Australian Story

Tags: #<Tag:0x00007fa777da9fc8>


Producers of this episode, Winsome Denyer, Marc Smith and Tim Wilson, won in the profile of athlete, team or coach (broadcast) category at tonight’s Australian Sports Commission Media Awards in Melbourne.


###Into Hot Water – Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg

Monday 27 February at 8 pm

Eighteen years ago Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg created controversy with a report predicting the demise of many of the world’s coral reefs by the middle of this century.

At the time his projections were met with scepticism and he was accused of needless alarmism. But since then his overall predictions about the impact of climate change on coral reefs have proved correct.

Current scientific projections are that 90 per cent of the world’s coral reefs will be dead by 2050. But Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg and his team at The University of Queensland believe it’s not too late to act.

He’s now at the forefront of a bold new plan funded by overseas philanthropy to save the remaining 10 per cent of coral reefs from extinction.

Embargoed until this Friday, the announcement will lay out an ambitious global strategy to protect the world’s remaining reefs from the perils of increased sea temperatures, bleaching and other weather-related damage.

The full story behind the plan will air exclusively on Australian Story on Monday 27 February.

“At the moment there isn’t a global plan for reversing the decline of the world’s coral reefs. It’s crazy.”– Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg

After last year’s mass coral bleaching event on the Great Barrier Reef, Professor Hoegh-Guldberg and his team feel the time has run out to argue about the politics of climate change and fossil fuels.

“To continue in the current leadership vacuum is to ignore an overwhelming body of evidence that demonstrates that everything we depend on and hold dear will be stripped away, potentially exposing our nation to catastrophic conditions.”

Ove Hoegh-Guldberg has been captivated by the ocean and coral reefs since childhood.

“I used to play with the fish my mother used to bring home from the markets in the bathtub and then they’d be washed off and cooked for dinner. The sea has always been this magical place and I’ve never been far from it. Just a quirk in my DNA.”

He vividly remembers the first time he saw the Great Barrier Reef as a small boy. It was 1969 and he was with his Danish grandfather.

“We went snorkelling and I saw my first butterfly fish. It was amazing. After that I got more and more interested in the ocean.”

Years later his mission to have the science behind climate change understood by the general public has led to some powerful allies.

“It’s easy enough to imagine the ostrich-like capacity of any of us, when we see something we don’t like to stick our head in the sand… Well, Ove doesn’t do that.”– Sir David Attenborough

“He’s a very high energy bloke and a bit of a ratbag. He has his enemies. He’s put everything he can into this battle to getting science understood. And he’ll keep knocking down doors.” – Graeme Wood, entrepreneur and philanthropist

With early signs this week that the northern sector of the Great Barrier Reef may be starting to bleach again, Into Hot Water provides a timely overview coupled with a strong personal narrative of a scientist’s passion to protect the reefs he loves so dearly.


###Getting Away with Murder – The Shirley Finn Story

Monday 6 March at 8pm

The unsolved murder of Perth brothel owner Shirley Finn has haunted the people of Western Australia for more than 40 years.

“I didn’t know this would become the most intriguing murder case in Western Australia’s history.” – Terry Willesee, journalist

When Shirley Finn’s body was found slumped in the front seat of her Dodge, with four bullet holes to the back of her head, there was no doubt it was a professional hit. But the question remains, who did it and why?

Rumours of police and political involvement in the June 1975 murder have swirled around the case from the outset, some believing that Shirley Finn was silenced after threatening to reveal the secrets of powerful figures in Western Australia.

In Monday night’s episode of Australian Story, we hear for the first time from Jacqueline, an acquaintance of Shirley Finn, about the brothel madam’s fears and the reported threat made against her by a senior police officer just days before her death:

“…He told me to shut my mouth, watch what I said or ‘bang’.’’

Shirley Finn’s daughter Bridget Shewring was a schoolgirl at the time of the killing. She has been tormented by the failure to find her mother’s killer and fought tirelessly for an independent inquiry.

“There are people out there who know who murdered my mother. I’d like to see them brought to justice.” – Bridget Shewring, daughter

In 2004 her hopes of an inquiry were buoyed when she met journalist Juliet Wills, who had begun investigating her mother’s murder.

“The more I learned about Shirley Finn the more disturbed I became about the level of corruption in this story.” – Juliet Wills, journalist and author

A decade later, Juliet has interviewed dozens of people about the murder. She recently handed startling new evidence to authorities in a successful attempt to secure the coronial inquest Bridget so desperately wanted.

This program includes interviews with people who knew Shirley Finn, most of whom are speaking publicly for the first time in the hope of encouraging others to come forward to assist the upcoming inquiry.

The date of the coronial inquiry has yet to be set. It is expected to commence later this year.


###On Borrowed Time

Monday 13 March at 8pm

This story puts a human face to the ongoing issue of asylum-seekers and shows how a school community continues to rally around a young woman who has won their hearts, but faces an uncertain future.

