Australian Story

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#81

Cracking Up

Monday 28 August at 8pm

Rescheduled to Monday 4 September

Comedian Sami Shah and his wife, psychologist Ishma Alvi, left Pakistan in 2012 in search of a life of freedom for their young daughter Anya.

But when the family were obliged to move to the small West Australian town of Northam to fulfil their visa requirement, their dreams of an idyllic life were turned upside down.

Sami was jobless and Ishma was working in a detention centre, coming face to face with Pakistani refugees every day.

“It was just a stroke of luck, luck of birth, that they were sitting in the chair across from me and not the other way around,” says Ishma.

During their difficult three years in Northam, Sami’s comedy career took off. He made a name for himself poking fun at his adopted town at the biggest international comedy festivals in Australia.

“People have called him acerbic and subversive and I think all those things are true about him,” says BBC Radio presenter Jon Holmes.

Sami and Ishma’s long-awaited move to Melbourne in 2015 was bittersweet: they gained Australian citizenship but their relationship had reached breaking point.

By the time we ended up actually getting here, just the tension between us, just the relationship between us, I think it had taken too many blows,” explains Sami.

As they create new lives in Melbourne, Sami and Ishma are fighting to keep their shared dream alive in ways that might seem unconventional to others. The pair still live together even though they’ve separated.

“Through it all, they both had the same goal in mind,” says their mutual friend Mic Brooke, “and that was a better life for them and for Anya.”


#82

The Minister’s Secret – Encore

Monday 28 August at 8pm

The Minister’s Secret – Encore edition, introduced by Rosie Batty

Australian Story revisits the story of Victorian Minister Fiona Richardson following her recent death from cancer. She was 50 years old.

Fiona Richardson was Australia’s first Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence, appointed by Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews in 2014.

At the time, Premier Andrews had no idea about Ms Richardson’s family history of traumatic domestic violence, inflicted by an abusive father.

“I have no memories before the age of eight that do not involve violence.” – Fiona Richardson

Last year, Ms Richardson revealed, for the first time, her long-held secret on Australian Story.

The program follows the family back to Tanzania, where they explore locations from their past to try to understand enduring scars.

Ms Richardson’s new portfolio prompted her brothers, Alastair and Hamish, and her to start talking with each other about their childhood, leading to the trip with their mother, Veronica Power.

“The domestic violence was so bad that anything that comes on top of that will be a nothing. And people need to know, because we survived it, we did.” – Veronica Power.

“Now we’re talking about stuff that actually had an impact on us, so that’s a positive. The downside of it all is that we’re airing our linen in public for the whole world to see and, yeah, that’s not a comfortable place to be.” – Hamish Richardson.

During her time in government, Fiona Richardson oversaw the Royal Commission into Domestic Violence, and used her personal experience to raise awareness of domestic violence and implement changes in policy.

NOTE: The previously scheduled episode on comedian Sami Shah will now be broadcast on Monday, 4 September, 2017.


#83

BEYOND OK

Monday 4 September at8pm

As R U OK? Day approaches for another year, Australian Story revisits the family of Gavin Larkin, the man behind the successful national day of action to prevent suicide.

Gavin was a high-flying advertising executive when he set up the R U OK? movement as a legacy to his father who took his own life in 1996.

But just a few months after the launch of R U OK? Day in 2009, Gavin himself was anything but okay.

The then 41-year-old was diagnosed with Stage 4 Lymphoma and given a 50 percent chance of survival.

Just a few weeks later, his then 11-year-old son Gus was told that he had an inoperable brain tumour.

Despite his and his son’s ill health, Australian Story filmed Gavin as he continued to lead the R U OK? movement from his hospital bed, inspiring everyone around him with his attitude and unparalleled fighting spirit.

“We could easily be completely justified in being, pissed off, frustrated, despondent, except it doesn’t help you on the journey,” Gavin told Australian Story, “and if the journey’s all you’ve got, you wanna make it a good one.”

Days after marking the third day of action in September 2011, Gavin died. His son Gus passed away two years later.

There’s no doubt it’s been extraordinarily difficult for his family but six years after Gavin’s death, his wife Maryanne says she and her children, Josie and Van, have accepted their loss.

“I think outsiders look at it and think, “My god, if that happened to me, how would I get up every day?” I do have feelings like that some days that it is so hard, but we’ve been able to cope, and I would say cope pretty well actually,” Maryanne says.

The ongoing success of R U OK? has also sustained the family through their grief.

“This is the house that lives and breathes R U OK?,” daughter Josie says, “and it’s incredible to see the community that R U OK? built around us.”

“I think Dad would think that R U OK? Day now is just incredible.”

The ninth R U OK? Day will be held on September 14.


