Australian Story

The Getting of Wisdom | Hugh Van Cuylenburg

Monday 19 June 8pm

Introduced by Australian Story presenter Leigh Sales

Confronting family secrets can be difficult but for Hugh can Cuylenburg, it was the key to setting him free.

Hugh is known as the founder of the Resilience Project and co-host of the highly successful Imperfects podcast.

For years, he’s helped students and sports people learn simple strategies to prepare them for life’s ups and downs – currently he’s keeping spirits high for the Queensland State of Origin Team.

His simple message of positivity and self-deprecating humour have won him a legion of fans.

“Hugh is a very funny dude,” says friend Hamish Blake. “What he does is very close to comedy because, you know, the best comedy is honest.”

“He doesn’t pretend to be a guru,” says friend and Imperfects co-host Ryan Shelton. “He’s mainly just telling his own stories and then using those stories to help other people.”

Motivating Hugh’s interest in mental health was his sister Georgia’s experience with an eating disorder. Her story became central to his presentations, but more recently he had to examine their complex relationship and face some uncomfortable truths. As Hugh tells Australian Story, it has allowed him to reflect on his work in a new light.

“I was 28 when I started the Resilience Project and I’m 42 now, so a lot’s happened,” he says.

“I think especially early on I felt like I needed to know everything, have the answers to everything but life is so complicated. Now I realise there is so much that I don’t know, so much I’ll never understand and that is a much more freeing mental space to be in.”

A Voice From the Heart

Monday 26 June 8pm

Introduced by presenter Leigh Sales

When Megan Davis was 12 years old, her mother brought home a second-hand book with a copy of the Constitution at the back.

The Indigenous girl in the housing commission home fell in love with the document.

30 years on, Megan, now a lawyer, is one of the driving forces behind the Voice referendum, a proposal to enshrine in the Constitution the right of First Nations’ people to have a say on laws that affect them.

Megan believes having a Voice to Parliament will give her people the power to improve their lives.

As the campaign picks up pace, she knows the stakes are high.


How one woman’s family history inspired her to use the law to try and change the nation

A Voice From the Heart with @mdavisqlder Monday on @ABCTV + iview #TheVoiceVote #VoiceToParliament

— AustralianStory (@AustralianStory) June 22, 2023

Australian Story returns August 28th

Australian Story is back on August 28th with a great line up of stories for the second half of 2023.

We kick off with the larger-than-life Gina Chick, winner of hit SBS TV series Alone Australia. Gina has lived her life outside the mainstream but now her unconventional approach to bush survival is inspiring a new way of connecting with nature.

The normally private Erica Packer goes public about her family’s deadly inheritance of breast cancer and why she wants more research into the mystery genes that may be causing the disease.

We meet two members of the hit rock band Silverchair rarely heard from. Ben Gillies and Chris Joannou divulge how they survived their meteoric rise to international stardom and rebuilt their lives after the band fell apart.

Actor Sam Neil speaks about facing his own mortality and how his cancer diagnosis has spurred him on to new feats.

Former foreign correspondent Dean Yates reveals the years of turmoil he lived through after his Iraqi staff were gunned by the American military. Now he’s spreading the word about how to better understand and manage PTSD.

Fashionista-turned-farmer Sam Elsom leaves the high streets of London for the oceans off Tasmania unveiling an unexpected career move – growing a special seaweed as cow fodder to help slow climate change.

And comedian and broadcaster Sami Shah reveals he never trusted himself to fall in love again…until he met academic and former hostage Kylie Moore-Gilbert.

Don’t miss these stories and more from August 28th on ABC TV and iview.


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Force of Nature | Gina Chick (season return)

Monday 28 August 8pm
Introduced by presenter Leigh Sales

Gina Chick spent 67 days alone in the Tasmanian wilderness and didn’t want to come home.

Winning a survival contest on the SBS TV series Alone Australia has given Gina, 53, the chance to tell the world about the power of connecting with nature.

“Every time we turn off our phones for five minutes and lean against a tree or go outside and hear those kookaburras we’re remembering how to be plugged in to the battery of wild nature. And the more comfortable we are with the wilderness outside, the more comfortable we can be with the wilderness inside,” she says.