When Australian Story first told of the challenges faced by young Iranian asylum-seeker Mojgan Shamsalipoor, in July last year, she was in immigration detention with no prospect of release.

However, in September the 23-year-old student received a temporary reprieve when immigration minister Peter Dutton granted her a bridging visa, under which she was released from detention and allowed to return to live with her husband and his family in Brisbane.

“I get goosebumps still. When they opened the door and they said, you’re free to go … it was like a miracle.” – Mojgan Shamsalipoor, asylum-seeker

“She wanted to surprise me. I could have died by this news!” – Milad Jafari, husband

But Mojgan’s future remains uncertain, with her temporary visa due to expire this month.

“While we welcome the decision … the minister has not gone far enough to grant her certainty over her future in Australia. Mojgan is still effectively in limbo”. – Kevin Kadirgamar, solicitor

“It’s not the end of the journey because she’s still not free. She’s living in our community, but it’s on borrowed time.” – Jessica Walker, teacher and deputy principal

Mojgan came to Australia in 2012, aged 17, after fleeing terrible abuse and trauma in Iran and undertaking a risky sea voyage to Christmas Island. She was temporarily allowed to live in the community while her application for a protection visa was assessed.

At a youth camp she met and fell in love with another young Iranian, refugee Milad Jafari, and with his help she was accepted as a student at Yeronga State High School in Brisbane.

With support from teachers and students, she regained her self-confidence and became a very popular member of the community. Despite her apparent good fortune, Australia’s Refugee Tribunal decided in 2015 that her case for asylum was not legitimate, so Mojgan was returned to detention and faced likely deportation.

The Yeronga school community continued to campaign tirelessly for Mojgan to be accepted as a refugee and her former teachers kept her education on track while she was in detention. After her release on the bridging visa last September, the school organized a delayed Year 12 school graduation ceremony for her.

Now, Mojgan has returned to her studies while she, Milad and their supporters await the immigration minister’s next decision on her future.


###My Mother’s Secret - Nikki Gemmell

Monday 20 March at 8pm

One morning in October 2015, two policemen knocked on the door of writer and columnist Nikki Gemmell. They were there to inform her that her mother Elayn had been found dead in her apartment. An apparent suicide. Did she know of her mother’s plans? Had she inadvertently contributed to her death in some way?

Blind-sided by shock and guilt, Nikki was left not only devastated but desperately searching for answers. Alarmed, too, that she was suddenly part of a police investigation.

A vibrant and independent woman, Elayn had been suffering from chronic pain after a failed foot operation and had subsequently become addicted to painkillers.

With four children and a busy career, Nikki had struggled to also deal with her mother’s increasing dependence.

“Too often in my life and in a lot of people my age, the older people are squeezed to the edge of our lives.” – Nikki Gemmell

Nikki penned a column, asking her readers if her mother had ‘euthanised’ herself as an act of despair or empowerment. The feedback was overwhelming. She had touched a nerve amongst her readers eager to share their own stories or the stories of loved ones struggling with impending death.

One of those who responded was euthanasia campaigner Philip Nitschke, who declared it an act of empowerment. She contacted Nitschke only to find out that Elayn had been a member of his organization Exit International for seven years, had been reading his Peaceful Pills Handbook.

Like a detective, Nikki began to piece together her mother’s secret life and retrace her descent into the frailty and desperation that precipitated this final act. Why did she do this? Who had she told of her plans, if not her family? How had she fed her opioid addiction?

Through the process, she began to see her mother as a person rather than just a parent, reconciling their often difficult and tempestuous relationship.

“Mum was the love of my life and the hate of my life. I was constantly running away from Mum’s world and the environment that I grew up in where I always felt different.” – Nikki Gemmell

Recognising that her mother had been forced to die a lonely death to protect her loved ones, Nikki dived down the rabbit hole of the euthanasia debate.

In the process, Nikki has been reconfigured not only as a person but as an advocate for change.


###All For the Family – Tyler Wright

Monday 27 March at 8pm

Reigning world surfing champion Tyler Wright was overcome with emotion watching her older brother Owen make his comeback to professional surfing on the Gold Coast last weekend.

“I think I cried for about 15 minutes after it was done. But yeah, big moment. A year can change a lot.” – Tyler Wright

Fifteen months earlier, at just 21, Tyler became her brother’s primary carer after he suffered a serious brain injury while surfing at the treacherous Pipeline in Hawaii.

“You could tell in his eyes. My brother never looks panicked. He’s always been very calm and collected under most situations. In his eyes, his eyes, it was the scariest thing I’ve ever seen.” – Tyler Wright

Now, Owen Wright has made a miraculous return to the World Surfing League Championship Tour, taking out the first event of the year, the Quiksilver Pro, at Queensland’s Snapper Rocks last Sunday.

This same time last year, he was struggling to get to his feet and walk around. Tyler had considered pulling out of the 2016 season to look after him.

