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

Sunday Territorian - - TV -

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.

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