But equally, Nugget has enriched the lives of all those first class cricketers.” - John Inverarity, former test cricketer and chairman of selectors

“It’s very hard to describe who Nugget is to people who aren’t in the cricket sanctum. It’s one of those rarities that you would just have to meet Nugget to understand. For us he’s a cricket icon.” - Dave Warner, vice-captain Australian cricket team

Nugget has toured at least once a year with the Australian and South Australian teams. He wears the team’s uniform, stands for the National Anthem alongside the captain and has been there on the inside for many of the greatest moments in Australian cricketing history.

When Steve Waugh padded up for his last test, Nugget was flown in specially to be at the game. And while Waugh was batting for the final time, it was Nugget who had the honour of walking the drinks onto the field decked out in cricketing whites and the famous baggy green.

“I really wanted him to be there. I wanted him to share in my last test match and to be a part of it.” – Steve Waugh, former captain Australian cricket team

When much-loved teammate Phillip Hughes was killed in a tragic cricket accident 15 months ago, coach Darren Lehmann immediately called on Nugget to assist with the team’s healing.

“He’s got a sixth sense of what’s going on behind the scenes. His feelings are way above ours, his intellect is way above ours, he knows how you’re feeling… and Nug was fantastic at that time”, said Lehmann.

“When you saw Nug’s face you automatically felt a sense of relief,” said vice-captain Warner. “If Nugget was happy, everything was going to be okay and you know, we could heal together.”

Adam Gilchrist describes Lehmann’s actions in bringing Nugget on board at this time as a “masterstroke”.
Now in his seventies, Nugget still joins the teams when they are in Adelaide and participates in all their activities.

“Every player that comes into a South Australian or Australian team, they are desperate to be a part of the legend of Barry “Nugget” Rees. He’s just got that big a reach and that big a history in Australian and South Australian cricket that they can’t wait to be a part of it.” - Adam Gilchrist, former vice-captain Australian cricket team
Current coach Darren Lehmann is leading a push to have a spectator stand at Adelaide Oval named after Barry “Nugget” Rees in honour of his contribution to both AFL and cricket.

###Australian Story: True Grit (David Pocock)

Monday 22 and 29 February at 8.00pm

Introduced by pro-surfer Mick Fanning - AN AUSTRALIAN STORY TWO-PART SPECIAL

In a television exclusive, Australian Story takes you inside the private life of Wallabies hero and international Rugby Union star David Pocock - travelling with him back to his homeland Zimbabwe. The program reveals the dramatic origins of the passion that so famously drives him today, both on and off the field.

Twenty-seven year old David Pocock made headlines around the world last year for his acclaimed performances during the Rugby World Cup. He is now widely considered to be one of the best players in the world.

He’s just as widely known for his charity work, and for his commitment to supporting a range of social justice issues from same-sex marriage to climate change to homophobia in sport, and many more.

“David’s passion is to see people in need get a fair go, like we’ve been given a fair go,” says his father Andy Pocock.
Drawing on a rich archive of home movies, this two-part special program explores the Pocock family’s idyllic life on a farm in Zimbabwe. Their lives were turned upside down in 2000, when David was just 12 years old.

Violence and political instability began to grip the country as President Robert Mugabe accelerated his process of land redistribution. White-owned land was ordered to be handed over for black resettlement. It quickly ran out of control.
“I remember being pretty scared, mostly just at night. As a kid, all the different scenarios are going through your mind,” says David Pocock.

The situation came to a head for the Pococks when a neighbouring farmer and close family friend was shot dead. His son was seriously wounded after being shot nine times.

Fearing for their lives, the Pococks fled from their farm in 2001, leaving behind their extended family including David’s much-loved grand-father “Pop”.

“Still brings a big lump to my throat. In retrospect, it’s the finest thing that ever happened for those boys,” says Ian “Pop” Ferguson.

“I knew I had some trauma stuff in there that I needed to actually tell people about and talk through, but in my mind there were people way worse off. I’ve got this opportunity, I’ve got sport,” David explains.

As a young teenager, David became obsessed with rugby, and by the age of 20 he achieved his dream to play for the Wallabies.
He got there through hard work and a sheer determination that both exasperated and worried his ever-supportive family.
“We didn’t really get a look in. If it wasn’t about his training, get out of the way, because he was just a bit obsessed at the time,” brother Mike Pocock explains.

After a stellar early career, David Pocock’s will and determination was tested by traumatic back-to-back, season-ending knee injuries.

Many thought it could be the end of his career. David was determined to get back on the field and, according to his coaches, by the 2015 Super Rugby season he was in perfect mental and physical condition.