“She just totally forgot about herself. Unselfishly, she was just, ‘I’m here for Owen, and that’s it.’ " – Mick Fanning, three-time surfing world champion

But Tyler knew her brother wouldn’t want her to give up her dreams of winning a maiden World Title, something she had publicly declared she wanted only two months before her brother’s accident.

“With those two, it’s like a see-saw, and they just keep helping each other, whoever needs it at any one point in time.” – Brooke Farris, Rip Curl Girls Team Manager.

In this episode of Australian Story, the Wright family speaks candidly about Tyler’s emotional journey to the top. The program also features interviews with world champion surfers Layne Beachley, Mick Fanning and Stephanie Gilmore.


###Channelling Mr Woo

Monday 1 May at 8pm

According to OECD international testing, Australian students are lagging seriously behind their peers in other developed countries when it comes to mathematics.

But one man is determined to change all that.

Arguably the most famous maths teacher in Australia, Eddie Woo has become an internet sensation.

He set up his freely accessible website “Wootube” to help a student who had cancer. But as Mr Woo quickly found, all of his other pupils wanted a piece of it too.

“Wootube” now has more than 38,000 subscribers, and has attracted more than 3.7 million views worldwide.

“I did some rough back of the envelope calculations, as a maths teacher would, and if you add it up, that’s eleven million minutes of people sitting there watching me run around in front of my whiteboard explaining concepts to my classes, which is just mind-boggling!” – Eddie Woo, co-head Mathematics, Cherrybrook Technology High School.

From Cherrybrook in Sydney to Cobar in western New South Wales and beyond, Eddie Woo personifies the term “the power of one".

“He sucked me in. I don’t wanna say it, but he sucked me into maths.” - Emily Shakespear, Cherrybrook Technology High School student

“It’s difficult to understand how someone in Sydney can influence thousands of people across the whole country.” – Owen Potter, Cobar High School student

“Here’s innovation within teaching.” - David Gonski, businessman, and author of the Gonski report into education reform.

But Eddie Woo wasn’t always going to be a teacher, let alone a maths teacher. He didn’t even like maths at school.

“The subjects I chose (at school) were heavily weighted in the humanities, which is somewhat unusual for a Southeast Asian migrant growing up in Australia.” – Eddie Woo

Eddie Woo’s parents migrated to Australia in the 1970s. They had high expectations for their youngest child, a student at NSW’s top selective school James Ruse Agricultural High School.

“My mum expected my brother to study something quite typical of Asian families, something like law.” - Kylie Woo, Eddie’s sister

“For Eddie to pursue teaching rather than … law or medicine, which he potentially could have done, was kind of like a slap in the face (to his parents).” - Michelle Woo, Eddie’s wife

“Certainly Eddie could’ve done any of those things (like medicine, or law), and earnt a lot of money, but he chose to become a teacher.” Lisle Brown, Eddie’s mentor and former teacher

“Eddie stuck to his guns. He felt this need to pay back to society.” - Kevin Woo, Eddie’s brother

Eddie Woo’s determination to help students was partially born out of racism and bullying he experienced as one of only a few children of Asian background in his suburban Sydney primary school in the early 90s.

“There are definitely parts of my upbringing and the difficulties that I had at school that make me want to take those students who I can see are having difficulty… (and help them) come out of that experience.” - Eddie Woo

A recently released report from the OECD Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), which tests 15-year-old students, revealed that Australia ranked only 25th of 72 participating countries in mathematics, with Australian students some 28 months behind their peers in top-ranked Singapore.

With a chronic shortage of maths teachers to address the problem, the nation is at risk of slipping even further.

But Eddie Woo’s one-man mission to turn mathematics’ poor image around via the internet has gone viral and attracted strong supporters.

“There is no doubt that Eddie is conquering any fears of mathematics, making it something that we can all aspire to, and allowing it to be the brain matter, the fodder for the future.” - David Gonski.

“We’d love to clone Eddie.” - Gary Johnson, Principal at Cherrybrook Technology High School


###Splendour in the Grass

Monday 8 May at 8pm

In 2012 Australian Story featured one of its most popular rural programs – an epic story of droughts and flooding rains, and a young pastoralist’s dream to restore his beloved land north-east of Perth back to nature after a century of over-use for predominantly sheep farming.

David Pollock’s radical project to remove income-earning livestock from his historic property, Wooleen, shocked his neighbours. And it might have failed, but for the unexpected arrival of a young woman on a gap year from Melbourne.

Together, they concentrated on creating a tourist ecology haven and finding a non-destructive way to run cattle.

Five years on, Frances Jones and David Pollock now showcase their remarkable efforts. The grass on the semi-arid mulga country, traversed by the Murchison River, is now greener and the river gums are growing for the first time in a century.

“You only have to see a few little plants coming up and you think well, why aren’t they growing everywhere? And you look back to the early explorer’s records and they were everywhere. And they could be again.” – David Pollock

The Wooleen country made a stunning setting for family and friends who came to celebrate their wedding last month.

However, some of the couple’s regeneration methods are not without controversy. Their latest strategy risks pitting the newlyweds against their neighbours and ostracising them from the community where David grew up.

