The concept is quirky but simple. Take an experienced journalist with the common touch, put a pin in a map of Australia, give her a film crew and discover what really goes on in our wide brown land.
But like all simple concepts, in order to make it work it needs meticulous research and the right person on the road.
Heather Ewart is the perfect person to be our host on this journey to discover the hidden delights and stories of country Australia.
While Ewart is an award-winning political journalist who has distinguished herself overseas and in Canberra, she has the ideal background to be the face and driving force in Back Roads (ABC TV).
She can hold her own with the heavyweights in political circles, but she is a country girl at heart, who grew up in the little town of Murchison in northern Victoria, an experience she remembers fondly.
“When I was a kid it was almost like a forgotten town—not that we thought that ourselves,” she recalls.
“Murchison had everything we needed—clear swimming water, beautiful gum trees and a playground opposite the general store where you could buy mixed lollies in white paper bags for five cents!”
Ewart has always been the kind of journalist who was genuinely interested in finding out other people’s stories, and she brings this easy manner to the country towns she visits in Back Roads.
Unlike the highly-polished and glamorous female hosts of commercial television, Ewart is the real deal, and allowed to look like what she is—a mature journalist who is comfortable in her own skin without having to change to meet other people’s expectations.
That also describes her manner, which is why the people in little towns such as Maree near Oodnadatta, or Mundulla in South Australia or remote Thursday Island, welcome her and treat her like one of their own.
Because of this, we get to hear stories that probably wouldn’t be shared with someone glossy and superficial, and we see the remote towns as they are, and feel we are meeting the real remote Australia.
Watching Heather Ewart on her travels through Australia in Back Roads, I’m reminded of a quote from the Bible. “Welcome one another, therefore, as Christ has welcomed you,” (Romans chapter 15, verse 7).
Which is how these small towns greet the TV journalist from Canberra, with hospitality and a smile.