| The beginnings | Broadcasting for Remote Aboriginal Communities | RIMO growth and the development of the PAW Radio Network | Other Remote Indigenous Media Organisations | From Warlpiri Media to PAW Media | Video and Community TV | Key cultural staff |Key management staff | Bibliography |


The beginnings : fighting fire with fire

In the early 1980s, before television was accessible to most of remote Australia, residents of some remote Aboriginal communities began experimenting with video production. For Aboriginal people this was an exciting way to produce local content, and became a popular way to record the stories that local people were interested in telling and listening to. Yuendumu was one township where video and media production was occurring, and was home to a population of some 800 Warlpiri-speaking Aboriginal people and 100 non-Aboriginal people.

Early video production activities at Yuendumu were associated with the Warlpiri Literature Centre. The Centre had been incorporated under the NT Associations Act in 1979. With the intensification of the video work associated with the arrival of Dr Eric Michaels, it was formally renamed as Warlpiri Media Association in 1983. Dr Eric Michaels was an American anthropologist who came to Yuendumu to undertake research on Aboriginal media. Firstly working with  Kurt (Leonard) Japanangka Granites and then with Francis Jupurrurla Kelly he acted as a catalyst for the development of a distinctively Warlpiri approach to video.

Warlpiri Media's establishment coincided with the federal government's plans to launch the first Australian owned satellite - AUSSAT. AUSSAT would bring national television to much of remote Australia for the first time. 

In the early 1980s,  when Aussat was in its planning stages, community members in Yuendumu and other remote indigenous communities began to express concern at the potential impact that mainstream television and radio would have on their communities. Yuendumu community members to this day speak English as a 2nd or 3rd language and maintain strong cultural practices. They felt that mainstream television and radio would swiftly dilute language and culture as younger generations were introduced to westernised TV and advertising.

Men such as Darby Ross, Francis Kelly and Kurt Granites spoke at meetings about the needs of Aboriginal people in regard to television coming to Yuendumu. They spoke about fighting fire with fire, and the need for local Aboriginal communities to make their own media, as well as manage the European content entering their communities.

In response to such concerns about AUSSAT, the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and the Department of Communications, commissioned a survey to explore the potential impact of the satellite on Indigenous communities. Conducted by Eric Willmot, the Out of the Silent Land report was published in 1984.  Willmot recommended that Aboriginal and Islander communities have control of media at a local level. The Hawke Labor Government who had been elected the year before, had a greater focus on self-determination in the area of Aboriginal policy making. In this environment, Willmot's recommendation led to the introducton of the Broadcasting for Remote Aboriginal Communities Scheme (BRACS) in 1987.

The deployment of AUSSAT involved the establishment of a Remote Commercial Television Service, the management of which was put out to tender. Alice Springs aboriginal media organisation, CAAMA was successful in its tender application launching Imparja Television in late 1988. Warlpiri Media Association is a shareholder in Imparja as a consequence of its leading role in the development of Aboriginal media in Central Australia.


Broadcasting for Remote Aboriginal Communities Scheme (BRACS)

BRACS has now been implemented in over 100 remote communities enabling remote communities to have control over the radio and TV channels that are transmitted through a local hub (self-help facility). Each hub also has the capacity to broadcast locally made videos and radio.  The BRACS hubs  provide ownership over what media is heard and seen in the communities, especially the ability to broadcast in the local language.

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

Each BRACS community was also supplied with a small transmitter, enabling them to broadcast their own locally produced material, be it dramas, news, Jukurrpa, health information, children’s programming or community notices. The transmitters are able to broadcast across an approximate 15-kilometre radius.

PAW Media now coordinates ten BRACS in its area. In the mid 2000s the title BRACS was changed to RIBS (Remote Indigenous Broadcasting Service).


Remote Indigenous Media Organisation growth and the development of the PAW Radio Network

Warlpiri Media began to coordinate training to eight individual BRACS in the Tanami area via the BRACS Revitalisation Scheme of 1993. The BRACS Revitalisation Scheme provided funding for training and technical support to individual BRACS through existing Aboriginal media organisations. This led to the formalisation of Remote Indigenous Media Organisations (RIMOs). 

Through its coordination role, Warlpiri Media established the PAW Radio Network in 2001. The Network now includes two additional BRACS:

  • Lajamanu - previously coordinated by TEABBA.
  • Laramba - new BRACS facility launched in 2003.

Rather than individual BRACS transmitting to their local community only, the Network links all ten radio studios into a hub at Yuendumu enabling a radio broadcast from any one of the studios to be rebroadcast over the entire 14 communities in the PAW Media area. Four communities - Engawala, Imangara, Mt Liebig and Wilora - do not have radio studios but receive PAW Radio.

