ABC Broadcasting legend Heather Ewart entertained an enthusiastic audience at this year’s ABC Friends Victoria Annual Dinner in Melbourne recently.
The very experienced journalist shared some cracking stories from her very popular TV show Back Roads, which followed the Victorian Annual General Meeting.
Heather Ewart has spent most of her career at the ABC, starting as a cadet in 1980.
She soon moved to Canberra as one of the first women to report from the National Press Gallery – as the correspondent for AM and PM – and was later posted to Washington and Brussels before returning to Australia to work as National Affairs and Political Reporter for the 7:30 Report.
Ms Ewart told the audience former Managing Director Mark Scott gave her a blank canvass to make a show “about the bush” after the success of a documentary she had made about the National Party.
“At the height of Abbott not being happy about the ABC – I suddenly got approval from the Managing Director,” she said. “It was unbelievably successful for a program of that nature, particularly in the cities.”\
She said the success of the documentary led to the creation of the enormously popular Back Roads.
When questioned about why it was that people living in areas greatly affected by climate change kept voting for the National Party, she responded to a tittering audience by saying that it was easy for city people to “snigger” about political loyalty that spanned generations.
“And the National Party keeps on putting up candidates that I don’t think are of the quality that they once were, and the Labor Party, half of the time, doesn’t bother going near these areas – they just say “well this is a safe Nationals seat so why bother?”
“So these people are not actually given a choice,” Heather Ewart said. “They’re just not given the right candidates.”
“The ABC has always done a great service in the regions and…I remember going back to Sydney and saying to people like Mark Scott you really should spend more time with the National Party because they are part of the coalition and they actually like us out there.”
“Generally speaking, I think country people support the ABC,” she said.
One audience member asked Ms. Ewart if people in the bush were concerned about losing the ABC completely.
“Oh yes – there definitely is a concern, and that matters,” she said.
“They don’t want to lose their own regional offices and studios – that’s a big issue, and I think the ABC has belatedly recognised that and I think is supporting regional Australia a lot more.”
“In more remote communities, I think the ABC is really relied upon, and they’d be devastated to see it gutted.”
And she thanked ABC Friends Victoria for its great efforts in supporting the ABC.
“I think it is invaluable and is always appreciated,” she said, “who knows what is around the corner?”
ABC Friends National Vice President Ed Davis outlined how the NSW division is in the process of expanding, with several new branches opening soon.
He also comforted the audience, saying that, having had several meetings with the new ABC Chair, Ita Buttrose, we should have confidence in her leadership, and MD, David Anderson, is a steady, experienced leader.
Emeritus Professor Davis said Ms. Buttrose had been a great support for the ABC against the Australian Federal Police and its outrageous raids on the Sydney Headquarters.
Earlier, at the Victorian ABC Friends AGM, the Victorian President, Peter Monie, thanked the Committee and local groups for their fantastic contribution to the very successful Victorian Marginal Seats Campaign.
“Chisholm, Corangamite, Deakin, Dunkley, LaTrobe, and Macnamara- our results were achieved in a campaign where we were actively asking voters to consider the ABC before deciding which party to support,” Mr Monie said.