Telum Talks To: Alex Barwick from ABC Alice Springs

Telum Talks To: Alex Barwick from ABC Alice Springs

"While the population might be smaller, the area we're trying to cover is huge, and that means getting out and about to where people are, even if it's a five-hour drive on a dirt road."

Telum Media spoke to Alex Barwick, Presenter of Drive on ABC Alice Springs and Host of the new ABC's limited series Spies in the Outback, about how she kickstarted her journalism career and what makes reporting in regional Australia unique.

How did you start your journalism career?
As a kid, I used to record made-up news bulletins onto a cassette tape and signed off as "Ann Sandals". I must have been watching a lot of now-veteran newsreader Ann Sanders at the time.

Anyhow, it was community radio that opened the door to journalism for me. I presented a breakfast programme at 2SER in Sydney with different friends for about five years. It was a lot of fun, and I learnt a lot. It allowed me to interview many fascinating people, make radio packages, and explore the stories I was interested in.

What distinguishes coverage for and from regional Australia?
Telling stories from regional parts of Australia, like Alice Springs, is endlessly interesting. People are consistently generous in telling you about the often-challenging parts of their lives and the wonderful things that happen because they want the rest of the country to hear them. Given that the traditional media landscape has shrunk in the regions, that feels more important than ever.

Being a journalist in Central Australia also means you can be outdoors much more than in the city. While the population might be smaller, the area we're trying to cover is huge, and that means getting out and about to where people are, even if it's a five-hour drive on a dirt road.
Tell us more about your recent series, Spies in the Outback.
Since I arrived 16 years ago, I've been curious about the secretive intelligence facility (Pine Gap) on the fringe of Alice Springs. But there's a social norm that means no one talks or asks about it. The more I've learned in recent years, the more I've seriously questioned what is going on in Australia's backyard. And why doesn't the public know more about this joint United States / Australian spy base hidden in the McDonnell Ranges?

Much of the information about the spy base is quite technical around antennas and satellites, and I felt that telling Pine Gap's story through the Spies in the Outback podcast would make it much more accessible. I've heard some wild stories about Pine Gap throughout the investigation, from stories about loose-lipped Americans sent packing in the middle of the night to revelations from traditional owners about what's inside the razor wire. You'll have to tune in to find out more! 

Like each of the previous Expanse seasons, Spies in the Outback shares a story from across this vast continent. The podcast transports listeners to a remote outback town but simultaneously into a story of national significance. Pine Gap is more relevant than ever as the jewel in the crown of the U.S. / Australian intelligence sharing and military partnership. It's a story of significant public interest and, therefore, one ABC was keen to tell.
Who is behind the editorial team?
The Spies in the Outback team is small. Piia Wirsu, Supervising Producer; Grant Wolter, Sound Engineer; and Elsa Silberstein on production / research led by Executive Producer, Blythe Moore. The team has worked on Spies in the Outback over the past six months. But it would be fair to say living over the range from this spy base, I've been thinking, planning, and researching for a lot longer than that!

Do you have advice for anyone who wishes to pitch stories or be featured in a limited series project?
A clear driving question is so important. For Spies in the Outback, I was constantly coming back to that, "what is happening in my backyard (Australia's backyard) in Alice Springs"? And you've got to work out how you can tell the story through characters in a way that's engaging, genuine, and fair.

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