Back Roads

Series 8, Episode 13

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Monday 8 August 8.00pm

Guest Presenter Lisa Millar goes on an adventure to Victoria’s French Island, world renowned as a haven for many bird, animal and plant species; it is a Noah’s ark of diversity!

Do you dream of living somewhere that makes you feel you’re living in ‘Woop Woop’ but is a stone’s throw from metropolitan Melbourne?

Guest Presenter Lisa Millar takes us on an adventure to French Island, an established community with no council and no council services. That means no sealed roads, no electricity or water supply, no rubbish collection and all those day-to-day services we take for granted.

Lisa meets local Jim Skinner and like everyone, Jim, and his 30-something son Jay, live off-grid but that doesn’t mean doing it tough. Lisa is wowed by Jim’s hand-built house. Later she is surprised to find the island produces delicious wine from go to whoa, under its own label – all 100% off-grid.

French Islanders may be eccentric, but they are also delightful company as Lisa discovers when she meets one the community’s most active locals. Lois Airs is the island’s Dr Dolittle. When she startles Lisa with a very unusual example of a local animal, Lisa decides to meet up with area’s chief ranger.

Parks Victoria ranger Georgia Kerr explains how the island is world renowned as a haven for many bird, animal and plant species; it is a Noah’s ark of diversity!

Production credit: Executive Producer, Brigid Donovan. Story Producer, Lisa Whitehead.

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Series 8, Episode 14

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Monday 15 August 8.00pm

Heather Ewart travels to the town of Leonora in the goldfields of WA. Eight hundred kilometres from Perth, Leonora is a place where many people pass through, but Heather seeks out the people that call the town home.

Heather arrives on the biggest event in Leonora’s calendar, the Leonora Gift. It’s the richest road mile running race in Australia. Now in its 20ᵗʰ year the race attracts some of the country’s best runners seeking to win the gold nugget prize.

Leonora raised athlete Kiara Reddingius has won the race six times and returns every year to support the local kids. A former nationally ranked heptathlete, Kiara went on to represent Australia in the two-woman bobsleigh event at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, having switched to her new winter sport less than a year before.

Heather also meets aboriginal Tjupan man René Reddingius Jnr, who runs the youth centre. René Jnr is building on the work of his dad, René Snr, who was a teacher in the town for five decades. They take Heather to visit Pricklepatch Farm, where Rene Snr runs programs mixing school studies with animal husbandry and other life skills for local kids.

Heather also visits Gwalia – it’s a real ghost town. It was once a busy hub with over fifteen hundred people. But in 1963 the big Sons of Gwalia mine shut and within a few weeks the town had almost completely emptied out. Heather meets local multimedia artist Roderick Sprigg who takes her back to where he grew up in Gwalia. She also learns about one of the mine’s early engineers, Herbert Hoover, who would go on to become the 31ˢᵗ President of America.

Production credit: Executive Producer, Brigid Donovan. Story Producer, Damian Estall.

Series 8, Episode 15

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Monday 22 August 8.00pm

Guest Presenter Kerry Staight travels to Pinnaroo in South Australia, a town that is putting the health and happiness of its people above everything else.

Guest Presenter, Landline reporter Kerry Staight, travels to the small town of Pinnaroo in South Australia, a stone’s throw from the Victorian border.

Kerry meets Heath Boseley, or ‘Bose’ as he’s known. Bose organises the annual ‘Men’s Challenge’ at
the Pinnaroo show where the local men compete in the category of ‘best metal floral arrangement’. The ‘Men’s Challenge’ provides an opportunity for the local blokes to step outside their comfort zone.

Next, Kerry meets hairdresser Julie Wallis whose art group came up with an ingenious way to bring more art and culture to Pinnaroo. They offered up the whole town to researchers from Adelaide’s Flinders University to conduct a study looking at whether a community’s health and wellbeing can be improved by exposure to more art. The community hopes it can be rolled out to other country towns around Australia.

At the newly rebuilt dirt bike track Kerry has her first solo ride on a motorbike. Luckily the bike belongs to the club president’s eight-year-old son, so Kerry doesn’t have far to fall!