#84

Has the ABC forgotten the postponed episode Cracking Up featuring Sami Shah?


#85

A GENTLE MAN

Monday 16 October at 8pm

Australian Story goes behind-the-scenes with boxing’s Mr Nice Guy Jeff Horn and his meteoric rise from bullied teen to world champion.

The unknown teacher shot to international fame in July when he beat Manny Pacquiao, an 11-times world champion with $500 million in earnings to his name.

It was an unexpected takedown from an unlikely opponent.

In a brutal, bloody sport, Jeff Horn is a polite, gentle man who loves nothing more than playing board games with friends or honing his magic tricks on nieces and nephews.

“I honestly think there’s not a violent bone in his body,” says his biographer, Grantlee Kieza. “He says that he doesn’t want to hurt people.”

Jeff, 29, learned to box in his first year out of school. His soft nature had made him the target of bullies and he wanted to learn basic self-defence to protect himself and his high school sweetheart – now wife – Jo, when they were out on the town.

His natural sporting ability and a strong competitive streak were noticed by boxing trainer Glenn Rushton, a martial arts master described as a cross between Chuck Norris and Anthony Robbins.

When Jeff had only 17 professional fights under his belt, Rushton believed the former PE teacher was ready to take on Pacquiao.

“Everyone wants to fight Manny Pacquiao,” Rushton says. “It’s their dream fight, which for most people it turns into a nightmare.”

Few people thought Jeff was up to the challenge and even Jeff admits he had his doubts.

“I would lay down in bed at night just about to go to sleep and see him punching me,” Jeff says. “And I’d be like, ‘no, no, no, no! I can’t think about losing and getting flogged in there.”

In a stadium in front of 50,000 Brisbane spectators and a huge worldwide television audience, Horn put his reputation and physical safety on the line and gave it his all.

“He was just getting punched in his head and I haven’t seen him like that in a fight before and I was like, ‘please throw in the towel, this is so scary’,” his wife Jo says.

In one of the greatest upsets in the sport, Horn won the world championship belt off Pacquiao.

Now with a new baby on the way, Jeff Horn is looking to prove he’s more than a one-hit wonder as he prepares to defend his title and cement his reputation as a legend of the sport.

Producer: Kristine Taylor.


#86

BEHIND THE MASK – MIKE WILLESEE

Monday 6 November 8pm

Behind the Mask: Part one of an exclusive look back at the life of legendary broadcaster Mike Willesee as he faces his greatest challenge – a diagnosis of throat cancer. #australianstory

An inimitable presence on our TV screens for 50 years, Mike Willesee now faces his greatest challenge – a diagnosis of throat cancer. In a two-part exclusive, Australian Story looks back over the extraordinary life of one of broadcasting’s more enigmatic characters.

Born in Perth, Mike was profoundly influenced by the family’s strong Catholic faith and his father’s involvement in politics. “I went to John Curtin’s funeral and I sat on Ben Chifley’s knee and Gough Whitlam watched me play football so I guess by osmosis if nothing else I was learning about politics,” Mike says.

As a 10-year-old, Mike was sent briefly to the notorious Bindoon Boy’s Town by his father in order to toughen him up. It was a brutal experience. “I still don’t know why my father thought I needed to toughen up,” Mike says, “but I did toughen up. You know, it changed me.”

Later, a split within the Labor party saw the family ostracised by the Catholic church. His father was railed against from the pulpit and Mike was forced out of school a year early by the Catholic brothers who taught him. These events, and an emerging interest in girls, saw Mike turn his back on the church.

After school, Mike fell into journalism, working for papers in Perth and Melbourne before ending up in Canberra. When the ABC launched the ground-breaking current affairs program This Day Tonight, he found himself in the right place at the right time. From there his career flourished. He reported for Four Corners during the Vietnam War before producing the template for commercial current affairs when he created A Current Affair for Channel Nine.

During the 1970s and early 80s, Willesee had top-rating programs on channels Seven and Nine. He had an uncanny knack for knowing what viewers wanted, combining humour with serious content.

As an interviewer, he was without peer – intelligent and meticulously researched. “He cut through the bullshit,” says veteran current affairs producer Peter Meakin. “I think his father gave him an appreciation of the practice of politics without necessarily an affection for the execution of it.”

Despite a stellar career, Mike has not always enjoyed a happy domestic life. He has been married and divorced three times, which is a source of great regret. He is, however, the father of six children, who he counts as his greatest achievements.

Part one concludes with Mike’s infamous appearance as guest host on A Current Affair in 1989, when he slurred his way through two episodes before being replaced. It was the wake-up call he needed, forcing him to acknowledge a problem with alcohol that he continues to deal with. He speaks candidly about this and the impact it has had on his life.

