There are good things on TV…

Yes, there are so many cringeworthy shows, some of them unaccountably popular too. Can’t be bothered naming them! You know what I mean. But there are so many gems too. For example, I have lately caught up with replays of The Recording Studio on ABC. And last night SBS offered an absolute treasure: Struggle Street Season 3.

The controversial SBS documentary, which was criticised and labelled “poverty porn” when it first premiered in 2015 documenting the lives of people living in the western Sydney suburb of Mount Druitt, returned for a third season on Wednesday night.

This time it explores the lives of individuals living in Ashmont and towns across the Riverina region — an area distinctly affected by the ongoing NSW drought.

“It’s absolutely gutting watching this,” one viewer wrote on Twitter.

“This should be mandatory viewing by everyone in government. My heart breaks for our country,” another said.


See Meet the participants of season 3 of ‘Struggle Street’.

Last night we met:

Barry and Rosey

Barry’s family have been dairy farmers for a century and a half. Barry, 54 and his wife Rosey, 49, with their two young children, Annabella, two, and Lincoln, five, live in Deniliquin in the southern Riverina. As the drought stretches on relentlessly, their farm is on its knees. A lack of government-allocated water, escalating costs and the fixed price of milk have culminated in desperate times for Barry and Rosey. Rain is their only chance of salvation. Can they stay afloat long enough to save their farm?


For over four decades, 72-year-old Robert, known as Bob, has lived on the road, cycling to jobs from rural town to rural town, mostly living in a tent or makeshift lean-to. But since sustaining injuries when he came off his bike, he’s been forced to stay put. When we meet him, he’s living in a caravan on the edge of North Wagga Wagga and dealing with ongoing medical conditions. Facing the prospect of having to stay put, Bob is not taking well to the idea of giving up his itinerant lifestyle.

Mason and Katherine

Mason and Katherine live in Tolland, five kilometres from downtown Wagga Wagga. The suburb has developed a bad reputation due to its high unemployment rate and growing crime. Mason is looking for work and Katherine is stay-at-home mum to two-year-old daughter, Suzianna. Their home is a drop-in centre of sorts. Katherine’s taken in two pregnant teenagers and also helps Mason’s partially blind best mate, Ethan. When their home is broken into and ransacked, Katherine questions the environment in which she’s raising her child.

This is truly REALITY TV — a very healthy dose of reality it is too. A must watch.


So, AGT returns!

Yes, next Sunday Australia’s Got Talent returns to Channel 7.  Yes, it can at times be cheesy, but it can also be brilliant. It has been off our screens for a few years now. I do remember watching it in 2011 and 2012 with considerable pleasure, especially perhaps in 2011.

As some of you may also recall:

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Yes, Jack Vidgen, who won aged 14 in 2011. I saw him soon after in Wollongong:


And that’s a grab from a video I am still working on… [24/09/11] He really is very good.

I have followed him since on social media. Not all that happened to him appeared there, but he did travel in the years since 2011 — in more ways then one. Some of this took me back to my time in the mid-1980s around the Britannia Hotel in Chippendale, and the Sydney Gay Youth Group that used to meet there of a Saturday.

It hasn’t all been easy for him, apparently, as he revealed when he returned from “exile” to try for Voice Australia this year. I did watch that.

Jack Vidgen, who won AGT in 2011, is part of Team Guy, and throughout their mentoring sessions this week, the now 22-year-old spoke candidly about how tough it has been to deal with the Australian public continually commenting on his changing appearance.
“I think at first I questioned why people need to say something,” Jack told Guy during a one-on-one chat.
“They fell in love with me as that 14-year-old boy and they feel they need to hang on to that. I’m the same person, I’ve just grown. I wanna bring that with me.”