Across Australia, pastoralists view dingoes and wild dogs as a savage pest that destroys their livelihood.

But David Pollock and Frances Jones claim that the native or hybrid canines can be used to control explosions of kangaroo and non-native animals, such as goats, that are decimating their efforts to recover land degraded after so many decades of overstocking.

“He’s excluded everything else but his one tunnel view. Something needs to be done to pacify his neighbours.” – Sandy McTaggart, neighbour and ‘dogger’

“Maybe there’s people that won’t talk to us again. We’re prepared to stand up for what we believe in.” – Frances Jones

Legally, they are obligated to ‘control the dogs’.

But the couple say they are committed to doing whatever it takes to return the landscape to its former glory, even if it means defying the law by not discouraging dingoes on their property.

“It is a pretty serious stand. And he risks being taken to court for his actions. But he’s obviously prepared to risk that.” – Greg Brennan, WA Dept of Agriculture, 1993-2015

For David Pollock and Frances Jones, it’s all about creating an environmentally and economically sustainable environment.

“What we’re doing is for future generations.” – David Pollock


###Luke Davies: Candy Man

Monday 15 May and 22 May at 8pm

This exclusive two-part Australian Story explores the extraordinary life of Luke Davies – poet, novelist and Oscar-nominated screenwriter of the hit movie Lion.

“Writers are the unsung heroes of movies. People like Luke lay the foundations for a great movie and it’s nice to bring people like Luke out from behind the curtain”. - Joel Edgerton, actor and friend

“They talk about Candy as the movie and all that. But I’ll quite often talk about Candy as Luke’s life”. - Justin Doughty, childhood friend

“A junkie is not just a nice person going through a rough trot. I was an arsehole. I was a bad person”. - Luke Davies

“If ever there was a redemption story, I think it’s probably Luke”. - Jacki Weaver, actor and friend

When Luke Davies was nominated for an Oscar earlier this year he asked his mother to accompany him to the awards. “I put her through long periods of betrayal and anxiety and pain – pure pain,” he told Australian Story. “The ability to say, ‘Mum, I want you to be my plus one at the Oscars,’ that felt pretty special.”

Part one of Luke Davies: Candy Man delves back into Luke’s past, exploring his idyllic childhood on Sydney’s North Shore, his terrible decline into heroin addiction and the toll that it took on him and those around him.

As a young child, Luke was obsessed with books and by his teens had decided to become a writer. But he had also developed a misguided romantic fascination with drugs that, by his early twenties, became an obsession.

By the time he fell in love with artist Megan Bannister he was addicted to heroin and before long she was too. “We were like flamboyant train wrecks heading towards becoming desiccated street junkies,” Luke says. “God, the damage and the mayhem that we caused.”

The pair succumbed to a near decade of heroin addiction, a terrible chapter in their lives that Luke would one day immortalise in the novel, and later film, Candy.

Megan - the real Candy - gives her account of those years for the first time on camera. Luke’s parents also speak for the first time about their anguish as they watched their son’s decline and dealt with acts of deceit and betrayal.

Part one ends as Luke makes the most important decision of his life – to enter detox and turn his back on heroin once and for all.

It was a decision that not only saved his life but allowed his long-suppressed literary ambitions to blossom. He published collections of poetry, wrote a best-selling novel in Candy and co-wrote the movie adaptation of that book.

Part two tells the story of those successes, his move to Los Angeles a decade ago, his struggle to establish himself there and his increasingly desperate battle with hepatitis C, a legacy of his years of addiction.

It also reveals the dramatic change of fortune Luke experienced in the past two years as he wrote the script for Lion and received a miraculous new treatment that cured him of hepatitis C.

Luke Davies: Candy Man features candid interviews with Luke’s parents and former partners as well as friends and collaborators, including actors Dev Patel (Lion), Joel Edgerton, Jacki Weaver and Alex O’Loughlin, Candy director Neil Armfield, Candy and Lion producer Emile Sherman and director David Michod.

Together they tell a remarkable story of redemption; of a man whose vision of the world and his own place in it is suffused with poetry but who achieved success only after emerging from the depths of addiction and despair.



Monday 29 May at 8pm

Dr Rolf Gomes is a cardiologist with a big heart. With country people dying at a rate far greater than their city cousins, Dr Gomes pioneered a mobile cardio clinic that is blazing a trail across the outback. Now, thanks to a mystery million-dollar benefactor, he’s thrown off the constraints of bureaucracy and is about to build another ‘Heart Bus’ to tackle more towns … and save more lives.

We know lots of people even in our town that have been helped by, as they call it, the ‘Heart Bus’.- Dr Desley Marshall, rural GP and Royal Flying Doctor Service board member

When Rolf was knocked back from the government, it was basically just a kick in the guts really. Rejection for some people is debilitating [but] for Rolf it has the opposite effect. - Kylie Gomes, wife

It’s funny, you never really know what’s around the corner … and like the phoenix we’ve risen from the ashes. - Dr Rolf Gomes

Australian Story first followed the story of Dr Rolf Gomes’ ‘Heart Bus’ in July last year as it travelled from town to town, meeting and treating outback patients who might otherwise have gone undiagnosed.

