Real Stories: Living Black's Karla Grant on amplifying First Nations voices

Living Black's host and executive producer, Karla Grant, sat down with Yahoo Australia to share her journey and how she's helping to amplify First Nations voices.

Video transcript

KARLA GRANT: Little did I know, I guess, growing up in Adelaide as a, you know, young Aboriginal girl going to school and facing a lot of racism there, I never thought that I'd, you know, come this far. Hello, I'm Karla Grant, and I'm the host and executive producer of "Living Black" on NITV and SBS.

I grew up as a young girl in Adelaide always wanting to be a journalist. I had a strong sense of social justice very early on growing up, seeing a lot of injustices suffered by, you know, my family, many family members, and other First Nations people in our community. I moved from Adelaide to Canberra to study in Canberra. I went to Canberra CIE as it was at the time, but it's now Canberra University.

I couldn't get into journalism straight away, so I worked in public service for about six years. And then I sort of finally got my big break at a production company. They were looking for a presenter for a video magazine program that they were making for ATSIC, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission. And then I eventually went to work for that production company full time as a producer director. So I traveled all around the country doing stories of achievement, traveling to Aboriginal communities, so it was a real eye-opening experience.

And then in 1995, I joined SBS, and I've been there ever since. I joined to work on another program called "ICAM," the Indigenous Cultural Affairs Magazine program. And that was a weekly Indigenous current affairs program. And that went until 2001. And then SBS management wanted me to sort of come up with something a bit different. So we gave "ICAM" a rest, and then I spent a year sort of coming up with different concepts. And I came up with the concept for "Living Black" in 2002, and then in 2003 we went on air with the program.

So this year we're celebrating 20 years on air, which is, you know, a huge achievement for any program to have survived that long, you know, in this industry and on our screens, so I'm really proud of that achievement. Little did I know, I guess, growing up in Adelaide as a, you know, young Aboriginal girl going to school and facing a lot of racism there, I never thought that I'd, you know, come this far. It was-- you know, it was just one of those sort of, you know, pipe dreams, you know, something that you dream about as a little girl growing up.

And so I never thought that I'd get this far, and-- and I'm, yeah, certainly very proud of coming, you know, this far and all of my achievements. And I think my family would be proud too, especially my grandfather, because he-- I get a bit teary when I speak about him. He was a huge inspiration to me.

And he always said to me that education was the main thing, that you had to get a good education, he would say, because he'd put Hs in front of everything, so it was heducation and happles and horanges. And so he really said to me and instilled in me the fact that I needed to get that good education if I was going to get anywhere in life. So yeah, I think he'd be looking down on me now and be quite proud.

Growing up, I didn't really see many, you know, women on TV that I could aspire to, and especially First Nations women. There were no First Nations women on television as journalists. We did have Auntie Justine Saunders who was an incredible actress, you know? She was-- she was on our TV screens. And you know, we had people like Uncle Bob Maza as well and then Ernie Dingo sort of started coming up through the ranks as well. So there were a few people around.

There was just this sprinkling of First Nations people who you could see on our TV screens, but I certainly didn't see anyone who I could aspire to as a journalist. So there were people like Jana Wendt and Liz Hayes and Tracy Grimshaw and those people were sort of the people that I, you know, saw on TV and people who I aspired to. I think, you know, these days it's changed incredibly. There's a lot more First Nations women on our screens, and that's really good to see.

The work that we do at SBS and NITV is vitally important because, you know, we're putting First Nations voices front and center and amplifying their voices and providing a platform for them to, you know, speak about the issues that matter to them and creating, you know, that space for them so that we can share our diversity of voices and perspectives because we are all different.

We don't all agree on everything. We all have different perspectives and views on, you know, a wide range of issues. So it's really important to create that space for our First Nations people to be able to, you know, have that voice and platform that they don't otherwise have, you know, on commercial TV and mainstream television.

And I think we-- it's a really special place because we have that ability-- I guess we have this superpower that we have incredible access to First Nations communities and to people in our communities-- leaders and elders and a wide range of people. And that's something that a lot of networks don't have. So it's pretty important work that we do there.

I think, for me as a journalist, I'm-- obviously I don't give my own views. I'm just the person who asks the questions, and I provide that, you know, platform for people to be able to share their own stories. So I think, yeah, "Living Black" is certainly-- is a voice for First Nations people to-- you know, to share their stories, to talk about the issues that matter to them. And-- you know, and that's what we do. We ensure that these issues are front and center and First Nations people are front and center of discussions and debates and important conversations that this nation needs to have.

There's been huge changes over the last 20 years in television since-- certainly since I started. Thankfully, you know, our representation on screen has grown, and we've got a lot more Indigenous journalists on television and a lot of people behind the scenes as well as producers and directors and camera operators and editors.

So we're sort of infiltrating right across the board in different roles and, you know, in newsrooms right across the country as well, which is really great because, you know, in the past, the reportage of Indigenous issues hasn't been so great. You know, there have been a lot of, I guess-- you know, when I was growing up, the only time I would see an Indigenous story on the news was-- it was always a negative story. So now that's, you know, starting to change quite a bit and, you know, we're seeing a lot more diversity of the stories and better coverage of Indigenous issues.

So yeah, so it has changed a lot thankfully over the last 20 years. And I guess I've been a part of that growth, of you know, paving the way and also nurturing young journalists who are coming up through the ranks as well. So it's really pleasing to see, and I'm glad that I've been able to be a part of that growth.

In 20 years of "Living Black," we've covered so many important stories, you know, deaths in custody, child removals, you know, the whole gamut. Domestic violence. Yeah, we've covered every-- every sort of issue that First Nations people face, we've covered.

So "Living Black" has played a huge role in highlighting those issues and bringing them to the fore and putting them on a national platform so that, you know, we need to hold governments and organizations to account. So I think, you know, I'm pretty proud of the fact that we've been able to do that for 20 years, and there's still a lot more to cover, a lot more issues to cover, a lot of stories to tell. And we'll keep on doing that for as long as we can.