Back Roads

2019 Upfronts

Back Roads, Series 5

Back Roads takes viewers to Australia’s most fascinating and diverse regional towns and communities, bringing the voices of regional and remote Australia to our audiences like no other prime time television programme. From the Pilbara to Cape York and everything in between, these stories of everyday Australians are as awe-inspiring as the landscape that surrounds them. Popular host Heather Ewart uncovers tales of resilience, inspiration and strength in community, and aided by special guest presenters, leads a program that contributes to a sense of national identity and unity.

Back Roads - Season 5

From Monday 17 June at 8:00pm

ABC TV’s much-loved series with a big heart, Back Roads, returns with an epic journey from one of the world’s most remote cattle stations in desert country to one of the most spectacular landscapes in the heart of central Australia.

Suplejack Downs, on the edge of the Australia’s third largest desert, the Tanami in the NT, is home to the Cook family, whose backyard spans more than 400,000 hectares. The nearest petrol station is a five-hour drive on a red-dirt track and it’s an 18-hour round trip just to go to the shops.

While it’s an exciting place to grow up, presenter Heather Ewart learns how the extended family’s two teenagers and five children under the age of 12, access an education that will allow them to take their place in a fast-changing contemporary society.

It’s a very different education from the vast majority of Australian kids. From a very young age, the children learn how to change a tyre and look after their horses and cattle, as well as 21 dogs, chooks, a camel and even an orphaned joey. They learn to juggle that with a normal school day, through classes beamed in via satellite from the School of the Air in Alice Springs.

During Heather’s visit, the Cook family prepares for a week-long bush ride, initiated by the children’s inspiring mum and aunt, Tiani Cook. The aim of the ride is to raise awareness of the challenges of getting an outback education. Before the ride, the Cooks travel to Alice Springs, 9-hours south, where the kids get a rare chance to hang out with their classmates from other remote areas. From Alice, they travel west through Tjoritja, the magnificent West MacDonnell Ranges, to the Glen Helen Gorge where their week-long ride back to Alice Springs begins.

On the way to Glen Helen, Heather meets another family who’ve embarked on an extraordinary tree change. Former primary school teacher Nadia Gardner, senior ranger Paul Gardner, and their three young kids, have swapped suburbia for the spectacular Ormiston Gorge National Park. They’re not only living the dream, but their kids are also growing up in one of the most beautiful backyards in the world.

Like their School of the Air classmates, the Cook kids on Suplejack, nature is an essential element of their outback classroom.

Executive Producer, Brigid Donovan. Series Producer, Louise Turley. Supervising Producer, Kerri Ritchie. Story Producer, Gerri Williams. 8 x 30 mins episodes

Potential for the Season 5 premiere to be pushed back a week thanks to Australian Story’s repeat broadcast of biography of Bob Hawke next week.

Episode 1: GLEN HELEN NT

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Back Roads, Series 5, Ep 3 - Woolgoolga, NSW

Monday 1 July 8:00pm

This time, Heather Ewart explores a vibrant coastal community in northern New South Wales, where East meets West and which the locals affectionately call Woopi.

It’s where former banana growing locals are riding a blueberry wave of prosperity, with beachfront shacks giving way to million-dollar mansions overlooking spectacular ocean views and marine parks.

Leading the town’s economic transformation is the local Indian Sikh community, who’ve called Woolgoolga home for at least four generations.

Their stunning Temple on the hill has become a local icon to rival the Big Banana in Coffs Harbour, half an hour south. It’s a symbol of a community that’s reaping the benefits of embracing cultural differences.

Key to the Sikh community’s success is its belief in the concept of sharing. On Sundays, there’s a standing invitation to the entire town, including visitors, to join their Sikh neighbours in a delicious, traditional feast at the Temple. You don’t even have to attend the prayer rituals beforehand to get a free feed, although that’s an experience not to be missed.

