The ABC’s Four Corners has taken home the biggest award in journalism at the 2020 Walkley Awards, with Mark Willacy and the ABC Investigations Team winning the Gold Walkley for its program Killing Field.
“The shocking helmet camera footage, and Willacy’s sharp scripting and probing interviews, results in a compelling and brilliant investigation,” the Walkley judges said.
“Mark Willacy’s work was outstanding and it came after a series of investigations into war crimes in previous years, which together prompted the Brereton inquiry into war crimes.
“This has been one of the most significant stories of the year so congratulations Mark and the ABC team, this was brilliant work.”
Willacy’s win was one of many by the ABC at the event, which was held virtually for the first time due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dylan Welch, Alexander Palmer, Clare Blumer and Suzanne Dredge won the Innovation category for their story Anatomy of a Suicide Bombing, which detailed the attack that made David Savage the first civilian casualty of Australia’s war in Afghanistan.
Russell Jackson won the Feature Writing category for stories over 4,000 words, for his piece The Persecution of Robert Muir, which uncovered the years of racial abuse suffered by the former St Kilda footballer.
They were supposed to spark laughter, not outrage. But the Coodabeen Champions ABC debut in 1988 didn’t quite follow the script.
After seven years on community radio, Triple R, in Melbourne, building a loyal audience, the Coodabeens secured a coveted slot for their Saturday morning footy show on the national broadcaster.
When their first program went to air, the switchboard lit up.
“We didn’t realise this at the time — Clarke Hansen (ABC executive producer of sport and broadcaster) who got us across protected us from it — but there were 300 complaints,” recalls Coodabeens co-founder Jeff Richardson.
“And there were complaints coming internally as well, one member of the sport team went into Clarke’s office and said, ‘Get these blokes off air’!
“But Clarke, to our eternal gratitude, stuck by his guns — he liked what we did and wanted us on air.”
But what could possibly have been so offensive about a radio show that consists of a bunch of mates talking, joking and singing about footy?
“I think it was because our show was just so different,” says Richardson.
“Nowadays, it probably doesn’t seem very different because we’ve had decades now of people being “funny” about the football, but back then no-one was.
“What we did was obviously unstructured, obviously unscripted, and totally not in the mould of the way football pre-game coverage usually sounded so, for people who weren’t used to it, it must have sounded quite shocking and amateurish.”
But the Coodabeens had the last laugh, broadcasting on the ABC for seven years, then moving to commercial station 3AW for a decade and returning to the ABC in 2003, where they remain popular.
Over the years, on the ABC, they also hosted a national Sunday night radio show, a travel-based program, The Idlers, and for a decade presented the national broadcast of the New Year’s Eve countdown to midnight from Hobart.
They’ve twice featured in the on-ground entertainment at the AFL grand final (more on that later), are revered in the Melbourne Cricket Club (MCC) Media Hall of Fame and have travelled the country, staging countless outside broadcasts, including a popular OB from the MCG on grand final morning, and sell-out community shows.
2020 marks a remarkable 40 years on air, during which they’ve become an integral part of Victoria’s football culture.
“I still sort of pinch myself when I go into the Media Hall of Fame at the MCG and we’re up there.
“I look at it and think, ‘That’s not real, is it?’
“Given some of the other names that are up on that board, I just feel very humbled.
“Shows come and go, and the fact that we’ve been able to keep doing it as long as we have — it’s sort of a little miracle, and really pleasing.”
The conversation that launched the Coodabeens
They weren’t chasing a media career — the Coodabeens was born out of their frustration as passionate footy fans.
It was Anzac Day 1981 and 20-something mates Jeff Richardson, a teacher, and Simon Whelan, a lawyer, were driving to the MCG listening to the pre-match programs on the radio and finding it all a bit dull and cliched.
“As we walked into the MCG we were saying, we’re going into the standing room [area] and we’re going to hear people in the crowd with as much, or more, insight into what’s going on as we just heard on the radio — and delivering it with much more wit, entertainment and intelligence — and we thought that there’s got to be some way to capture that and get that on to the airwaves,” says Richardson.
So, they rang up a contact at Triple R and were on air the following Saturday.
There was barely any planning, it was to be (and still is) as spontaneous as possible, and they did the show around their ‘real’ jobs.
There was no formal auditioning of new members. Over the course of those first few footy seasons, a casual parade of friends and friends-of-friends simply wandered in and out of the studio.