If you live in the bush and suffer from ‘the silent killer’ of heart disease, you are 44% more likely to die than you would if you lived in the city.

Dr Gomes, an engineer-turned-cardiologist, came up with the idea of a cardiac-clinic-on-wheels after witnessing the shortfalls of rural medicine as a young resident on a country rotation.

“You can’t look at a situation like that and say the way to address that is to maintain the status quo, because whatever already exists, clearly we need to be doing more,” Dr Gomes said.

As a child, he’d lost a young brother due to inadequate medical care back in his hometown of Calcutta, India, and the disparity between the life expectancies of first-world city and country cousins struck him as unfair and unnecessary.

As a cardiologist Dr Gomes had identified the problem. But it was as an engineer he sought to solve it, designing and overseeing the construction of a semi-trailer that could replicate his city clinic out west.

Rural patients embraced the ‘Heart Bus’ wholeheartedly and Dr Gomes had plans for expansion.

But his ‘vision to revolutionise’ rural medicine was threatened when the Queensland government rejected his request to partner with him to extend the service.

As Australian Story now discovers, rather than retreat Dr Gomes fought back and has recently attracted a generous benefactor who wishes to remain anonymous.

“Not every day does someone offer you a million dollars to build your dream,” he said.

Now Dr Gomes has surprising news to share about delivering wider medical specialities to a greater geographic region, benefiting more people with more diseases in more places.


###Murder by the Sea: The Lynette White Story

Monday 5 June at 8pm

The unsolved murder of beautiful young Sydney mother Lynette White has baffled Sydney detectives for more than 40 years.

But since the case was reopened two years ago and new evidence has emerged, a breakthrough may loom tantalisingly close. Australian Story was granted rare access to this ongoing investigation.

"The case is open and very much active,” says Detective Chief Inspector Chris Olen, co-ordinator of the Unsolved Homicide Unit. “Cold cases are very, very difficult to solve [and] there’s a great responsibility and burden on the investigators because the hopes of the families ride on us.”

Lynette’s husband Paul discovered her lifeless body 43 years ago when he returned home from work. Her throat was slashed and she’d been stabbed multiple times. The couple’s 11-week-old baby was unharmed in the cot beside her.

“It was a frenzied attack,” says Detective Senior Constable Deon Kelly, who is leading the investigation. “They needed to leave nothing to chance that she was dead.”

There was a series of unsolved rapes in Sydney’s eastern suburbs in the early ‘70s and a climate of fear was building. When the body of a second young woman, Maria Smith, was found in similar circumstances a few months after Lynette’s murder, women battened down the hatches.

“I was going crazy, I’m sure,” recalls a friend of Lynette’s, Lyn Louis. “Police told me to have a can of pepper spray inside the front door.”

Paul White lobbied police tirelessly to reinvestigate his wife’s murder but it wasn’t until he joined forces with an old mate, former ABC journalist Bob Wurth, that his efforts began to bear fruit.

“There were a lot of people who should have interviewed during the first investigation,” says Bob Wurth. “There were mistakes made. One of the appalling mistakes [of the 1973 investigation] was that a lot of the evidence was lost in police storage. Deon Kelly, the new detective on the case, is really starting to uncover things.”

New evidence suggests Lynette may have known her killer and may have willingly opened the door on that fatal day. New eyewitness reports indicate there were other people of interest close by. And a breakthrough late last year discovered DNA in the room where Lynette died – information that may ultimately lead to the killer.

‘You think, well, is it somebody I know?” says Paul White. “To know who that person is would give me a lot of joy and closure. I’d go to my grave a happy man.”

“I think the urgency to find out who killed Lyn is as great now as it was when it happened,” says Detective Senior Constable Deon Kelly. “It’s by no means too late to come forward.”

The Murder by the Sea program includes exclusive access to some of the research of Parramatta detectives and to friends and family who are speaking for the first time in the hope that people will come forward to assist the investigation.


###I Am Sam

Monday 12 June at 8pm

Seven years ago, a series of strokes left Sam Goddard completely incapacitated and unable to speak. He was just 23. But Sam and his family don’t take no for an answer and they searched the world seeking a ‘miracle cure’. When, against medical advice, they gave him the controversial sleeping tablet Stilnox, no one could have predicted the remarkable results.

I am not a risk taker. But for Sam, yes, I am prepared to take risks. Thank God I did it and thank God as a family we did it together. Leslie Goddard, mother

It’s a miracle. For 15 months I was trapped in my body. I could not communicate at all and now I can. Sam Goddard

Sam’s story went around the world very quickly. The reaction was stunning. John Goddard, father

Australian Story first followed the story of Sam Goddard six years ago, when his family and fiancée Sally Nielsen had just started experimenting with the controversial sleeping tablet Stilnox.