Sharing is also central to the ethos of the wider Woopi community. These are neighbours who look out for each other in many different and practical ways. When Heather arrives in town in an unusual but typically Woopi way, she finds herself in the middle of one that’s a riot of colour and fun in the surf.

What’s going on she asks?
Well, you might say the locals are really ‘making Woopi’.

Back Roads, Series 5, Ep 4 - Burketown, QLD

Monday 8 July 8.00pm

Guest presenter, chef and farmer Paul West heads to the Gulf of Carpentaria to see one of the world’s most extraordinary weather events.

The local traditional owners, the Gangalidda-Garawa people, call it Mabuntha Yipipee. Others call it the Morning Glory. Everyone looks forward to the arrival of this spectacular and mysterious cloud formation that travels over the Gulf country once a year. It’s one of the rarest meteorological phenomena on the planet and Burketown is the best place to try and see one.

Glider pilots from around the country travel to the tiny settlement of Burketown to drift along the waves of cloud and experience what they call ‘riding the Glory’. They can ride this cloud for hours as it may stretch to a thousand kilometres long and two kilometres high.

Paul West turns ‘cloud chaser’ as he discovers just how elusive the cloud can be. Locals give him the lowdown on the tell-signs as he tries to see ‘a glory’ for himself but, when you’re chasing a cloud, nothing’s guaranteed.

Up here all eyes are on the sky. While Paul West is waiting for ‘the glory’ to appear he travels with the local aboriginal people onto the vast salt pans that surround Burketown for some serious stargazing. The Gangalidda-Garawa have created a boutique tourism operation that shows off the stars and shares their Dreamtime stories.

Paul West then takes to the skies and travels to a nearby island where he discovers a group of Indigenous artists who have been inspired by a local grandmother. Sally Gabori, who was forcibly removed from her home on Bentinck Island, didn’t start painting until she was in her 80s but in just a few years, her large, colourful landscapes of her island home took the world by storm.

Before Paul West leaves he travels back to Burketown to try and find the magical cloud formations one more time. Will he finally get to ‘ride the glory’?

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Back Roads, Series 5, Ep 5 – Kulin, WA

Monday 15 July 8.00pm

Quirky horse-shaped sculptures, made out of 44 gallon drums, make up the ‘Tin Horse Highway’ which greets you as you drive into Kulin, 280 kilometres from Perth. This is one of the many unusual sights you will see around Kulin, which has a population of less than 400 people. The other is an 18-metre high giant waterslide. Not bad for this small country town which was in danger of disappearing in the 1990s.

“There was no cavalry coming over the hill to save Kulin when these little towns were starting to die,” according to Kulin Shire President, Barry West.

A targeted effort by the local community to save their town, combined with an extraordinary gift from a couple of long-time residents, has helped transform the community.

When they died, Phil and Kath Freebairn left more than a million dollars to their beloved town to be dedicated to sport. As well as the giant slide, the generous bequest helped build the Freebairn Recreation Centre, which has facilities that rival those in the city.

It’s also enabled people like Tanya Dupagne, the founder of Camp Kulin, to move to the
area and start a camp for a wide range of children from refugees to kids preparing for life at boardng school. Her work is so successful she was voted Australian Rural Woman of the Year – and Tanya reckons she couldn’t have done it anywhere else.

“I think the big thing about Kulin has been the community spirit that’s here and the way everyone’s willing to chip in and lend a hand,” says Tanya. “If we need food for morning and afternoon teas, or bus drivers or anything like that everyone’s always willing to pitch in and I think that’s been really important for the program. I don’t think it would have actually worked if we’d done it in the city.”

The community hasn’t rested on its laurels. They continue to raise money for local projects. The biggest fundraising - and social - day of the year is the Kulin Bush Races.

In the 24 years the races have been going they’ve raised around one million dollars, which is ploughed back into community projects.

Kulin – a testament to generosity of spirit.

