Deirdre O'Connell

PHA NSW Accreditation

Professional Member


Deirdre is a documentary maker, writer and archivist with a passion for biography, microhistory, popular culture and film archive.

At present is the Archive Producer on Starting At Zero, a feature length, archive based musical documentary about Jimi Hendrix.

Author of "The Ballad of Blind Tom" (Overlook Press, 2009), the biography of slave pianist and autistic savant, Thomas Wiggins

Another project, "Harlem Nights in Sydney and Melbourne: The Secret History of Australia's Jazz Age" is in development.

Area of Expertise

Specialist skills include film research, archive research, writing, editing, video production, music history.

Specialist knowledge includes 1960s and 1970s counter culture, black American history, popular music in 19th and 20th centuries, history of film and television.

Publications/Past Work

Archive Producer - Starting At Zero, Gravity Inc.
November 2012 – Present1991 - 1995

Jimi Hendrix's story in his own words. "Starting At Zero" is a feature length, archive musical documentary due for release in late 2014.
Responsible for researching, sourcing and licensing the archive components of the documentary and dealing with over 80 filmmakers, media archives and commercial film stock houses.

Author -  The Ballad of Blind Tom, Slave Pianist
Overlook Press,  New York,  278 pages
2005 - 2009

Historical biography of nineteenth century slave pianist and autistic savant, Thomas “Blind Tom” Wiggins. Written and researched over a ten year period. Selected for USA Today's Best of Black History Month list 2009. Included in the 2010 Books All Georgian Should Read list compiled by the Georgia Center of the Book.

Reviews of The Ballad of Blind Tom:

"Tom's is a story with bottomless complexity, touching on race and sanity and slavery and art. But ultimately, his life makes us think about what it means to be human." - Los Angeles Times

O'Connell's vivid, carefully researched narrative reflects the tenor of the times, the culture of the Old South, the chaos of emancipation and Blind Tom's single-minded devotion to his performances. - Publishers Weekly

An exciting narrative full of powerful visual imagery... An irresistible read. - Living Blues MagazineAwards for The Ballad of Blind Tom:

Selected for USA Today's Best of Black History Month list 2009.

Included in the "Books All Georgian Should Read" list compiled by the Georgia Center of the Book.

Interviewed by RN's The Book Show and Into the Music

Environmental Journalism
Television for the Environment, London
1990 - 2000

Produced, wrote and/or edited over 30 short documentaries for TVE on topics that included ozone depletion, environmental economics, poverty, soil erosion and bio-diversity.

Documentaries were broadcast on BBC World’s Earth Report, shown as conference openers or circulated as information videos.

Clients included a number of United Nations agencies and NGOs.

Research Assistant to Artist Martin Sharp
1988 - 1989, Sydney

Employed to organize and catalogue Martin's vast and eclectic array of news clippings and images.


Master of Arts (Research)                                                 2011 – 2012
Department of History, University of Sydney
Award: High Distinction

"Harlem Nights in Sydney and Melbourne: Racial Unity, Cultural Miscegenation and the Jazz Age" exposes the secret history of Australia's Jazz Age.  In 1928, Sonny Clay's Colored Idea were the first and last African American jazz orchestra to tour Australia. Their deportation led to 25 year ban on the entry on all black jazz musicians.

Excerpts from the examiner's reports:

"This is an extraordinary thesis, it is certainly the best MA dissertation I have read....a far more complex and riveting account of the Colored Idea's antipodean tour than those previously written." -- Professor Richard Waterhouse, University of Sydney

"The thesis is stylishly written...Every page, every paragraph, bears the mark of true scholarly care and attention to detail...It is indeed one of the best MA theses I have read" - Professor David Goodman, University of Melbourne

Diploma, Documentary Production                             March 1988 - July 1988
Australian Film, Television & Radio School

BA (Communications)                                                        1981 -1985
University of Technology, Sydney