For nearly 60 years, Australian audiences have been contributing their thoughts on which stars of the screen should be acknowledged for representing Australian Television. And throughout those years, Indigenous names, faces and talent have been a minority.
The 59th Annual TV Week Logie Awards will be held on Sunday 23 April at the Crown Entertainment Complex in Melbourne and is set to feature Australia's biggest and best television talent.
The 2017 nominees have been announced and the list consists of a wide range of Australian on screen favourites as well as brand new up and coming talent, but despite a new year, not much has changed when it comes to seeing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples at the front and centre of Australian media.
This year only four Indigenous on-screen stars have been nominated, and even though that’s double in comparison to the previous year, these numbers are still too low. Deborah Mailman agrees and has told NITV News that we must keep working towards seeing more Indigenous faces on screen.
“I'm thrilled for Hunter Page-Lochard, Rob Collins and Jessica Mauboy, their nominations are well deserved. There is a great diversity of work within these nominations and it's very cool to see their names along with Black Comedy, Cleverman and the NITV News team being recognised by Australian TV's biggest awards night. We should all be incredibly proud.”
Mt Isa’s shining star and one of Australia’s most favourite faces is without a doubt, award winning actress Deborah Mailman who has been nominated for Best Actress in her roles with Cleverman, Jack Irish, Offspring and Wolf Creek, the show which also saw her score a nod for Most Outstanding Supporting Actress.
While some people see him as an Aboriginal X-men character, others know him as Hunter Page Lochard, and the Indigenous actor has been nominated for the Graham Kennedy Breakthrough Star of Tomorrow award at the Logies, for his part in Cleverman, the ABC sci-fi drama based on ancient Aboriginal stories.
The Top End has seen new talent rise with Darwin-born Rob Collins, who’s in the Best New Talent category for his work as Waruu West on the ABC tele-drama Cleverman and Channel Ten’s The Wrong Girl. The stage actor and singer from a Tiwi Islands background also scored a place among the finalists for the Most Outstanding Newcomer award, also for Cleverman.
And speaking of talent from the territory, songstress turned screen superstar, Jessica Mauboy has also been recognised in the Best Female Actor category for her work in the Channel Seven drama The Secret Daughter.
Deborah Mailman says without a doubt we need to keep working towards seeing more Indigenous faces on screen as well as working within mainstream and commercial networks. She says one of the Logie nominees has been a great inspiration.
“Rob Collins in The Wrong Girl is one example of where we can be and there should be more casting like this. We have a great number of talented artists in this country and audiences are seeing this. I hope the screen industry can build upon this through opportunity of work so all our industry professionals are not only working within a diversity of roles but can have longevity in this business.”
In an interview with NITV, Hunter Page Lochard says while Australia is moving forward, we still have a long way to go.
“There is still a huge majority of audience members that seem to still 'apologise' for not wanting to see diversity only because they don't get it or it's to confronting. We need to keep feeding them so it becomes natural for them to witness diversity.”
In today’s day and age - a time where race should not matter and people shouldn’t be defined by the colour or culture, is Australia moving forward to ensure Indigenous peoples are embedded in mainstream society?
Mailman says it's moving, but in a particular way.
“There has been great strides and strong investment by the ABC, SBS/NITV in Indigenous content over the years that has led to critically acclaimed shows, she said.
"In 1992 there were no Indigenous Australians in sustaining roles on Australian TV."
“We are seeing more of our stories developed within different genres that are creating interesting, humorous and informative work. What we are poorly lacking is for our commercial networks to do the same.”
Hunter Djali Yumunu Page-Lochard, known for his roles in The Sapphires, Wentworth and The Djarn Djarns agrees with Mailman but also says there needs to be a lot more than just Indigenous faces on mainstream TV.
"I think society needs to be fed an authentic portrayal of day to day life within Australia to prevail over social issues and grow as a community, and seeing not only Indigenous faces but other multicultural faces on mainstream television helps that in a huge way.”
Screen Australia conducted a major survey in regards to diversity in Australian TV drama which highlights the move is set to continue. The research suggests a remarkable shift in the last 20 years, with Indigenous Australians finally on television.
A study found that in 1992, less than 30 years ago, there were no Indigenous Australians in sustaining roles on Australian TV. It wasn’t until in 1999, seven years later, when Australians watching TV saw two Indigenous Australians for the first time.
Screen Australia’s latest study reveals a remarkable shift, with 5% of main characters being Indigenous, despite making up 3% of the population. The 5% figure matched exactly to the proportion of Indigenous actors in the period, suggesting authentic casting of Indigenous actors in Indigenous roles.
Head of Indigenous at Screen Australia, Penny Smallacombe says despite the rise of diversity, there’s still a long way to go.
“You cannot underestimate how powerful it is for Indigenous people to turn on the TV and see a face that looks like their own,” she said.
“Whilst overall diversity on Australian screens clearly has a very long way to go, what the Indigenous experience shows is when you have Indigenous decision makers within funding bodies and broadcasters, coupled with initiatives that support Indigenous writers, directors, producers and actors, diversity and good entertainment can be one in the same.”
Breaking the industry as an Indigenous actor hasn’t been an easy ride, if anything Hunter says it’s one of the more difficult challenges he’s faced in life.
"It’s difficult, but it's a challenge that inspires me day in and day out. It's a constant battle I have to keep fighting and I believe it's what can make me stronger and wiser as an actor or story teller in general.”
Once upon a time Hunter was the boy looking up to stars on his screen, now as the actor progresses in his career he has a message for all other aspiring Indigenous talent ready to take their next step.
“Don't give up on what you truly believe in... in order to really succeed you have to go above and beyond, you will get knocked down but you should not play into the fact that you were knocked down, you should play more into the fact that you have to get back up and that you can get back up, it's up to you and you only. Think big and dream bigger.”
Similarly, Mailman shares her words of wisdom as the 44-year-old award winning star says it’s time to look at where the work is being encouraged and to continue being invested in that, especially for all up and coming Indigenous talent trying to break in to the industry.
“Have great belief in yourself Don't be shy with your ambition. Find opportunities that excite you, that further your skill and go after them,” she says.
“It can be a taxing industry so be kind to yourself, have perspective and find ways to keep yourself balanced… And don't give up.”
According to some Australians, last year the nominations were praised as record-setting in the diversity department. Viewers saw more than just the colour Gold on their screen as the biggest and brightest award of the night was handed to Waleed Aly, a brown-skinned Muslim with an Egyptian background. There also was Indonesian-born, Chinese heritage, Lee Lin Chin, Italian stallion Adam Dovile as well as Deborah Mailman who graced the stage and your screen and hopefully will continue to do so, especially as several recent pleas to the public have been to award the one, the only, Ms Mailman for Gold Logie next year.