Take six people with in-built prejudices and let them experience how Aboriginal people live in a variety of places ... the result is surprising
Ray Martin is haunted by disturbing scenes from his childhood and early days as a reporter. The shocking images have driven the 69-year-old to devote a major portion of his life to indigenous issues.
Martin has been chairman of the Fred Hollows Foundation and the Australian Indigenous Education Foundation. In 2011 he was made a member of the Order of Australia for services to indigenous Australians, charities and the media.
“When I was growing up in country New South Wales I remember going to the swimming pool in Gunnedah, where my mum’s family came from.
“I was only about 9 or 10 and the lifeguard at the swimming pool would hose down the Aboriginal kids before they were allowed to jump in. I had no idea why they should be hosed and I wasn’t.
“Typically at the picture theatre there you would see all the Aboriginal people would sit on the floor down the front – segregated from others.
“That wasn’t as bad as what I saw in outback Western Australia in 1967. That was real apartheid – brutal racism. Blackfellas were confined to blackfella pubs. I found it unacceptable and shameful.”
Martin continues his quest to promote understanding of indigenous issues by hosting First Contact, from the producers of Redfern Now, Mabo, The Tall Man and First Australians.
“This is one of the most important shows I have ever done,” Martin says.
First Contact centres on six non-indigenous Australians who spend a month coming face-to-face with Aboriginal families and communities.
The six are 41-year-old mother-of-five Sandy, law enforcement officer Trent, student Alice, mum-of-four Jasmine, surfer Marcus and check-out chick Bo-dene.
None of the six have had any significant contact with Aboriginal people, but that doesn’t stop them having strong opinions – most of them negative. Aboriginals are labelled addicts, welfare cheats, freeloading, lazy, dole bludgers, primitive, and victims by the participants.
“Give them houses and they burn them down,” Sandy says. “You think that’s racist, well I don’t f---ing care.”
Time for a reality check. Martin meets the six at Uluru but it is not long before they are sent packing to destinations all around the country.
In Western Sydney, participants spend a night with educator Victor Morgan and his family. In inner-city Redfern they meet Shane Phillips who runs a boxing program for local youth.
Nyinyikay, in far northeast Arnhem Land, is so remote there is no shop. Locals harpoon a turtle for their meal.
Other destinations include Elcho Island, where some families live 20 and even 30 to a house, a hostel in Alice Springs, and Roebourne Regional Prison.
“I’m not surprised (by the views of the six at the start),” Martin says. “I have heard the same opinions from lots of Australians.
“It is not racism, it is ignorance. These are people who have got their opinions from talkback radio.
“What I liked about them, even though they had expressed outrageous opinions, was they went out and asked questions and tested their prejudices with real (Aboriginal) people at the coal face. They were polite. They never confronted them in a rude way. They all were moved by what they saw.”
Newsman Ray Martin says First Contact
is one of the most important shows he has done.