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Indigenous radio and television

Warning. Australian Stories may contain the names and images of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people now deceased. Australian Stories also contain links to sites that may use images of Aboriginal and Islander people now deceased.

In 1972 the first Indigenous-produced community radio programs went to air—on 5UV in Adelaide and at the Townsville Aboriginal and Islander Media Association (TAIMA) at Mount Stuart, south of Townsville, on 4KIG FM—50 years after the first radio broadcast in Australia.

Constance Saveka talks to NIRS journalist Alanah Stortelder

Bipotaim Torres Strait exhibition participant Constance Saveka talks to NIRS journalist Alanah Stortelder, 2010. Image courtesy of NIRS.

Aboriginal community broadcasting is seen as crucial for the promotion of Aboriginal culture and languages and the communication needs of Aboriginal communities.

Throughout the 1970s Indigenous broadcasting began to grow. This growth came from the community sector, but it wasn't until the 1980s that more widespread community broadcasting began to develop.

Since then, Indigenous broadcasting has grown to include television and over 130 community radio stations. It has established its own unique position in the Australian communications sphere.

In addition to community broadcasting, ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) Radio began carrying Aboriginal and Islander broadcasts. The first was in Alice Springs in March 1981 and the service was extended to north Queensland in May 1983.

Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association (CAAMA)

The Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association (CAAMA) was established in 1980 by two Aboriginal people, John Macumba and Freda Glynn, and their associate Phillip Batty. Their goal was that Aboriginal voices be heard throughout the world and for Aboriginal people to take ownership and control of their own future through a strong, vibrant media centre.

the Aboriginal people of Central Australia own CAAMA. CAAMA's objectives focus on the social, cultural and economic advancement of Aboriginal peoples.

Today CAAMA's radio network broadcasts on 8KIN FM, and the CAAMA Group also includes a film and television production company, CAAMA Productions, which produces programs about Aboriginal peoples: their culture, lifestyles and issues.

Experimentation and growth, 1980s

Indigenous person sitting in front of a video camera

Yuendumu, 1984. Image courtesy of AIATSIS and Warlpiri Media.

During the early 1980s, facilities to broadcast in remote areas of Australia were rare.

In the 1980s some Indigenous communities in remote Australia chose to adapt low-cost video, videoconferencing and radio services to suit their needs. Communities such as Yuendumu and Ernabella started 'pirate' community television stations with live-to-air broadcasts.

Warlpiri Media

The Warlpiri at Yuendemu, a remote Aboriginal community in Central Australia, began their own experiments in local television and radio production, beginning with video production. In April 1985 they established the first Aboriginal TV station in Australia.

For Aboriginal people ... videos provided alternative and supplementary viewing material to the video tapes available at video retail outlets in regional centres such as Alice Springs.
From New media projects at Yuendumu: towards a greater understanding of inter-cultural engagement by Melinda Hinkson

Among other things, Warlpiri Media Association (now PAW Media and Communications) became well known for the award winning Bush Mechanics documentary, which screened on the ABC and internationally.

In each episode, the Bush Mechanics from the remote Warlpiri community of Yuendumu are presented with a new set of challenges—catching a car thief, getting a nephew out of jail, racing to an outback rock concert and travelling thousands of miles to gather pearl shells for a rainmaking ceremony. As they travel through the desert in their clapped-out vehicles, they solve multiple car problems with wacky and inventive bush repair techniques.
Rebel Films

Bush Mechanics. Image courtesy of Rebel Films.

PY Media

PY Media started as Ernabella Video and Television (EVTV) in the early 1980s in Ernabella community (Pukatja), north-western South Australia. EVTV was initiated as an alternative to the commercial TV services that would flood remote areas with the launch of Aussat.

In 1987 it was decided to deliver these services across the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands. Subsequently, PY Media was incorporated as the regional body to assist communities to develop their own community media centres.

Aussat and Aboriginal culture

In 1985 the launch of Australia's first communications satellite, Aussat, made mainstream broadcast of television and radio to remote Australia possible for the first time.

The launch of Aussat caused concern about the impact that mainstream mass media could have on Indigenous culture.

