Tony Thorne’s country is Tebrikunna, far north eastern Tasmania, Mannalargenna's land and the Director of NITV’s latest TV animation, Little J & Big Cuz, has fond memories of his favourite childhood TV shows.
In fact it was the inspiration behind the shows he adored growing up that led him to pursue a successful career in television animation, illustration and production.
“The passion that I had when I was a little kid was something I’ve been able to carry all the way through till now and turn into a career.”
"It was such a refreshing show, I remember thinking: ‘wow there’s black people on TV, and they’re normal!’"
Tony has worked as an animator for some of the biggest productions in the world, including the Harry Potter franchise, and says shows such as The Thunderbirds and Mr Squiggle were what fascinated and entertained him during his childhood. But it wasn’t until the release of Sesame Street in the early 60’s, when he was able to see diversity on screens and feel as if he finally ‘belonged’ in society.
“By the time it came out I was a bit older than their target audience, but it was such a refreshing show. I remember thinking: ‘wow there’s black people in the show, and they’re normal!’ It was underground, cool and you certainly weren’t seeing that stuff on kids TV anywhere else.”
Now the father of two wants his children and grandchildren to be able to have Australian produced TV shows to help inspire and shape them in society, which is why he is backing a new petition.
The Australian Greens have today launched the #SaveKidsTV campaign to protect children’s storytelling in Australia.
#SaveKidsTV aims to protect the children’s television industry by pushing for the government to strengthen the requirements of television broadcasters to produce and air high quality locally made children’s content.
The Greens’ arts and youth spokesperson, Senator Sarah Hanson-Young says Australian children’s television is in a ‘fight for its life’.
"Every culture needs to tell their own stories, for learning and reflection, quality children’s TV is one way of helping our kids to make sense of what it means to be Australian and how we connect with each other and those beyond our borders,” she said.
“Australian kids shouldn't have to miss out on having that greater reflection and understanding of their own cultures because big commercial broadcasters can't find profit in it."
Despite Round the Twist being her preferred show, Senator Sarah Hanson-Young says NITV’s latest animation is great for youth to understand culture through relatable characters.
"Little J & Big Cuz is doing amazing things in not only providing young Indigenous kids a reflection of their culture on television - which is in itself empowering and has been a long time coming - but it can be shared with the whole community to provide a better understanding of the culture of our First Australians," she said.
"Every culture needs to tell their own stories, for learning and reflection, quality children’s TV is one way of helping our kids to make sense of what it means to be Australian and how we connect with each other and those beyond our borders. Australian kids shouldn't have to miss out on having that greater reflection and understanding of their own cultures because big commercial broadcasters can't find profit in it."
The mother of one believes children can get a better understanding of Australian life and culture through the TV shows they watch.
“It's a shame my daughter has more than enough American and British TV shows to choose from while Australian content is squeezed out. While it's good to have a mix of different programming for kids, children relate better to stories created for them, told in their voices."
As a kid growing up with two only TV channels in far northeastern Tasmania, Mannalargenna's land, Tony couldn’t agree more.
“We make great Australian TV shows, as a country we punch way above our weight."
“The danger is when things like Netflix take over – then you tend to get TV that says ‘this isn’t about us’ because you don’t hear Australian accents, It’s based on a world outside of Australia and that makes it hard for anyone, especially a child to be able to relate to their own identity.”
Tony says culturally appropriate storytelling was the driving factor behind inventing characters like Little J and Big Cuz.
“The most important thing about this show was that it focused on character driven stories. What we were really determined to do was make that from a little kid’s perspective, so to try and drive the narrative from Little J, and if you get that right then everything else will follow.”
Standing in his bedroom, the place where he and Little J & Big Cuz producer, Ned Lander initially started doodling and creating characters for the show, he speaks about how proud he is to be involved.
“We wanted it to feel like this was an Aboriginal story of Australia."
“We make great Australian TV shows, as a country we punch way above our weight. There have been animated Aboriginal shows before, but they’ve tended to be on Aboriginal cultural stuff and that’s great, but we decided to do it differently,” he informed.
“We wanted it to feel like this was an Aboriginal story of Australia. We know our audience is a small one, but that didn’t matter, what we hope is that they see themselves and their world to some degree in the adventures that the characters, to be able to positively relate and even be able to do so in language.”
Communications Minister Mitch Fifield was unavailable for comment and has made no decision on the children's television quota.