Infrastructure funding for an upgrade of the radio studios was provided  through the Community Broadcasting Foundation's IRRR program in 2009 - 2010. All PAW Media radio studios have now been upgraded with new desk equipment, computers, transmitters and radio specific software.


Other Remote Indigenous Media Organisations

Another seven RIMOs in remote Australia coordinate Remote Indigenous Broadcasting Services, or RIBS, (the new name for BRACs) in remote regions:


From Warlpiri Media to PAW Media

Through the BRACS Revitalisation Scheme and the establishment of the PAW Radio Network, Warlpiri Media Association became increasingly associated with communities in the Tanami area.  In 2006 Warlpiri Media Association took on the trading name of PAW Media and Communications to reflect its work across Pintubi, Anmatjere and Warlpiri lands.  PAW Media now provides services to around 4,000 people in 14 communities across 450,000 square kilometres.


Video and TV

At Yuendumu local video production preceded the establishment of a “pirate” television station in April 1985.  This history was recorded in a video with Francis Jupurrurla Kelly.

Prior to the introduction of the pirate TV station, videos produced by Warlpiri Media Association were circulated on videotape. This method of distribution and viewing was expensive and unsatisfactory. As a result Kurt Granites proposed that a local narrowcast television station be established as a more effective means of distributing the videoed content, as well as a means to  support language and culture in the context of the coming of AUSSAT.

In February 1985 the Yuendumu Social Club donated $8,000 from profits from the  community store to build and equip a low-powered television station. The station, known as Channel 4,  began broadcasting in April 1985. It broadcast over limited hours during the day and some evenings and showed live interviews, activities from the school and pre-recorded material. It was operated by one person who would announce the program and then get up to switch the camera to a recorded item. As the service was broadcast at irregular hours, word of impending broadcasts would be spread by both word of mouth and the playing of music for 30 minutes prior to commencement. Kurt Granites and Francis Kelly recorded an interview in 2008 that described these early days.

The Yuendumu community, together with Ernabella in South Australia, contacted the Department of Communications to seek a licence for Channel 4. However, the licence decision was delayed until after the Government response to 'Out of the Silent Land'. The Yuendumu community took its desire for cultural TV into its own hands and continued to broadcast as a pirate TV station. Nevertheless the Department of Aboriginal Affairs  did provide $25,000 equipment funding to Yuendumu in 1985. A licence was then granted later in 1985.

The introduction of Imparja in 1988 was an important complementary service to Yuendumu's Channel 4. Imparja's programming of Aboriginal content (although greatly reduced over the last 25 years) supported Aboriginal language and culture maintenance and was available when Channnel 4 was not broadcasting. People such as Francis Kelly were not only advocates for local distribution but were also advocates for the need for regional Aboriginal broadcasting.  They saw that a "layered" approach to Aboriginal media would strengthen more isolated and smaller communities.

This layered approach underpinned the next development in Aboriginal TV in Central Australia - the launch of iCTV (Indigenous Community Television). iCTV was established in 2001 at the 3rd Remote Video Festival in Umuwa, South Australia. Established by PY Media, Warlpiri Media, PAKAM, CAAMA and Ngaanyatjarra Media, its aim was to aggregate content from the media organisations and play out the content over Imparja's second narrowcast channel. Smaller RIBs without the necessary capacity to manage a local TV production and playout schedule were still able to contribute to iCTV. RIBs TV  services were configured to receive the Imparja channel - Channel 31 - and narrowcast on the community TV channel.

The scheduling of content from across remote communities provided a unique TV service, and rapidly became one of the most popular channels in RIBS communities. Funding for a roll out of TV transmission equipment for iCTV into non-RIBs communities was received in 2005-2006 and all PAW communites were able to receive iCTV as a consequence. The establishment of iCTV and the ability to transmit iCTV on a network model led to a resurgence of video production.

However in 2007 Australian government regulations led to the utilisation of the Imparja channel solely for NITV, and the loss of funding to RIMOs for video production. Those funds previously provided to RIMOs were reallocated to NITV. Fortunately iCTV was able to reestablish a weekend service via the Western Australian government's Westlink service in late 2009. Currently the 10 PAW RIBs communities  receive NITV on weekdays and iCTV on weekends.

At Yuendumu, local community TV transmissions continues to be scheduled by PAW Media during the week. New productions are scheduled as well as suitable content digitised from the Warlpiri Media Archive. PAW Media has been able to attract alternative funds for community video production, supported by Australian Government funding for Aboriginal employment.

iCTV transmissions and local community TV are due to be closed down during 2013, due to the analogue to digital switchover. The switchover has not provided for local Aboriginal community TV to continue, not has it provided for iCTV to have a channel on the new digital platform.

