It all started out so innocently when journalist Andrew Bolt met NAIDOC Person of the Year and educator Chris Sarra for the first time on the documentary Recognition: Yes or No?, which also featured Federal ALP politician Linda Burney.
Blue birds were surely fluttering in a cloudless sky when Andrew Bolt, the son of a school principal, confessed his admiration for Chris Sarra’s work as a principal at the Cherbourg State School from 1998 - 2005 in Queensland, approx. 250 km north west of Brisbane.
Linda and Andrew meet Chris in Cherbourg
However, by the end of the interview, after a day spent together, Andrew, Chris and Linda had ventured into a dark place, Andrew requested it be omitted from the final film.
"This whole conversation should not go in the show"
It's interesting, noteworthy even, to see Andrew saying he's 'unhappy', because he’s stated in the controversial political documentary, ‘people can choose not to be hurt’.
"People can choose not to be hurt"
Andrew was so unhappy in fact, he states, ‘this whole conversation should not go in the show’, effectively censoring this section from the public record in a unilateral decision, where Chris Sarra and Linda Burney were not even asked what they think or want done with the vision.
Problematic really, given that right-wing, opinionated columnist Andrew Bolt is one of Australia’s fiercest advocates for 'Freedom of Speech', a man who complained in November this year that he has been censored from debating Aboriginal identity.
He has also called the Racial Discrimination Act a ‘wicked law’ which ‘makes it dangerous to argue against identity politics and the new push for racial division… It is hard to believe how stupid this country is becoming, and it's maddening to know we have laws to stop us from properly arguing against this decline.’
So, what sparked Andrew?
Chris Sarra invited Andrew Bolt to Cherbourg to meet Aunty Ada and Aunty Sandra and hear firsthand what they and their families lived through including forced removals, incarceration, prohibition from speaking their language and working for wages which were never paid in full.
Chris Sarra described his perception of Andrew’s public commentary as ‘ignoring’ the experiences of Aboriginal people like Aunty Ada and Aunty Sandra.
However, instead of a direct response to the question, Andrew executed a pivot away from the question into a space that instead, cast Chris Sarra as a bully of women.
Here is the long version. Of footage that did not make the production cut of Reconciliation: Yes or No. A warning, it's not pretty.
Chris and Andrew debate
It appears that asking Andrew about his political discussion program, the Bolt Report, one which engages with highly conservative political and social comment, crossed a line.
It provoked a stinging attack in which Andrew accused Chris of name-calling Bess Price, a strong Walpiri woman who has appeared on the Bolt Report, a ‘pet Aborigine’.
Chris denied the allegation that Andrew laid upon him, which to Andrew’s credit he eventually accepted Chris at his word.
NITV has asked Chris Sarra to clarify the reference to ‘Pet Aborigine’, to which Sarra states, he made the remark in a speech he delivered in 2007 in Darwin at an education conference, which was scripted and not off-the-cuff. Sarra says he used the term for impact but it was not in reference to any one person in particular.
This time spent with Chris did not make the final production cut in the completed documentary. The producers insist this is not because of Andrew demands, and was purely due to the tyranny of time, they could not include all interviewees.
Ruth Cross, one half of the award winning producing team at Simon and Nasht provided a statement to NITV saying,
We chose to include a range of voices that touched on various aspects of the major issues at stake. This is not to say that there are not other options and voices on the subject - there are. But we can only include so many in the time available.
In spite of the ‘awkward’ hiccup in the interview process, another gem is found in the clips, snips and rushes. Filmed at a distance while the cameraperson was getting a wide shot, Chris Sarra is asking again (and I paraphrase) 'Why deny the Stolen Generations?'. To which Andrew Bolt says, ‘I never denied their pain… But things need to be explained properly, if not you wont remediate the…’ at which point the full answer is cut short, the camerperson stops recording.
Chris, Linda and Andrew discuss Australia's dark history
Author's Note: Julie Nimmo was a paid Indigenous consultant on this documentary, however never met or spoke with Andrew Bolt during the production. Her work was primarily at the pre-production stage. All editorial decisions were ultimately made by the director Kay Pavlou and the producers Ruth Cross and Simon Nasht.
Recognition: Yes or No airs tonight, Wednesday 7 Dec at 8pm (AEST) on NITV Ch. 34 and On Demand