“He went through a lot of pain to get to where he got to,” says Brumbies head coach and Wallabies legend Stephen Larkham. “But it was inspirational to watch him do it, and to be part of how he did it, and to see where he got to in the end.”

David Pocock’s partner Emma, also interviewed for the program, is more impressed by his achievements off the field.
“His physical presence and his personality can be quite jarring, because he’s so big, but he’s very soft and quite gentle,” Emma Pocock says.

This intimate profile shows a complex man who uses his celebrity status. In doing so, he’s inspired by the words of Ghandi, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

A gripping close encounter with a white rhino and her calf is one of many visual highlights of this unmissable two-part special.

###My Conscience Tells Me

Airs tonight at 8pm on ABC & iview – introduced by Caroline Jones

Melbourne doctor Rodney Syme has been ordered to stop giving end of life advice and care to a terminally ill Melbourne man.

As Dr Syme tells Australian Story tonight, he promised to give 70-year-old Bernard Erica the illegal drug Nembutal to end his life.

But the Medical Board of Australia has held an urgent hearing over concerns that Dr Syme posed a serious risk to Mr Erica and ruled that he must not engage in end of life care.

“Further, it is relevant that any action that results in the intentional death of a person may be a criminal offence,” the board said.

The board found there were also serious risks, when Dr Syme was not consulting with the rest of the patient’s team of treating practitioners.

Bernard Erica, a former managing director of appliance company Rinnai, denies that the 80-year-old euthanasia doctor is in any way a risk to his well-being.

“Rodney was certainly trying to help me and I don’t think it is right,” he says.

“That man has gone out on a limb to help people who are in genuine pain and want to end their life peacefully and this has put him in a very difficult position.”

Dr Syme is adamant he won’t desert Bernard Erica, who has tongue and lung cancer.

“I will continue to support him in every way that I can,” Dr Syme says. “Just how that pans out, remains to be seen.”

Separate from its latest ruling, the Medical Board has also decided to conduct a wider investigation into Dr Syme’s professional conduct.

Dr Syme tells Australian Story that in the last 20 years he has given Nembutal or other medication to about 100 people with unbearable pain and suffering so they could end their life at a time of their choosing.
His concerns about end of life choices began in 1974 when he was unable to alleviate the traumatic and unbearable pain suffered by a cancer patient. It triggered what he calls his “epiphany”.

“I could hear her screaming, as I entered the foyer of the hospital,” he says, “and there was nothing we could do to relieve her agony. That had the most profound effect on me.”
For more than two decades Dr Syme has campaigned to legalise voluntary euthanasia for the terminally ill.
He has been interviewed by police on several occasions but never charged. In Victoria, assisting a suicide carries a penalty of five years in prison.

It’s an issue that polarises the medical community.
Melbourne physician Dr Karen Hitchcock, says she doesn’t know what motivates Dr Syme.
“I guess the thing that concerns me about this is, who is Rodney Syme to decide – is Rodney the one that decides now when people’s life is not worth living or is worth living, or does he triage people into suicide prevention or suicide enablement,” she says.

Dr Hitchcock warns that legalising voluntary euthanasia would fundamentally “turn upside down our roles as doctors”.
“I think physician-assisted dying that is providing a drug so that your patient can die is – it’s euthanasia, it is killing,” she says.

Australian Story follows Dr Syme through his journey with Mr Erica, who has recently planned his own funeral and hosted his own living wake.
“The reason I had the party – Rodney Syme said to me after I first met him that it’s important to say goodbye to your friends,” Mr Erica says.

Dr Syme is appealing the Medical Board’s ruling that he is not to give any end of life advice or care to people.

###Whitey’s Way

Monday 4 April at 8pm – introduced by sports presenter Yvonne Sampson

Paul White, or ‘Whitey’ to his mates, is an unstoppable force. He’s the bush copper turned CEO of the Brisbane Broncos, one of Australia’s most successful sporting clubs.

But that unstoppable force has come up against an immovable object.

Last year, at the peak of his career, Paul was felled by a mysterious seizure. A diagnosis of a brain tumour rocked his family, his club and the towns (wider communities) of regional Queensland where he has lived and worked.
After a life spent building community, he’s not facing this challenge alone.

Australian Story has followed Paul through months of harsh medical treatment. Still training every day, this is a man who has turned ‘soldiering on’ into an extreme sport.

Last year Paul, with old friend Wayne Bennett back as coach, led the Broncos through one of their most successful seasons in a decade, culminating in perhaps the most extraordinary Grand Final of all time.