Back Roads, Series 5, Ep 6 – Fish Creek, Vic

Monday 22 July at 8:00pm

A whimsical town straight from a storybook!

This creative little town, near the southernmost tip of Australia’s mainland, really does look like it’s been taken straight off the pages of a story book.

It’s home to children’s book authors and illustrators, world-renowned botanical artists, musicians and sculptors.

Cherished Australian children’s author Alison Lester grew up here on a farm by the sea. The landscapes, characters and animals of her childhood have made their way into her work. Lester tells Back Roads host Heather Ewart, the setting was the inspiration for one of her most famous books ‘Magic Beach’.

Her friend, author and illustrator Roland Harvey has recently moved his gallery into the main street.

Fish Creek is a place where big life changes can be made.

Local woman Amelia Bright used to make prosthetic limbs for humans. Now she’s raising heritage-breed pigs and living off-grid.

Like many story books, Fish Creek does have a dark chapter. Heather Ewart finds out about the mystery of the ‘Lady of the Swamp’ who vanished in the 1950’s. Never to be seen again.

You’ll also meet whimsical couple Fiona Mottram and Ross West who ride Penny Farthing bicycles and tend to a menagerie of donkeys, mules and one-eyed dogs.

There’s one event that unites this eclectic community – the Tea Cosy Festival! Whatever is in the water in this creative town, we want some.

Back Roads, Series 5, Ep 7 – Flinders Ranges, SA

Monday 29 July at 8:00pm


Adnyamathanha Country

While Heather Ewart’s off in another part of the country, her colleague, former ABC foreign correspondent and recently announced new co-host of ABC News Breakfast, Lisa Millar presents this episode.

As she heads towards the Flinders Ranges, Lisa looks forward to capturing the spirit of adventure which characterised her Prussian ancestors who migrated to South Australia in the mid-1800s.

She encounters Phil Mellors, an enthusiast who recaptures for Lisa, the romance of the steam age. She discovers an historic town with a rich film history and meets Susan Pearl, a modern-day pioneer who shines a light on a dark corner of history.

In the Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park, archaeologist and traditional owner, Mick McKenzie, guides Lisa to The Beginning, the cradle of Adnymathanha creation and a singular, geographical phenomenon.

Further north, in the majestic surrounds of the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary, Doug Sprigg and Vicki Wilson launch Lisa into galaxies far, far away and initiate her love affair with the spectacularly coloured yellow-footed rock wallaby.

Towards the end of her journey, Lisa ponders the meaning of life on Nilpena Station, where owner Ross Fargher and two leading palaeontologists are uncovering a prehistoric seabed, 550 million years old.

From Quorn to Parachilna, via Wilpena Pound, Blinman, Arkaroola and Nilpena, some of the most inspiring outback stories unfold in the midst of the grandeur that is the Flinders Ranges.

Back Roads S5 - Episode 8: RIVERINA, NSW

Monday 5 August at 8:00pm

Famously one of the flattest places on earth, the Hay Plains have been considered dull, dusty and even “hell”! That doesn’t sound like a place where Heather Ewart could find the tallest pub bar in the Southern Hemisphere.

Lisa was guest presenter on two episodes this season.
The show is taking a mid-season break after the August 5 episode with Australian Story returning to the Monday 8pm timeslot on August 12.

Lisa Millar is filming for the show this week.

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I’m glad Lisa will be presenting the Menindee episode, it will be fascinating to hear and see the locals, and bring the Darling River climate catastrophe closer to home for many.


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Back Roads - Season 5 SUMMER

Monday 23 December at 8:00pm SNOW JOURNEY, VIC

ABC TV’s much-loved series with a big heart, Back Roads takes viewers to more of Australia’s interesting and resilient regional communities. These towns are full of colourful characters whose grit and good humour continue to uplift and inspire.

This time on Back Roads, Heather Ewart discovers a very different type of community on the roof of Australia as she visits the peaks of Victoria and New South Wales’ snow country.

