As another terrible bushfire season approaches, Australian Story looks at the tragic case of Black Saturday arsonist Brendan Sokaluk and asks what lessons we can learn.
When celebrity TV doctor Kerryn Phelps first spoke about her same-sex relationship on Australian Story in 1998, it was revolutionary. 20 years later we catch up with the newly-elected Wentworth MP and her journey to Canberra.
Hell's Angel As Western Australia reels in shock from a succession of family mass murders, Perth advocate Dr Ann O’Neill offers a powerful message of hope. Twenty-four years ago, Ann’s estranged husband killed their two children and left her an amputee. She turned her grief into good and rebuilt her life to become one of the country’s leading trauma experts. In this update of a powerful episode from 2004, we follow Ann as she works with the Margaret River community in the wake of May's horrific mass killing. As she helps those struggling with sudden loss, Ann offers hard-won wisdom about how to carry on in the face of sadness and grief.
Close Contact By the time this year’s Queensland schoolboy rugby union season was over, four teenagers had broken their necks, their lives changed forever. Two of them, Conor Tweedy and Ollie Bierhoff, should have competed against each other. Instead, after separate accidents a week apart, they found themselves side by side in the Spinal Injuries Unit contemplating quadriplegia.In hospital, both boys threw themselves into their recoveries. One had a recovery deemed ‘miraculous’; for the other, the road back is much steeper.
Call Me Harrison When former Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer and his wife Judy learned that their young son was autistic, they were told he would probably never have a job or live independently. But Harrison Fischer, now aged 25, has defied everybody’s expectations. Harrison has a job helping primary schoolers in Wodonga, is paying tax and has his own home. As his father Tim Fischer, one of Australia’s most-loved politicians, battles a life-threatening illness, Harrison’s growing independence is a source of joy for the Fischer family.
When Australian Story first filmed with Dr Justin Yerbury, the world-renowned scientist’s research into motor neurone disease had taken on a terrible urgency. Diagnosed with the disease in 2016, his condition had begun to deteriorate dramatically. By last Christmas he was unable to breathe unassisted and without major surgery to provide permanent mechanical ventilation he wouldn’t survive. Determined to continue his search for a cure and spend more time with his family, he had the operation and when the episode aired early in the year he was in ICU, struggling with post-operative complications. He would remain there for six months. But the past couple of months have seen some remarkable developments. Not only has he finally returned home, he is now going into the office two days a week to continue his vital research into the disease. Australian Story caught up with Justin and his family to record his astonishing progress.
Over many years, Australian Story has followed the efforts of farmer Peter Andrews to drought-proof the land. His unorthodox approach, which involves planting weeds and installing 'leaky weirs', was once considered heretical but a growing band of supporters has taken up his cause At Mulloon, outside Canberra, Tony Coote and a group of like-minded landholders set out to prove that the Andrews method works. Now, during one of the worst droughts in living memory their results are cause for hope and have attracted the eye of Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Introduced by His Royal Highness, The Duke of Sussex Prince Harry has spoken exclusively to Australian Story ahead of the Invictus Games which will open in Sydney next week. Founded by His Royal Highness, The Duke of Sussex in 2014, the Invictus Games is an international sporting event for wounded, injured and sick servicemen and women, both serving and veteran. One of those competitors will be Garry Robinson who credits His Royal Highness and the Invictus Games with saving his life. In 2010, the former commando narrowly survived a Black Hawk helicopter crash in Afghanistan. After two years in rehab, he returned home to the challenges of learning to live with a traumatic brain injury and significant physical disabilities. Garry struggled to cope and it wasn’t until his rehab team at Holsworthy Army base encouraged him to enter the inaugural London Invictus Games four years ago that he found a new lease of life.
Samuel Symons led a quietly inspirational life. Diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumour at age four, he spent most of his life in and out of hospitals. But Samuel's witty personality always shone through, despite the seemingly endless and gruelling treatments. Samuel grew up with his two brothers, Raphael and Joel, mother Elly and his television and radio personality father, Red Symons. But his parents never spoke publicly about Samuel’s illness. That was until Australian Story started filming with them in 2006 and continued tracking Samuel's progress for three years for an intimate and raw look into the journey of childhood cancer. Samuel passed away on October 3, 2018, age 27. His mother Elly introduces this story which looks back on Samuel's remarkable life.
Taryn Brumfitt is the Adelaide mother-of-three behind a global movement inspiring women to make peace with their bodies. Like many mothers, Taryn loathed her post-baby shape and threw herself into dieting and bodybuilding to attain the ‘perfect’ body. Realising it was an impossible ideal, she made the choice to love her body instead and posted a photo of her "real" body online … and the response was extraordinary. Taryn started a movement, made a documentary and is now knocking on Hollywood’s door to spread the message that women should embrace the skin they're in.
The South Australian steel town of Whyalla was facing extinction two years ago. A one-company town, its big employer, Arrium, went bust and the jobs of 3000 steelworkers were hanging in the balance. But the town was determined to save itself. Workers voted in favour of a 10 percent pay cut and were rewarded when British billionaire Sanjeev Gupta came to town.