For Paul White, there is no rage against the dying of the light, just a determination to look misfortune in the eye with a steely gaze and a ready laugh.


Tuesday 5 April at 9.30pm

Liam Cochrane travels to the source of most of Australia’s heroin - the vast opium fields of Myanmar, where poppy production has more than doubled in a decade. What will it take to stop the opium trade?

When I look around the field, to me it looks so beautiful – Nang, young mother and opium poppy grower, Myanmar
Nang has never tried opium. She has only the vaguest idea that the alluring flowers she tends so carefully do any harm to anybody, or that what she does is technically illegal. As she sees it, opium is the only crop that puts food on her table and keeps her child in school.

What else can I do? It’s made my life better – Nang
Nang’s is just one of about 200,000 families that the UN says are involved in poppy cultivation across Myanmar, the world’s second biggest opium producer. Production has more than doubled in recent years

We are talking about tonnes and tonnes of heroin. I think most Australians would probably think it’s coming from Afghanistan, but it’s not true. It’s actually from Myanmar - UN official in Yangon

South East Asia Correspondent Liam Cochrane ventures into the remote Myanmar valleys that produce most of Australia’s heroin. He then takes the trail to the China border where the bulk of the processed heroin heads to the outside world.

But as Cochrane discovers, not all the heroin is sold abroad. Pure, cheap and plentiful, the drug is scything through Myanmar’s townships.

My sons were washed away on a tide of heroin – Daw Lie, grieving mother, Nant Phar Kar town
In Nant Phar Kar the pastor reveals that he has buried 336 drug users from his congregation. By his reckoning, close to half the townspeople use heroin. He fears for his town’s very survival.

Nant Phar Kar symbolises an entire country’s addiction to the poppy. Opium money helped bankroll six decades of civil war. It has underpinned much of Myanmar’s economic development and has fed corruption even as the country makes its painful transition to a fledgling democracy.

No one really expects Myanmar’s new government to raze the poppy fields. But after a series of failed attempts to coax poppy farmers into trying other crops, hopes are rising that the newest UN experiment might finally succeed.
A journey into “Poppyland” – on Foreign Correspondent 9.30pm Tuesday April 5 on ABC & iview.

###Port Arthur

Monday, 11 April at 8pm on ABC

Introduced by Caroline Jones

On 28th April 1996, more than 500 tourists were visiting the historic site of Port Arthur in Tasmania. At lunchtime, a lone gunman armed with three military rifles and over 400 rounds of ammunition opened fire.
By the time the gunman was captured, 35 people had died, 23 were injured, and countless other lives were changed forever.

Australian Story looks back at the legacy of that terrible day – the impact it had on survivors, witnesses and the nation at large.

In an Australian Story exclusive, Peter and Pauline Grenfell, the Melbourne couple who were with Nanette Mikac and her two small children as they were murdered, speak publicly for the first time.

The Grenfells had left the Broad Arrow Cafe just minutes before the gunman started shooting and were fleeing the site on foot with Nanette Mikac and 6 year-old Alannah and 3 year-old Madeleine when a car pulled up beside them.

Relief turned to terror when Peter Grenfell caught sight of the guns in the car and yelled “It’s him! Run!”
While the Grenfells took shelter behind a tree, the gunman took aim at the Mikac family.

“A mother and her two children saved us…and I was always just so sorry we couldn’t save them. Because they gave us the precious seconds to move away. So, yes, we were lucky and we were fortunate but that doesn’t take away the pain of what happened. That stays with you.” - Pauline Grenfell

Carolyn Loughton was a fit and healthy single mother lunching with her teenage daughter, Sarah, when the gunman opened fire in the crowded cafe.

“There is no yelling, there is no running. It’s not like in the movies. Within split seconds people are either dead or they’re flat on the floor pretending to be dead…I’m whispering in my daughter’s ear to stay down, to not move…” - Carolyn Loughton

Nurse Lynne Beavis endangered her own life when she ran to the Broad Arrow Cafe as soon as the gunman left. One of the first victims she saw was Carolyn’s daughter, Sarah.

“One of the hardest things I remember was finding a young girl that was of similar build to my daughter and similar age to my daughter.” Lynne couldn’t bring herself to tell Carolyn that her daughter was dead.

Carolyn Loughton and Lynne Beavis have since forged “a unique friendship” that continues today.
Off-duty NSW policeman Justin Noble was picnicking with his wife when he saw the gunman emerge from the cafe with a military rifle.