“I feel like I’m in a Christmas card.” - Heather Ewart.

It’s a community that’s bound by shared passions and the basic need to cooperate to survive the sometimes treacherously beautiful climate.

Back Roads arrives in Dinner Plain during a blizzard for the 26th running of the annual Sled Dog Challenge.
Heather Ewart is introduced to the joyous world of the sled dogs and their owners, known as “mushers”, like Canadian Courtney Persson, who brought her dogs with her when she migrated to Australia.

“I got my first Siberian Husky and she was an absolute psycho,” she says. “The only way I could really enjoy her was to take her out sledding, because if I tried to walk her like a regular dog, your arm just got dragged off. One thing led to another, and now I have a whole team.”

Then there’s the extraordinary friendship of skier Sarah Jane “SJ” Staszak and Disabled Wintersport Australia ski guide Paul Gardner. “Paul and I have developed this kind of relationship in the experience of skiing together. We talk to each other a lot when we’re fanging around,” SJ says.SJ was a keen outdoors adventure woman before a back operation accidentally made her a quadriplegic. But it hasn’t stopped her getting back on the slopes, with Paul’s help.“And my ultimate dream will be one day Paulie will be able to train (my son) Hamish to be my guide from behind,” she says.

10-year-old Hamish is never far from his Mum’s side and is just as enthusiastic. “Then we won’t need a sit-ski guide; we can just go out together and I find that really cool,” says Hamish. “The snow could be bad, the snow could be good, but whenever I’m skiing with my mumit’s always the best!”

Heather also gets to go on a unique picnic with a group of people who teach visitors how to survive the harsh conditions, as well as how to appreciate the beauty of the uniquely Australian snow country.

Mike Edmondson is an alpine photographer and guide, whilst Pieter and Dave Herring take back country ski tours and teach avalanche safety.

“Mountain weather is so unpredictable,” says Pieter. “And you go out there on the main range, it is remote.”

Someone else committed to snow safety is Howard ‘Howie’ Cooper, who runs the Charlotte Pass ski patrol and is responsible for the visitors’ safety. He’s lived and worked on the slopes for more than 35 years. It’s his job to look for potential hazards as well as help out anyone in trouble. These alps are truly “peak Australia”.


Monday December 30 8:00pm

Heather Ewart catches a ride to the Bulloo Shire in south-west Queensland, a community that thrives despite its isolation.
It’s a free-range paradise where, in the words of one of the local kids, “out here you can finish school and just bugger off”.
While the kids enjoy trail-biking or mucking about by the river, one of the most popular family activities is polocrosse, an Aussie invention best described as ‘rugby on horseback’. It gets the red dust swirling, the adrenaline pumping and the whole community partying together.
The Shire’s hub, Thargomindah - ‘Thargo’ to the locals-is atown of nicknames; ‘Dogga’, ‘Fridgie’, ‘Bomber’ and ‘Mistake’ make up just one family- andfamily is everything here. Many of the small business in the Shire are family concerns but you’ll also find locals working in pubs, on the land, and, in the case of one police officer, patrolling an area the size of Lithuania.
That area surrounds the Shire’s most southern town, Hungerford, divided into two States by the Dingo Fence and celebrated by bush writer and poet, Henry Lawson.
While the Bulloo river gives the Shire its name, residents draw their drinking water from the Great Artesian Basin, one of Australia’s natural wonders. Tapped in the late 1800s, it put Thargo on the map, when the tiny outback town became third in the world, after London and Paris, to use hydroelectricity to power its streetlights.
Join Heather as she hits the back roads to find out what powers the Shire today and, with her, meet ‘Dogga’, ‘Bomber’, ‘Duck’, ‘Turnout’, ‘Wempa’, ‘Boof’ and the rest of the delightful Shire gang.