Our cameras documented the extraordinary results: Within 15 minutes of the drug being administered, Sam went from communicating via groans to talking lucidly and clearly.

“I have been blank. I have been in a dark place,” Sam said. “I’m talking, I’m talking, I’m talking.”

But the drug worked only for an hour. As the effect wore off, Sam’s speech deteriorated and he retreated back into his dark place.

“It’s very difficult to comprehend the fact that I can talk now and in an hour or so I won’t be able to talk at all. It sucks,” Sam said.

“It would be like being in a prison that he couldn’t make noise from, couldn’t move from. I think for him it would be torture,” his brother Josh Goddard said.

I Am Sam continues the story of Sam Goddard and his family’s ongoing efforts to help Sam recover his powers of speech and movement.

They have been trailblazers, travelling overseas for off-label treatments not approved in Australia and even experimenting with illicit drugs.

“There’ve been some hills to climb and falls down the other side,” his father John said.

“Yes, there have been ups and downs but I still wouldn’t have missed any of it.”

And along the way there has been heartbreak.

He and his former fiancée Sally Nielsen are now ‘best friends’.

“The situation that we have just meant we couldn’t be together,” Sally said.

“We still love each other incredibly and I think that will always be there.”

Sam’s brother Josh has now stepped up as Sam’s main carer as Sam faces a new battle.

“I’ll swear and carry on like a pork chop and I’ll make him smile and I want him to feel as much joy as he can for the time that he has,” Josh said.

I Am Sam is a life-affirming account of a family’s love and determination in the most devastating circumstances.


###Sins of the Father

Monday 19 June at 8pm

“I have never seen Vinnie anything other than nauseatingly positive. Knowing now what I know of his past, he could have gone a very different way.” - Renee Dowling, former Wellbeing Co-ordinator at The Grange P-12 College

“We didn’t want a traditional lawyer – that would have been a disaster.” - Denis Nelthorpe, community lawyer

“People shouldn’t be scared or ashamed to talk about family violence. It should no longer be this taboo topic that you don’t talk about.” - Vincent Shin

At 31, Vincent Shin is Australia’s first dedicated in-school lawyer, providing students at The Grange P-12 College with advice on everything from fines for fare evasion to the legalities of sexting and how to deal with domestic violence.

Those behind the pioneering scheme were looking for someone who could relate to some of the challenges faced by the school’s 1700 students, who come mainly from low socio-economic backgrounds.

In Vincent they found what they were looking for. An amateur boxer and motorcycle enthusiast, his childhood and adolescence were blighted by family violence. He mixed with the wrong crowd and failed year 12. He has not travelled an easy path to get to where he is today.

Two years after leaving high school he decided to turn his life around. He enrolled in TAFE and studied legal practice as part of a business diploma. He was rejected by multiple law schools before finally being accepted into Victoria University.

On graduating he worked in family law and his new role as in-school lawyer also provides an opportunity to help children deal with the sorts of experiences he and his family went through at the hands of his father.

For the first time Vincent Shin reveals a recently discovered family secret that shook him to the core.

Two years ago he received a letter from his father, who had not seen since he walked out of the family’s life when Vincent was in year 12. His father said he was in prison. When Vincent investigated, he discovered his father had stabbed a man in front of the man’s children. Vincent couldn’t help but think how easily he and his sister could have been those children.

For Vincent Shin, speaking openly about his past is a way to heal.


###The Peacemaker

Monday 3 July, 8pm

He’s lived through very difficult times but his life is about social justice. And peace for everyone really. Linda Burney, Federal Labor Member of Parliament

He had that capacity to have politicians come to the table. He had that capacity to sit them down and they’d listen. Michael Anderson, Aboriginal Embassy founder and friend.

We were hoping to achieve the freedom of our people in Australia.

Pastor Ossie Cruse

Pastor Ossie Cruse has been a driving force of the Aboriginal rights movement on the world stage yet some of his most influential work is happening right now in his hometown of Eden, on the south coast of NSW.

At 83, Ossie Cruse, or ‘Uncle Ossie’ as he is more commonly known, is seeing a long-held dream come to fruition – the re-establishment of an ancient Aboriginal pathway that was lost for hundreds of years. Known as the Bundian Way, it stretches for about 360 kilometres from the heights of the Snowy Mountains to the coast at Eden.

“It was here that Aboriginal people first handed out the hand of friendship to non-Aboriginal people and said come, we’ll show you the safest way up to the high country,” Uncle Ossie Cruse says.

He describes it as a shared pathway and a place that will bring divided cultures together in reconciliation – something Uncle Ossie Cruse has been fighting for his whole life.

With only a primary school education and having lived as an itinerant worker for years, Ossie Cruse stepped into the world of politics after the 1967 referendum, which saw Indigenous Australians counted in the census for the first time.

“We needed leadership and people like Ossie Cruse stood up and paved the way for many of us young ones,” says Michael Anderson, founder of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy.