“I’ve witnessed what they can do on firing ranges…The bullet hits you before you hear the sound. I said to my wife, ‘We’re in deep shit’.” - Justin Noble

Newly elected PM John Howard watched the day’s events as they unfolded on television.

“I was shocked at the magnitude and the ruthlessness of it … [that the] capacity to take human life in such magnitude is in the hands of people who are clearly unbalanced.”

The massacre resulted in far-reaching gun reform legislation that prohibited the sale, possession and importation of automatic and semi automatic weapons.

“I still have to pinch myself that we as a country acted so swiftly, that we made change happen that benefits people who don’t even know today.” - Walter Mikac, husband of Nanette Mikac, father of Alannah and Madeleine Mikac

But some survivors point to the debate over the controversial Adler rifle as evidence that the will to maintain strict gun control is weakening. Carolyn Loughton has petitioned for a permanent ban of the rifle, which is capable of firing eight rounds in as many seconds.

“It was very, very rapid fire. You can’t run that fast. Like many Australians I thought the topic was sorted out 20 years ago.” - Carolyn Loughton

“We don’t want to turn the clock back.” - Walter Mikac

Building Bridges (Michelle Bridges)

Monday 18 April at 8pm

Introduced by Dr Norman Swan

For the first time on TV, Michelle Bridges and her family talk about her becoming a mum at 45, her relationship with ‘Commando’ Steve Willis and taking on the junk food industry.

“Building Bridges,” airing on Australian Story on Monday April 18, features frank and intimate interviews with Michelle, her family, her husband Steve and former husband Bill Moore.

“There will be things that have to come out of my life in order to have this whole new chapter, and that’s absolutely fine.” - Michelle Bridges

“It was a communication connection that drew us together, rather than anything physical. Her willingness to listen.” - Steve Willis

It also gives a behind-the-scenes look at life with baby Axel, now 4 months old.
“It never entered my head that she would have a baby, I thought no, she’s a career girl,” says Michelle Bridges’ mother, Maureen Partridge.

The program traces Bridges’ remarkable journey as the daughter of a broken home in working class Newcastle who last year was named on the BRW list of Australia’s richest self-made women.
She’s been described as Australia’s most influential health and fitness expert.

Three years ago she split with her husband and then-business partner Bill Moore.
“That was a very difficult time. I felt that I didn’t want to leave the relationship, I didn’t want it to end but Michelle wasn’t in the same space,” Bill Moore told the program.

When she subsequently began a relationship with her Biggest Loser co-star Steve Willis, it created a sensation for gossip columnists and photographers.

“Gosh, when it was identified that Michelle and I were in a relationship, the paparazzi! And the stories,” recalls Steve Willis.
“She is now a nationally known person, which means her life for good, bad or ugly is always going to be out there.” - Kerri-Anne Kennerley

Bridges says having a child has strengthened her ambition to tackle the junk food industry which she says is making children sick. It’s an issue she would like to focus more on in the future.

“We’re now seeing children that potentially have a lifespan shorter than their parents. Never before have we ever seen that globally.”

“I’d like to get out there and start fighting the fight for others who can’t fight the fight.”

###Abby’s Road

Monday 25 April at 8pm

Introduced by Caroline Jones

Ten years ago, Nicola and Jim Walker received the news that every parent dreads. Their two-year-old daughter Abby was diagnosed with leukaemia, a life-threatening illness.

“I would do anything to save my daughter’s life. You just want to make sure that your baby’s going to be OK.” - Nicola Walker, mother

Abby’s parents hit upon a controversial course of action – to have another child and harvest stem cells from the new baby’s umbilical cord in case Abby relapsed and needed a transplant.

“It was only when I spoke to the nurse, she just mentioned am I going to have any more children, and then she spoke about stem cells and said that they can actually be used to transplant into Abby if she relapses. That’s when I thought at that moment, I should definitely have another child.” - Nicola Walker

The Walker’s invited Australian Story to film with them as they embarked on this solution, providing intimate access to a deeply moving family experience.

In this Australian Story update, we revisit the family to find out how Abby is faring and the consequences of their unusual decision.

“I was a bit concerned about James finding out that his stem cells had been stored for Abby because I thought maybe he would be quite angry at the fact that he may think that we just had him for that reason, which is not the case.” - Nicola Walker

“Abby is 11 years old now she’s a very happy child; she’s very healthy, fit and healthy.” - Jim Walker, father
“I do think I’m a different person. It has just taught me to be brave, strong and, yeah, nothing scares me.” - Abby Walker

A Kind of Music (Dr Mark Wenitong)

Monday 2 May at 8pm

Introduced by Aaron Fa’Aoso, actor & comedian

As one of Australia’s first Indigenous doctors, Mark Wenitong combines his skills as a physician and a musician to fight disease and ill health in Far North Queensland. Now he’s determined to prevent the ice drug epidemic from gaining a hold in the region.