In part two, Australian Story follows the broadening of Mike’s business interests, the near-death experience that led him back to the Catholic faith, his return to television and his recent battle with cancer.


#87

Ray Martin is introducing part two of Mike Willesee tomorrow night.


#88

Without Rhyme or Reason

Monday 20 November at 8pm

Sydney woman Justine Damond Ruszczyk was living in Minneapolis and weeks away from her wedding when she was shot dead by a US police officer in shocking circumstances that are yet to be explained.

On the night of July 15, the former vet-turned-meditation teacher was home alone when she called 911 to report what she thought was a sexual assault taking place in the laneway behind her house.

When the police car arrived, she went outside - only to be shot dead by one of the police officers, Mohamed Noor, who was seated inside the vehicle.

In this Australian Story exclusive, we meet Justine’s Australian family and travel to Minnesota to speak to her fiancé Don Damond, and her friends and neighbours, as they search for answers and seek justice for Justine.


#89

Back Monday 5 February


#90

HERE COME THE BRIDES

Monday 5 February at 8pm

Introduced by Magda Szubanski

“We had six children and two families that were catastrophically blown off the planet by Christine and I doing what we needed to do, and that was to be together.” – Virginia Flitcroft

“It’s been a long and sometimes very difficult journey but Virginia and I, with our marriage, are going to put the tough times behind us.” – Christine Forster

It’s the wedding former Prime Minister Tony Abbott lobbied against - the marriage of his youngest sister Christine Forster to her partner of ten years, Virginia Flitcroft.

In a television exclusive, Australian Story joins the guests at the high profile gay wedding – including a mix of Liberal politicians, well known drag queens, as well as Tony Abbott and his mother Fay, both of whom voted against the same-sex marriage plebiscite last year.

But behind the champagne, frocks and flowers is a quest for understanding and a story of a family divided.

Christine and Virginia talk frankly about how news of their relationship impacted on their families, and about some of their regrets.

“I made mistake after mistake after mistake,” says Christine. “I now realise I’d been falling in love with women all through my life, but had never been able to act on it.”

The couple discuss the emotional fallout of spearheading the ‘yes’ case for same sex marriage, and the impact of brother Tony Abbott’s lobbying for the ‘no’ case.

“Tony and I had a discussion and I said, I fully understand that you needed to make your case, and make it clearly, but it’s not ok to use your sibling as a political football,” says wife-to-be Virginia Flitcroft.

“I accept that people do disagree. It doesn’t mean they don’t like each other. It doesn’t mean they can’t love each other,” says Tony Abbott.

Australian Story speaks to Christine’s friends and family to document her journey from a Catholic, middle-class, married mother of four, to high profile same-sex marriage activist and Liberal politician. Ultimately, it’s a love story not to be missed.

Executive Producer: Caitlin Shea; Producers: Amanda Collinge and Belinda Hawkins


#91

Leap Of Faith

Monday 19 February at 8:00pm

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Meet the Billy Elliots of Australia!

From humble beginnings in western Sydney, Steven McRae and Alexander Campbell have made it to the top of world ballet.

The two men first met as boys competing on Sydney’s dance circuit and their careers have been closely intertwined ever since.

Both followed unlikely paths into ballet — Steven grew up in a family of drag racers and Alexander was a talented cricketer.

Now, in a rare feat for Australia, they’re both principal dancers at the prestigious Royal Ballet in London.

A surprising story of rivalry, family sacrifice and sheer determination.


#92

The Man in Bed 10

Monday 26 February at 8pm

Introduced by Queensland Ambulance Service Medical Director Dr Stephen Rashford

When medical student Dinesh Palipana was left a quadriplegic after a horrific car accident, he was told he would never become a doctor.

Unable to feel anything in his arms and legs, he knew as a third year medical student that his spine had been damaged and his life had changed forever.

Not even his best friends thought he would be able to finish medical school.

Eight years later, he’s one of the top young medicos working in busy Gold Coast University Hospital.


#93

Final Call

Monday 5 March at 8pm

Introduced by Skye Kakoschke-Moore, former Senator for South Australia

Outback nurse Gayle Woodford was working alone at night on call in the remote South Australian community of Fregon when a man came to her door asking for Panadol.

Moments later she had vanished.

“I knew she was in trouble,” said her husband Keith Woodford who woke up the next morning to an empty bed. “I just knew”.

The discovery of Gayle’s body in a shallow grave three days later threw the tightknit community of Fregon into freefall and ignited a debate about the security of remote area nurses working alone. In an effort to ensure they stay protected, a grassroots campaign began with the goal of introducing “Gayle’s Law” into every parliament in the country.

In this Australian Story exclusive, we hear from Gayle Woodford’s husband and work colleagues for the first time and about the issues they hope can be resolved in the aftermath of her death.