While many Aboriginal activists took to the streets in protest, Ossie Cruse worked behind the scenes, a quiet but persistent negotiator, gently persuading politicians to recognise the cause of his people.

Decades on, Uncle Ossie Cruse continues to fight for his people, attending the landmark Constitutional Convention at Uluru in May.


###Long Way From Home – Rosie Ayliffe

Monday 10 and 17 July at 8pm

I now understand that there’s a dark side to the backpacker culture; that people can find themselves at risk just like my daughter did. Rosie Ayliffe, mother of Mia Ayliffe-Chung

Rosie wants a change in the system. She wants to protect these people. She doesn’t want Mia’s death to be futile. Stewart Cormack, Rosie’s partner

Rosie’s been a friend of mine for a long time. She’s seeking to ensure this type of thing doesn’t happen to some other mother’s daughter. Billy Bragg, friend

When Mia Ayliffe-Chung was murdered at a backpacker hostel in August last year it made headlines around the world.

The 20-year-old childcare graduate had set off from her home in Derbyshire the year before to travel the world. It was a long-held dream cut tragically short. After a stint working in a bar in Surfers Paradise, Mia decided to extend her 417 visa for a second year. But to get that extension she was required to do farm work for 88 days.

She travelled to Home Hill, 100 kilometres south of Townsville, checking into a local hostel. A week later she was dead.

French national Smail Ayad, who shared a dorm with Mia, is alleged to have attacked her in a stabbing frenzy before fatally attacking the man who came to her rescue, fellow Briton Tom Jackson.

When British police knocked on Rosie’s door that night with news of her daughter’s death she was inconsolable.

“Losing a child in any circumstances is difficult,” says Rosie’s partner, Stewart Cormack, “but when it is your only child and you’re a single parent, it’s your entire world that’s gone.”

After a trip to Australia to bury her daughter, Rosie returned to the UK where she struggled to come to terms with Mia’s death. Although she felt unable to return to her teaching position in a local school she quickly found another purpose.

She had been hearing stories from distraught backpackers of exploitation and abuse under the 88-day farm work scheme and began to campaign for reform. She wrote articles and letters and reached out to politicians, including the Australian Prime Minister, seeking greater government oversight of a system that she says is broken.

“I want to see reform of the system,” Rosie says. “I want to see regulation of the 88 days. I want a central body which distributes backpackers among farms that are certified.”

“If she’s successful there’ll be less people going through what we’ve gone through and Rosie herself has gone through,” says Tom Jackson’s father, Les.

Galvanised by this cause, Rosie recently returned to Australia to find out more about the 88-day farm work scheme and lobby for change. Australian Story accompanied her on this journey.

During the trip she also made an emotional visit to the place where Mia died and recorded her thoughts. Extracts of this raw and powerful recording feature in part two of the story.


###Long Way From Home (Part Two)

Monday 17 July at 8pm


Playing With Fire

Monday 31 July at 8pm

Bill Shorten ripped me a new one. Senator Sam Dastyari

You can’t just think that you live in a business without consequences. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten

Labor Senator Sam Dastyari speaks exclusively to Australian Story to confront head-on the political donations scandal that cost him his seat on the Opposition frontbench last year.

Senator Dastyari was a rising star in the corridors of Parliament House, and on social media, until it was revealed he’d allowed a business with links to the Chinese government to pay a travel bill for his office.

When a day later it was revealed that he had contradicted ALP policy on the South China Sea, at a press conference he had given alongside a major Chinese donor, his career imploded.

The outcome of that press conference was because of my own actions and my own mistake and I resigned to take responsibility and pay the price. Senator Sam Dastyari

This Australian Story features interviews with Sam Dastyari, his family and politicians on all sides.

It traces the colourful 34-year-old’s life from his arrival in Australia as a four-year-old, after fleeing the religious regime in Iran with his sister and parents – and returns with him to Iran to visit the home he grew up in.

The gifted student joined the ALP at just 16, wheeling and dealing his way through the Party and enjoying a meteoric rise to the Shadow Ministry.

In this Australian Story, Sam Dastyari answers the lingering questions about his conduct.

“I wasn’t just part of the (fundraising) arms race. I was one of the weapon suppliers in this arms race,” he says.

The question is, having been a party man since the age of 16, can Sam Dastyari be trusted to change his ways?



Monday 7 August at 8pm

“I was surprised to wake up in the ER because you know to me, you jump off that bridge and you’re dead, that’s the only outcome I had conceived as possible.” Donna Thistlethwaite.

“They told us what Donna had done I thought, Matthew’s not going to have a mother. It was the first thing that went through my head.” Diane Purchase, mother-in-law

“You’d think with that many people in your life, someone would have picked up something but no.” Myee Kuss, sister

On a Sunday afternoon in 2012, Donna Thistlethwaite told her partner she was going out to buy groceries. Instead she drove to Brisbane’s Story Bridge and tried to end her life by jumping 40 metres into the wintery waters of the Brisbane River below.