“There’s some people who are doctors that happen to be musicians, and there’s other people I think that are musicians that happen to be doctors, and that’s probably more me.” - Dr Mark Wenitong

From a tough childhood where he witnessed the impact of cultural disadvantage and alcohol on his father and other members of his community, Mark Wenitong broke the mould and enrolled in medicine as a mature student at Newcastle University in the 1990s.

“When Mark went through, it was the impossible dream, you know, couldn’t be done… so you needed a very, very resilient group of people who got to do it.” - Dr Louis Peachey

His greatest role model was his mother, Lealon. Back in the 50s and 60s, she fought against the odds to become a pioneering Indigenous nurse.

Lealon Wenitong raised her six children as a single mother while also establishing a reputation for her dedicated health care throughout the Indigenous communities of Northern and Central Australia, which persists to this day. It was Lealon who urged Mark to enrol in medicine.

Today he combines treating patients with a role as Adjunct Associate Professor at James Cook University’s School of Public Health, Tropical Medicine and Rehabilitation. He is involved with several Indigenous health initiatives including helping young people affected by the devastating Ice epidemic at Gindaja, one of the few residential rehabilitation centres in Far North Queensland. He is hoping that rehabilitated addicts will help to convince others to avoid the drug.

Despite his dedication to his work as a doctor, Mark Wenitong describes himself as primarily a musician, a talent he has passed on to all his children. Daughter Naomi rose to prominence as half of successful duo Shakaya who picked up four platinum awards for their first single “Stop Calling Me” and toured with Beyonce and Human Nature.

“Just being successful and being black for me for a while, it was really fulfilling. But things were happening in this country that were shocking, you know, like, deaths in custody and stuff, all over the news and we were on stage singing ‘Cinderella’” - Naomi Wenitong, composer-musician

Eldest son Joel, also a successful musician, joined forces with his sister to form The Last Kinection – named in honour of their grandmother. They started to write and perform music that was far more political, focusing on Indigenous self-determination.

“To get up and be singing these songs that we know nobody wants to hear, you know, not even we want to talk about some of the stuff we’re talking about, you know, but we have to and that’s, that’s another example of how Dad influenced us.” - Naomi Wenitong

The family was plunged into crisis when Naomi and Joel suffered a terrible car crash. Naomi was pronounced dead at the scene but, miraculously, she eventually pulled through. During the darkest times in intensive care, Mark found that despite his medical training he could do no more than sing to her as she lay for weeks in a coma. The music, they believe, assisted her recovery.

“I can remember when Naomi was in the brain injury unit and I was so worried that she wasn’t going to get any better. It was devastating as a parent and I just wanted to get her out of there and take her home and just take care of her.” - Dr Mark Wenitong

Joel, who was the driver, suffered survivor guilt for some time. But it was a turning point for him and he made the decision to follow his father into medicine – graduating last month.

“This is that fork in the road, that I need to travel down this way now, and, and I felt that that’s what Nan was there to tell me as well, so, so that’s what I did.” - Dr Joel Wenitong

Australian Story follows the Wenitong family as they work in medicine and sing for their people and the wider community.

Your Money or Your Life

Monday 9 May at 8pm

Twelve years ago Danielle Tindle came back from the brink of death to survive Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. By extraordinary coincidence, it was her own father’s groundbreaking stem-cell research which ultimately saved his daughter’s life.

“I hate the term cancer sufferer; it’s such a disempowering, victimising word… I’ve been through hell and back but I’m strong and I can be beautiful.” - Dr Danielle Tindle (PhD)

Since Danielle was given a second chance at life, this inspirational young woman has made it her mission to advocate for improved services and care for other adolescent and young adult cancer patients. She’s become a world leader in the field.

“I’ve already faced my own mortality, so I had no fear of death. I wanted to focus on something which was meaningful, which was helping others.” - Dr Danielle Tindle (PhD)

Unfortunately, mid-way through her PhD, the now thirty-six year old Danielle Tindle was diagnosed with neuroendocrine carcinoma, a completely new tumour. Doctors think it’s a consequence of the toxic treatment she was given in her early twenties.

