Beating around the bush
Heather Ewart has returned for a third season of popular series Back Roads. She tells DANIELLE McGRANE about making the show that takes her around the country and meeting colourful characters in some of Australia’s most interesting and resilient communiti
Where did the idea for this show come from?
It bounced out of a documentary I’d done for the ABC on the history of the National Party, which used to be the old Country Party. I just focused on things like old CWA meetings and I put country footy in it, and even my family because I grew up in the country. It sort of struck a chord with city audiences so then I was asked to try to put together a series on the country, which is a very broad canvas. We deliberately wanted to adopt a theme of resilience and the more positive aspects of the country because it does get a bit of the rough end of the stick in the city. People think it’s all about drought and ice epidemics but in fact there’s much more to it than that.
You’re now in your third season and there’s a fourth season on the way too. What do you think people enjoy about it so much?
You get some great characters in the country which city viewers, I think, felt was a part of Australia that no longer existed. That’s not the case, so I think that’s why the show has rated so well in the cities particularly. We get great feedback and really great ratings, around 1 to 1.3 million, which is a lot these days. In the cities, people don’t know their neighbours any more and I think they’ve loved
seeing that this is the way it still works in country communities. You must come across so many places and interesting stories that we would never normally hear about?
Yes, it’s been an eye-opener to me to see some of these towns that I didn’t even know existed and just to discover people who think they’re really ordinary that are actually doing extraordinary things. And they don’t blow their own trumpet either and are very much devoted to their towns and communities. Some of them really are struggling out there, but it’s been really interesting to see the innovating things that they have come up with to save their towns.
Has there been anything in particular that’s really stood out to you?
In the first series we went to a little town called Yackandandah where a petrol station was going to close and everyone in the town thought: “Well if we lose the petrol station then what will be next?” And they all got together and the town basically bought the petrol station and then all of the proceeds get poured back into the community.
How do you choose where to go?
A lot of it is word of mouth. We’re a small team but most of our staff have links to the country or grew up in the country. We’ve also got a couple of researchers and we have so many ABC regional offices scattered around the place.
What do you hope viewers get out of the series?
We want people to learn a bit about the history of these places, which goes down well because there’s so much great archival footage available. We do get a lot of emails and I think one of the most striking things is that people feel they are being educated, so that’s a really good side effect. n Back Roads Monday, 8pm on ABC
Ewart: “It’s been an eye-opener to me to see some of these towns that I didn’t even know existed and just to discover people … that are actually doing extraordinary things.”
Country charm: Heather Ewart is back to host the third season of BackRoads.