Among the core group that formed in the early days was Billy Baxter, who came up with their name based on a line from one of his favourite films, On The Waterfront, in which Marlon Brando says: ‘I coulda been something, I could’ve a contender’, and his mate from high school, Ian Cover.
“Some people came and went, and I had no idea who they were,” recalls Cover, who was then a football journalist with the Geelong Advertiser and went on to become a member of the Victorian Parliament.
“It was a bit chaotic in the studio, there were only two microphones and there’d be sometimes six or eight people squashed around the desk.
“There wasn’t much room to move and you had to sort of elbow someone out the way to lean in to get onto the microphone to say something.”
Forty years, thousands of songs
A couple of years after the Coodabeens started, Adelaide-born musician and songwriter Greg Champion joined the crew, and his talent for writing parodies was a hit with the audience and the rest of the team.
His first musical segment began with ‘The answer my friend is like kicking into the wind’, to the tune of Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ In The Wind and, over almost four decades, Champion estimates he’s performed about 3,500 songs — written by himself and enthusiastic listeners — and released at least a dozen football CDs.
He wrote an original song, That’s The Thing About Football, that became a much-loved footy anthem when Channel 7 used it as the opening theme for its Friday night footy coverage in the mid-90s and continues to inspire a crowd singalong at the end of their grand final shows.
Other hits included the catchy I’m DiPierdomenico (to the old English music hall song I’m Henry the Eighth I Am) about the likeable Hawthorn champion, Robert DiPierdomenico, and an original song about the team’s hard man Dermott Brereton, titled Dermott Brereton is a Hood.
“Dermott’s got a very good sense of humour and he said to me that it doesn’t matter what they’re singing as long as they’re singing about you.”
While both players got a laugh out of it, some of the Hawthorn bosses didn’t find the Dermie song so amusing, particularly when the Coodabeens were scheduled to perform at the 1987 grand final in which Hawthorn was playing.
“I very naively thought I would ring the Hawthorn Footy Club to get Dermie’s permission to play Dermott Brereton is a Hood at half-time,” recalls Champion.
“And Alan Joyce, the football manager, comes on and says, ‘You’re not doing that at the Grand Final’.
“I rang the boss of the league, Ross Oakley — in those days you could ring the boss and get straight through — and he said to leave it with him.
“Two weeks later, I rang him back and he said, ‘You’re not doing it, if Dermie knocks someone out in the first five minutes and you play that at half-time there’ll be a riot,’ and it was hard to argue with that.”
For knockabout blokes who worshipped footy and did a show on community radio in their spare time, performing at the grand final before 100,000 people at the MCG was a massive thrill.
When league boss Ross Oakley said he couldn’t pay them, they cheekily asked for a limo to get them to the game and expected a couple of taxi dockets.
To their surprise, a limo was dispatched, hovercrafts ferried them onto the ground and they sang three songs — none of which triggered a riot.
“It was a really special thing,” says Cover.
“We’d invented this radio show six years earlier and here we were now out in the middle of the MCG.
Tony’s Talkback and how we fooled Harry Beitzel
In the 1980s, Harry Beitzel was a giant of football commentary on 3AW.
His Saturday afternoon game coverage concluded with a talkback segment called Slather and Whack in which the Coodabeens, who then had another show that followed Beitzel’s, saw plenty of comic potential.
“We heard these people talking to Harry and were thinking you can’t write this stuff, it was really funny,” says Cover.
“There was a Collingwood supporter who came on and said, ‘Look, Harry, I never complain about the umpires but in the third quarter Ricky Barham had the ball and he got penalised and it cost us the game …..’ and someone said why don’t we come on and say exactly what these people are saying, we get a phone and put on a funny voice.
“Tony Leonard said he’d take the calls, so we immediately called it ‘Tony’s Talkback’ [now Footy Talkback with Jeff ‘Torch’ McGee after Leonard, now a respected football commentator, left in 2003].
“The show begins, Richo says there’s some calls left over from Slather and Whack, and Tony says ‘Go ahead, you’re talking to Tony’.
“A voice says: ‘Hello, Tony, It’s Digger here’ and Tony says, ‘Who do you barrack for?’
“‘Collingwood,’ says the voice.
“‘How long have you barracked for Collingwood, Digger?’ ‘137 years!’ says the voice.
“‘Have you got a football question?’ Tony asks.
“And ‘Digger’ says: ‘I never complain about the umpires but in the third quarter….’ and it went from there with all these characters getting lives of their own.”
