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30 08 2018 - Media release

Screen Australia’s Indigenous Department turns 25


Media Call 30 Aug 2018. Standing L-R: Ivan Sen, Shari Sebbens, Warwick Thornton, Aaron Fa’Aoso, Hunter Page-Lochard / Seated L-R: Tasia Zalar, Penny Smallacombe, Elaine Crombie, Leah Purcell, Rob Collins, Rachel Perkins, Dylan River

Indigenous screen industry veterans and emerging artists came together this morning at Carriageworks, Redfern to celebrate 25 years of Screen Australia’s Indigenous Department.

In attendance were director Rachel Perkins (Mystery Road TV series, Bran Nue Dae), director and actor Leah Purcell (Redfern Now, Wentworth), and directors Ivan Sen (Mystery Road, Goldstone), Dylan River (Nulla Nulla) and Warwick Thornton (Samson & Delilah, Sweet Country).

The screen creatives were joined by audience favourites Rob Collins (Cleverman), Elaine Crombie (8MMM, Kiki and Kitty), Aaron Fa’Aoso (Little J & Big Cuz, The Straits), Hunter Page-Lochard (Spear, Cleverman) and Tasia Zalar (Mystery Road TV series, The Warriors).

“When Wal Saunders set up the Indigenous Department in 1993, it would have been unthinkable that over 160 First Nations screen stories would end up being made. Twenty five years later, it’s unthinkable to imagine the Australian screen industry without our Indigenous stories and the people who tell them,” said Penny Smallacombe Head of Indigenous at Screen Australia. "This anniversary is an incredibly special moment in Australia’s cultural history, and one that Indigenous people can treasure.”

“Today I looked around the room and saw 25 years of progress personified. For instance, Warwick Thornton and Rachel Perkins were part of the very first short film series funded by the Indigenous Department, and a quarter of century later Warwick is a Caméra d'Or-winning director and Rachel just helmed the most successful ABC iview drama in history – Mystery Road. And significantly, new names such as Dylan River and Tasia Zalar have worked on projects from both Warwick and Rachel, so we’re seeing generational and sustained changed. I cannot tell you how significant that is, knowing that young Indigenous people will grow up seeing themselves on screen.”

Screen luminary Leah Purcell also spoke, noting, “Our screen stories shape how we view ourselves and each other. What you see guides how you think. Now ‘mainstream’ Australia is seeing more authentic, diverse, real Indigenous Australians.”

“Now more of our mobs are writing, directing, acting, producing and creating and I am very fortunate and proud to be one of them and part of this great movement made possible by Screen Australia and its Indigenous Department. The Indigenous Department and its work are a policy success we need to celebrate and advance.”

The Indigenous screen community will formally mark the anniversary this evening with a showcase at Carriageworks. The event is being staged with the generous support of the ABC and NITV, plus Film Victoria, Screenwest, Documentary Australia Foundation, Shark Island Institute, Adelaide Film Festival and Carriageworks.

Follow the conversation #OurStories25


  • 25 Years of Indigenous Screen Stories – here
  • The Indigenous Department overview – here
  • Celebrating 25 years of the Indigenous Department – here

Image galleries


August 2018 marks 25 years since the Indigenous Department at Screen Australia was established, resulting in some of the nation’s most beloved films, television shows and documentaries.

Over 160 titles have been funded by the Department including Redfern NowSamson & DelilahSweet Country, Spear, ToomelahLittle J & Big Cuz, Mystery Road TV Series and numerous documentaries including We Don’t Need a Map, and Black Divaz.

Since its inception, the Indigenous Department has provided over $35m in funding for development, production and talent escalation. The model has been so successful it has recently inspired the Canada Media Fund to create their own Indigenous Film Fund.

A hallmark of the Department has been to put Indigenous people in control of their own stories, and the Indigenous Department has had a dramatic impact on the visibility of Indigenous characters on screen. As the careers of Indigenous creatives have grown, it has become common for their talents to be seen in projects funded through different streams within Screen Australia, such Ryan Griffen creating Cleverman, Rachel Perkins directing Bran Nue Dae and Jasper Jones, Wayne Blair directing The Sapphires and Top End Wedding, and Leah Purcell being one of the directors on The Secret Daughter.

A 2002 study entitled Broadcast in Colour found that in 1992 there were very few Indigenous Australians in sustaining roles on Australian TV, and by 1999 there were two. Screen Australia’s 2016 study Seeing Ourselves revealed 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.

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