“That she’s got it is almost entirely the result of the draconian treatment she had … for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.” - Prof. Robert Tindle, father

With all conventional therapies ineffective against the cancer, once again Danielle, her father and her medical team are in a race to find the next life-saving breakthrough. It’s come in the form of ground-breaking drugs which are subsidised for melanoma under the PBS, but for rare cancer patients like Danielle, are cripplingly expensive.

“If you are a melanoma patient and your chemotherapy happens to be one of these antibodies, you’ll be paying about $6.50 a shot, and in the adjacent cubicle there’ll be someone like Danielle, who is paying $5000 a shot.” - Prof. Robert Tindle, father

“Nobody thinks it’s fair… the lottery says she got a rare cancer, and our system doesn’t respond in that circumstance.” - Richard Vines, CEO Rare Cancers Australia

Australian Story has followed this extraordinary woman who never gives up right from the beginning.
“I can’t not hope… I’m just unstoppable.” - Dr Danielle Tindle (PhD)

###George Palmer - Dare To Dream

Monday 16 May at 8pm

The remarkable untold story behind the creation of Australia’s newest opera is the subject of this week’s Australian Story.

Its composer, George Palmer had never written an opera before. For most of his career, he’d been a barrister and later a judge of the NSW Supreme Court.

When he told his wife that he wanted to write an operatic version of Tim Winton’s sprawling novel, Cloudstreet, she was sceptical.

“It’s a huge story with a lot of characters which wouldn’t fit even into 3 hours. I said ‘this is not a good idea’,” Penny Palmer told Australian Story.

Undeterred, George Palmer contacted Tim Winton’s agent to inquire about acquiring musical rights to the novel. Twice, he got no reply.

So Palmer contacted legendary theatre producer Gale Edwards, a veteran of London and Broadway musicals, and director of The Boy From Oz.

It was the mention of Cloudstreet – one of her favourite novels – that got Edwards on board, plus the quality of the songs Palmer had already written.

“I thought George’s composition was gorgeous. The music spoke for itself right from the beginning,” says Gale Edwards.

Palmer and Edwards have spent the last 5 years bringing the idea to the stage, and Cloudstreet the opera will finally have its world premiere on May 12 at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Adelaide.

“What first-time composer ever gets a production at this scale and size from a professional opera company?” asks Gale Edwards. “It’s amazing.”

Cloudstreet was taken on by the State Opera of South Australia, whose CEO Tim Sexton is now musical director of the new opera.

“Of all the things I’ve worked on over the last 38 years, this is the one that I believe has the greatest legs to go on and become something truly fabulous. This work absolutely should be picked up not only here in Australia but overseas as well,” he told the program.

In a Beethoven-esque twist to the story, George Palmer may be facing impending deafness. He has already lost the hearing in his right ear, and his left ear is deteriorating.

“I want to get as much done as I can before I can’t hear any more,” he says.
“To find myself at the age of 68 with a totally absorbing, challenging, stimulating and scary new career as a composer is something I would never have dreamt could happen.”

###Into the Fog of War

Monday 23 and Monday 30 May at 8pm

This exclusive two-part program gives a powerful insight into one of the most controversial cases in Australian military history.

At the centre of this compelling story is Dave, a highly skilled commando in the Army Reserve.

In February 2009, whilst on a capture-or-kill mission looking for Taliban, his unit raided a family compound in the middle of the night in Afghanistan. Six people, including five children, were killed.

Now for the first time, Dave and other members of the unit give their account of the night and its aftermath to Australian Story.

“The intelligence we received was of varying quality. Sometimes it was very, very good, and other times it felt like they were throwing a dart at a map.” – Geoff Evans, fmr Commando

“I saw a male combatant with an AK-47, pointing his rifle from the shoulder at the door that my team members were about to enter. I shot him.” – Corporal W, fmr Commando

“When you realise you’ve killed children um devastating doesn’t even begin to describe it, and I feel like I can’t fix it and I can’t atone for it. I can’t do anything to undo the damage that was done.” – Dave, fmr Commando

Dave and another soldier were subsequently charged with manslaughter of the five children and faced the possibility of a court martial and 20 years in prison. These charges were later dismissed.

Since then, details of the operation have been shrouded in secrecy.

What happened has been a tragedy for everyone – for Dave, his fellow commandos and – most of all – for the Afghan families who lost so much.

###Australian Story celebrates 20 years on ABC TV

Two-part anniversary special screens Monday 6 and Monday 13 June at 8pm

Australian Story, ABC TV’s multi award-winning documentary series, is celebrating its 20th year on air with a two-part special. Premiering Monday June 6th and continuing on June 13th the special will celebrate this enduring and hugely popular series, reflecting on the stories and faces that have featured in over 350 episodes.

