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Thursday, 11 April, 2002, 00:28 GMT 01:28 UK
Aborigines hope for TV stardom
Australian aboriginal in BBC documentary
Coming to a screen near you... maybe
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By Phil Mercer
BBC reporter in Sydney
A new push is underway to get more black faces in Australian films and on television.

The under-representation of indigenous actors on the silver and small screens is blamed by some on racism and by others on a simple lack of opportunity.

I'd like to be in Home and Away. I reckon I could give that a go 'cos there's not many black people in it


Now, a community-run talent agency in Sydney is aiming to break down the barriers and help more aboriginal teenagers into showbiz.

Those behind the project, including Sharne Dunsmore from the FACT Tree youth centre in Sydney's Redfern district, have bold plans - including an indigenous assault on the hit Australian soaps Neighbours and Home and Away.

He believes the absence of aboriginals on television is yet more evidence of the disadvantages they face at every turn.

"I think it's an added variable on being downtrodden already. They're not seen and they're not visible as it is and their concerns are not addressed," he said.

"They like their television just like everybody else - yet they never see themselves and that's shocking."

Logo for Australian soap Neighbours
Australia's soaps give a very narrow picture

Off stage

Pick any night of the week and you will be lucky to see a single indigenous face on Australian television.

There are programmes that tackle indigenous issues but they tend to be tucked well away from prime time schedules.

Most young aborigines would be hard pressed to name a famous indigenous actor or television personality.

But the success in Australia of A Rabbit Proof Fence, a film about the forced separation of aboriginal children from their families, shows there is a market for indigenous movies starring inexperienced young actors.

Twelve-year-old Melissa told BBC News Online she has her sights set on a popular Australian soap opera.

"I'd like to be in Home and Away. I reckon I could give that a go 'cos there's not many black people in it. There's a lot of aboriginals that would like to do it but haven't been asked to do it," she said.

Sharne Dunsmore believes that until indigenous actors start making an impression on the popular soaps, viewers abroad will not get a true picture of Australia's racial and cultural mix.

"Neighbours and Home and Away are nice little snapshots of certain aspects of Australia but it's very, very limited and so we want all of Australia to be represented," he said.


Aborigine man
Australia's aborigines have little to celebrate

It is not just on television that Australia's aborigines feel neglected.

For years they have faced disadvantage and discrimination.

They die younger than anyone else and are more likely to be ill, unemployed or in jail than any other group in the country.

Cindi Petersen from South Sydney Council, one of the partners in the new talent agency, hopes it can provide young aboriginal people with ways to flourish.

"We also want to build in some sort of writing component because until we get more indigenous people actually writing the scripts for television and for film, we're not tapping into this great resource," she said.

So far more than 100 young aborigines have registered for Camera, Lights, Action, the agency run by community groups and the local authority.

Already there has been success, with indigenous actors starring in a commercial for one of Australia's biggest banks.

There is also the promise of more work - and more black faces on prime time television - to come.

See also:

03 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Aborigines fight dingo cull
04 Jan 01 | Asia-Pacific
Aborigine treaty plans dismissed
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