Australian Story: Sept 5


Actor Damon Gameau (The Kettering Incident, Howzat, Love My Way, The Tracker, Balibo) will feature in Monday’s Australian Story.

Gameau made the hit documentary That Sugar Film and ABC cameras travel with him as he repays a debt of knowledge by helping to revitalise an Indigenous community’s healthy eating initiative.

This episode is introduced by filmmaker Robert Connelly.

Gameau’s interest in diet began when he fell in love with actress Zoe Tuckwell-Smith. She was careful with diet and exercise, whereas he was inclined to enjoy the party life with alcohol, sugary soft drinks and a packet of cigarettes a day.

I knew as soon as I met her, I’m going to have to change some things in my life, she’s the one, but I’ve got some work to do. – Damon Gameau

Gameau worked his way to fitness, then decided to become his own ‘lab-rat’ by testing the effects of massive sugar consumption on his now healthy body and turning it into Australia’s most successful documentary – That Sugar Film.

His mission was to consume forty teaspoons of sugar per day for two months, all of it coming from so-called ‘healthy food’.

There was a few stats that were quite motivating to me … Type two diabetes now kills someone every six seconds… the fact that one in four Aussie kids are now overweight or obese… and so … from my perspective, this is a moral failing on my generation and older. Damon Gameau

While researching his film, Gameau learned about the huge quantities of sugar being consumed in remote Indigenous communities through soft drinks, and lollies, as well as the ‘hidden sugar’ in processed food bought from the community stores.

In 2008, Coca Cola claimed that Australia’s Northern Territory was their highest selling region per capita, in the world. This was in large part due to the local stores in the Aboriginal communities. Just one hundred kilometres from Uluru, is the small town of Amata … in 2007, its population of just under 400 people, consumed 40,000 litres of soft drink. Damon Gameau

As a result, diseases such as obesity, diabetes Type 2 and kidney disorders were taking hold and many people were dying young. Life expectancy in the region was about 55 years.

But then Gameau heard about an Indigenous initiative aimed at reducing these disastrous health effects of the modern diet. It was called Mai Wiru, or ‘Good Food’. As well as stocking healthy food options, the project brought in nutritionists to educate the community.

Gameau went to Central Australia to learn more about Mai Wiru and met a man named John Tregenza.

I was the first general manager of the Mai Wiru… We had inhouse, a nutritionist. We were funded at that stage through the Department of Health and Aging. Providing affordable healthy food was in fact a health issue. John Tregenza

Tregenza allowed Gameau to film at Amata on the basis of ‘napati napati’ – that he would give something back.

As well as filming an Indigenous success story, Gameau learned from Tregenza that serious financial challenges which were beginning to erode the community’s achievement.

The federal Labor government decided that the Mai Wiru group was to be no longer funded under the health budget. So that the funding then was no longer health, it was to do with enterprises. The stores were told that they had to be economically viable in their own right hand so we had to let the nutritionist go. John Tregenza

Following the great success of his film, Damon Gameau has raised funds and returned to the Red Centre with nutritionists and a healthy-eating plan, to help John Tregenza revitalise the Mai Wiru project. This time he’s visiting Pipalyatjara, an alcohol-free community 800 kilometres south-west of Alice Springs.

Once you’ve met John Tregenza, you feel like, God, we’ve got to do something here, especially if we’ve got the leverage of the film and that it’s going to have this audience. Damon Gameau

Monday, September 5th at 8pm on ABC.

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