Her attempt seemed to come out-of-the-blue. It shocked family and friends and perplexed her former therapist. Even Donna herself struggled to understand her actions.

This was a popular, positive-thinking, successful career woman with a loving partner and a young son. She had no history of the mental illnesses that are commonly associated with risk of suicide.

Her world unravelled in about 10 days.

“This is about the doubts that we all carry and how sometimes they can spiral and we can end up in a place where we can make very poor decisions.” Dr George Blair-West, psychiatrist

Donna was lucky enough to get a second chance at life, thanks to a confluence of ‘miracles’ that helped her survive.

This Australian Story features interviews with the paramedic and ferrymen who rescued her.

“To survive that fall, you need to be very lucky with the fall itself and then also have rescuers there immediately to pick you up.” Dr Steve Rashford, Queensland Ambulance Services

“She was face down in the water and she was going down. I grabbed her and pulled her up. I was actually a little shocked because I expected her to be dead.” Stuss Read, former deckhand

Donna has spent the five years since her attempt putting in place a plan to ensure she stays safe.

Originally, she told very few people of her attempt but has since discovered the healing power of sharing her story publicly.

In conjunction with suicide prevention organisations, Australian Story tells a cautionary tale which shows that, with the right set of circumstances and the wrong kind of thinking, suicidal thoughts can happen to just about anyone.

By sharing her story, Donna hopes that anyone feeling suicidal will see that life can be ‘great’ again.

“The value of Donna’s story is that it’s a story of living and hope. She has been there and she knows that things can get better, you can get through it.” Alan Woodward, Lifeline

Suicide prevention barriers have now been installed on the bridge.



Monday 14 August at 8pm

“The fashion high end did not take us seriously at all. They just thought, no we’re not going to use curvy girls.” Robyn Lawley, model

“Advertisers, retailers and designers have been reinforcing this idea of beauty. It’s not working. Diversity is beautiful.” Chelsea Bonner, model agent.

“Chelsea had a vision and Robyn came along and that was the vision being able to take off.” Jennifer Lawley, Robyn Lawley’s sister.

Supermodel Robyn Lawley and her agent Chelsea Bonner live on opposite sides of the world but they’re united in their mission: to change the way women are represented in the fashion industry.

As teenagers, both were rejected by mainstream model agencies for being too curvy.

Robyn Lawley, who’s six-foot-one and a size 14, had almost given up on her dreams of modelling when she crossed paths with agent Chelsea Bonner, who’d been looking for “the one” to break through the fashion media’s ‘skinny’ obsession.

Nearly a decade later, the two have blazed a trail for curvier models through the international halls of high fashion, with Lawley becoming the first plus-size model to feature on the covers of Italian Vogue, and French Elle, and land a contract with a top-end label Ralph Lauren.

This update of our popular profile on Chelsea Bonner charts Robyn Lawley’s success in New York where she has become a high-profile advocate for promoting realistic images of women, including her own stretchmarks.

“I got called a pig and hefty. That’s fine because I love my body.” Robyn Lawley to talk show host Ellen DeGeneres

In parallel stories, both women share the adolescent battles with body image that shaped them.

“They’ve both got this drive to succeed and they’ve both got a chip on their shoulder. They both want to do this because they’ve both had so much rejection.” Jennifer Lawley, Robyn’s sister

Now based in New York, Robyn Lawley is shifting her focus to behind the camera to show that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes.



Monday 21 August at 8pm

Australian Federal Police Commander Grant Edwards is a mountain of a man. He was once Australia’s strongest, pulling locomotives, planes and semi-trailers with pure brute strength.

So imagine his surprise to find himself sitting under a tree one day, unable to stop crying.

“I was a strong guy physically, I thought I was a strong guy mentally. It was probably the greatest wakeup in my life when I realised that I wasn’t.” Grant Edwards

Grant has been at the coalface of the AFP’s most disturbing work. In the early days of the internet, he headed up a team investigating child exploitation.

“I can still describe many of those images because they burn into your brain and you just can’t get rid of them, they’re there forever. I just can’t explain the amount of anxiety that builds up and the anger.” Grant Edwards

As one of those charged with protecting society, he’d always been taught to harden up, close those boxes in the mind and move on.

After a highly charged year training police in Afghanistan, things began to unravel.

“I think his façade fell apart and all of that strength just left him. I think every box he had managed to close opened and he was just hit with everything.” Kate Edwards, Grant’s wife

Grant’s doctor was the first to suggest he might have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He refused treatment, knowing only too well that admitting to a mental health issue was a career killer.

“You didn’t talk about your vulnerabilities because that was seen as a sign of you weren’t doing your job or you weren’t strong enough or cut out to be a police officer.” AFP Commissioner Andrew Colvin

It took a breakdown for Grant to understand he was injured in ways not seen by the naked eye. After the suicide of an AFP colleague, he decided to go public with his own struggles, becoming a lightning rod for change inside the AFP. Now Commander of the Americas, Grant is on a mission to remove the stigma of mental health not just in policing, but society wide.