First Contact is the most important show of 2014

Ray Martin, centre, with the six people who feature in the TV documentary series First Contact. Supplied by SBS TV. Please credit photo to Mark Rogers.
Ray Martin, centre, with the six people who feature in the TV documentary series First Contact. Supplied by SBS TV. Please credit photo to Mark Rogers. Mark Rogers

IT took until the very end of the ratings year, but SBS has delivered the most compelling and important show of 2014.

First Contact is three of the most captivating hours of TV screened in this country this year.

Elegant in its execution, the three-parter was full of jaw-dropping moments of shock, shame and soaring emotion.

These moments succeeded variously in educating, saddening and inducing a pin-drop type of horrified rapture.

The Go Back To Where You Came From series, also excellent, is like the brash cousin of First Contact, which immersed six Aussies with varying views on indigenous people deep into Aboriginal culture.

The group was transported all over the country, from Uluru to Redfern, Alice Springs and the Pilbara. They experienced jails, community rehab programs and traditional tribe living.

Host Ray Martin was pitch perfect, used sparingly but to great effect, asking excellent questions and summarising chapters in the narrative with punchy, newsbite precision.

Although I would give my right eye for people to stop using the word 'journey' and I feel Sandy's sudden departure was not handled well.

The show was at its most confronting when a live turtle was killed for food, when the tragedy of foetal alcohol syndrome was revealed, or when prisoners explained their habitual reoffending was not simply a consequence of bad choices.

It is always thrilling when stereotypes are smashed. You can feel the icy, ignorant parts inside you melting as the dimmer switch of understanding is suddenly twisted to high.

This was truly interactive TV, as many in the group were learning just as the viewers were that personal heartache, alcoholism, domestic violence, family troubles and joy are not impacted by something as insignificant as skin colour.

Rather than shine a light merely on indigenous issues, First Contact stood us all in the glare. The good, bad and ugly. We are Australian, in this together.

If you didn't watch it, go immediately and find it on catch-up online. Teachers, there are classroom resources on the website too.

Topics:  aboriginal affairs opinion rebecca marshall

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