As of 2013 the proud history of Aboriginal community TV in Central Australia will come to an end, despite the many proposals, submissions, and advocacy to maintain the rights of Aboriginal people to make and control their own media.


Key cultural staff from 1983

Establishment and direction

  • Kurt Japanangka Granites
  • Francis Jupurrurla Kelly
  • Eric Michaels
  • Kumanjayi Jampijinpa Ross
  • Andrew Japaljarri Spencer
  • Peter Toyne
  • Kumanjayi Jampijinpa Turner

Radio leadership

  • Valerie Napaljarri Martin

Video leadership

  • Kurt Japanangka Granites
  • Francis Jupurrurla Kelly

Music leadership

  • Dennis Jakamarra Nelson
  • Donovan Jampijinpa Rice
  • Thomas (Tom Tom) Jupurrurla Saylor

Archive leadership

  • Simon Japangardi Fisher

Key coordination staff from 1983

General Managers

  • Margaret Riley (1986-1991)
  • Bentley James (1992-1993)
  • Rene Rommeril (1994-1995)
  • Tom Kantor (1996-2000)
  • Rita Cattoni (2001 - January 2008)
  • Susan Locke (February 2008 - mid December 2012)
  • Brett Harston (mid December 2012 - April 2013)

Assistant Manager

  • Liam Campbell (2003)

Station Coordinator/Operations Coordinator

This position has carried different titles at various times. From 2006-2007 the role was split across two positions one being Station Coordinator and one being Operations Manager; from 2008 - 2012 only the Station Coordinator role was in place. From 2013 the Station Coordinator role was retitled to Operations Coordinator.

  • Sarah Royds (late 2006 - late 2007) as Station Coordinator
  • Susan Locke (2007) as Operations Manager
  • Will Kendrew (mid 2008 - late 2009)
  • Marcella Brassett (mid 2010 - late 2010)
  • Rebecca Toll (2011 - 

Radio Coordinators/Producers

  • Valerie Napaljarri Martin (1993 - 1997)
  • Tristan Ray (1999 - August 2003)
  • Hamish Townsend (September 2003 - February 2006)
  • Paul Treadwell (2006)
  • Meg Butler (2007)
  • Trevor Edmond (2008)
  • Meg Butler (January - June 2009)
  • Trevor Edmond (July 2009 - June 2010)
  • Rachel O'Connell (July 2010 -June 2012)
  • Laura McDowell (June 2012-

Video Coordinators/Producers

  • Ronnie Reinholt (1998-2000)
  • Bergen O'Brien (2001 - 2003)
  • Anna Cadden (2003 - June 2008)
  • Gabrielle Brady (August 2009 - August 2010)
  • David Slowo (March 2010 -August 2012)
  • Jeff Bruer (August 2012-

Technical Coordinators

  • Trevor Edmond (2007 -Dec 2012)

Online bibliography and sources

Buchtmann, Lydia. Digital songlines. Thesis. University of Canberra. 2000.

Clarsen, Georgine. Still moving : Bush Mechanics in Central Australia. Australian Humanities Review.

Ginsburg, Faye. Screen Memories: Resignifying the Traditional in Indigenous Media. In Media Worlds : Anthropology on New Terrain. Edited by Faye D. Ginsburg, Lila Abu-Lughod, and Brian Larkin. University of California Press. 2002.

Hinkson, Melinda. Media images and the politics of hope. In Culture crisis : anthropology and politics in Aboriginal Australia. Edited by Jon Altman and Melinda Hinkson. UNSW Press. 2010.

Hinkson, Melinda. New media projects at Yuendumu: Inter-cultural engagement and self-determination in an era of accelerated globalization. Continuum: Journal of Media and Cultural Studies 16 (2) 2002: 201-220.

Hinkson, Melinda. What's in a dedication : on being a Warlpiri DJ.  Australian Journal of Anthropology 15 (2): 143-162.

Indigenous broadcasting. culture.gov.au

Liddell, Craig. The perfect place to sit down. CBOnline. November 2003.

Nash, David. Motion pictures and multimedia relating to the Warlpiri. Online bibliography.

O'Regan Tom and Batty, Philip. An Aboriginal television culture. In Australian television culture. Allen & Unwin, 1993

O'Regan, Tom. Cultural futures. Continuum: The Australian Journal of Media and Culture. vol. 2 no 1. 1987

Owen, Will. For Yuendumu : bush mechanics, the vexations of trucks and the celebration of Warlpiri history. Aboriginal Art & Culture: an American eye blog. Posted: October 15, 2005

Rowse, Tim. Enlisting the Warlpiri. Continuum: The Australian Journal of Media and Culture. vol. 3 no 2. 1990