In an Australian first, television show Little J & Big Cuz targets a young Indigenous audience and offers an insight into traditional Aboriginal culture, country and language.
By
Laura Morelli

3 Apr 2017 - 7:55 PM  UPDATED 3 Apr 2017 - 7:59 PM

“The huge pink sun sets behind silvery clouds. Time to go, Nanna tells them. Feet scrunch through desert dirt heading for home.”

Mark Coles Smith paused to smile at the excited group of 65 young Indigenous and non-Indigenous children, who waited in awe for him to read the next page of Little J & Big Cuz.  

The Broome actor scored a role as Uncle Mick, a search and rescue worker and sports coach, in the first ever Australian children’s television show to target an Indigenous audience, offering an insight into traditional Aboriginal culture in a modern contemporary world.

Mark Coles Smith says it’s is all about helping the next generation. 

“This series will open the minds and hearts of our Indigenous youth to a whole new world of possibilities. It's an honour to be a part of it.”

Little J & Big Cuz live with their Nanna and Old dog where they explore the outback and discover culture and work hard at school. The cartoon is set to be a huge hit as it engages Indigenous community members, and provides children, whose first language is not English, a version in their very own mobs language.

The difference about this world is that lessons are drawn from desert fossils or fishing in saltwater country or cheeky goannas – all accessed through the back fence of Nanna’s yard.

To create a world that resonates for Aboriginal kids and engages a broader audience, talented Indigenous writers and actors from all over Australia have for the first time turned to children’s animations.

One of Australia’s most celebrated Indigenous actors Deborah Mailman is the Voice of ‘Big Cuz’, Larrakia Woman from Darwin, Miranda Tapsell ‘Voice of Little J’, Ningali Lawford-Wolf, voice of Nana, Aaron Fa’Aoso as the voice of ‘Old Dog’, Ursula Yovich, voice of ‘Levi’, Shari Sebbens, Voice of ‘Sissy’ & ‘B Boy’, Renee Lim, as ‘Ms Chen’, Mark Coles Smith as Mick, Katie Beckett voices ‘George’ and ‘Jacko’, Kylie Farmer, ‘kaarljilba kaardn’, Voice of ‘Ally’ and Miah Madden, Voice of ‘Monti’.

Television series Director and Designer, Tony Thorne, says a cartoon series that captures the joy and excitement of Aboriginal children discovering their world, needed to be made.

Thorne says ‘be prepared for adventure’.

“The show’s creation is another step in the empowerment of Aboriginal people to represent their contemporary lives from their perspective,” he said.

“I also believe that Little J & Big Cuz has a profound relevance beyond its Indigenous audience and it will delight children, and indeed adults, anywhere in the world.”

Producer Ned Lander says it offers a proud and positive view of Aboriginal Australia, and the opportunities for learning within it.

“This is a profound way in which, in a very new way, we are going to help generations to absolutely learn more about Indigenous culture."

“Great television can help kids feel good about themselves and about tackling big challenges, like going to school. During the vital years of four to six, when they are starting that journey and developing new levels of self-awareness, kids need lots of support.”

During the launch for Little J Big Cuz at Parliament house in Canberra, Minister for Education Simon Birmingham said the show will help young Australians learn the true values of friendship, companionship, country, culture and development.

“This is a profound way in which, in a very new way, we are going to help generations to absolutely learn more about Indigenous culture, to learn more from it and indeed, hopefully together as a nation to build on that shared knowledge and opportunities to make ourselves a richer and more successful country in the future.” 

Primary schools such as Kingsford Smith School, Theodore Primary School, Parliamentary crèche and Ngunnawal Primary School all attended the event with more than 65 children both Indigenous and non-Indigenous excited to begin their adventurous journey along with all the characters from Little J Big Cuz.

NITV Channel Manager, Tanya Orman’s speech gave a personal insight into how the stories featured in Little J Big Cuz resonate closely with her own experiences growing up and learning about culture and country.

“I grew up on Ghungalu country in Central Queensland on the railway reserve and much like Little J and Big Cuz it was through the fences of the back yard the adventures were had,” she said.

“My Pa – Munjalung was his name, he would always take us kids out to learn the ways to survive – to find food and shelter – learn language.  He would tell us long tales about Bulku and Nughi – strong and fearless warriors…

Of course I didn’t think I was learning culture – at the time I remember thinking my Pa’ stories were a special adventure series as good as… if not better than  ‘G-Force’, Monkey Magic or Cities of Gold.”

As a Junja woman who’s childhood was in the 70’s and 80’s, Junja  – meaning Black Cockatoo and White Cockatoo, Tanya says it’s about making great television for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children that we can all be proud of.

“It is made with tenderness and insight for Koori and Murri and Noongar and Yolgnu and all other Indigenous kids. It validates their experience of being in the world.”

"A kid of the 70s and 80s, Television was such an out of reach concept, a special magical place – definitely not the place I would see the world I lived in – not the way I saw it anyway. The only time I would see myself and my family was negative.  No wonder the kids at school and teachers had such opinions on who I was."

It has taken Australia over 200 years to arrive at this point and The Australian television industry over 60 years. Tanya says Little J & Big Cuz is a beautiful animation series telling 13 small, perfectly-formed stories for 4 to 6 year old children.  

“It is made with tenderness and insight for Koori and Murri and Noongar and Yolgnu and all other Indigenous kids. It validates their experience of being in the world.”

Most successful projects have their challenges and with Little J & Big Cuz, it was about creating a show that connects with Aboriginal children from any part of Australia.

In order to achieve this, local Aboriginal language versions of the show have been produced and the team have worked with translators and actors from remote Australia.

So far Little J & Big Cuz has been re-voiced into Arrernte and Pitjantjatjara from central Australia, Djambarrpuyngu from Arnhemland and Yawuru from Broome. Also in the North West, Ningali Lawford- Wolf has directed local cast in Walmajarri. Meanwhile in Tasmania the show has been revoiced in the reclaimed language, palawa kani. Across Australia there will be many more language versions to come – offering unique opportunities for both language education and community ownership of the series.

“Lots of young Australian kids could watch this and think, ‘Oh, I could see someone like Little J or Big Cuz being my friend’.”

Miranda Tapsell says it’s about helping not only Indigenous but non-Indigenous children identify with Aboriginal Australia.

“Lots of young Australian kids could watch this and think, ‘Oh, I could see someone like Little J or Big Cuz being my friend’.”

Little J & Big Cuz premieres 28 April on NITV Ch 34.

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