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LATE last week, a young man called Mike Rennie won the Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Student of the Year award, which recognises outstanding achievements in vocational education. Mike?s winning qualification was a Certificate 3 in Radio Broadcasting, completed through BIMA, the Brisbane Indigenous Media Association. BIMA is the not-for-profit organisation behind the Indigenous radio station 989fm and its registered training organisation, Triple A Training. Mike?s mentor and the manager of BIMA, Tiga Bayles, also attended the awards ceremony. For Tiga and his colleagues, the win is a recognition of the importance of Indigenous media, particularly in terms of training and creative industries development.

When I rang to pass on my congratulations (Mike?s my cousin) he still couldn?t believe that he had actually won, despite the fact that he knows the value of community radio training better than most. Mike now works as a trainer himself, teaching radio to Indigenous young people on Cape York peninsula.

Mike (28) and his brother Dan (25) were adopted into my family as toddlers. They share the same birth mother who comes from the Kimberly and now lives in Darwin, where they sometimes visit. After leaving school, Mike studied to be a park ranger, but struggled to find work locally. Instead he became a landscaper and, later, a baker. In June 2004, both Mike and Dan began volunteering at 989fm (formerly 4AAA). The station, which commenced broadcasting under a community radio license in 1993, has a significant following. Under the guidance of Tiga Bayles, 989fm is more ?mainstream? than most community broadcasters ? although it is completely unique in Brisbane, playing country and Indigenous music alongside Indigenous news. Bayles insists that Indigenous broadcasting does not have to sound amateurish, that it should appeal to a wide audience and strive for economic independence. Training is essential to that mission.

Aside from the formal components of his training, Mike produced a three-hour program four times a week, participated in the Gympie Muster and Telstra Road to Tamworth interviews and organised a sponsorship deal with Ellaways Music. He also worked on a national current affairs program called ?The Wire? which is produced by the Triple A training team. He covered mining on Lake Cowal in NSW, the introduction of OPAL fuels in Central Australia and the proposed dam at Traveston Crossing in South East Queensland. Meanwhile, his brother Dan was employed as 989fm?s drive-time DJ and has become something of a local celebrity.

Mike now compiles AFL programming and produces his own half hour footy show. Both are broadcast on the National Indigenous Radio Service, a satellite service which distributes programming to Indigenous stations across the country. He also teaches classes at 989fm and travels to Cape York with Triple A Training.

Mike believes there is a real need for media training in remote Indigenous communities. Triple A has been quietly working towards improving skills in Cape York, focusing their attention on the benefits not only for individual students but for the media system as a whole. After an initial pilot, the Department of Education, Science and Training came on board for a two-year term, which they renewed earlier this year. The Cape York communities possess their own radio production equipment and transmitters, provided through the federal government?s Remote Indigenous Broadcasting program. Triple A Training?s involvement has enabled the stations to make local programs, which they supplement with the NIRS service. Mike and his colleagues use online and face-to-face methods, visiting the townships of Weipa, Kowanyama, Aurukun, Cooktown and Wujal Wujal in the Daintree every five to six weeks. Participants are also flown down to Brisbane for a week of intense training at the 989fm studios.

The training takes place in schools where attendance can be as low as 30 per cent. However, the fun of radio is getting kids back to class voluntarily. According to Bayles, the radio training has produced significant outcomes in terms of overall literacy, ?making reading and writing relevant? through tasks such as putting together an interview or reading the back of a CD case. Although accredited radio training has been available through TAFE colleges, Bayles believes that it can only succeed if it is designed for remote community needs and delivered by Indigenous media trainers.

The ultimate aim is to get more stations producing local content, with the intention of setting up a regional content network. Bayles hopes that radio will become the hub of each community ? as essential as a local store, school or health clinic. For that to occur, the Indigenous media sector needs a structured plan that will create media jobs and professional standards, which Triple A Training is working towards. He insists that the community nature of remote Indigenous broadcasting does not have to mean bad quality. In the past, ?we have made ourselves look and sound stupid? because of a lack of skills. If the value of the resource is to be realised, young people need to be taught how to construct and communicate their thoughts effectively, while stations need to understand how to schedule programs to meet audience needs.

Mike and Dan?s experience at 989fm demonstrates the unique experience of community and Indigenous media training. Both have found meaningful work opportunities in an industry that is notoriously difficult to enter. Almost from the moment Mike started at 989fm he was on-air, learning how to produce radio against deadlines and within the constraints of broadcasting law, ethics and practice. The station took him to real events, had him researching issues of local and national importance and introduced him to successful artists and leaders. Aside from the daily acquisition of skills, Mike was responsible to an audience. His communication skills transformed, both on-air and off. I could write about the impact it had on his personality (confidence, eloquence), but he is my little cousin and I know he?d hate me for it. I can say for certain, however, that 989fm has given both Mike and Dan a deep connection to Indigenous culture and politics which they might otherwise have missed. In the remote communities, where Mike now works, the cultural and educational potential of community radio is equally, if not more, significant.

When Mike commenced his training at Triple A Training, 989fm was one of only five community radio stations to provide accredited courses. A year later, in 2005, the government fulfilled an election promise of $2.2 million for community radio training, which is currently being administered by the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia. The programs that flow from this money (which are focusing on management training, particularly for ethnic, regional, print handicapped and Indigenous stations) will no doubt lift the standard and sustainability of community broadcasting. And, as community broadcasting is a common step towards employment in the national and commercial broadcasting sectors, industry as a whole should benefit.

For the Indigenous sector, more intensive programs are required in order to raise digital literacy within communities, skill-up local media workers and create culturally appropriate courseware. Vocational training is already a hot election topic; it stands for jobs and sustainable industries. In the creative industries, training also results in social and cultural outcomes. Mike Rennie might be surprised that his community radio training could take him so far. In fact, it makes a great deal of sense.

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