QUT students learn from the ABC’s Rhianna Patrick

Journalism student Georgia Collings writes about how the School of Communication’s recent inaugural Indigenous resident has been able to share her professional expertise and perspectives on giving Indigenous Australians more of a voice in mainstream media.

Rhianna Patrick became a journalist for two reasons—one, because Doctor Who’s companion was a journalist and it meant she might get to fly around in a TARDIS, and two, because she wanted to inspire young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to become a voice for their people.

“Representation is important, because you can’t be what you can’t see,” Patrick said.

Patrick joined QUT’s School of Communication in March to take up an Indigenous Australian Residency and share her professional expertise.

She is a Torres Strait Islander woman, heralding from the Wagadagam people of Mabuiag Island, and the Zagareb people of Mer (Murray Island). Patrick was born in Brisbane but grew up in Weipa. She loves her cats, reading, music, and will be doing plenty of Zumba during her Covid-19 quarantine.

A force to be reckoned with, Patrick has been working as a journalist for 21 years, beginning with Indigenous radio and media organisations and continuing on in various roles, including as a radio journalist for ABC Tropical North in Mackay and as a breakfast newsreader for triple j news in Sydney, before settling back in Brisbane to work with ABC Radio.

Photos by Rhianna Patrick

Rhianna Patrick’s career as a journalist has taken her from the nation’s capital in Canberra to as far north as Mackay in tropical Queensland.

“As journalists we’re taught, among other things, to be accurate, impartial, unbiased, transparent and balanced but there is also a duty of care to the story produced and the talent who’s a part of it”, she said.

“There’s a responsibility to not only get it right but to make sure it’s done in the correct way. First Nations Australians are still unfortunately portrayed in the media through a deficit narrative lens which rarely shows Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in a positive or empowered way.

“So thinking about the lack of ‘positive’ news in the mainstream Indigenous reporting space, could help with the balance and representation of communities. I think having an understanding of the history of this country and how that history (and past policies) continues to play out in contemporary society is paramount if you want to have quality representations. It’s important to read as much as you can from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander authors and academics to get a cross section of experiences and perspectives which will add to your learnings”.

Patrick explained that it’s important to take skills back to the Indigenous media sector, much like she has in her work.

She has stepped between Indigenous and mainstream journalism, but says that the door must always stay open for the next generation of First Nation journalists. Even when working in small communities, it’s vital to understand how much impact a journalist can have.

“When you’re part of a community and doing stories for that community, what you’re doing matters,” she says.

Patrick remains an active participant in the Brisbane community. She frequently is called upon to emcee and moderate events and panels, such as The Mabo Oration in 2019 at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre. | Photo at right by Sandy O’Sullivan; other photos supplied by Rhianna Patrick.

In a career spanning 21 years, Patrick has faced a lot of changes to the way journalism operates.

When she began, journalists were still using tape recorders and film on camera.

Now? Most of her job can be done from her iPhone. This is part of what has drawn Patrick to her residency at QUT. She wanted to see what and how budding journalists are learning.

She is presenting guest lectures to Creative Industries Faculty classes to talk about Indigenous media, and the changing landscape of journalism and media.

The ABC’s Rhianna Patrick, inaugural Indigenous resident at the QUT School of Communication, guest lectures on 20 March, 2020, during CCB202: Social Media, Self and Society about First Nations Australians’ use of digital media platforms. Photo by Dr T.J. Thomson

“The great thing about being in a classroom is that you can see people’s reactions in real time”, Patrick said.

“Reading the room when you’re doing a presentation, speech etc is a skill in itself because you can feel the energy in the room, you can feel when it shifts or when you don’t have the room so it was an experience to see how that felt while I was giving my presentation. When you’re on air, you have no idea what people are doing when they’re listening to you. You have no idea how they’re taking in the content and you only really get to hear them when they ring you for talkback.”

As an experienced radio and television journalist Patrick offered QUT students an on-the-ground perspective of journalism today and great ideas on the future of journalism education.

She met with staff who deliver Indigenous material, presented lectures, and fielded student questions.

According to Patrick, we are now in a society that faces a very modern challenge – the spread of ‘fake news’ and incorrect information, from people who take everything they see online at face value.

“How do you cut through that? The challenge is, how do you make sure people have the facts straight?”

It’s an important question and one that is surely shaping the way modern journalists will need to practice. They now face keyboard warriors, Twitter aficionados and people who get all their daily news from Facebook posts.

Patrick’s work at the ABC is all about representation. She has a passion for Australian Young Adult fiction, unique music from all over the globe, archaeology and cult films, all of which she represents on her Sunday night ABC radio show.

She’s devoted enough to forgo a night’s sleep in favour of devouring a new novel, or seeing a unique performance. Her ability to bring a fresh perspective to QUT’s journalism students is incredibly exciting, even if it doesn’t involve a TARDIS.

Supervising editors Susan Hetherington and T.J. Thomson.