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Rhoda Roberts


One of the pre-eminent Australian arts figures of her generation, Rhoda Roberts is head of Indigenous programming at the Sydney Opera House. Rhoda became the first Indigenous presenter on prime-time television in 1989 when she fronted SBS's documentary show First in Line, and was later a presenter and journalist on SBS's current affairs program Vox Populi. In 1993 she became host of Deadly Sounds, a weekly Indigenous radio program that ran for 21 years. When the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games was formed in 1995, she was appointed director of its associated arts festivals, to be held in the years leading up to the Sydney Olympics.

She was the founding artistic director of The Dreaming, an Indigenous arts festival which ran in Sydney from 1997 then relocated to Woodford, Queensland in 2004. This was the start of her career as an organiser of large-scale public cultural events. She is art curator of the Parrtjima Festival in Alice Springs, and director of Boomerang, the First Nations segment of Bluesfest.

As far back as 1993 she took the acting world by storm with her appearance in Louis Nowra's Radiance, one of the first of a string of Indigenous theatrical pieces that subsequently swept the country. In 2016, the year in which she oversaw the lighting of the Sydney Opera House sails with Indigenous artworks, she was awarded an Order of Australia for her services to the arts. The following year she received a Sue Nattrass Award for outstanding achievement in live performance at the annual Helpmanns.

Her interview for Satellite Dreaming Revisited was recorded at her Sydney Opera House office in March, 2018.

'So now we have to bring back the fires…' (interview with full transcript & links here)

00:09 Starting at SBS at First In Line and Vox Populi

"… I was broadcasting in community radio…"

02:09 Moving on in Indigenous broadcasting and filmmaking

"…we also were very aware not [to] consistently have those ‘worthy’ stories…"

03:36 Continuing problems with the mainstream

"Sadly, all these years later we still face an enormous difficulty…"

06:20 Was Satellite Dreaming too focused on Central Australia?

"Look, I think there's a couple of elements there…"

10:32 The impact of television and social media on First Nations people

"…television did change our lives…"

At the time of her interview in Satellite Dreaming Rhoda presented SBS's documentary show First in Line.

Television has had a very destructive effect on our society, Aboriginal society. All our children do is turn on the screen and see a negative image of what they should be like.

At the beginning of the show we had to take it fairly easy because it was a huge step: it was the first – in prime time - current affairs hosted by two Aboriginal people…

If we’d put on fairly political issues at the very beginning of the show, they would have gone ‘Ah, I don’t need to be preached to, thank-you’, or ‘I don’t want to know this’. So, at first, we just showed very positive images and really soft stories, until we built up an audience, and then we slowly started introducing more controversial issues into the show.