Digger, Pearl from the Peninsula, Stan the Statistician, Ivan from Ivanhoe, Massive from Moorabbin, Peter from Peterborough, Helen from Healesville … the list goes on.
Despite the hilarious and outrageous things the ‘callers’ say, there’ve been plenty of listeners — and the odd broadcaster — over the years who think they’re real people.
“Harry Beitzel said to me one day, ‘I’ve been listening to your show, it’s sounding good.’
“And I knew it was working because we’d fooled Harry,” laughs Cover.
“Another day, I was in the outer at Geelong around the late 80s and a bloke I’d been to school with, who I thought had a modicum of intelligence, said to me, ‘Hey Cove, that talkback segment on your show, I’ve been ringing up and I can’t get on, the same people get on all the time, what’s going on?’
“And I said, ‘They probably all have the talkback number on speed dial and as soon as they hear it’s coming up they hit the speed dial’ and he said, ‘Oh yeah, that bloody speed dial.'”
The fans they haven’t fooled always want to know who plays who, but the Coodabeens like to keep them guessing.
Coincidentally, this year’s return of Simon Whelan after a 16-year absence while serving as a Supreme Court judge seems to have inspired the long-silenced Digger to pick up the phone again.
And while the Coodabeens have been amazed at how listeners have been taken in by the talkback segment, Ian Cover admits the characters have become so familiar that, at times, even he feels like they actually exist.
“It’s a funny thing, you know, we’ve done the talkback for more than 30 years, our characters are still the same and, to me, they are all real,” he says.
“When it’s your turn I feel like I just become that person for two minutes of the phone call and when it’s all over, I imagine that person still being out there somewhere. It’s weird.”
Three generations of fans
Laraine Rodriquez is a huge footy fan and passionate Melbourne supporter who has been listening to the Coodabeens since the late 80s.
“Once I started listening, I was hooked,” recalls Laraine.
“If I couldn’t listen ‘live’ on Saturday morning I would record it on my radio/cassette player and listen later — either at home or on my cassette player in the car.
“I do remember buying The Coodabeens Big Bumper Footy Book (published in 1990) and laughing throughout most of it.
“I still pick it up at times and continue to laugh, even though some of the information is dated.”
Laraine has been a regular at the outside broadcasts at AFL finals and on grand final morning since the mid-90s, and been interviewed on the show several times.
“In 1994, [with Melbourne in the finals], I was wearing all my Demon gear and I copped some good-natured ribbing about having a red and blue crocheted rug, thus fitting their (and others’) stereotypical image of a Melbourne supporter.
“We had quite a conversation and I received a prize for being a good sport,” she says.
Laraine Rodriquez says the “magic” of the Coodabeens is their interest in the “whole” of football — footballers who played a handful of games, not just the big names, as well as those from country, suburban and women’s leagues.
In fact, the show featured female footballers decades before the AFLW was established.
“I think the Coodabeens appeal to all listeners because they are so inclusive, their style of humour never alienates anyone because it is such good, clean, clever fun.
“As a Melbourne supporter (who has never seen snow anywhere in Australia!), I fume when I hear constant references to Melbourne supporters going to the snow instead of the football.
“Yet when the Coodabeens put Demon fans and snow in the same sentence, the way they do it makes me laugh and I am not one bit offended.
“Long may the Coodabeens continue!”
That they tapped into something that has resonated with footy fans for so long is both surprising and hugely rewarding for the team.
“Not only do we have first-generation listeners, there are also third-generation listeners,” says Cover.
“A lot of people have said to us along the way, ‘Dad used to make us listen to you in the car, and we had no idea what you were going on about, then we got into it and now I’ve got my kids listening.’
“When you reflect on that, there’s a sense of accomplishment that you’ve created something that as well as having longevity has been enjoyed by so many people.”
“Some people have used the term the ‘Rolling Stones of radio’ [to describe us] and I see the parallels,” quips Champion.
“Not that I’m equating us with the Rolling Stones, but there’s the 40 years thing and the longer it goes the harder it is to consider leaving.
They’ve particularly loved taking the show on the road.
“The Coodabeens have done hundreds and hundreds of regional gigs, in Victoria and across the borders, and it’s been a wonderful, wonderful journey playing in the bush and connecting with the people,” says Champion.
“That’s where people tell you what their ABC and their Coodabeens mean to them, how important the Coodabeens and the ABC are to them, and that drives home what a privileged and special position we’re in.”