See also:

Jack who won AGT at just 14, revealed he had gone through a tough time after the show and trying to make it on his own in America at 16.
“Winning Australia’s Got Talent, any 14-year-old would want that, it was crazy but I just don’t think I knew the effect that it was having at the time,” he said.
The coaches and audience were visibly shocked at Jack’s admission, with audible gasps heard.
“I got exposed to a lot of things that I don’t think it’s that great to be exposed to,” Jack continued. “It’s kind of scary to be alone and at rock bottom. I think it was kind of a snowball effect for me. It was me as well believing all the negative things people started to say about me.”
Now openly gay, Jack said having people question his sexuality at a time when he was still figuring it out for himself was also difficult to handle.
“I remember doing an interview and the interviewer asked me if I had a girlfriend or a boyfriend,” he recalled. “I was like, oh my God, does someone know something? It was so weird to be asked that and not knowing how to answer. I was going through puberty in front of the whole country but when you’re trying to work out whether you’re gay or not, that’s not the easiest thing to do. That stuff does get to you. I was just empty. It was really scary.”
But despite his life threatening to go off the rails, Jack said being back on stage was the best thing he’d done in five years

Jack reached the Grand Final of The Voice, but did not win. Nonetheless, he does appear to be well on the way to reviving his singing career.

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Good media — yes, there is such a thing…

… or should that be “there are such things”? (Yes, I did Latin at Sydney University!) Here at Wollongong City Diggers just now they are playing Bingo in the next room. Could have sworn the caller was speaking Mandarin! But I am sure it just sounded that way…

So last night on WIN — that is, for Sydneyites Channel 10 — I saw and much benefited from the Adam Goodes documentary.

The film’s director, Ian Darling, said the fact that some people felt the need to put an apology in writing was encouraging.

“At the end of the day there were hundreds of thousands of people across the country who booed. Not everybody is going to change their mind,” Darling said.

“We have done test screenings and when you show it to school kids there is a real honesty and a number of them after 70 minutes said, ‘Wow, I got this so wrong’.”

A chance for the public to reflect

Darling said one of the main aims of the documentary was to ensure Goodes’s voice was finally heard by re-compiling the events of his final three years in the game, in chronological order.

During that period, Goodes was targeted by fans who booed and jeered him whenever he touched the ball. It led to his exit from the game in 2015.

I had not paid close attention at the time, though I saw  with disgust the responses during that period of the likes of Andrew Bolt, Miranda Devine and Alan Jones. (The latter was represented in the doco by an actor’s voice, which actually was a bit of an improvement! The words were his though.)


Given the opportunity to hear extensively from Adam Goodes himself, one could only marvel at how much more polite and reasonable he was than the gaggle of knockers. Particularly dreadful was Sam Newman. Fortunately I have lived for 76 years without ever seeing or hearing him! Believe it or not, that’s true! There have to be some benefits to living in NSW!


If you get a chance, do see The Final Quarter! Related: from 10 Daily — It’s one of the most shameful chapters in Australian sporting history.  Eddie McGuire had a few of his least fine moments back then, but do read ‘Heartbreaking’: Eddie McGuire responds to Adam Goodes doco.

The hour-long film touched on McGuire’s widely-condemned King Kong comments as well as the racial slur Goodes copped from a 13-year-old Collingwood supporter. The two-time Brownlow Medallist, who won two premierships with the Sydney Swans and was also named Australian of the year in 2014, was booed at subsequent AFL games and announced his retirement shortly after.

Director Ian Darling has previously said the film is an unflinching look at “what racism looks like”.

“One of our greatest footballers, who happened to be Indigenous and a proud Australian of the Year, was literally booed out of the game,” he said. “Adam did so much talking over that period – far more than I realised [before starting the documentary]. The problem was that as a nation, we didn’t listen to him. So you can see as the film unfolds how it has affected him so profoundly.”

AFL staff have since apologised to Goodes, admitting they did not do enough to “call out” racism and discrimination.

My second example of good media is ABC News, particularly their drought coverage this week. So important, and so good that we got to hear these stories! For example:

Gippsland farmers in their third year of drought are estimated to have lost as much as 70 per cent of their regular income.

The situation is now described as a “green drought”, where paddocks look green from a distance, however pasture growth is hamstrung by low rainfall and grass growth is stymied by weeds.

Rodwells Sale agronomist, Casey Willis, said these weeds had limited nutritional value.

“A green drought is a drought through the wintertime where we have a green cover but there’s no actual growth coming from any desirable pasture species,” Ms Willis said….”