Growing up in Jervis Bay south of Sydney with two younger sisters, her teacher parents always encouraged them to spend time outside.

But Gina felt like an outsider and was bullied for the sticks in her hair and sick birds she carried in her pockets.

“I’ve always had this sense of I’m too big. I felt like I’ve got three people’s personalities that got squeezed into one body”, she says. “I’ve been having to figure out how to be with that my whole life. “

She found a community in Sydney’s gay scene in the early 90s before dropping out of university and heading overseas to learn survival skills, where she met her ex-partner Lee Trew.

After surviving breast cancer in pregnancy, Gina gave birth to her daughter Blaise. Tragically Blaise died at the age of three from a neuroblastoma.

Gina says that being in nature has given her the strength to survive life’s darkest moments.

Now her message is striking a chord with the public.

For the past 10 years, Gina has run wilderness retreats for families and adults. Australian Story documents a mini ‘Alone’ , where 6 women spend days by themselves in the bush with water and bedding and nothing else but their thoughts.

“I’ve spent my whole life gathering these tools and now there’s a chance for me to share this, I’m super excited,” she says.

A Family Inheritance | Erica Packer and Jo Hunter

Monday 4 September 8:00 PM

Introduced by Australian Story presenter Leigh Sales

Erica Packer reveals a mystery plaguing her family – will she be the next woman to be diagnosed with breast cancer?

Doctors say Erica is right to be worried. A family tree highlights the majority of women on her mother’s side have died from the disease, but no-one knows the cause.

Her sister, Jo Hunter, was diagnosed at the age of 39, the same year their mother died after 12 years of treatment for breast cancer.

She also lost her aunt and grandmother and many cousins in the older generations.

The ex-model is the former wife of James Packer, one of Australia’s richest men and they share three children.

Erica and her sister are supporters of the National Breast Cancer Foundation, which funds scientific research at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne. There, scientists and doctors are looking at pinpointing the hereditary genes responsible for breast cancer plaguing thousands of Australian families.

Australian Story goes on the road with the sisters, from their birthplace of Gunnedah to Sydney, Melbourne and London as they explore the deadly mystery at the heart of their family.

Airs Monday September 4, 8:00pm, on ABCTV and ABC iview.

Atonement | Dean Yates

Monday 11 September 8:00 PM

Introduced by Australian Story presenter Leigh Sales

Foreign correspondent Dean Yates had a reputation for being indestructible.

But reporting from war zones came at a personal cost, and his own family became collateral damage.

When two of his Baghdad staff were gunned down by American soldiers in 2007, Dean’s robust exterior started to crumble.

In the years after Wikileaks ‘Collateral Murder’ video exposed the truth about the men’s death, Dean’s mental health deteriorated.

He was diagnosed with PTSD and a “moral injury”, the harm caused when there’s a moral dimension to a person’s trauma.

Dean is now determined to share his experience of trauma in the workplace to raise awareness and bring about a permanent change in attitudes.

Airs Monday September 11, 8:00pm, on ABCTV and ABC iview.


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A Silver Lining | Part 1

Introduced by Australian Story presenter Leigh Sales

When three Newcastle schoolboys became overnight rockstars in 1994, their world exploded. And Silverchair, one of Australia’s most successful bands, was born.

At the age of 15, best mates Daniel Johns, Ben Gillies and Chris Joannou were living the dream — touring the world, topping the charts, winning awards.

The band played for more than 15 years and won more ARIA awards than any other Australian band. Five albums reached number one.

But their fame and success came with intense pressure and scrutiny. Old friendships became strained.

Until now, much of the spotlight has been on former frontman Daniel Johns.

In this first of two parts, Ben and Chris tell the Silverchair story as they see it.

Airs Monday September 18, 8:00pm, on ABCTV and coming soon to ABC iview. Part 2 airs September 25.


News Corp reports today that the ABC has been forced to pull part 1 of A Silver Lining from iView due to rights issue. An industry insider said Daniel Johns and his music industry veteran brother Heath, who oversees his business affairs, had given clearance on Silverchair tracks to be used on the “terrestrial” broadcast on ABC on Monday. But it is understood they would not extend the rights to the digital broadcast of the documentary.