Still kicking goals
For their 40th year, they’ve published a book, 40 Footy Seasons, that features tales from the core group and many other contributors who’ve come and gone over the years.
While much has remained the same and nostalgia is a big part of their appeal, they’ve also moved with the times, recruiting producer ‘Young Andy’ Bellairs, one of those ‘kids’ who grew up listening to the show in the car, introducing new segments and embracing social media.
COVID-19 has torpedoed their outside broadcasts, community shows and a proposal to appear in this year’s grand final entertainment, but they’re live-streaming part of their GF show and feel lucky to have been able to remain on air.
“Just because of the amount of correspondence we’ve had from people making the comment that in these difficult, unprecedented times, the fact that we’ve been on has provided a bit of normality amongst all the craziness.
“Greg’s had double the song contributions this year and the social media question has had more responses every week than it’s had in the past.
“Driving up from Barwon Heads [when the first lockdown began] I really felt that I wasn’t just going in to do the show as normal, I felt, without sounding too over the top, a sense of responsibility that we had a job to do to entertain people, to cheer them up, to be there.”
With all but Young Andy now aged in their 60s and 70s, the question is how much longer will the Coodabeen Champions be there?
To quote one of those footy cliches they love to make fun of, they’re taking it one week at a time.
“I’ll be happy to get to next Saturday, I don’t think any further ahead than that,” laughs Jeff Richardson.
Listen to the Coodabeen Champions grand final day broadcast from 10:00am on October 24 on ABC Radio Melbourne and around Victoria, ABC Listen or wherever you get your podcasts
WA Good Food Guide’s Spring ABCs Dining and Content Series is set to launch on 16th September 2020. Celebrating a new season of culinary possibilities, the series marks a second foray into seasonal dining, following the successful WAGFG winter series, Truffles Unearthed.
10 unique dining events between Perth and the South West.
Each dining event to be based around an assigned letter of the alphabet, with chefs forming their menu on that letter, using WA spring produce.
Launch dining event at The Ritz-Carlton Perth’s signature restaurant, Hearth on Wednesday 16th September. Featuring 2018 WAGFG Chef of the Year, Jed Gerrard and his menu based around the letter ‘B’.
Details on the events can be found on the WAGFG website from Wednesday 2nd September (wagoodfoodguide.com).
Perth based events to include some of WA’s best restaurants, such as Heritage Wine Bar, Uma at Pan Pacific Perth, Fleur at The Royal, Young George, Bib & Tucker, Millbrook Winery.
South West dining series to include Arimia, Wise Winery and Market Eating House.
WAGFG Cooking School at European Concepts to feature classes by celebrated West Australian chefs; classes will include vegan cooking, cheesemaking, Wagyu masterclass and cooking with WA spring produce.
Free cooking demonstrations at Winning Appliances.
Digital content series to delve into spring produce, producer stories, chef interviews and a guide of what to drink in spring. It is set to showcase the editorial team at WAGFG including Editor David Matthews, Contributing Editor Max Brearley, Director of Drinks Mike Bennie, Chief Bar Reviewer Matty Hirsch, New York Times food critic and James Beard award-winning writer Besha Rodell and Contributor Pat Nourse (former Managing Editor of Gourmet Traveller).
Georgia Moore, Director of The West Australian Good Food Guide commented:
“Emerging from the winter months our featured restaurants and chefs are rising to the challenge of our dining series, taking their assigned letter of the alphabet and running with it in terms of choosing their ingredients. We’re seeing inspired menus emerge.”
“After the success of Truffles Unearthed, with sold out events, amazing feedback on our cooking school sessions and a rich mix of digital content, we wanted to step up again for our producers and the hospitality industry. We’re certainly not out of the woods with the challenges of this year, but the winter series really showed us that there’s an appetite for this kind of initiative. Our focus at WA Good Food Guide is about celebrating the best of Western Australia, and the Spring ABCs Dining and Content Series will certainly do that.”
“This year has seen an editorial shift for WAGFG and I’m personally excited for our readers in WA and beyond to get to know our Editor David Matthews and the wider editorial team. David will be spearheading a great programme of WA related spring content. And we’re taking to the road again, with our partner Audi Centre Perth. Our Contributing Editor Max Brearley has covered thousands of kilometres in the last few months from Perth, to Margaret River, Manjimup and the Gascoyne to deliver our readers some incredible content. WA is a vast state but we’re about putting in the legwork.”