At Demi Tsai’s popular food van Kerry dines on Demi’s favourite Taiwanese delicacy – chicken feet. Demi came to Pinnaroo as a backpacker to pick potatoes and fell in love with a local. Demi’s street food has been a big hit with the locals ever since.

Finally, Kerry watches the Pinnaroo Show’s infamous Jack Russell race and it is pandemonium as expected!

Production credit: Executive Producer, Brigid Donovan. Story Producer, Kerri Ritchie.

Series 8, Episode 16

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Monday 29 August 8.00pm

Heather Ewart travels to King Island in Bass Strait, half-way between Tasmania and Victoria. Heather is on a journey to discover the ‘Real King Islanders’ and find out why many who left are returning, and what is it about their ‘Rock’ that makes it such a safe harbour.

Heather meets Paul Daniel who is regarded as one of the best free divers on King Island. When Paul was 24, he was swept offshore in a strong current while diving for crayfish. He spent the night at sea while a frantic search was underway to find him. He survived the night by tying himself to a buoy. Remarkably, he was rescued the following morning by a father and son who had come to check their craypots!

Another true blue local is Dave Bowling, a ‘kelper’ on King Island. Dave picks up bull kelp by the truckload and sells it. The kelp is used in many things like ice-cream, garden fertiliser and paint. The Bowling family has farmed at Surprise Bay at the southern end of the island since 1889, when their ancestor, Elizabeth Bowling, moved to the island from England with her 10 children.

Heather also meets Caroline Kininmonth who moved to King Island from Victoria after she lost her home and all her possessions in a house fire. Caroline came across a derelict boatshed, resurrected the building and turned it into what is now known as ‘the restaurant with no food’, a popular haven for locals and tourists to gather.

Production credit: Executive Producer, Brigid Donovan. Story Producer, Kerri Ritchie

Kerry Staight has written a feature article related to tonight’s episode in Pinnaroo.

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2023 Season 9 Premiere

The Great Australian Pub

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Monday, 2 January, 8pm

In this special 100th episode of Back Roads, Heather Ewart looks at The Great Australian Pub.

Our very own unique style of watering hole, the humble pub sits at the heart of many communities. A place to congregate, of sporting triumphs and losses, of meat raffles and music. A reflection of society, the pub has always been there to bring us together. But it wasn’t always this way.

Back Roads looks at the history of our pubs. From the hard drinking male dominated roots and the infamous 6 o’clock swill, to today’s pub, a place where politicians want to be photographed.

Heather Ewart shows off some of her favourites. The Black Stump Hotel where the horses still come up to the bar. The Karumba pub that was once known as the roughest pub in Australia. The Middleton Hotel where the clientele has changed from shearers to film stars. And the Hebel Pub that saved its town.

Join Heather Ewart as she wanders through the evolution of this national institution.

Production credit: Executive Producer, Brigid Donovan.

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Series 9, Episode 2

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Monday 9 January 8.00pm

Back Roads heads out to one of the country’s largest cattle properties.

Brunette Downs Station in the Northern Territory is legendary in the outback and living and working there is almost like a rite of passage. It’s bigger than some European countries and with 70,000 head of cattle and 55 full-time staff, it’s a massive operation.

Presenter Heather Ewart discovers it’s a place that’s steeped in history and tradition but it’s also attracting new generations who are changing the game.

The station may be remote and rugged but that no longer means being cut off from career choices. Advances in technology are allowing people to combine head-office jobs with the joys of station life, riding horses, mustering and living in a tight-knit community.

Heather Ewart meets a UK grain farmer who was lured to the bush by backpacking jackaroos to become the station’s assistant manager, a fine-dining chef who feeds this small town, a business analyst who helps with the horses, a head stockman who takes his young family mustering, and a seasoned horse whisperer who teaches new dogs old tricks.

Heather hears moving stories of the Traditional Owners and the skilled Aboriginal stockmen and women who helped build this industry.

It may feel like it’s in the middle of nowhere, but Brunette Downs also hosts one of the most iconic events in the outback - the Brunette Races. Heather meets the Northern Territory’s ’s first woman jockey who is set to break another record!

