Last Sunday evening, 1.3 million Australians tuned in to watch three couples go to war in The Block: there were rooms to renovate, backs to stab and bathroom tiles to barter for. Just as that program finished, another went to air on NITV exploring – from a certain, more meaningful point-of-view – property in Australia.
No photogenic well-to-dos squabbling over acrylic bathtubs; this one followed some of our First Australians fighting to save land that housed their ancestors. And of course it was not merely about property, but of sacred places that remain of extraordinary cultural significance.
This was Connection to Country, the third instalment in NITV’s outstanding four-part documentary series You Are Here (available to watch on SBS On Demand). When I asked SBS how the series was performing ratings-wise, the network declined to answer, on the grounds that on-demand figures were still being counted – though they acknowledged the ratings “are lower than we had hoped”.
It is, of course, no surprise that many more people tuned in to watch boofheads with hammers. But why? You Are Here is a hugely important series – the most vital and pressing suite of locally-made TV documentaries, in fact, since the first season of ABC TV’s Changing Minds, which focused on the under-explored subject of 21st century psychiatric treatment.
But it would be wrong to suggest these films cannot be wolfed down as weekend style, non-intellectually fatiguing viewing. The film-makers have very deliberately made them highly entertaining and unpretentious works.
Three out of four are strongly focused around the personalities of their presenters – who are also the film-makers – including the debut episode, Warwick Thornton’s We Don’t Need a Map, which explored the question of whether the Southern Cross has become a symbol of racism (spoiler alert: it has).