Jed Gerrard, Executive Chef, Hearth, The Ritz-Carlton Perth commented:
“Spring is my favourite time of year for produce, with things like blue swimmer crab. And you’ve got really fresh vegies and herbs like cucumber and dill. I had to select a letter from the alphabet to form the dinner around. It’s fun. Very different. You know it allows you to think out of the box a little as it’s not normally the process that you go through in developing a menu for a wine dinner or an event. We’ll be matching to wine from Swinney down in the Frankland River, so it’s real taste of WA.”
“I went for the letter B. So, really nice heirloom beetroots will be a possibility, which I can smoke and cook in the coals of the fire. There’s Rose Mallee beef. which is a new beef brand in WA that I’m excited to play around with. It’s a Wagyu Angus cross that has nice marbling that’s not too full on. I’m thinking blueberries from Denmark with anise myrtle from the Bushfood Factory just down the road. It’s hard just picking one letter, but with blue swimmer crab, beetroot, beef and blueberries I’ve got options. It’s a really cool concept and it should be fun.”
Bronte Howson, Managing Director, Audi Centre Perth commented:
“Audi Centre Perth is pleased to present the WA Good Food Guide’s Spring ABCs Dining and Content Series. As a Western Australian business, we value the local producers, restaurateurs and chefs that contribute to our way of life, while also creating a thriving and important industry for this State.”
An individual at the ABC is leaking confidential data about Emma Alberici to its — and her — enemies at News Corp. What sign does that ship to journalists whose occupation is to keep the highly effective to account?
The ABC is usually rapid to reply to attacks on alone and its staff produced by other media outlets.
It has an entire website webpage focused to “correcting the record”. When Dr Norman Swan was criticised for his protection of the pandemic, the ABC unveiled a lengthy assertion defending him.
An Australian attack on the ABC’s investigative reporting crew drew a lengthy rebuke. An product on the ABC’s lookup motor optimisation tactics elicited a monster 900-phrase response by ABC Information communications lead Sally Jackson (coincidentally herself a former Australian media journalist). There are also media releases correcting promises by other media figures.
But the ABC has fallen unusually silent a short while ago as The Australian has attacked journalist Emma Alberici — like publishing confidential information and facts about her employment.
Alberici has been a normal punching bag for Information Corp publications, The Australian Fiscal Assessment and senior Coalition figures for several years. The governing administration and its media cheerleaders introduced an onslaught in 2018 immediately after she printed an fantastic, in-depth assessment of company tax payments, a single that survived many makes an attempt, which includes by the ABC, to discredit it.
That piece prompted fury from business figures whose companies had been exposed as failing to pay out tax and prompted cellphone phone calls by primary minister Malcolm Turnbull to friend and then-ABC chair Justin Milne. Milne, later on to resign amid strategies of sexual harassment, demanded then-taking care of director Michelle Guthrie fireplace Alberici due to the fact “they loathe her”. Turnbull’s main media adviser all through the controversy was former senior ABC journalist — and one particular of Alberici’s predecessors as economics correspondent — Mark Simkin.
Turnbull’s dislike of Alberici was stated to go back again further, to her handling of a 2013 election debate above the NBN.
In the latest weeks, even so, the consistent targeting of the journalist by News Corp and the AFR has shifted as the ABC has embarked on a round of redundancies. TheAustralian has repeatedly operate details about Alberici’s work standing that can only have come from in the ABC — and which seem to breach basic necessities of staff members confidentiality.
On June 25, The Australian noted not merely that Alberici experienced been specific for redundancy by the ABC — which was broadly identified following the ABC introduced its most up-to-date round of redundancies the past working day — but that “the ABC will undertake a ‘process of consultation’ with her, in which it will consult with Alberici ‘on positions that in shape with her capabilities established … she may possibly shift to a further spot, such as the ABC information channel’ ”.
On July 20, Nick Tabakoff speculated Alberici could come to be a “shock jock”. Last week he documented her “redundancy is understood to have been reaffirmed” and “prospects of a radio redeployment taking place have faded”, although evidence there at any time was a “radio redeployment” exterior Tabakoff’s head is really hard to uncover. This 7 days Alberici is being described as acquiring refused an ABC Information channel offer.
The message from the leaks and their reporting is obvious: the ABC has accomplished its darnedest to come across a position for Alberici (to the extent that examining an autocue for the handful of viewers who check out the ABC information channel is a function) but, regrettably, simply cannot obtain just one she will deign to settle for.
In contrast to the ABC’s normal output of corrections and refutations, there has not been a solitary “Correcting the Record” reaction, of even modest length.
