We need Hindsight


Last August, Tony Abbott said at the launch of an exhibition at the National Museum of Australia: ‘Australians are encouraged to reflect on our remarkable history and contribute to the selection of the 100 moments that have defined Australia’. The Prime Minister used the passive voice, leaving unanswered the question ‘by whom’? It’s not a difficult question to answer. Institutions like the NMA and all the state bodies and the local councils and libraries and community history groups encourage their visitors to think about the past.

So too does our beloved Auntie, the ABC. What would we do without programs such as Hindsight, which take us beyond the top 100 lists to the facts and stories of Australia’s multi-faceted history. This broadcasting does so much to present the complexities of our past and to make us think not only about bygone days but to realise why we live as we do and how we might live better tomorrow.

This afternoon I listened to men telling of their Changi experiences, choking with emotion as they described their ordeal. No-one hearing these voices could remain unmoved – what a marvellous archive these interviews done by Tim Bowden in the early 1980s have left us! But the program did not stop at pathos. It brought to the listener the analysis of historians who have delved deep to try to understand how civilian society can better respond to the needs of returning soldiers – lessons we must still refine, especially now when Australia is being committed to a new offensive in the Middle East.

We need professional, accessible history. That’s why members of the PHA are disconcerted about rumours that cuts to the ABC will affect specialist programs like Hindsight. And when a member of the ABC board speaks out about cuts, as Fiona Stanley did recently, we have to fear the worst.Stanley presented quantitative and qualitative evidence for her argument that the ABC is vital for Australian democracy. You can find her article here. Let me supplement her points with some facts and figures about Hindsight (supplied by its executive producer), which illustrate that history is no sideshow in this debate.

  • In 2014, visits to the Hindsight page ranged from an estimated 1,400 to 2,000 visits per week.
  • The program has thousands of subscribers, many of whom are international listeners
  • The program’s average weekly reach on Sundays at 1pm is about 54,000 listeners.
  • 37,000 listen to the repeat on Thursdays at 1pm.

Hindsight won this year’s NSW Premier’s Mulitmedia history award for Public Intimacies: the1974 Royal Commission into Human Relationships. The judges commented that ‘well-crafted radio … reminds us of the value of this media for historians’.

Indeed. But we need to be vocal in the defence of such resources, so please get commenting and help the PHA NSW & ACT committee to amass the arguments for keeping history on OUR ABC.


by Francesca Beddie, PHA NSW & ACT blog editor (and former member of the ABC Advisory Council)

[Image: Hindsight: 9th Ward Hindsight, Levee wall 2 years later, 2007 https://www.flickr.com/photos/everettt/2077102875/]

12 thoughts on “We need Hindsight”

  1. Thanks for this great piece Francesca – it’s terrific. If people want to have their concerns heard at the ABC, they can write to Managing Director Mark Scott. Making a big noise now in a vocal show of support is our best chance to save Hindsight!

  2. Great post – the historical community must do everything we can to stop these cuts.
    When I first moved to Australia in 2008 I learned so much about the country from Hindsight. It would be truly terrible if this source of knowledge and extraordinary historical expertise came to an end.
    The carefully crafted history represented in these programs never ceases to amaze me.
    I can’t tell you how valuable the programs are for teaching Australian history to undergraduate and postgraduate students. I want to continue to use them in my lectures and as resources for students. We must stop these cuts.

  3. Hindsight demonstrates the ABC’s commitment to broadcasting history. It continues a tradition of innovative oral history that extends back to the Tim Bowden’s founding of the Social History Unit in 1985. More even than that, Hindsight is critical history broadcasting at its best. It should remain on air.

  4. What happens to history after the splurge on World War I history? There are very television or radio programs that have an ongoing brief to focus on Australian history of all kinds. Yet there are a large number of Australians who are interested in knowing about our past. People interested in family and local history want to know about broader Australian history so they can understand their ancestor’s part in it.

    I would not have thought there would be many savings from cutting Hindsight. The impression I have is that it has a low budget at any rate.

    The Managing Director of the ABC, Mark Scott, can be contacted on Twitter @mscott. ABC Friends NSW has a useful list of contact details for key decision-makers regarding the ABC.

    However, I think we should look at this issue holistically. All the organisations that have anything to do with Australian history are having their budgets cut. We need to document this and share the overall picture with the public. It is easy to drop one program here, a lecturer there, to do a nip and tuck on the budgets of libraries, archives and museums. The public will not object to small cuts here and there and it is easy to disguise the fact that this adds up to significant cuts to Australian history. They need to know. We need to do the work to draw all the information together in order to help the public understand what is happening.

  5. Thanks Francesca. Very well said. I use the podcasts extensively in my teaching. They are always so thoughtful and nuanced and accessible. The figures for the use of Hindsight programs really understate the number of people who access them, as my students pass them round as mp3 files. I will contact ABC.

    • The axing of Hindsight would be a terrible loss, because it’s the only slot devoted solely to history on both the public broadcasters. Hindsight makes Australian history accessible to a broad range of people, including a huge overseas audience via podcast and streaming. It explores diverse, complex, important, stories – ones that would never be commissioned for television. Its budget is very small and yet the quality is very high. The programs are invaluable for teaching history and Austrlaian studies. We should all make our voices heard on this issue, by writing directly to Mark Scott and the ABC Board – before its too late.

  6. Radio is a unique medium for historical storytelling and analysis. History lives and breathes on the radio, without the artifice and expense of period costume, nor the dryness of scholarly prose. In Australia, Hindsight is the only place where this rich, engaging, rigorous vein of historical work is nurtured and delivered. Given the ABC’s charter obligations and burgeoning podcast audiences for audio documentaries, it makes no sense to target Hindsight in program cuts. Thanks to Francesca Beddie and the PHA for speaking out in defence of RN’s Hindsight.

  7. Yes I hope we can save Hindsight. I recently had the opportunity to air some of my PhD research on the program, and found it a really unique way of sharing the history I’ve been working on with a genuinely broad audience. The producer brought together the interpretations of several historians and other history-makers with extracts from the sources and told the story in a thoroughly accessible way, and with great subtlety as well, in a way that came alive on the radio. I hope Hindsight is around for many years to come.

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