The Making Of Modern Australia

4 Apr

“My mother had eight children by the age of 29,” writes Karen Lawrence. “I felt and still feel she didn’t have much of a maternal bone in her body. Life and kids just happened to her in her early years… She was not a bad person… just immature and a victim of being poor.”

This is one of the many stories by everyday Australians popping up on The Making of Modern Australia website. They might be big stories that had ramifications for the whole community, or just the little stories about your first kiss, a special holiday, or a family member you adored.

Essentially they’re your own memoirs about growing up in Australia, and some of them will be chosen for a four-part documentary series to be screened on the ABC next April.

“We did a documentary project last year called Ten Pound Poms, which looked at the British migrant experience to Australia,” says producer Ian Collie.

“Some [of the stories] were very moving, some were very entertaining and funny, and some were about the British migrants who came here totally disillusioned and became the archetype of the winging pom. That was essentially post-war Australia – so we thought ‘let’s go beyond migrant experience and look at the whole social history experience of all Australians.’”

Collie, a producer of both drama and factual programming, has a keen interest in history and biographies. He recently produced Rogue Nation, which screened on the ABC over the last two Sunday nights. Also in his repertoire is The Catalpa Rescue (ABC), Johnny Warren’s Football Mission (SBS) and Suspicious Minds (Nine Network).

He says that by sharing stories we will get a bigger and more personal picture of what Australia is today.

“We are looking for those stories that tie in with some of the big events or the big transformations,” he explains. “It could be in looking at romance and relationships, one of the big changes was the introduction of the pill which opened up the whole sexual revolution. It didn’t happen overnight, but sexual morays changed as a result.

“If it’s religion – with the emergence of multiculturalism in society we saw other religions such as Islam or Buddhism, and of course, the disillusionment in western orthodox resulting in new age faith. So again looking at how some of these stories intersect with the bigger picture.”

But who knows what tangent the series will head down as peoples stories unfold.

“The beauty of documentaries is that you get these stories left-of-field, which can take you down a whole new storyline strand you didn’t anticipate – becoming richer because of it,” he says. “I think it’s that job of discovering new stories, new ideas, which people have forgotten about or didn’t know about.

“I think in any storytelling, sometimes the problem is we’ve heard it all before, so when it’s a new take or a surprise twist, that in itself is always refreshing.”

As for the style of the series, it will be presented in much the same way as Ten Pound Poms – using photos and home movies from people’s own archives, which will be given a graphic treatment so they come alive.

“From a TV perspective we’re probably looking for those stories which have some kind of visual media, which in conjunction with the interview, can help us tell the story – otherwise it gets a bit dry if you’ve just got a head talking for five minutes.”

While the web site is intended to live on well into the future, you had better get your memoirs in quick if you hope to be considered for the first two stories being developed for the series – on romance and religion.

“We’re starting to look for those stories now, but will probably start selecting them in the next month or so,” he says. “Although in the end we can only select a limited number for TV. The TV series is an add-on in many ways – a lovely add-on.”

Stories can be submitted online at or by calling Essential Media and Entertainment on (02) 8568 3100.

[As printed in The West Australian – Today on Thursday 2 April 2009]


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