In most corporations and general public sector organizations, staffing issues are private. Office privateness concepts limit what 3rd events can receive information about personnel and when. Normally, not even colleagues are meant to know about matters pertaining to problems like remuneration, conflict management, functionality administration and redundancy.
The ABC is aware of this: it famously prompted issues for alone above the decades by refusing to expose the salaries of higher-profile staff to parliamentary committees.
Alberici, on the other hand, appears to be an exception. Either private facts about Alberici’s work is currently being extensively shared in the company, and remaining fed to a further outlet, or those who maintain such data close in just senior administration and ABC HR are by themselves leaking it.
The ABC disputes that details is remaining leaked about Alberici.
“Confidential data relating to possible redundancies has not been disclosed and no one in ABC management has commented in any way,” a spokesperson told Crikey. “Under the [ABC] business settlement (EA), information relating to possibly redundant positions is bundled in the proposals for modify, which are made offered to all personnel.”
Whilst it is correct that Alberici’s placement, alongside with other positions proposed for redundancy, was recognized to workers as becoming created redundant on June 24, that does not deal with how own information unique to her personal redundancy process these types of as opportunity other roles and consultations about her “skill set” was also shared in accordance with the corporation’s EA.
“Employees are consulted on how to react to media speculation,” the ABC added.
Alberici has resisted becoming pressured out of the ABC, incorporating to her 2018 sin in the eye of executives of upsetting the Coalition and small business with her journalism, and refusing to back again down more than it.
It is really worth recalling how incredible the attacks by the governing administration had been on Alberici more than an article that, much from getting “riddled with errors”, as critics claimed, was forensic. Since the election of the present-day governing administration in 2013, the custom of ministers only speaking with the ABC through correspondence with the chair — a tradition noticed, with trivial exceptions, by Coalition ministers like Richard Alston and Helen Coonan, and Labor’s Stephen Conroy, has been trashed. Below the existing govt, key ministers and ministers feel free of charge to complain straight to ABC executives.
Such issues have usually been handled at arm’s size.
Then chair and running director Donald McDonald and Russell Balding, and minister Richard Alston, were being all scrupulous in retaining the enormous controversy above Alston’s 2003 complaints about the ABC’s Iraq War protection confined to minister-chair correspondence and the ABC’s unbiased grievances handling procedures. Underneath a lot more the latest administration, Morris appears to get a diverse approach that is much extra responsive to the Coalition.
In 1 of the content articles speculating about Alberici’s redundancy, The Australian journalist mocked her for her lack of operate as the ABC’s chief economics correspondent, the job she was moved to following the axing of the very long-functioning Lateline recent affairs program, which has left a key gap in the ABC’s latest affairs protection.
Nonetheless, Crikey understands ABC administration and editors have acted to avert, or refused to publish, Alberici’s function in the economics role.
Resources within just the company say administration has correctly blocked the economics route for her, prompting Alberici to make herself valuable in other places, which includes on Foreign Correspondent and on Sydney radio.
Alberici declined to respond to concerns and directed Crikey to her lawyers, who did not return calls.
Offered how cowed ABC information and present-day affairs has come to be in modern years, the treatment method meted out to Alberici, beyond the breach of staff confidentiality, seems developed to send out a signal to ABC journalists: upset the Coalition, and protect your journalism, and you are going to be the subject matter of a community campaign built to portray you in an unflattering light-weight — such as to any potential companies in what is remaining of Australia’s media.
At a time when Australian journalism is beneath existential menace, it is a grim sign of how the ABC will approach the problem of giving community interest journalism that retains the potent to account.
“The worst-case scenario is I’ll have to quarantine for two weeks at home”.
This is what I told friends and colleagues before leaving Hobart bound for Melbourne to visit the children I hadn’t seen since Christmas.
That was four weeks ago and I had no idea how wrong I was.
I arrived in Melbourne the day Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein announced the state’s borders would reopen on July 24, the day before my planned return to Hobart.
Every government announcement since, whether Tasmanian or Victorian, has underscored the folly of my optimism.
As Victoria’s COVID-19 case numbers continued to rise, it was quickly apparent Tasmania would not reopen its border with Victoria any time soon.
The blindside was Tasmania mandating hotel quarantine without notice for people returning from Victoria.
That prompted a flurry of activity and communication. I applied to be exempted from hotel quarantine and to quarantine at home instead.
