“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots”
As cities go, Darwin is an easy place to escape. Drive 20 minutes and you’re out bush, under big skies with rust-coloured earth between your toes. That’s where Travis Cardona spent his childhood, hunting and fishing. ‘I feel more comfortable out in the bush than I do in the city,’ Travis confesses.
He’s a saltwater man through and through, from Malak Malak, Iwaidja, Tiwi Islands and Torres Strait Island roots. Even on his mother’s side he comes from what he’d describe as ‘Old Darwin’ family. Growing up shooting, goose hunting, and four-wheel driving, his love of being out bush, of knowing his country, is evident as he expounds: ‘I can hold my own in my country very well, and I can hold my own in most people’s country … I definitely feel that I have that connection, that I can go anywhere and adapt, especially in the Territory. For me, that’s what being Indigenous means: that connection to the country where my ancestors come from.’
In a city of only 100-odd thousand people, it’s easy to dream beyond the Top End, and in 2006, Travis made the move to Sydney to study acting. Treading the boards at NIDA – arguably Australia’s most prestigious and well-known acting school – where so many of the film and television industry have graduated, including hot Indigenous talent like Meyne Wyatt, Miranda Tapsell and Shari Sebbens.
‘Moving to Sydney was a big culture shock,’ Travis says. ‘It’s very fast paced down here.’
On top of such a huge sea change, away from family and friends, Travis struggled as a student. Living in a studio apartment with his girlfriend – now wife – the two worked and saved in order to survive the big city. It’s a period he describes as financially difficult, but an experience that ‘was worth it.’
Culturally, he found Sydney-siders had a different mindset, a different attitude to those back home.
‘Being an actor in Darwin, I was just an actor. I moved to Sydney and I became an Indigenous actor.’
Tired of auditioning for stereotyped Indigenous roles, Travis decided to be the change he wanted to see; to work within the industry to change the stereotypes. Yet even in the corporate end of the industry, that sense of self, of culture, is still clearly ingrained in him.
Travis first came to work for NITV through an Indigenous cadetship in the Corporate Affairs department of SBS. He describes the opportunity as his ‘foot in the door’, the kind of language only dreamers and the ambitious use. And like so many of the staff at NITV, working for the channel is more than just another paycheque.
When talking about his work, Travis shifts into a business-like demeanour, almost as if slipping into a role on stage. He stresses that having an Indigenous voice at the board room table, especially when it comes to Indigenous content, is so important.
Travis has his business ethic down pat: ‘Knowing what you know and sticking to it, that’s just how I work.’ It’s clear that he recognises the power in the potential of channels like SBS and NITV through his determination to keep content for the people, not just about the people, whether they be Indigenous, or in the case of the broader SBS channel, from a multicultural background.
Though he’s had a creative hand in the odd project here and there around NITV, like his hilarious role in the Black Cat Black Friday promos, he says: ‘I feel like I can offer more.’ The business persona melts away when he talks about his creative work; he lights up with energy.
Travis’ professional acting debut was at the young age of 14. He successfully auditioned for roles in the Richard Frankland plays No Way to Forget and Harry’s War alongside Aaron Pedersen, directed by Glen Shea. Working with a big name like Aaron Pedersen at such a young age was an experience he didn’t take for granted as a young, aspiring actor.
‘He was like a big brother. I used to hang out with him all the time and follow him around.’
These days he’s very interested in the technical side of things. Through further study at Metro Screen he’s now solidified his skills and experience in sound design, editing, directing and production management into a Cert IV. They’re skills he hopes will one day help him create and produce his own television series or feature, drawing on the stories of the people back home, or simply helping others connect to their roots through knowledge.
At the end of the day, his aspirations are modest. ‘I don’t want to win actors awards or Oscars,' he says. I just want to make cool content that people like.’