'All we see is white faces': SBS host's bold call for Blak voices

·Lifestyle & Entertainment Producer
·5-min read

When Shahni Wellington thinks of International Women's Day, the strong women who raised her spring to mind, women who pushed her along her path to becoming a remarkable woman of 'firsts'.

She was the first person in her family to finish high school and go to university. The first Aboriginal woman to host the country's first Indigenous television breakfast show, Big Mob Brekkie. Her very first job in media was doing work experience at NITV at just 18 years old, which is where she has landed years later as the new host of their flagship program, The Point.

Shahni Wellington NITV Big Mob Brekkie
Shahni's 'firsts' started long before she became the first Aboriginal woman to host the first First Nations brekkie show in 2020. Photo: NITV

'First' but, if it's up to her, not 'last'.

"We were the first to do it but you also don’t want to be the last," she tells Yahoo Lifestyle of hosting Big Mob Brekkie on NITV as part of NAIDOC week in 2020.

The proud Jerrinja Wandra Wandiaan woman is bringing that philosophy with her to NITV's The Point, a First Nations-run current affairs program which she will be hosting in 2021.

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"We had that reckoning with diversity last year and the standards that people were accepting are no longer cutting it," she says of the largely non-diverse Aussie media landscape. "We’re saying all we see is white faces."

She takes her hat off to the few Indigenous voices in mainstream and commercial media, for shouldering so much of the load of representing Australia's First Peoples alone.

"[You don't want] the amazing Brooke Boneys or Nerelda Jacobs being 'one out' in the mainstream world," she says. 

SBS host Shahni Wellington The Point co-host John Paul Janke
'We want The Point to be able to lead the way and be a trailblazer'. Photo: SBS

"It would be incredibly isolating and hopefully soon it won't be up to individuals to carry that burden in the mainstream."

She hopes The Point gaining more traction, this year joining SBS's main channel news and current affairs line up for the first time, will be a step towards easing that burden.

"The Point is the only show delivering something like this at the moment when it comes to current affairs and centring First Nations voices," she says.

"You’re not going to catch any all-white panels discussing Indigenous issue, we're bringing that lived experience of having Aboriginal people telling Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander stories."

She adds that this should just be the start of more change, more progress, more Blak faces on our screens. 

"We want The Point to be able to lead the way and be a trailblazer, [and] we don’t want to be the only Aboriginal and Indigenous current affairs show ever," she says.

"We want people to see we have the stories, the talent the resources to compete in any television market and show that we do this to the same standard as everyone else so that it can become more of a mainstream process."

Indigenous voices everywhere, all the time

Shahni points out, however, that it's about more than just Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples telling their own stories, she is challenging mainstream media to include Blak voices in every area, commenting on every issue.

"What we’re showing is that you don’t just get First Nations people in to comment on NAIDOC week or Black Lives Matter," she says.

"The point is that Aboriginal and Torre Strait Islander peoples have a point of view on everything and we have a place and things to say and we need to have a voice in all of these spaces."

'I know what it's like to be in that institution and feel alone'

Shahni Wellington NITV political correspondent
A former political correspondent, Shahni has a bit to say about what's been happening in Canberra.Photo: SBS

Shahni's bold vision for the future of First Nations voices in the mainstream comes at a point of reckoning for sexism and racism in Australian institutions, from the media to our parliament.

Shahni formerly worked as a Political Correspondent for NITV, and she says the current state of affairs in Canberra just drives home the need for more and varied voices in those spaces.

"Having been a political journalist I know what it's like to be in that institution and feel alone," she says.

"My take on it is that we’re going to see a lot of change and you’re seeing how important it is to have female journalists and journalists of colour like [NITV correspondent] Sarah Collard and how important it is to have them keeping this system to account at the moment."

As for where she gets this willpower in the face of what she herself admits can be an 'isolating' landscaped? Appropriately enough in the wake of International Women's Day, it's from the ladies who raised her.

Shahni Wellington with her Aunty Lesley
Shahni's Aunty Lesley was the Aboriginal Education Officer at Shahni’s school growing up. Photo: Supplied

"I automatically think of my four aunties who are strong Blak matriarchs of my family," she says when asked who springs to mind on International Women's Day.

"My dad’s sisters. I automatically think of them and the obstacles they’ve overcome to create such a loving family and community that I've been able to reap the benefits of."

Shahni's Aunty Lesley was the Aboriginal Education Officer at her school, a subject Shahni came first in in the state when she sat her HSC.

Shahni Wellington mum NITV The Point host
Shahni says the example of her mum's perseverance pushed her to new heights. Photo: Supplied

"Especially when we speak about overcoming challenges and what International Women's Day is all about, I think they really embody resilience and strength to me," she says.

"And also my mum… to me she embodies determination and perseverance.

"On International Women's Day, I'm forever thinking of them and grateful for the role models that I had in my life."

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