Rainbow serpent at 4AAA mural in West End. Credit: Damian West
It is often framed as a totem, a sign of some higher latent human potential that modern Australia was able to pull itself together at the seams minus the ritual violence, upheaval and general ugliness that usually goes hand-in-hand with the birth of nations. A nation born beneath a dove…no monkey business here.
At least that’s how the story goes when Australia’s Indigenous (First Nations) people are sidelined to the bleachers, in turn obscuring a second, untold parallel birth; that of the ultimate ‘other’.
During the 1970s and 80s in Brisbane and around the nation, First Nations communities started to recognize the power of radio and other media as a way to rewrite themselves back into history and to hold their ground.
What follows is the story of the origins and development of First Nations radio broadcasting in Brisbane which would ultimately lead to the creation of radio 4AAA (98.9FM).
Tiga Bayles, 4AAA station manager, was active in promoting and setting up First Nations community radio in Redfern, Sydney during the early 80s.
“We first started out in Sydney by knocking on the doors of community radio stations and saying, ‘We’re part of the community and we believe you should have some programing done by our people,’” said Mr Bayles.
“That’s where it grew.”
The same approach was brought to Brisbane a short time later. It was the growing movement for Indigenous land-rights leading up to the 1982 Brisbane Commonwealth Games that set the scene. The Bjelke-Petersen state government cracked down heavily on land-rights demonstrators under the Commonwealth Games Security Act and other emergency provisions. Hundreds of protestors were arrested and imprisoned.
“It was just after the Commonwealth Games where there were hundreds of us locked up and tens of thousands of dollars needed for bail and radio 4ZZZ (102.1FM) played a key role in making the announcements, keeping people up to date and putting out the bail,” said Mr Bayles.
“It reinforced how important it was to us to have our own station to be in control of our own frequency… (Brisbane) was a racist place. It was the politics, the police, the whole thing here.”
But Mr Bayles explained that the need went further than providing a counterpoint to the political scene.
“There was (also) a need to be able to promote our own musicians, our artists, our discussion, to be able to articulate our own identify, to be able to articulate our experiences, our history, our aspirations, our achievements, all of that…”
Following the Games, 4ZZZ provided ongoing airtime for the ‘Murri Hour’ radio program produced by Mr Bayles’s uncle, the late Mr. Ross ‘Rossie’ Watson.
Watson founded the Brisbane Indigenous Media Association (BIMA) and prepared an application for a community radio broadcasting license to represent Brisbane’s First Nations people through the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal.
Watson saw this application through to completion, when in 1991 a broadcasting license was finally awarded to BIMA.
But even then the fight was not over. A lobby group representing Christian community radio, led by Brisbane radio personality Haydn Sargent, appealed the tribunal’s decision – forcing Ross Watson and BIMA into the high court.
“Luckily we came through that, but it cost a lot of money. We had to go lobby for funding to take on that case and stuff like that,” Bayles said.
With the appeal resolved, BIMA could move ahead to set up its new studios in Rocklea and commence training new staff.
Radio 4AAA (via BIMA) launched onto the airwaves on the 6th April 1993 and has recently celebrated its 20th anniversary of continual broadcasting. Since then the station has continued to grow and now encompasses a National Indigenous Radio Service (NIRS) newsroom, television studios, recording studios, broadcasting studios and a registered training organization (4AAA Training). Two years ago, 4AAA moved into a new purpose-built facility in West End.
“It’s now a multimedia facility and it’s working quite well for us,” said Mr Bayles.
Tuning in to 4AAA, it’s noticeable that the jugular is left alone. First Nations issues are dealt with, but there is no sense of vitriol or ‘us and them’. The station is pitched at mainstream listeners as much as it is First Nations listeners. Its focus on the country music genre has far reaching appeal as does the breakfast show, anchored by the eternal Brisbane television and radio personality Jamie Dunn. The station also promotes employment and training opportunities to people from all backgrounds.
Bayles believes this inclusive approach is benefiting the broader community by allowing key messages to reach a wider audience. The result is better knowledge across the community and positive changes in attitude.
“There is a shift, and by gee, it makes it all worthwhile when you hear a white fella ring you up and say ‘I’ve been listening to you fellas for five or six or ten years. I wasn’t all that friendly to your people prior to listening to your station, but I’ve become more aware, I understand your issues better and I’m a supporter. I’m with you mob.’ That’s so encouraging. And more and more of that’s happening every year. Those numbers are growing,” he said.
Moving forwards, Bayles believes that 4AAA can play a role in challenging the excesses and inequities of modern Australia and that First Nations people are in a prime position to lead this charge.
“We being the supreme environmentalists, with our 100 000 years of survival in this country…we being the supreme conservationists, we can lead the change. And our own media is essential to be able to promote that. And that’s growing every year.”
LINK: 4AAA (98.9FM)
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