Monday January 06 8:00pm

This time on Back Roads, guest presenter Joe O’Brien leaves the ABC newsroom for the wilds of Wynyard in north west Tasmania.
Instead of driving, Joe literally runs into Wynyard and experiences first-hand the great natural beauty of Tasmania’s north west coast by participating in the annual ‘Gone Nuts Race’. It is a 101km adventure run, set up by some locals, to showcase the area’s iconic rainforests, rolling hills, windswept beaches and rugged cliffs.
But despite the magnificent setting, Joe discovers that Wynyard is a town facing some real challenges. Thirty percent of the population are on welfare.
“It’s the poorest electorate in the poorest state in the country,” says playwright Scott Rankin.
Scott is one of the locals trying to turn things around. He moved to Wynyard almost 30 years ago, and soon after started a charity called Big hArt that works in disadvantaged communities all over the country.
While in Wynyard, Joe meets legendary steel guitarist and broadcaster Lucky Oceans who was in town to perform in the local tulip farm’s shed. The tulip farm owners, the Roberts-Thomson family, offered up their old shed as the venue for a Big hArt project, The Acoustic Life of Sheds.
The tulip farm looms high above Wynyard, on the stunning Table Cape. Here on the summit, the Roberts-Thomson family made the leap from sheep to tulips. Now that they’re reaping the benefits they are able to give back to their community.
There’s also a program for young women called Project 0. It aims to upskill local high school students and give them a real voice in the community.
Joe meets Project O mentor Madeline Wells-Wynyard’s Young Citizen of the Year-who is passionate about keeping young people safe. The area is a federal government, designated family violence hotspot.


Monday January 13 8:00pm

Heather Ewart visits the beautifully preserved gold rush town of Clunes, in the Victorian Central Goldfields. Its golden days might be long gone, but newcomers are putting its untouched 19th century main street back on the map.
For years, the heritage value of Clunes’ main street has been used as a living movie set for films like Ned Kelly and Mad Max. But it’s theannual Clunes Booktown Festival that many credit with changing the town’s fortunes.
This internationally recognised event, celebrating all things books, now attracts big crowds. In previous years it has even hosted the likes of former prime ministers Bob Hawke, Malcolm Fraser and Julia Gillard and well as many best-selling authors.
The festival has helped put the spotlight on Clunes and its resident creative artisans, many whom still work with gold rush-era techniques. Heather Ewart meets bespoke shoemaker Duncan McHarg, who uses pig bristles as needles and can take 200 hours to finish a single pair! To make the socks to go with them, Heather joins textile artists Leanne Wills andJanine Wilson, to have a go at hand cranking a pair of pure wool socks on a century old machine.
These fresh ideas have breathed new life into a town that was struggling to survive when the main employer in town, the sock factory, closed in 1986. Clunes’ population has doubled in the last five years.
It seems that in Clunes if you’ve got an idea the town will help you make it happen. Locals say it’s down to it being such a close-knit community. They’re certainly an incredibly supportive bunch and there’s a strong culture of volunteering.
Clunes Neighbourhood House is the hub from where volunteers organise everything from weekly budget friendly dinners to workshops for unemployed residents. Heather meets one volunteer, renowned wireframe artist Tom Ripon, who runs a course creating life-size wire frame animals.
But there’s one story that encapsulates the supportive spirit in Clunes more than most. It involves legendary sheep shearer and prominent local volunteer Tony ‘Bushy’ Hill.
When Bushy was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness the community’s response was simply breathtaking. Not only did all the locals turn up, so did people from all over the country to raise some much-needed money. ‘Bushy’s Cutout’ as it was known, turned into the biggest and most heart-warming event of the year!
So, if you want to visit a town populated by people full of artistic passion and human compassion,join us for a closer look at Clunes.

KOROIT, VICTORIA - The luck of the Irish

Monday 20 January at 8:00pm

Gunditjmara Country

Heather Ewart discovers a patch of Ireland tucked away in coastal Victoria. Koroit is reportedly home to the largest Irish community in regional Australia, and it’s a place that thrives on music, poetry and potatoes.
Many Irish fled to the Koroit area after Ireland’s Great Famine of the 1840s, that killed one million people. That hardship has fostered a local culture that revolves around generosity and helping each other.

