New York Festivals International Radio Awards Open Mic Spotlight Interview features prominent award-winners from the wonderful world of radio.
This week, NYF Radio Awards shines the spotlight on Nance Haxton, (previously Current Affairs Reporter) for Australian Broadcasting Corporation and Griffith University Journalist in Residence . At the 2017 New York Festivals Radio Awards Gala, Nance earned the NYF Radio Awards Bronze Trophy for “A New Chapter for Stradbroke Island” in the Profiles/Community Portraits category. Her award-winning program chronicled the history of pristine North Stradbroke Island, or “Straddie” as known by many Queenslanders. The documentary weaves together sounds, voices and music from the island to paint a picture of how locals are coping with massive changes and embracing their Indigenous heritage to take the island forward.
NYF Radio: How did your Bronze Trophy winning program “A new chapter for Stradbroke” come to be produced? What was the inspiration?
Nance Haxton: Pristine North Stradbroke Island, or “Straddie” as it’s known by many Queenslanders here in Australia, has been a well-loved tourist destination for generations. But those rolling dunes have also been the source of extensive sand mining operations under a range of mining companies since the 1940s.
The evolution of Stradbroke Island in recent years has been fascinating to me – that inherent conflict between the knowledge and wisdom of the traditional Aboriginal owners over more than 20 thousand years and the sand-mining industry which has brought the island economic prosperity in the past 50 years. Can they be reconciled? That was the central question of my documentary.
I had done a number of stories for ABC Radio Current Affairs for the national programs I work for, AM, PM and The World Today on Stradbroke Island, its absolute inherent beauty and also concerns about how the island economy will survive once sand-mining is gone. As the year progressed I realized I had the makings of a great radio documentary, and made sure I kept all my original interviews, and made the effort to gather more music and atmosphere from the island and interviews with Indigenous people from there. I love the freedom of being a radio documentary maker – that I can get on a boat and go on a journey with interviewees, and take nothing but my camera, my recorder and my microphone, and see where the day takes me. Thankfully for me the traditional owners were so generous to me, with their stories, song and dance. These were crucial to telling this story.
NYF Radio: What was the process involved in capturing so many sounds, voices, and music from the island to paint a picture of how locals are coping with the changes ?
Nance Haxton: It took six months of gathering the interviews, and many times I went out in my own time, such as when my family went to the Quandamooka Festival with my seven year old son Ronan and my husband Andrew. It was wonderful to share the experience of getting to know the island and the people who have lived there for so long, with them. I only hope it encourages more people to visit. This really is paradise. What I love about radio is how portable it is. You don’t need massive crews and assistance. All my interviews were done by me, on my own, with my Marantz recorder and my trusty microphone. Getting out in the field is so crucial to bringing these stories alive. The impact would be nowhere near as much without the sounds of the singing, the waves, the dancing, and the interviews that were all face to face quality. It took a lot of time to organize these details, but was so worth the effort. I weave together sounds, voices and music from the island to paint a picture of how locals are coping with massive changes and embracing their Indigenous heritage to take the island forward. Starting with the sounds of “Barefoot Dave” making tea takes listener’s straight to the island’s sandy shores.
NYF Radio: From start to finish, what is the length of time it took to research, gather interviews, record and mix the radio program?
Nance Haxton: It took roughly nine months from the beginning concept to the final rush of mixing and editing in the final weeks before it went to air. I gathered all the interviews and sound myself, and produced and mixed the radio package on my own.
NYF Radio: How did you first connect with key community members and gain their trust, such as Quandamooka Aboriginal people and Barefoot Dave?
Nance Haxton: It took months to gain the trust of the traditional owners, the Quandamooka Aboriginal people, so that I was able to record these rare interviews and their traditional songs to show their connection to the region of more than 20,000 years, starting a new chapter for the place they know as Minjerribah, “island in the sun”.
In my experience, in most of the radio stories that I gather and produce, contacts bring you to more contacts. Once I had gained the trust of some people on the island, I was able to ask them for details of other representatives from this small community.
I have reported for nearly two decades on Aboriginal issues, from the deserts of central Australia to island communities such as the lovely Stradbroke. All are incredibly, searingly beautiful, and I consider it a great privilege to be able to tell their stories in this intimate way – radio is so powerful and brings across so much just by listening to people’s voices. I like to call it “Theatre of the Mind”. When done well it takes listeners on a journey – like reading a really good book, the story becomes alive in the listeners’ head in an incredibly personal way. Hearing a great radio documentary should take you straight to a place as if you were sitting right there with the waves lapping at your feet.
NYF Radio: Where did you first develop your passion for the medium? How did you come to share your creatives gifts and passion on radio?
Nance Haxton: I have worked in radio current affairs for more than 15 years, and I love that each day is different and I am never bored. While radio’s one of the oldest mediums in journalism, to me it’s one of the most exciting to work in. Radio is so much more than poor man’s TV. It’s a really challenging and evolving medium that I think will be around for many years to come despite the challenges of around the clock coverage from TV and online. To me it’s the voice that’s the window to the soul – hearing another person’s take on a situation – without the distraction of pictures – is incredibly intimate and powerful and inspires me to keep on working in radio and keep learning and improving.
I have a lot of wonderful mentors to thank too. One of my executive producers once told me how wonderful radio is because it can be subversive. He said while you have to fight to get peoples’ attention in other mediums – often in radio you have a captive audience in the car or in the kitchen. He told me if you craft a beautiful radio story – even if your listener has no interest in the topic to begin with – you can pull people in. You can get people to listen to an issue that they never would have sought out otherwise – which to me is such a fantastic opportunity. It’s an aspect of radio that still inspires me to this day.
NYF Radio: Do you have any advice for young people starting out who want to forge a career in the radio industry?
Nance Haxton: Tenacity and determination are right up there. Do all the work experience you can and make all the contacts you can. That’s the intellectual property that makes you valuable in the workplace. I still think one of my greatest assets as a journalist regardless of the medium – is empathy. I largely have my intellectually disabled brother Ashley to thank for teaching me that. I think if you can’t walk in someone else’s shoes even for a moment – then you can’t write about them either. It also gives you a different angle that other reporters may not have thought of.
And also get out into the bush – be prepared to move away from your home town. Your friends will be there when you get back. You will gain experience you never would have otherwise.
I’d encourage young reporters to not be daunted by big stories. To not think that these stories should necessarily be done by more senior journalists. I love teaching at Griffith University where I am the Journalist in Residence. I tell my young reporters that their sense of injustice is more honed and less jaded than the senior journo’s they will meet in the newsroom. It’s an asset. As journos we have to keep our wits about us, and hone our news sense so that we can pick up on stories that others ignore. I think one of the best skills we as journalists can nurture is our instinct and gut feeling. We need to trust ourselves when something strikes us as being out of line and pursue that further – even if we’re the only ones doing it. I am very passionate about the continuing need for investigative journalism in this ever-changing media landscape.
NYF Radio: What is your personal dream project that you’d like to create? Or have you already created it and if so, what was it?
Nance Haxton: I think I have realized that I am an audio storyteller. I just love telling stories regardless of the topic. I’m particularly passionate about giving people a voice who are not usually given access to the media – as I often find they have the best stories to tell and they haven’t been heard before.
For more information about New York Festivals Radio Program Award, please visit: http://www.newyorkfestivals.com/radio/