Go back to where you came from
With over 500,000 viewers and top trending on Twitter across the world, the show has certainly sparked debate. Catherine Zengerer reports.
Story features: Series Director, Ivan O’Mahoney and Peter Newman, SBS Head of Production and Development.
‘Go back to where you came from’ is a controversial new reality TV style documentary which went to air on SBS this week. The three part series ending last night takes ordinary Australians on the typical journey of an asylum seeker, and asks them to challenge their preconceived notions about refugees.
RC: I don’t care how hard it is where they come from, I don’t think they have the right to come out here and demand, demand all this freedom, all this, this generosity the Australian government just hands them on a golden platter.
CZ: That’s Raye Colbey, a 63-year-old social worker who lives opposite the Inverbrackie detention centre in the Adelaide hills. She’s one of the six participants in the SBS series ‘Go back to where you came from’ which went to air last night. The three part series takes ordinary Australians on a typical journey of an asylum seeker and asks them to challenge their pre-conceived notions about refugees. With over 500,000 viewers and top trending on Twitter across the world, the show has certainly sparked debate. Ivan O’Mahoney is the series director; he told me how he picked the characters who took part in this social experiment.
IO: Raye we found by going to town hall meetings in Woodside. There was a lot of uproar as you know, when the announcement was made that Inverbrackie barracks will be turned into an alternative place for detention and people were very outspoken about it. Raquel who was 21 had never left Australia in her life had barely traveled, didn’t like what she was seeing [and] I think felt a little bit threatened, like her turf was under threat.
CZ: You also managed to secure Roderick Schneider who is the Vice President of the Australian Young Liberals.
IO: Roderick, you know, who is 29 also never traveled outside Australia, so he like everybody else, like especially people involved in politics has big opinions and not necessarily informed.
CZ: There are some people that feel that this show is another form of SBS pushing its agenda; do you think that this show is going to change people’s minds?
IO: I’m not sure it will to be honest, I think it will help people form an opinion and that opinion might sway to the left, or it might sway to the right. Within our group some of them came back changed and more sympathetic towards asylum seekers; Adam the young life guard from Cronulla for instance, but Darren Hassan our participant from Adelaide hardened his opinion about asylum seekers, and we’ve just let these opinions play out as they happened.
CZ: What was the impact of making this show on the production team itself?
IO: A bit like the participants really, we had people on our production team who have traveled far and wide and people who had slightly less experience traveling to countries like the ones we had visited and I think the people who have seen this stuff before, you know like worked in refugee camps or had filmed the middle east were less surprised by what we encountered, than others on the team were also quite shaken up by what they saw.
Listen to this story on The Wire:
CZ: Are you hoping that government officials and members of parliament might sit down and watch it?
IO: We know government officials have been watching it because they’ve been tweeting about it. It’s much more important that people in Australia look at it -ordinary Australians- not politicians, and that as a result of the show they might be able to form opinions which might be a little bit more newer then the ones before. If that has an effect on policy makers through the electorate, that would be fantastic.
CZ: Ivan O’Mahoney, series director of ‘Go back to where you came from’. Peter Newman is the head of production and development at a very pleased SBS; they’ve been making headlines around the world today.
PN: With the series we knew we had something very special, I mean it’s been beautifully made, beautifully realised, it’s been very ambitious to make, but I think none of us could have predicted how everything would kind of converge at this moment in time, you know the show had been shot, and it was shot in Malaysia when the production company returned then of course the political debate that’s now….
CZ: The Malaysia plan
PN: The Malaysia plan started to unfold and we had no knowledge that was going to happen so it’s incredibly timely in that respect.
CZ: Some people they say you can predict exactly what’s going to happen with this, it’s going to, each situation is going to get more extreme then they’ll have a resolution or a shift.
PN: Well I can tell you having worked actually closely on it that it was…
CZ: We don’t want to give too much away.
PN: We don’t want to give too much away but, what I can say, it’s very unpredictable, it’s very raw, it’s very honest, and where some of the people end up at the end of episode 3 you know is unpredictable and surprising in some way. Yes there are some massive life changing moments in episode three just some surprising responses as well.
CZ: Tell us about some of the comments and responses you’ve been having on Twitter and on your website and indeed on Facebook. Is there any evidence of people shifting their opinion [on] asylum seekers?
PN: Yes it’s really interesting you asked that question actually because when I got home last night I opened the laptop just to see how it was going on the website and actually the first comment I read was someone who was saying that this show had already begun to change their views and I think that it’s incredible that this show is going to have that effect on some people but what I’m really encouraged by is the fact that this has been so hotly debated on these various media platforms, I think it’s encouraging that were taking this really important issue out of the political arena and putting it into the hands of the people really. I mean it’s one of the most ambitious documentaries ever made for Australian television simply because of the logistical achievement that’s been pulled off there. When you see the footage of three participants driving a hummer, a US military hummer through the red zone in Baghdad its utterly compelling because normally you see journos in that setting doing a piece to camera, it’s actually got real Australians sitting in the back of a US military hummer, it’s a very visceral experience.
CZ: Peter Newman, SBS Head of Production and Development at SBS. So what do people who saw the show think?
Interview 1: Very teary, very powerful television
CZ: Do you think it will change the views of people who are against giving asylum to refugees?
Interview 1: I really hope so because we are starting to become a red neck county as far as I’m concerned, we’ve lost our compassion and empathy.
Interview 2: I find it very interesting as a foreigner, because first of all I found that some Australians are racists.
Interview 3: I was expecting it to be probably to more hard hitting and less survivor style, but I guess that’s what’s gonna get through to the Australian public, they wanna watch people go through it and hopefully pick out some facts along the way.
Catherine Zengerer is a reporter on The Wire.