UPDATE 25/9: Daniel Johns posted on his Instagram regarding the music rights to the 2-part episode.

Sea Change | Sam Elsom

Monday 2 October 8:00 pm

Introduced by Australian Story presenter Leigh Sales

Five years ago, Sam Elsom shocked his friends and family when he quit his job as a fashion designer to set up a seaweed farm in Tasmania, inspired by the potential of a special strain to radically reduce methane emissions in livestock.

Two weeks ago his company was named as a finalist in one of the world’s most prestigious environmental prizes, Earthshot, founded by Prince William and Sir David Attenborough.

The dividend, a year’s mentoring by billionaire Michael Bloomberg and the chance to compete for the big prize in November.

And the global recognition has come at just the right time.

Having built a state-of-the-art lab, trialled his special seaweed-based feed and had it adopted by a national burger chain, Sam has now reached a crunch point.

With a million doses on the shelf, can he generate enough interest to get farmers and government on board?

Airs Monday October 2, 8:00pm, on ABCTV and ABC iview.


The Big Lap | Fiona MacDonald

Monday 9 October 8:00 PM

Fiona MacDonald knows that time is running out, but she’s not sitting still.

Against all advice, the former TV personality set off earlier this year on a “Thelma and Louise” style road trip around Australia with her sister Kylie Thynne.

Almost two years ago, at the age of 64, this bubbly extrovert was diagnosed with motor neurone disease, an illness which robs its victims of speech, mobility and eventually their lives. It’s a disease with no cure.

Determined to make the most of what time she has left, Fiona is raising awareness of the disease and money for MND research as she circumnavigates the country.

Australian Story follows the sisters on this heart-warming, funny and emotional journey of a lifetime.

Airs Monday October 9, 8:00pm, on ABCTV and ABC iview.


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His Brilliant Careers (update) | Sam Neill

Monday 16 October 8:00 pm

Acclaimed actor Sam Neill was at the top of his game when a sore neck prompted a visit to the doctor.

A shock diagnosis followed, with Sam rushed into treatment for an aggressive blood cancer.

Now in remission, Sam reveals the experience forced him to confront his mortality.

He put pen to paper to document his life, hoping to capture his memories for his children and grandchildren.

Now his biggest fear is the ‘r’ word.

Sam is now back acting and making wine at his beloved New Zealand vineyard.

Airs Monday October 16, 8:00pm, on ABCTV and ABC iview.


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Sam Neill posted on social media yesterday, saying the comments he made on Australian Story this week were taken out of context and conflated.


When Kylie Met Sami | Kylie Moore-Gilbert + Sami Shah

Monday 23 October 8:00 PM

Introduced by Australian Story presenter Leigh Sales

When broadcaster and comedian Sami Shah met academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert through a dating app, they were both piecing their lives back together.

She was coming to terms with her recent release from an Iranian prison and the discovery her husband had left her for one of her colleagues while she was in detention.

He was recovering from being dumped from his ABC Melbourne radio show and the collapse of his second marriage.

Thrown together by Melbourne’s long Covid lockdown, they both had to learn to trust again. But love blossomed and they recently celebrated the birth of a baby girl.

Airs Monday October 23, 8.00pm (AEDT), on ABC TV and ABC iview.


Gregory Smith – Never Too Late ​

Monday 30 October 8:00 PM

When Australian Story first filmed with Gregory Smith in 2018, he had just completed a PhD, a stunning achievement for a man who had spent much of his life homeless – including a decade sleeping rough in a forest – and addicted to alcohol and drugs.

Five years on, his remarkable transformation continues.

He works as a university lecturer and advises a number of organisations on issues around homelessness. These contributions were recognised in September when he was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia.

“Dr. Gregory Smith has a unique perspective because he has a unique experience coming from a traumatic background,” says Jonathan Melrose-Rae, from the End Street Sleeping Collaboration. “He’s talking to the people on the front line … and bringing that back into our board.”

He is also in a relationship, something he long ago stopped thinking would ever happen. He lives in Orange, NSW, with his new partner, helping raise her two boys. And in 2022, at the age of 66, he welcomed a baby son into the world.

Gregory’s story is a powerful demonstration that no matter how desperate a person’s situation may seem, redemption is always possible.