For the past 20 years, the program has encouraged Australians from all walks of life to tell their stories in their own words. Some are public figures, such as Hazel Hawke, Malcolm Turnbull, actors Garry McDonald and Jacki Weaver, and sports stars Ricky Ponting, Anna Meares and David Pocock. Others are ordinary people facing extraordinary times: Gail Shann from outback Queensland, who’s learned to live without use of her arms; the Damiani family, who are trying to find a cure for their sick child; and Barry Singh, the son of a banana farmer who dreams of conducting an orchestra. All provide insight into Australian life and the complexity and richness of the human experience.

Respected journalist and broadcaster Caroline Jones AO has presented the series since its inception in 1996. But Caroline hasn’t been alone; over the years many other well-known faces have lent their voice including Gough Whitlam, Rupert Murdoch, Nicole Kidman, Dame Edna Everage, Kylie Minogue and former US President Jimmy Carter.

The anniversary special explains how the show evolved as an antidote to the adversarial style of current affairs in vogue at the time. The two episodes look back over Australian Story’s key themes, with participants and producers revealing the stories behind some of the show’s most significant and popular programs.

So get ready to take a nostalgic and entertaining look back at the stories that have made us laugh, question and cry; stories that have moved and changed us, stories that have shaped our society and helped us know ourselves better.

###When the Call Comes

Monday 20 June at 8pm

The news that a homeless man had been stabbed to death in early 2014 shocked Melbourne. His name was Morgan Wayne Perry, but he was better known as “Mouse”.

He was killed by Easton Woodhead, a former Melbourne Grammar student from a well-to-do family who on the night of the killing had been smoking cannabis.

In the days after Morgan’s death, people flocked to the CBD, giving food and blankets to those in need.
Once the initial shock died down, so did the interest.

But for Michele Perry it was the start of a journey to understand her brother. For the first time she speaks out about the life she and Morgan lived, and gives her view of the verdict.

‘I thought I was going to get a call one day and someone would tell me that he’d died. But I never expected to hear that he’d been murdered.’
Michele Perry

‘It was very, very difficult to comprehend that two people who were so completely different to each other were related. It just made me think this is one pretty remarkable woman.’
Major Brendan Nottle, The Salvation Army

‘I was really nervous about seeing Easton Woodhead for the first time. I remember … going into the courtroom and seeing him there …the person that mutilated my brother’s body. It was really quite scary.’
Michele Perry

‘Michele had gone from wanting some remorse to actually wanting a murder conviction and by the time of the verdict she was adamant that that was the only appropriate response.’
Eva Foster, friend

‘When I heard the verdict, oh man I was really angry.’
Major Brendan Nottle, The Salvation Army

###Limbo Land

Monday 27 June at 8.30pm

A farmer fighting for his future after a coal mine opens next to his property.

‘Living this close to a mine it’s a nightmare, it never seems to stop.’ Pat Murphy, farmer

‘The State Government has authorised the interference with his [Pat’s] rights to quiet, safe enjoyment of his own land.’ Sue Higginson, Environmental Defenders Office principal solicitor

‘You’d like to grab people by the scruff of the neck and bash their heads together and go, come on, let’s sit down and fix this. This isn’t a problem that can’t be fixed.’ Simon Smith, retired Environmental Protection Authority officer
‘I think the government has something to answer for. I mean the government is there to protect and look after us and I think they have failed in this situation.’ Renee Murphy, Pat’s wife

Maules Creek farmer Pat Murphy is in a seemingly insoluble predicament.

He and his family moved to their ‘dream property’ at Maules Creek in New South Wales seven years ago. They were optimistic about the future, with plans to sub-divide their farm, run sheep and grow crops including barley and wheat. The location was close to towns and a school for their young children.

But life changed dramatically for the Murphy family when exploration for an open-cut coal mine began right next door, just a year after they’d arrived in the area.

Pat Murphy says he wants to leave the property but says he has been stymied by the NSW Government’s planning laws and controversial ‘voluntary acquisition scheme’.

He wants to move to a comparable property but claims that it is impossible to do so with the money he is being offered by the mine operator, Whitehaven Coal.

In the meantime, he says that staying on the property leaves his family exposed to noise, and dust from the mine, yet they say the State government has told them that it is not able to directly act on his concerns.

Why? Because the government has acknowledged that the mine would be unable to comply with any noise and dust restrictions over parts of his property, therefore no specific restrictions were put in place for his property when the mine was approved. Instead, he was told, he can ask the mine to buy him out.

