25 years on, Karla laments lack of change
The secret to Australia’s queen of Indigenous television Karla Grant’s seemingly endless energy may well lie in a treadmill in a Sydney gym.
For a decade and a half, Grant has maintained a breakneck pace as one of NITV’s most recognisable faces — the anchor of Living Black, the show she gave life to in 2003 and which is still going strong in a turnstile industry.
The longest running Indigenous current affairs program in Australian history has just returned to NITV and SBS for its 25th season, with Grant interviewing guests from former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to entertainer Jessica Mauboy, and once again heading a team of journalists reporting on current affairs across the country.
Grant says staying fit is vital to maintaining her professional momentum.
“I love to run and exercise and keep fit,” she told NIT. “I find that starting my day off with some exercise really gets me in a good frame of mind.
“It can be quite draining, but for myself, I get to the gym in the morning, have a run and I really feel that energises me and helps me to think clearly and sets me up for the day.
“It’s an important part of my life to ensure that I have a good work-life balance – exercise and spending time with family as well.”
Grant says the job itself is also a motivator. As well as her hosting roles with Living Black and The Point (currently off air), she is also part of NITV’s management team and is Living Black’s executive producer. That means early-morning checks on the day’s news, editorial meetings, filming and executive pow-wows.
“I’ve spent half of my life working in the media and covering Indigenous issues,” Grant says.
“I’ve made it my life’s work really and it’s something I’ve always wanted to do ever since I was a young girl going to school in Adelaide and seeing the injustices done to my people and the things that they faced.
“I wanted to make a positive contribution to highlighting issues and bringing our stories to the fore.
“Every year is a challenge. That’s what keeps me going. I’m always challenged in this role and always striving to improve what I do and improve the program and take it to another level. That’s what keeps me going, I think.
“If it wasn’t a challenge then maybe I would look to do something else, but I’m always faced with different challenges and that’s what I love.”
Just as Living Black’s format has been refined over the years, Grant’s own life away from the cameras has had its own changes.
When she first began, her children — with ex-husband and ABC Indigenous affairs editor Stan Grant — were still young, but today they are adults with their own career paths, two in the media. Daughter Lowanna, 30, works at NITV as a project manager; John, 23, is a musician and studying communications at Macquarie University in Sydney; while youngest son Dylan, 20, is a footballer.
“It has gotten a lot easier,” Grant admits. “In the early days, it was dropping kids off to school first thing in the morning, getting to work and then picking them up in the afternoon and bringing them back to work at SBS.
“They’ve always grown up being surrounded by media and the industry. I quite often had to bring them into work so they hung out at SBS. That was the after-school care routine – pick them up and bring them into work until I was finished for the day. SBS is like their second home.
“It’s funny with Lowanna working there now. Everyone knows her because they knew her when she was a school student, remembering her as a teenager coming in with her school uniform on, her backpack and big straw hat and stuff.
“They all know her. They are all happy to see her and that she’s found a career in the media as well.”
Grant says she believes the key to Living Black’s longevity is the trust it’s built up with communities. She hopes the show will be around for another decade even if she is not at the helm.
“Not to say I’m hanging up the boots or hanging up my microphone just yet,” she says. “I’m going to be around for a few more years yet, but at some stage I will be looking to pass the banner on to our journalists coming through.”
And she hopes before her watch is through that some key issues impacting Indigenous Australia will have closure. She admits to being disappointed about the Turnbull Government’s recent lack of action on the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
“I don’t normally give my personal opinions because I’m a journalist and I have to be impartial and fair and balanced in my reporting,” Grant says, “but I think from being in this industry for so long, being in the media and covering these issues for so many years now, we’re talking about the same things; every year it doesn’t change.
“There have been some improvements over the years. We’ve got lots of Aboriginal students graduating from university, retention rates at school and that sort of thing, but we’re still being incarcerated at high levels and there are high rates of suicide in our communities. It doesn’t seem to get better in some respects.
“I’m reporting on a lot of the same things I’ve been reporting on for the last 25 years. It’s quite disappointing to see.
“I mean I was at Garma this year and there were such high hopes (among) the Yolngu people there. The focus was on Makarrata and everyone was just hoping for something big to happen, for a big announcement from the Turnbull Government.
“And Malcolm Turnbull came and he said he would listen and learn from the people there and there was this thing in the air that hopefully Mr Turnbull would make an announcement in terms of the proposal put forward by the Uluru convention, but it wasn’t forthcoming.
“To see the disappointment in those people’s faces … it was so sad.
“The politicians came and then they went and I’ve seen a lot of that. Flying in and flying out. Making promises that never come to fruition. So I do feel disappointed.”
Grant says she hopes in 2018 she will, through Living Black, be able to deliver some better news.
- The new 10-part series of Living Black airs on Wednesdays at 9pm on NITV and Thursdays at 3pm on SBS, with repeats on SBS on Monday nights at 5pm.