“There’s always hope and there’s always pathways and new directions in life…I’m evidence of that,” says Gregory.

Watch Australian Story on Monday, 30 October, 8pm on ABC TV and ABC iview.


Libbi Gorr: To Elle and Back

Monday 6 November 8:00 PM

Introduced by Australian Story presenter Leigh Sales

What ever happened to Elle McFeast?

The trailblazing comic character burst into football locker rooms and onto our TV screens in 1991 on the ABC’s Live and Sweaty program, shocking audiences with her mix of saucy humour and rollicking social satire.

The anarchic alter ego of entertainer Libbi Gorr, McFeast was born from a desire to push back on the Elle McPherson supermodel stereotype of what a woman should be.

As McFeast’s reputation grew, she became one of the first female tonight show hosts in the country.

But in 1998, Libbi Gorr’s career took a tumble when her live interview with self-confessed killer Mark ‘Chopper’ Read triggered a wave of outrage.

In a candid interview, Gorr talks about that notorious interview, the identity crisis that followed and why, at the age of 58, she’s embarking on a new adventure as morning host of a new digital radio station.

Airs Monday November 6, 8.00pm (AEDT), on ABC TV and ABC iview.


Brett Yang and Eddy Chen - Take a Bow

Monday, 13 November, 8pm AEDT

Meet the violin virtuosos from Brisbane shaking up the classical music world with their unique brand of online comedy. ​Brett Yang and Eddy Chen met as teenagers in maths tutoring and bonded over their shared love of playing the violin.

Dedicated and talented, they dreamed of becoming soloists but eventually, they went against family expectations and the straitjacket of the classical music world. ​

Blending their performance talents with goofy humour, the pair named themselves TwoSet Violin and began to make videos for YouTube, inspired by their own experiences as musicians. ​

“We’re not deliberately setting out to break the rules like a rebellious teenager. Our mission is kind of to be that gateway that brings people into the world of classical music in a more fun, relaxed and entertaining way,” Eddy says. ​

They’ve struck a chord, amassing millions of social media followers on YouTube and other platforms and gaining billions of views. ​

“Most top-of-the-game classical musicians would be green with envy as to their reach. I think TwoSet really have played a huge part in bringing a huge new audience to classical music,” says Vanessa Hughes from ABC Classic FM.
They’ve even persuaded one of the world’s greatest violinists, American Hilary Hahn, to collaborate. ​

“They are very good violinists. You can’t use humour about a very specific craft unless you know everything about it, it just wouldn’t work,” Hilary tells Australian Story .

“I just really loved seeing everything that they were making.” ​

Brett and Eddy are currently in the midst of their second world tour, selling out prestigious venues in London, New York, Berlin, to name a few. ​

“I tell my past self, thanks for taking the risk and just going for it,” says Brett. “Whatever happens, you’re going to have the ride of a lifetime.”

Stepping Up | Elly-May Barnes

Monday 20 November 8:00 PM

Introduced by Australian Story presenter Leigh Sales

When Elly-May Barnes was born into rock music’s most famous family, she was 14 weeks premature and given only a 50/50 chance of survival.

At 3, she was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. She’s endured a lifetime of medical procedures which she thought would limit her musical career to being a backup singer for her father.

Now at 34, Elly-May Barnes is stepping out as a solo cabaret artist – and an advocate for people with disabilities.

Airs Monday November 20, 8.00pm (AEDT), on ABC TV and ABC iview.


Season final Australian Story is Monday 4 December

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Big Talk | Annie Louey

Monday 27 November 8:00 PM

Introduced by Australian Story presenter Leigh Sales

After her father’s death, comedian Annie Louey finds his old briefcase and uncovers a decades old secret.

Inside are hundreds of black and white photographs, passports, letters and library cards belonging to two girls who looked a lot like her. It didn’t take long to realise her father had a secret family.

Angry he kept this part of their family hidden, Annie is driven to find her half-sisters and make peace.

She may be her fathers’ daughter, but unlike him Annie has chosen to live life like an open book. The stand-up comedian uses the stage to laugh off family secrets and uncomfortable truths.

Airs Monday November 27, 8.00pm (AEDT), on ABC TV and ABC iview.