When Emma Watkins became the Yellow Wiggle in 2012, she overcame a backlash to make the yellow skivvy her own, winning over a new generation of fans. As Emma's star rose, behind the scenes her health was failing. Eventually she was diagnosed with endometriosis and her decision to go public brought much-needed attention to the disease. Her health problems led her to re-evaluate other areas of her life and at the beginning of the year she separated from her husband, fellow Wiggle Lachlan Gillespie. Emma speaks exclusively about the separation, its fall-out and the couple’s determination to continue working together.
She was a wife, a mother, a sister and a daughter. Lyn Dawson had everything to live for, so why did she disappear without a trace 36 years ago? Her husband Chris, a PE teacher, always insisted she abandoned him and their two young daughters to “sort things out”. Days later he moved his teenage lover into the family home. Two coroners concluded Chris Dawson murdered his wife but to this day, he has never been prosecuted. The case has gripped audiences around the world since the release of a new podcast, The Teacher’s Pet, by investigative journalist Hedley Thomas. Australian Story first covered the story 15 years ago. This next chapter features exclusive interviews with friends and family of Lyn Dawson and those charged with enacting justice, both then and now.
Out of the Woods From a homeless alcoholic living in the wild to academic success and a book deal, Out of the Woods tells the inspiring comeback story of forest-dweller Gregory Smith. When he left school at 14, dogged by the crushing assessment that he was "functioning at the lower level of the dull range", Gregory Smith had already endured a violent upbringing and months in an orphanage after the break-up of his family. At 35, struggling with a lifetime of trauma, he opted to escape into the wild with no desire to return to the society that had failed him so dismally. Exhausted by years of living off the land and sleeping rough, Gregory emerged from the forest ready to change his life, and gained an undergraduate degree and then a PhD at Southern Cross University. His story offers hope for the most damaged amongst us. "Gregory represents the capacity for transformation against all odds and a real triumph over adversity," says one of his students, Kerry Pritchard. "How to take the crap in life and grow beautiful things out of it."
Meet You in Paris In June last year, Mark and Julie Wallace were forced to face every parent’s worst fear when their 21-year-old daughter Sara Zelenak went missing after a terror attack in London. For three days, their desperate calls and messages to the young nanny went unanswered as they found themselves caught up in the world of international terrorism, dealing with Scotland Yard, phoning hospitals and navigating the news media from their Redland Bay home. They were en route to London when they received the news that Sara had died. A year after their daughter’s death, Sara’s parents are making sense of the senseless act of terror by focussing on building a fitting legacy to Sara. They’re working towards building "Sarz Sanctuary", a healing retreat to help others facing unimaginable grief and trauma.
Leading The Way Graham Long’s decision to retire presented a real challenge for Sydney's Wayside Chapel. How best to replace a visionary pastor who had served the city's homeless and vulnerable for 14 years? When Graham took over as pastor in 2004, the iconic Sydney institution had gone to wrack and ruin. Under his leadership, it grew from a crumbling drop-in centre for the homeless to a vibrant community offering a range of services for those in need. Graham always remembered a young social worker-turned-pastor he had met in Western Sydney. Jon Owen had thrown in a comfortable middle-class existence in Melbourne to move his family to Sydney's Mt Druitt and run a mini version of the Wayside from his lounge room. Jon joined Wayside Chapel as assistant Pastor in 2016, and after a robust international search, he successfully won the role as CEO and Pastor in 2018. Now installed as the new pastor, Jon is proving a popular choice, bringing generational change and continuing the same unconditional love that the Wayside is famous for.
From Behind Bars Kathleen Folbigg is serving a 30-year prison sentence for killing all four of her infant children. During her 2003 trial the court heard that Caleb, Patrick, Sarah and Laura were all killed by a mother who was driven to smother her children in fits of rage. Having exhausted her rights of appeal, Folbigg has her hopes pinned on the outcome of a petition seeking a judicial review of her case. Drafted by a Newcastle legal team and submitted three years ago to the NSW Attorney General’s department, the petition argues amongst other things that some of the medical evidence against Folbigg during the trial was flawed. During this program we hear from Kathleen Folbigg for the first time, as she speaks out from behind bars about her conviction and the incriminating diary entries that were instrumental in securing the jury's guilty verdict. We also hear from the then NSW Director of Public Prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery, who remains firmly of the belief that the jury got it right.
Running Empty By Christmas 2011 Queensland chef Matt Golinski was on top of his game. He had a successful catering business and a national media profile courtesy of the Ready Steady Cook television show. But when a fire tore through his Tewantin home on Boxing Day his life and career plans were destroyed in minutes. Matt woke from an induced coma two months later to the news his wife and three children had died in the fire and that he had serious burns across his upper body. "I just sort of went, God, really? You spent eight weeks keeping me alive? Why would you bother," he recalls. A painful and protracted rehabilitation followed and many of Matt’s friends and family doubted he would find a passion for life ever again. But almost even years on, his career is flourishing and he’s found new love and a second chance at fatherhood. For the first time on television he describes how he overcame the unthinkable and found a new passion for life.
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