“A lot of what’s being grown in paddocks at the moment is weeds and they have little to no nutritional value for stock.

Interesting story — but don’t get carried away!

Just some reflections on last night’s Who Do You Think You Are? on SBS. It was an interesting episode, concerning television journalist Jennifer Byrne.

The TV show’s film crew follow her as she visits England to discover a series of royal connections – before ultimately finding out that her 12 times great-grandfather was Sir Edward Neville, a courtier in King Henry VIII’s court.

She then follows her mother’s bloodline back even further and incredibly discovers that her 15 times great-grandmother was the granddaughter of King Edward III – officially making her a royal.

Well, don’t get too carried away!  They went down quite a few female lines to reach Edward III — and, after all, “Mathematical models imply that virtually every English person is a descendant of the Norman and Plantagenêt kings, including those who ruled 500 years after Alfred the Great.”  So Edward was back before the 15th great-grandparents of Jennifer Byrne. So one out of… a sizeable village or town!

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I mean no disrespect here. And it was worth seeing the Nevilles’ modest castle, not to mention learning about the intriguing Katherine Swynford.

The program turned to the Chinese background of Jennifer Byrne’s father, whose father was interned by the Japanese in Shanghai’s Lunghua Camp, made famous in J G Ballard’s novel and the movie Empire of the Sun, one of my favourites. Ballard was interned there as a child. Here is Christian Bale as Jim in the movie:

I was surprised that the program did not mention that connection; it even appears that it didn’t occur to Jennifer Byrne, which surprises me rather. Sadly, Byrne’s paternal grandfather died soon after being interned.

From the South China Morning Post — ‘Empire of the Sun’ internment camp forgotten in Shanghai.

Former internee Betty Barr entered the Lunghwa camp in 1943 at the age of 10 with her Scottish missionary father, American mother and older brother.

Her most vivid memories are blistering summers, freezing winters, and an obsession with food.

“I was old enough to know what was happening. I didn’t think it was a picnic,” said Barr, 80, during a return visit.

She still guiltily recalls taking a sip of milk produced by the camp’s only cow from a mug she was taking to her brother in the hospital.

“My father rose to be the manager of the kitchen, though he could not boil an egg, because he could be trusted not to steal vegetables,” she said.

Betty Barr appeared in last night’s episode.

Concerning Jennifer Byrne’s paternal grandfather the program makers produced an embarrassing historical clanger. The old man was rewarded for his sterling efforts during the Revolution of 1911. Here is Shanghai during that revolution:


The Chinese historians interviewed in the program didn’t make the clanger, nor did Jennifer Byrne — though I was again surprised by her apparent lack of knowledge about this key event in 20th century Chinese history. No, it was whoever produced what we saw because they seemed to confuse the 1911 revolution, which saw the end of the Manchu Qing Dynasty, with the 1949 beginning of the People’s Republic of China! Still, what’s 38 years!

Happens I have had a longtime interest in the subject: My Asian Century. But even if all you had to go on was the movie The Last Emperor — which I think Jennifer Byrne probably saw — you’d have some idea of the significance of 1911-1912 in China! Who Do You Think You Are should be more careful about its history!


And my footy tipping went well…

Yes, only one wrong and I got the margin score correct! So well placed so far…

I also predicted the NSW Election correctly. I honestly don’t mind Gladys. Here in The Gong Labor won hands down: 70+% two-party preferred. And in first choices look who no-one supported!

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Tonight’s must-watch: Waleed Aly interviewing Jacinda Ardern on The Project, Channel 10/WIN.

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Waleed’s interview/confrontation with Scott Morrison was broadcast ad-free in prime time last Thursday night — most unusual.  And unusual it was! Scott Morrison scored some, but also, I think, showed his critical weaknesses. I propose to watch it all again and may then comment further, but meanwhile I commend young Michael Koziol’s analysis. (He is I gather a twenty-something.)

Sincerity can be a real struggle for Morrison, partly because of his marketing background, and partly because of his own choices as Prime Minister that have sacrificed substance for political expediency (moving the embassy to Jerusalem, anyone?). So if he faces a credibility gap on this issue, perhaps he only has himself – and his party – to blame….