#94

Channelling Mr Woo²

Monday 19 March at 8pm

Eddie Woo is Australia’s most famous maths teacher.

He first came to prominence with “Wootube””— his free YouTube channel that went viral with its fun and easy-to-understand explanations of difficult maths concepts.

Over the past year since Australian Story first profiled Eddie, his career has skyrocketed. He’s gone from suburban high school maths teacher to award-winning celebrity, because of his unique and contagious teaching style.

He was named the 2018 Australian Local Hero in the Australia Day Awards and he’s in the running for the $1.3 million Global Teacher Prize — and the title of the world’s best teacher.

But Eddie’s spectacular success has come at some cost to his own students and family.


#95

The Enemy Within

Monday 26 March at 8pm

Introduced by Professor Stephen Hawking

When Justin Yerbury’s family members began to die from motor neurone disease he made a life-changing decision.

He turned his back on a professional basketball career and enrolled in a science degree. Almost 20 years later, he is an internationally recognised expert on the disease, leading the way in the search for a treatment.

Recently, however, Justin’s work took on a terrible urgency as he too developed symptoms of MND.

As Australian Story filmed with Justin and his family, his condition deteriorated dramatically, requiring difficult decisions to enable him to continue his search for a cure.

Having met Justin in 2016, Professor Stephen Hawking recorded the introduction to this story shortly before his death from motor neurone disease.


#96

When The War Is Over

Monday 9 April at 8pm

Introduced by artist Ben Quilty

Mick Bainbridge is a former commando who was left battling a crippling case of PTSD after five overseas deployments.

When Mick sought support from his command to move to a training role he says was told to go back to Afghanistan or leave the Army altogether.

Enrolling in a law degree, Mick decided that instead of getting mad he would get even, employing his new-found knowledge to take on the system

Now as the youngest councillor ever at the NSW RSL he’s using his legal skills to help other veterans take up the fight.


#97

The Justice Principle - Part 1

Monday 23 April at 8pm

Introduced by Ted Baillieu, former Premier of Victoria.

Dassi Erlich and her two sisters are a formidable force.

Their ongoing battle to extradite former headmistress Malka Leifer from Israel to face sexual abuse allegations in Australia has made headlines across the globe.

But despite the public attention, the personal stories of the three sisters have remained largely private.

In the first program of a two-part special, Nicole Meyer and Elly Sapper give their first Australian interviews and, together with Dassi, speak candidly about their time at the Adass Israel school in Melbourne.

The program also features extracts from Dassi Erlich’s teenage diary which provide a haunting account of her traumatic childhood.


#98

The Justice Principle - Part 2

Monday 30 April at 8pm

Introduced by Ted Baillieu, former Premier of Victoria.

Dassi Erlich and her two sisters are a formidable force.

Their ongoing battle to extradite former headmistress Malka Leifer from Israel to face sexual abuse allegations in Australia has made headlines across the globe.

But despite the public attention, the personal stories of the three sisters have remained largely private.

In the first program of a two-part special, Nicole Meyer and Elly Sapper give their first Australian interviews and, together with Dassi, speak candidly about their time at the Adass Israel school in Melbourne.

The program also features extracts from Dassi Erlich’s teenage diary which provide a haunting account of her traumatic childhood.


#99

Baby Steps

Monday 7 May at 8pm

Introduced by Dr Glenn Gardener, Director of Maternal Fetal Medicine, Mater Mothers’ Hospital

When Claudine and Dave Fitzgibbon’s unborn baby boy was diagnosed with spina bifida, it was devastating.

This was their third diagnosis and they couldn’t contemplate the idea of terminating another pregnancy.

Their doctor told them about a risky but revolutionary operation that had only been performed in Australia once before. This in utero procedure wasn’t a cure but would hopefully correct a large number of the baby’s physical abnormalities.

The stakes were high, but Claudine and Dave decided to take the gamble.

Baby Harvey entered the world 18 months ago, but questions remained. Would he still be badly affected by spina bifida? Would he ever be able to walk?

This week, Australian Story catches up with Claudine, Dave and baby Harvey to see whether their gamble has paid off.


#100

The Choirmaster

Monday 14 May at 8pm

Includes excerpts from the new documentary The Song Keepers

Introduced by film critic David Stratton

Morris Stuart is a charismatic choir director bringing the sacred sounds of the Central Australian desert to the world.

Over a decade ago, the retired pastor found himself at a loose end and wandered down Alice Spring’s central mall recruiting for a choir.

Within a year he’d moulded 50 amateurs into a top-notch choir.

When word of Morris’s magic spread to the Aboriginal community, the Central Australian Aboriginal Women’s Choir was born.

And so began an unlikely and inspiring trip from the Red Centre to the cathedrals of Germany.