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Daniel Browning - Producer & Presenter, Awaye, ABC Radio National

Daniel Browning producer ABC
'Awaye! started out of Alice Springs with a presenter called Clayton Lewis during the International Year of Indigenous People in 1993.'

Awaye! is produced and presented by Aboriginal broadcasters and is Australia's only national Indigenous arts and culture program. Awaye! means 'listen up' in the Arrernte language of Central Australia.

Daniel has worked at the ABC since 1994 and is now the producer and presenter of Awaye!. He says that if people want to understand what this country is about, and the cultural context of living in Australia, then they've got to understand the lore, spirituality and culture that's prevailed here for thousands of years.

Why was Awaye! created?

Awaye! started out of Alice Springs with a presenter called Clayton Lewis during the International Year of Indigenous People in 1993. At that time Aboriginal broadcasters were lobbying hard to get a program that specifically talked about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art and culture, as opposed to current affairs. Aboriginal art was just starting to be bought and sold on the international market and the industry was growing exponentially, so there was a real audience for this type of program. 

How does Awaye! differ to other Indigenous programs?

Awaye! is a topical and factual program but it's not news and current affairs, so we can talk about wider cultural issues that go back weeks, months or even years. Our stories don't have to be event based. There's so much happening culturally within Aboriginal art and culture so we're never really stuck for something to do. There's always someone with an opinion, an exhibition to be covered or an artist doing a show.

We also refer to other Indigenous cultures as they bring a new perspective to our understanding of our own Indigenous experience. For example, we have American-Indian broadcasters who occasionally contribute to the program.

What issues do you discuss in your program?

The program is never set in stone   it is flexible so it can take on events as they happen. There some things that are culturally important to the wider community, such as the 40th anniversary of the 1967 Referendum, but there are also anniversaries that just get forgotten, like the 100th anniversary of the birth of Pastor Sir Douglas Nicholls in 2006, the first Aboriginal Governor of any Australian state. He was the Governor of South Australia in the 1970s as well as an AFL footballer and a community leader from Cummeragunja in country Victoria. He was a very significant person who campaigned for the 1967 Referendum. Those kind of anniversaries are what I am always on the lookout for. I have to be very conscious of not covering what everyone else is reporting, I don't want the program to sound repetitive or like any other Aboriginal program, we have to sound distinct and find the more interesting angle on a story. 

What do you do on a day-to-day basis?

I'm generally always editing! Editing is most of what I do, and occasionally I go out and gather material.

How many people are in your team?

It's pretty much just myself and the co-producer   the program's co-producer is based in Darwin, so that's her territory, and the lower part of the country is my territory. Ideally, this program would be made by three or four people and we would have an adequate travel budget, but that's not how it is in reality.

Do you travel much for your job?

I sometimes get to travel for work, but we've got a very small budget so that creates some limitations. It's great when I do get to travel as I can get stories from different parts of the country. I'd like to travel more, but travel to further-flung places is harder and more expensive, so we have to consider how we can best spend our money.

If there's an ABC studio near the interviewee we do an interview via ISBN which means we don't have to travel. Of course, I'd much prefer to sit with a person face-to-face, but currently in radio broadcasting that's not really feasible.

How long does it take to put each episode together?

It depends. Usually it takes me a week and a half to make a normal program, but documentaries or feature programs can take a very long time. Some programs that we put to air have been in production for months. I've just finished working with a freelance radio producer who first approached me with his story idea about two and a half years ago and the story has only just been put to air.

How important is it for all Australians to hear stories from Indigenous Australians?

Obviously it's what my work is about. If these stories aren't going to be heard, then what's the point. Indigenous people and other Australians share so much. We have a shared history and we all live here together.

If you want to know about Australia then you've got to know Aboriginal people. I'm not talking necessarily Aboriginal people who live in the bush, because the vast majority of us live in the cities. We still have a culture, and we still have a way of seeing the world that is distinct form everyone else. So knowing that and enlarging the view of what Aboriginal people look like, how they speak, what their stories are, where they come from and what their history is, can only be a good thing. If you listen to our program over a long period of time you become aware not only of how diverse Aboriginal people are from each other, but also how similar Aboriginal people are to everyone else.

What did the apology to the Stolen Generations by the Prime Minister mean for you?

Journalistically it was a really important story. On this program we have been talking about the moral arguments for an apology for a very long time, so we couldn't just ignore this event. In the end we were asked to do a special broadcast of the apology and spoke to people from the Stolen Generations.

Who is your most memorable interviewee?

Archie Roach was one of the most inspiring interviews that I've ever done. A well-known singer/songwriter, he was one of those people that has this aura, a real presence that it's almost magisterial, he's that sort of person, and he puts you at ease. It's those kind of people who make the interview perfect. He was just an incredible person to interview, and I wish everyone was like that.

What do you like most about your job?

I know it sounds cliched, but I am inspired by every person that I meet in one way or another. I find so many things personally trigger something in me. When I talk to other Indigenous people and hear their stories it's kind of life-affirming and it makes me feel like I'm on the right track.

What qualifications and training do you have?

I've spent a lot of time in higher education. I started out doing a law degree at the ANU in Canberra. Then I moved to the University of Queensland where I studied English, communication theory and art history. Finally, I decided to do a Bachelor of Arts in Visual Arts with a specialisation in media studies, which pointed me in the direction of radio journalism.

Do you have any advice for people who are interested in pursuing a career in radio journalism?

I don't think people really know what they're going to end up doing when they first go to university. I changed my mind about five times   I was going to do law and become a human rights lawyer, a political scientist, then I wanted to teach English or become a visual artist, and I became a journalist   go figure!

If you're doing a degree that's not related to journalism, it doesn't mean that you can't get a career in the media, if that's what you really want to do.

I think people need to be a bit more flexible in how they move through their career. Even if you're at university level, it's important to be good at what you're doing. If you've got a really wide general knowledge then you can be a journalist. Technology is changing at such a pace. Being able to keep up with that and think on your feet are great skills you should have if you want to consider a career in journalism.

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