Crusoe Gurdal performing a traditional dance with clapsticks from Maningrida in northern Arnhem Land

Ludo Kuipers, Crusoe Gurdal from Maningrida at Barunga NT, 1987. Image courtesy of the artist.

A highly influential piece of writing by Eric Michaels, The Aboriginal Invention of Television in Central Australia, suggested that television threatened the cultural knowledge structures in Aboriginal society.

Michaels suggested that television would challenge how knowledge and cultural heritage was traditionally passed down from senior people within a local context. Television was also seen as a challenge to the authority of the dreaming (the law). Further there would be issues about the customary rules which prohibited Aboriginal people from recalling the names, images or property of deceased persons.

In researching and supporting community media at Yuendumu from 1983 to 1986, Michaels suggested in 1987 that television as a cultural technology was seen as all encompassing—it was everywhere. In contrast Aboriginal culture was seen as centred around local affiliations to land and languages.

The Federal Government commissioned a report, Out of the Silent Land (1984), on the impact the satellite would have on remote communities. Following this report, the Broadcasting for Remote Aboriginal Communities Scheme (BRACS) was introduced in 1987.

Broadcasting for Remote Aboriginal Communities Scheme (BRACS)

BRACS console

BRACS console. Image courtesy of the Powerhouse Museum.

BRACS was designed to give Indigenous people access to, and control of, their own media at a community level. The scheme gave communities basic production and broadcasting equipment. This gave them the option of receiving mainstream broadcasts from the satellite, or replacing these broadcasts with their own, local content.

Because funding was limited, the scheme used basic domestic audio and video equipment. Each installation consisted of a cabinet to house a cassette recorder, radio tuner, FM transmitter, microphone, speakers, switch panel, two VHS VCRs, video camera, television set, two UHF television transmitters, satellite dish and two decoders.

The BRACS scheme installed 80 units around Australia. The program finished in 1991, and the BRACS services are now known as RIBS (Remote Indigenous Broadcast Service).

The Top End Aboriginal Bush Broadcasting Association (TEABBA)

In 1989 TEABBA was set up to work with, and provide support for, the 30 BRACS communities in the Northern Territory. The network was set up to promote broadcasting from studios at the community level.

The TEABBA network is managed and operated by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander broadcasters. The network broadcasts in various languages and music styles, reflecting the diversity of its audience and coverage area.

Sharing content – the National Indigenous Radio Service (NIRS), 1996–

Officially launched in January 1996, the NIRS in Brisbane takes program feeds from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander media associations from around Australia. The NIRS provides a 24-hour-a-day 'bed program' to Indigenous media organisations that don't have the staffing or capital requirements to provide 24-hour content of their own.

The NIRS also offers an Internet-based news service. The National Indigenous News Service (NINS) provides a national news service with coverage and content of interest to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Its aim is to fill a void in the reporting of Indigenous issues by mainstream media, which often focus on negative stories. NINS also gives Indigenous Australians a voice on issues outside of Indigenous affairs.

Film and television

Indigenous involvement in the production and broadcasting of film and television, particularly for Indigenous audiences, has grown significantly since the first Indigenous television station went to air in 1988.


In the late 1980s Imparja Television was established in Alice Springs. Imparja broadcast its first test program—the Australia versus Sri Lanka Test Cricket—on 2 January 1988. The official opening of Imparja Television happened two weeks later, on 15 January 1988.

Imparja logo - red cube with design

Imparja logo. Image courtesy of Imparja Television.

In its early days, Imparja reached a total audience of 62,000 people, in South Australia and the Northern Territory. Imparja used sites at Ceduna, Coober Pedy, Leigh Creek and Woomera in South Australia; and Alice Springs, Tennant Creek, Katherine and Bathurst Island in the Northern Territory to retransmit live broadcasts. By 1993, Imparja's viewing audience had grown to 125,000 people. In 2008, Imparja broadcast to an audience of over 430,000 people.

Through access to digital satellite capacity, Imparja now also broadcasts a second channel, NITV (National Indigenous TV).

