Stray dogs and shirtless kids wander under street light as the team enters Elcho Island. Their car pelted with rocks, Bo-dene announces it’s “the scariest place I’ve been in my life”.

The weary travellers are welcomed into Timmy Gudumurrkuwuy’s furniture-free household of seventeen. Well-meaning police officer Trent asks, “Is this, like, your kitchen, dining and lounge all in one?”

Yep.

Sandy refuses to sleep on the family’s “disgusting” mattress and Bo-dene can’t reconcile a flat screen TV sitting amongst mouldy walls, broken windows and sheets for beds. Only Alice uses the washing machine.

The next day their host, a renowned artist, fashions a paintbrush from locks of an obviously flattered Sandy’s hair. After, Sandy questions why such a talented person would choose to live in abject poverty.

The hardship and the hopelessness of a town of 2500 (with 600 welfare dependant residents and only 23 jobs) bring Jasmine to tears.

Courageously misguided Bo-dene asks aunties why they don’t leave if they can’t get work. The answer is unexpected: they must stay to mind their family’s graves.

Darkness surrounds the group as they arrive at their next stop: a gated compound outside of Alice Springs. They’re issued “access cards”. The gates will shut at 9pm.

Bo-dene quickly labels Apmere Mwerre Visitor Park – an Aboriginal-only hostel – “discriminative”. She’s told Aboriginal peoples are still turned away from motels to this day. “White people can stay anywhere,” the park manager says.

As dawn breaks over the complex, Sandy’s midnight escape is revealed. She left because she “didn’t want to see Aboriginals intoxicated on drugs”.

Intoxicated Aborigines are exactly who the team are about to meet as they accompany Alice Spring’s Night Patrol. They’re given three directions: “Don’t stare. Don’t leave the car. Lock the door at all times.”

Bo’s startling lack of empathy is met with a scolding by the patrol worker, “You don’t show respect to anybody. You do not know how we feel. You’re a very selfish woman.”

Meanwhile, Trent meets the only noticeably intoxicated person the program interviews:

“Cops are all racist dogs. White people took over our land, then whinge about us drinking. If you got a problem, you brought the fuckin’ problem!”

The next morning, over roasted kangaroo tails, Bo-dene realises many Aboriginal people feel the same loneliness and bitterness fuelling her own mother’s alcoholism. Yet her core preconceptions remain unchanged, even after she and Trent meet Sharon, an Indigenous liaison trainer who bravely reveals her own history of sexual abuse, homelessness, drug addiction, rape, teenage pregnancy and unreported domestic violence. Trent weeps openly and the episode ends with Bo-dene Trent and Sharon congratulating each other on their willingness to see the other side of the racial divide.

Next week the group (some still unconvinced of the representativeness of the people they’ve met so far) ventures into the Australian penal system. But will life behind prison walls tear down or reinforce their views of Aboriginal people?

This is a recap of the SBS Australia show, “First Contact” that aired on the 20th of November 2014. You can watch it until the 20th of November 2019.

 

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