Solicitor Sue Higginson from the Environmental Defenders Office not only questions the rationale behind that decision but the entire approval process:
‘If that was the situation then it would have been appropriate to require that Pat’s property was purchased by the mine before the mine was approved.’

Last year an Environmental Protection Authority officer Simon Smith (since retired) investigated complaints from Pat Murphy and his neighbour Lochie Leitch about excessive dust coming from the mine. He says the mine ‘could do better’.

However Whitehaven Coal’s CEO Paul Flynn says the company is operating within its licence.
‘I’m certainly happy to stand by the track record of the company in terms of its compliance since the mine was constructed a short time ago.”

Earlier this year Pat Murphy and Lochie Leitch claimed that they were affected by blast fumes from the mine.
The Environmental Protection Agency is currently investigating those incidents.

###One of the Mob
Monday 4 July at 8pm

Introduced by actor David Field

How did a white boy from Wollongong end up making some of the most loved TV shows and documentaries about Black life?

David Batty and his Aboriginal collaborator Francis Kelly struck gold with Bush Mechanics, their hilarious take on getting around the country with no roadside assistance. The cult classic followed a group of men using ingenious tricks to keep their cars running in the unforgiving desert of Central Australia.

An idyllic childhood canoeing wild rivers and walking rough bushland gave David a deep connection to nature as well as an ability to sleep rough - two things that later made him at home filming in remote Indigenous settlements.

David’s childhood turned into a teenage disaster. Just out of school, he was forced to marry his pregnant girlfriend and ended up as a single dad.

He escaped with his young son to Alice Springs in the early 1980s. They thrived in a town where young whites were walking alongside a newly radicalised Indigenous population. Out of those collaborations would come many documentaries shining a light on Aboriginal life and history.

Seven years ago, a shocking personal tragedy took David to the brink.

Now David Batty is at it again with his new series Black As, a ‘Bush Mechanics’ for a new generation, this time set in crocodile infested Arnhem Land. Three Black guys and their adopted white brother Joe embody the joy of hunting and fishing off the land, all the while trying to keep their clapped-out 4-wheel drive alive.

Producer Vanessa Gorman

###The Longest Expedition
Monday 11 July at 8pm

Eighteen years after the accident that nearly killed him, renowned climber Paul Pritchard returns to climb Tasmania’s notorious Totem Pole to make peace with the past.

‘The thought of going down there and climbing that spire terrified me. It’s against all human instinct.’ – John Middendorf, climber

‘The first time I stood on top of it, I was actually quite disturbed. The chances of it falling over while you stood there were just a bit too high.’ – Steve Monks, climber and mountain guide.

‘It’s a very scenic place for a head injury.’ – Paul Pritchard, writer and adventurer.
When Paul Pritchard returned to the Totem Pole in the stunning Tasman National Park three months ago it was the culmination of an eighteen-year journey.

Surrounded by friends and a film crew, he planned to close a chapter of his past and revisit a climb that ended in disaster nearly two decades ago.

This time, with only half his body functioning properly, the stakes were high. The climb would be recorded in vertigo-inducing detail using drones and go-pro helmet cameras. Any mistakes would be caught on camera.
‘I’m nervous,’ he said. ‘Much more than I thought I’d be. I’m in my late 40s and I’ve got kids and have more responsibilities. I’ve got more to live for.’

‘Everybody who needed to be there was there,’ remembers Pritchard’s partner, Melinda Oogjes. ‘It was like something unfurling in front of you. It was amazing.’

The former professional climber and writer suffered a massive head injury on Friday the 13th 1998 when his rope dislodged a ‘computer monitor’ sized rock that ripped his head open.

He was saved by the actions of then-girlfriend, Celia Bull, who hauled him up thirty metres to a halfway ledge before running for help. In a second stroke of luck, the paramedic on duty that day, Neale Smith, was also a climber. Neale’s decision to short-circuit a cliff rescue and abseil with Paul down to a waiting boat almost certainly saved his life.

Despite remaining partially paralysed and unable to speak for many months, Pritchard now describes the accident as the best thing that happened to him, in part because it allowed him to stop climbing. ‘I’ve got about thirty friends and acquaintances who’ve died in the mountains,’ he says. ‘It’s not natural.’

A passionate advocate for disability rights, Pritchard now works for ProjectABLE, an initiative funded by the NDIS. He educates school children about disability and encourages them to chase careers in the sector.
His fourth book is in the pipeline and the next new adventure is never far away.

Paul’s return to the Totem Pole features stunning cinematic footage of the climb, in a magnificently scenic area.

Producer: Rebecca Latham.