Indigenous Community Television (ICTV) 2001–

Nelson Conboy

Nelson Conboy, Hopevale Queensland, ICTV Director 2010. Image courtesy of ICTV.

ICTV was established in 2001 at the third Remote Video Festival in Umuwa, South Australia. The service was initiated by PY Media and operated as a narrowcast/split channel on Imparja Television's Channel 31.

In November 2004 a meeting of potential contributors to the service resulted in a significant increase in program production from around 120 hours in 2004 to almost 300 in 2005.

The service included contributions from Remote Indigenous Broadcasting Service (RIBS) community hubs, including PY Media, Warlpiri Media, Pilbara and Kimberley Aboriginal Media (PAKAM), Ngaanyatjarra Media, TEABBA and other local producers.

In 2006 ICTV was incorporated as a separate organisation.

Audiences for Indigenous radio and television programming across Australia have identified the crucial role [media] plays in providing the cultural glue' that holds communities together. Media does this by providing a medium for programs in local languages (including English) that reflect specific community cultural ideas and aspirations—Black voices: Black issues'.
Community Media Matters: An audience study of the Australian community broadcasting sector

Consolidation and growth, 1990s–2010

Milli Milli Nganka

Milli Milli Nganka, stories from the Kimberleys. Image courtesy of NITV.

In the 1990s a number of key regional radio stations were launched. These included Radio Goolari in Broome, Western Australia, (1991) and Radio Larrakia in Darwin (1998). Established associations like PY Media and TAIMA grew rapidly.

Radio Goolarri, fully owned by Broome Aboriginal Media Association, is a vehicle for recording and distributing Aboriginal culture in the region, and supporting the growth of indigenous media. Goolarri Media now operates in the sectors of radio, television, film and video production, music, events management, technical services and information technology.

In 1998 Radio Larrakia was established to promote Larrakia language and Larrakia culture to the Darwin and the surrounding region. By 2006 it was broadcasting in 26 languages, 24 hours a day, with community information, interviews, music and programs.

PY Media moved from Ernabella to Umuwa in the mid-1990s and now has offices in Alice Springs, to administer new technology developments. By 2004 PY Media was managing a number of communication and media projects including: Radio and video, the telephone iConnect Project; 4 TV and 2 radio services in 10 large communities as well as services to 45 homelands and 10 hours of national broadcast per day with Channel 31; PYComputers across APY lands and the development of converging technologies with innovative ideas.

The Townsville Aboriginal & Island Media Association (TAIMA)–operated 4K1G FM network started broadcasting via satellite to remote Aboriginal communities in Queensland in the late 1990s. Its footprint extended to the Gulf & Cape York regions, the Northern Peninsula Area and the outer islands in the Torres Strait. Today it claims to be the first Indigenous community broadcaster to broadcast to the world via the internet 24 hours per day 7 days a week.

NITV (National Indigenous TV), 2007

NITV national news

NITV national news. Image courtesy of NITV.

In the 25 years since the first Indigenous broadcasting service, there was both a growing demand from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples for their own television service and also a dramatic increase in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander productions.

Indigenous programming on mainstream television accounts for less than 2 hours per week, or around 1.2% of the total airtime.

It was agreed that it was appropriate to plan for a vehicle to broadcast that content—a national Indigenous television service.In 2004 a voluntary NITV Committee was formed and a summit was held in Redfern in Sydney.

The summit involved a group of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander media professionals and community members committed to the establishment of a national Indigenous broadcasting service.


Marngrook AFL Football Show broadcast on NITV. Image courtesy of NITV.

The committee's vision for a national Indigenous television service built upon the experience and leadership of Indigenous media organisations such as Indigenous Community Television (ICTV), Warlpiri Media, Ernabella Video and Television and CAAMA.

In 2005, the Federal Government announced $48.5 million in funding for NITV. In 2007 NITV established a Head Office in Alice Spring (NT) and a television arm in Sydney.

From its humble beginnings in 2007, then launched as part of SBS in 2012, NITV continues to grow on free-to-air television Channel 34. The channel now reaches over two million unique viewers a month.

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Last updated: 3rd May 2016
Creators: Heidi Sheppard, et al.

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