The Koroit locals were inspired to help others after a visit by humanitarian worker Moira Kelly, who has dedicated her life to bringing seriously ill children to Australia for treatment.

Heather meets Moria and twins Trishna and Krisha, who were born conjoined, at the annual Koroit Irish Festival.

Moira inspired the local tradies to help people in need in their local community and has nothing but praise for the people of Koroit.
“The lads down here have great craic, which is an Irish expression. You want some craic, come to Koroit”, Moira says.

Well-known Australian singer-songwriter Shane Howard, of Goanna’s ‘Solid Rock’ fame, lives nearby and is part of a regular jam session in the local hall. Two of his daughters learned Irish dance here, taught by one of the world’s oldest Irish dance teachers, Geraldine Ryan.

Geraldine has taught kids in regional Victoria for more than 25 years and at the age of 89, still travels hundreds of kilometres every week, staying in people’s homes along the way"They’re huge shoes to fill", says Shane. “We know we won’t have her forever.”

Perhaps it’s theluck- orfortitude - of the Irish diaspora that helps Koroit thrive. Or maybe it’s the kindness inherent in the culture.


Monday 2 February at 8.00pm


Djiru, Gudjal and Yuwibara Country

Heather Ewart joins a cavalcade of showmen and their little town on wheels on an 800 km run through far north Queensland. It’s a journey that will bust every preconceived idea of what the travelling carnival life is like.

Erin Cheyne does the show circuit with her young family, from north Queensland right down to Tasmania. It gives her a unique insight into the fortunes of regional Australia. If country towns are faring well, so will the showies.

For generations, show families have lived on the move and not much stops them. In fact, back in the 1940s and 1950s the roads to north Queensland were so bad the caravans had to be winched onto the back of a train to get to places like Tully.

Even with the much-improved roads, the convoys are well aware of the dangers of a life travelling long distances with big rigs. But many long-term showies are philosophical about the dangers.

Showman Doyle Gill says “our destiny is to die on the showgrounds like my grandfather and me mother and father before that and me great-grandmother.”

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When you look at the past episodes via this link:

Episode 4 and 6 of series 5 is missing. Is there some legal reason or otherwise for this and if so, what?

That page is a synopsis of episodes. Not sure why those aren’t listed. You can read the synopsis here

However. the episodes are available to view here:

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Thanks as always @TV.Cynic

Back Roads S5 SUMME… continued


Monday 10 February at 8:00pm

Mirrar Country

This time Back Roads travels to the Top End with guest presenter, award-winning journalist and Murawari-Gomeroi man, Allan Clarke.

The small community of Jabiru is buried deep in Kakadu National Park, one of the most extraordinary places on the planet.

Jabiru was built in the 80’s to service the controversial uranium mine, Ranger. Now the mine is due to close in 2021 and will mark the end of an era. But what will happen to Jabiru?

The township was due to be shut down along with the pit, but nowthe traditional owners and other locals have banded together to save the town - on their terms.

They want to reinvent Jabiru and turn it into a tourism hub and a gateway for Kakadu, so they can share the Park and their art and culture with the world.

Join Allan Clarke as he uncovers the next chapter for this Australian gem.

Herald Sun reports today that the current bushfire crisis has forced the producers to rethink about the upcoming season 6. A plan to make a 2-part feature on East Gippsland has been postponed with some footage taken at Omeo in November sitting in the editing room. Filming in Buchan and Orbost that was scheduled to begin in February has had to be put on hold.

Monday 27 January- Menindee,NSW

With Guest presenter Lisa Millar.Screenshot_20200127-134009~2

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Lisa is filming in rural Victoria this week.

I think the topic will be how COVID-19 is affecting rural communities across the state.