I was travelling alone and living alone. I was well prepared to quarantine and with support from the Hobart newsroom I could continue to work from home.
I was prepared to leave Melbourne and my children early, but only if I could home quarantine and minimise the impact on work.
I first applied for an exemption on Friday, July 10, with supporting documentation from myself and the ABC.
On Wednesday, July 15, I was told my application wouldn’t be processed and that I should try again on the new G2G app, which was about to go live.
So the next day, I started my second application, still unsure if an exemption was possible, ticking my nominated category “Tasmanian Resident — isolating at home”.
It asked for my Tasmanian drivers licence number, then rejected my application for failing to provide proof of Tasmanian residency.
I applied a third time and, to my surprise, my new application, with a copy of my licence, was approved within three hours.
My notification reads: “Category of Applicant: Tasmanian Resident isolating at home.” “Application Status — APPROVED.”
Consequently, I changed my travel plans, left my children early, and boarded the Spirit of Tasmania on Tuesday night.
Before boarding I re-read my exemption and became sufficiently nervous to tweet this.
On arrival in Devonport, Biosecurity officers said I had to go into hotel quarantine and could not explain the contradiction of my G2GPASS exemption approval.
They provided me with a new face mask and directed me to join a convoy behind a police car and we were escorted to a dockside parking lot.
After 12 hours of isolation in a cabin on the Spirit, I had to park my car [also in isolation] then board a bus with more than 20 others also returning from Melbourne to be transferred to our Devonport hotel.
I think the least safe place I have been in the past four weeks was on board the bus where social distancing became impossible.
I’m not the only one who has been left confused by the quarantine process.
Tasmanian woman Erin arrived back in the state on Monday.
“Instead of just coming into contact with the health officer at the airport and the person coming to pick me up, I’ve probably now just come into contact with about 30 other people all from the plane, as well as just a bunch of police officers, plus the bus driver.”
She said she had been told others were having the same experience.
“The lady this morning told me that she was having to deal with around 20 other people that were having the exact same issue as me — Tasmanian residents who were supposed to be quarantining at home but were stuck in government quarantine.”
Tasmanian Labor said it had heard concerns about the use of the app and quarantine transfers.
Opposition spokesman David O’Byrne said: “It’s not good enough just to pack people on a bus and push them off to a hotel and hope for the best.”
G2G information being updated to make ‘clearer’
In a statement, a spokesperson from DPIPWE said “all travellers to Tasmania should be aware of the requirements” of quarantining to address the “significant threat to the health of the Tasmanian community”.
“Regarding G2G, the approval permit issued to Tasmanian residents clearly states if the traveller needs to go into government quarantine.
“The Exemption category on the permit granted refers to the exemption requested by the traveller, not the exemption that has been approved. The G2G PASS website is currently being reviewed to update the categories to make this clearer.
“There will be some delays in the processing of travel applications during the cross-over period between the new and old system and we thank all travellers for their patience.”
Tasmanian Health Minister Sarah Courtney today told the ABC: “We think that this is a really important app that’s going to help Tasmanians.
The Tasmanian Government’s liaison officer overseeing Devonport’s Gateway Hotel called me to address my concerns.
After chatting with him, it now appears I have been granted an exemption merely to enter Tasmania, to cross an otherwise-closed border.
As a Tasmanian resident I would have thought I didn’t need an exemption to enter the state.
I sought an exemption to hotel quarantine and that is what I understood I had applied for on three separate occasions.
All of my supporting documentation referenced quarantine at home. Maybe the app didn’t read it.
I have checked into Devonport’s Gateway Hotel. My room is very nice, but small.
A makeshift exercise yard in the car park is only marginally bigger. I can see it from my window. It takes up six parking spaces.
Hotel meals are delivered to my door and placed on a chair outside my room.
There are many worse places to be in the world right now — but if I had my time again I’d still be with my kids.
The key it uses, which is particular to the ABC, currently makes a few assumptions.
For a start, some of the vowel symbols assume a speaker possesses what linguists call a non-rhotic variety of English – that is, one where the /r/ sounds are not pronounced following vowels in words like car or fur.
This means that, for speakers with a rhotic English variety like Irish or Scottish, our guidance can already be a bit ambiguous.
The modified spelling key also assumes all ABC journalists can produce and discern two French vowels, represented in the International Phonetic Alphabet by /ɑ̃/ and /ɔ̃/.
While these sounds would come naturally to the Oxford-educated Mark Colvin, or to any Parisian asking for vin blanc, they are not really part of Australian English’s sound inventory.