Production credit: An ABC Original Production. Executive Producer, Louise Turley.

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Series 9, Episode 3

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Monday 16 January 8.00pm

Foodie and farmer Paul West packs his surfboard for a Back Roads visit to Marrawah in northwest Tasmania for the legendary West Coast Classic: three days of big swells, blowing gales and woolly beanies.

There’s a place in Tasmania dubbed the edge of the world. It’s just down the road from the tiny town of Marrawah on the northwest coast. When foodie and farmer Paul West arrives, he can see why.

Tormented by the Roaring Forties and pounded by huge swells, it’s a wild, isolated place. People are sculpted by the wind and the sea. The bent trees, a visual reminder of how punishing life can be. Once it was mostly dairy farms, but now it’s famous for high-end beef…oh, and the incredible swell.

Some locals were drawn here by the legendary waves that batter the coast. Glenn ‘Salty’ Saltmarsh has a shack in Marrawah and has surfed here all his life. He’s also the driving force behind the West Coast Surfing Classic, an annual ‘all ages’ surfing event, where competitors battle Marrawah’s monster waves.

A few surfers Paul meets are also farmers, all too familiar with the force of Mother Nature, whose farms run straight up from the sea and whose cows, perched upon clifftops appear to walk on water.

Intergenerational farming family, the Heres, reckon the winters are the worst, that you must adapt and embrace the elements to survive and thrive. Paul discovers a community held together by such families - generations of folk who have fallen under Marrawah’s spell.

Production credit: An ABC Original Production. Executive Producer, Louise Turley.

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Series 9, Episode 4

Monday 23 January 8.00pm

Heather Ewart visits the Quilpie shire, in outback Queensland. With an average age of under 40, residents have transformed this former Opalopolis into a vibrant community, with a little help from Australia’s biggest dinosaur
Heather Ewart takes the backroad to the Quilpie shire to try and discover what locals know that we don’t. What she learns is the western Queensland town is full of surprises.

Since the discovery of opals, Quilpie’s heart has never stopped beating. Plenty of water, oil and gas means there are plenty of jobs for those willing to take a gamble on life out here, 1000 km from the coast. And there’s no shortage of takers. The average age is now under 40 and they’re creating a way of life that’s rivalling much larger communities.

At the local Quilpie golf course, you might be playing on red dirt, but last year the prize for a ‘hole in one’ was an incredible one million dollars!

Next door in the tiny town of Eromanga, a grazier’s son found an unusual looking rock, and now they have Australia’s largest dinosaur and a museum to house it. And in the former shire capital of Adavale, a town now almost deserted, one woman bought a house on her very first visit, pursuing her childhood dream of opening a French patisserie in the middle of nowhere.

Production credit: An ABC Original Production. Executive Producer, Louise Turley.

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Series 9, Episode 5

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Monday 30 January 8.00pm

Wiradjuri woman and journalist, Rae Johnston, takes Back Roads to the East Kimberley region, at the very top of WA, where the mighty Ord River is the lifeblood of the community.

Back Roads heads to the land of red dirt, blue skies and boabs: the East Kimberley region, at the very top of WA. Wiradjuri woman and science and technology journalist, Rae Johnston, sees how water has shaped the lives of the people who live on this arid frontier. It’s a tale of two very different towns – one old, one new. On the surface they are miles apart and yet both rely on waterways for survival.

Rae travels to the Port of Wyndham, the Kimberley’s oldest town, which slowly roasts in summer. Despite the extreme conditions, Rae finds a place steeped in history and a community full of surprising stories. Like that of Tik Tok stars, Outback Tom and Outback Grandad.

Next, Rae follows the mighty Ord River to the new kid on the block, Kununurra. A town originally built in the 60s to service the construction of the Ord River Irrigation Scheme. While it might be a young town, the local Aboriginal mob, the Miriwoong people, have some ancient stories to tell.

Rae visits Waringarri Arts and finds an oasis for creativity, where artists keep their culture alive through paintings, textiles and sculpture.

Rae’s water fuelled journey ends at the tourist mecca and massive engineering feat, Lake Argyle. Created in 1972, this aquatic wonderland is home to around 70 islands, one third of Australia’s bird species and plenty of freshwater crocs. Rae cruises out onto this gigantic, blue inland sea to discover how it’s changed the face of agriculture here, and also life.

Production credit: An ABC Original Production. Executive Producer, Louise Turley.

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Season 8 will premiere on ABC Australia across Asia Pacific on Boxing Day (Monday) at 7.30pm AEDT, continuing weeknights.

It will start with The Great Australian Road Trip episode.

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Heather has written a background article on The Great Australian Pub ahead of tonight’s 100th episode.

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Series 9, Episode 6

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Monday 6 February 8.00pm

This time Back Roads heads to two Victorian towns, Nhill and Pyramid Hill. Both have offered newcomers a fresh start and a fair go. Heather Ewart discovers the spin offs were surprising and unexpected.

This time Back Roads is heading to two old farming towns, Pyramid Hill in Victoria’s north and Nhill in the state’s far west. The communities lie 260 kilometres apart but are connected in the most surprising ways.

Presenter Heather Ewart discovers when both towns faced a shortage of farm workers they looked beyond their backyards for solutions. In Pyramid Hill, the local piggery recruited skilled workers from the Philippines. The town was quick to jump into action to support them, offering the newcomers a fresh start and a fair go.

The community even stepped up to raise funds to reunite one family who couldn’t afford to bring their three eldest children to Australia.

Incredibly, Filipinos now make up a quarter of Pyramid Hill’s population and have revitalised what was once a dying town.

In 2010, Karen refugees from Myanmar began settling in Nhill to work at the local duck processing factory. They found a sanctuary in the town, a place where they feel safe. According to one former refugee, “we feel like human beings again.”

As they say, from small beginnings big things grow.

Like in Pyramid Hill, the positive spin offs for Nhill were unexpected.

Heather seeks to find out what other towns can learn from the experience of these two country communities.

Production credit: Executive Producer, Louise Turley.

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Series 9, Episode 7

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Monday 13 February 8.00pm

Champion Paralympian Kurt Fearnley joins Back Roads to find a heart of gold shining brightly amongst the townsfolk of Tennant Creek.

Champion Paralympian Kurt Fearnley joins Back Roads to find a heart of gold shining brightly amongst the townsfolk of Tennant Creek.

The Northern Territory town was the site of Australia’s last gold rush back in the 1930s but has had a hard time in the aftermath, often copping the tag of the ‘dark heart’ of the Barkly region with youth crime and alcohol abuse making headlines.

But what Kurt discovers is how the community is doing its utmost to break the cycle of intergenerational trauma, through education, art and religion.

Kurt is impressed with the non-judgemental care and support, given to vulnerable kids to keep them safe. He’s amazed to discover an informal group of artists, known as the Tennant Creek Brio, who are taking the international art world by storm. He discovers the town has long been a broad church that embraces all faiths and offers hope and respite to troubled souls.

It’s a journey that leaves Kurt in awe and in no doubt, Tennant Creek has a very bright future indeed.

Production credit: Executive Producer, Louise Turley.

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Series 9, Episode 8

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Monday 20 February 8.00pm

Heather Ewart takes us on a musical road trip with singer-songwriter Josh Arnold, hitching a ride on one of his small-town tours through western Queensland.

Josh is a Golden Guitar winner who has worked with some of the biggest names in the Australian country music industry but it’s the children of the outback who are the stars of this show.

The episode starts in the iconic tourist town of Birdsville. Next stop, Heather and Josh head north to Dajarra and on to Camooweal on the edge of the Northern Territory border.

In 2011, Josh gave up the big stage for the bush classroom, to help kids in small towns find their voice through music. Collaborating with the students - and some of the more seasoned locals – to write the lyrics for a town anthem. The locals get the chance to share their unique story with the world and star in their own music video.

Josh is a small-town boy himself, growing up in Tara on Queensland’s Darling Downs, and tells Heather how important it is for local kids to feel proud of their hometowns.

Production credit: Executive Producer, Louise Turley.

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There is an interview article with Kurt in The Age Green Guide today.