It’s not just vowels, either: the key also assumes newsreaders will be able to recognise and produce a fricative consonant found in German, Hebrew, or Arabic.
A more serious issue is that the modified spelling key does not accurately reflect many sounds common to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages.
Given the ABC has made serious, strong commitments to highlight the use of Indigenous place and nation names in its content, as well as our participation in wider community initiatives like Walking Together and the UN International Year of Indigenous Languages, this seems a critical oversight.
Luckily, it is one that can be fixed.
Here are some examples of the sounds we might add.
Initial nasals: Ngambri, Ngunnawal, Ngarigo
Sometimes a sound appears in both English and Indigenous languages, but in contexts that can be difficult for English speakers to master.
An example: the final sound in a word like sing, which phoneticians call a velar nasal, does not often begin words in English.
In Australian languages, it does this all the time – from Ngunnawal to Ngambri to Ngarigo.
It can be tricky for English speakers to get their head around initial nasals.
One trick is to say English singer over and over again without the initial si-sound.
From the standpoint of our key, this is an easy fix: the sound <ng> is already there, we should just include examples in our training of initial nasals in Aboriginal languages.
Not all /r/s are created equal
Many Australian languages contain several of what linguists call rhotics, or “r-like” sounds.
Commonly a language will have two or three: the /r/ sound of Australian English; a “tap” consonant very much like the middle one in Australian English productions of water or bottle; and a “trilled” /r/ as in Spanish perro.
The important thing to note is that, within Indigenous languages, these rhotic sounds will contrast in a way that changes meaning: to take Gamilaraay as an example, the command baraya (hop) means a different thing to barraya (fly).
The ABC’s pronunciation key does not currently distinguish these sounds.
Adding a <rr> symbol to indicate trills could remedy this.
Retroflex sounds and palatals
In addition to rhotics, Australian languages may also feature what linguists call retroflex sounds.
In Latin, retroflex means “to bend back” – which is exactly what the tongue does when these sounds are made!
In words like Warlpiri or Bardi, you can think of the retroflex as adding an “r-like” quality to the /l/ or /d/ consonants, and – because of a process known as coarticulation – changing the quality of the preceding vowel.
An example: in Kaurna, the name of a people and language from the Adelaide area, the middle sound is a retroflex nasal.
At the moment our pronunciation guidance for this would be the same as it would for Ghana.
If our key acknowledged the retroflex sounds using a digraph like <rn>, it would be different again, and more accurate to a native speaker pronunciation: GAH-rnah.
Australian languages also contain dental consonants, so named because they mean the tongue contacts the teeth.
You probably already use a dental consonant, but just don’t realise it: say nun, and think about where your tongue is while you’re saying those /n/ sounds.
Now say tenth, and note the difference in tongue position with that /n/.
Is your tongue over your teeth, slightly over your mouth? Congratulations! That’s a dental consonant.
In Australian languages, dentals are often indicated in spelling by a digraph like <th>, <dh>, or <nh>.
Once you know this, it’s easier to know how to pronounce the dentals in nation names like Dharug, Yolnu Matha or Guugu Yimithirr.
Again, another slight increase in accuracy our key could incorporate without much trouble.
Scratching the surface
There are the beginnings, really, of how the ABC’s pronunciation guidance can more accurately reflect the sounds of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages.
Other sounds exist which differ from English – like the palatal consonants, commonly seen in Arandic names like Anmatyerr, which resemble the sound made when English speakers say the words don‘t you very quickly.
Some languages incorporate the glottal stop found in Cockney English, either using the letter <h>, as in Gundjeihmi, or an apostrophe, as in Galiwin‘ku.
While it can seem intimidating, it is also an opportunity to learn.
And never before has so much information on Australian languages and cultures been available so easily, from Word Up and Awaye! to NITV, to elsewhere.
I’m a realist: any updating of the ABC’s pronunciation guidance will have to be matched with training for broader change to occur.
The ABC must also be wary of transporting normative English assumptions around “correctness” to the Indigenous context: speakers, not the ABC, have the final say on how Indigenous languages should be represented.
Our guidance will not be set in stone, but will adapt as these languages themselves grow and shift.
That, I think, is in the spirit of Walking Together.
Tiger Webb is a language research specialist with the ABC’s Editorial Policies team. Thanks to Tracey Cameron from the University of Sydney, and Hywel Stoakes from the University of Melbourne, for conversations around the direction of this piece.