Radio for the Community! Spoken Histories From 3ZZZ

Today we are drawing the curtains to reveal the journey of Orietta Wheatley, a name synonymous with the Mauritian program and Women’s World at 3ZZZ.

Radio for the Community! Spoken Histories From 3ZZZ highlights the impact that 3ZZZ broadcasters have made to their communities, increasing diversity in community media, benefits of multiculturalism, sacrifices made by new migrants in Australia, and benefits of volunteering in community radio.


Maram Ismail: Welcome to our latest episode of radio for the community Spoken Histories from 3ZZZ, where we showcase the stories behind the voices that resonate on the airwaves of 3ZZZ radio station in Melbourne. I’m your host, Maram Ismail. Today we are drawing the curtains to reveal the journey of Orietta Wheatley, a name synonymous with the Mauritian program and Women’s World at 3ZZZ.

Orietta Wheatley: They’re members of the community that the children and grandchildren of members of the community who are proud to say, this is my son. Look what they’re doing. This is my daughter. Look what she’s doing. So that’s one of my strong aims, is to feature people in the community.

Maram Ismail: It was the twilight of 1967 when Orietta, along with her family, bid farewell to the sun kissed shores of Mauritius amid political unrest. They sought a horizon broad with promise and opportunity.

Orietta Wheatley: I came to Australia in 19th December 1967. I came with my parents and siblings. We left Mauritius, which is where I was born, uh, for Australia, because there was a bit of political unrest in the country and my parents felt that there would be more opportunities in here, especially for my brothers, who were the ones that were most concerned about and for the rest of the family. So that’s when we moved. And a lot of Mauritians came around the same time. There are Mauritians in Melbourne, in Victoria, I should say, and quite a few in Queensland and New South Wales, and quite a group as well. Now in Western Australia, some who were in New South Wales have moved across to Western Australia during Covid or around that time. There is a small number in South Australia. There is a small group in Canberra as well.

Maram Ismail: Orietta obtained a Bachelor of Arts from Monash University driven by her passion for French and history French.

Orietta Wheatley: Because I wanted to go on to teach it, which is what I ended up doing. I became a secondary school teacher, taught for 32 years before I retired in 2006, and I started radio during that time while I was still teaching. I mean, not from the beginning. I was in here from the start, came in on the invitation of the presenters on the motion program, first for an interview. I stayed on and helped on the phones a few times, and then they invited me to come and join the team of presenters. So I was doing that while still teaching. When I finished with my teaching, I decided to try and put my skills. Also. I was invited to do so in training broadcasters here so that I transferred into that that area.

Maram Ismail: Orietta’s journey began when she discovered her passion for community radio. After years of feeling disconnected and while teaching outside of Melbourne.

Orietta Wheatley: When I started teaching, I went teaching in Ballarat and my family in communities down in Melbourne. I was there for eight years, but during that time I became aware that I’d disconnected somehow from the community because I wasn’t here on weekends, on all weekends. And so weekend activities, family events. In some cases, I’d missed out because people forgot to let me know that they were happening. Then I was transferred to Melbourne. I happened to mention to one of my family members that I was missing being part of the community, and there was a club that I had belonged to before I went to Ballarat that had, of course, had to step down. I was on the committee of that of that club. At some stage, I think I met somebody who was involved with that club, who I happened to have been a teacher of mine in Mauritius, and I was telling her about how I felt and she said, you know, there’s a radio starting in Melbourne. By that stage, the plans were being held for 3ZZZ, and I think they were doing organising the groups and the training and the pilot programs and so on. I became a member, but I didn’t know a great deal about it at that stage. And gradually the annual general meeting was held not far from where I was living. And I thought, yeah, I should really go and at least be part of the community and support it. And it was through that, I think, that I started reconnecting with the community. Then you realise just how important our people rely on this, on this program. They want to hear who’s having a birthday, they want to hear who’s won something, or who’s graduated or who’s getting married because you’ve somebody’s sending a song for. They also want to know who’s dead, who are we lost last week, and there was a time when we seemed to lose a lot of members in a very short space of time. Um, some Saturdays we would have 6 or 7 death notices to read out. I now know some members actually tuned in just to find out who of their family or friends had gone. They’d lost. Sometimes it was to find out a bit more about this person, so we would be able to do a tribute if we had that information. And there were somebody who had been important in Mauritius or even here. I don’t know, I guess because I’m from a large family, this sense of being here for community, I, I’m always saying to people, look, I’m not there for myself. I’m there because there’s a community of people. It’s the listeners. It has been what I would call a unifying factor, that it provided more resilience across who were arriving and around Australia, a chance to hear our voice on the radio because we were getting news from overseas and we still do, and providing an opportunity for community groups to let us know what they’re doing and when they’re doing it. Their weekly programs and so on gave the opportunity to young people to be heard as well. So we and to celebrate the successes in the community that that’s certainly been a good focus. Those who were older and new in the country. You tuned to the radio for a bit of the comforts of home, so to speak. My grandmother was one of those.

Maram Ismail: To stay up to date with the community, or yet to immersed herself in news and events to ensure that her broadcasts were a current and valuable source of information.

Orietta Wheatley: We covered topics according to what comes up, what’s what’s available. We’d like to feature people in our community who are doing amazing things, no matter what their age is, and there have been a few interesting ones encouraged. The younger ones, especially the ones born here to be to be celebrated, and we know that they’re French or Creole is not going to be the best or that they manage it, but they’re members of the community. They’re the children and grandchildren of members of the community who are proud to say, this is my son. Look what they’re doing. This is my daughter. Look what she’s doing. So that’s one of my strong aims, is to feature people in the community. We have been able to showcase a young person who lives in in Western Australia who was on MasterChef, for instance. We’re able to interview him for the program, and every now and again we have another bit of contact with him, other musicians who’ve made their names through other shows in competitions for The Voice or X-Factor and such programs and they’re not in Victoria necessarily, but we get that input from other, other places. A few years ago, got contact from somebody living in Queensland who found out that there was a musician who came to Australia in Victoria particularly, who had a huge impact on the Aboriginal community and its contribution there. And we were able to follow it up and discover there was a book published about about this, this man who came to Australia and so on. So the community does a lot to offer insights and to offer topics of interest which were able to follow.

Maram Ismail: But it’s not just news from Australia.

Orietta Wheatley: With the news from Mauritius. We have somebody who’s who sends us is actually a journalist in Mauritius. He sends us a little recorded 4 or 5 minutes of news, a round up of news of the week each week. So that’s how we get that information. Of course there are newspapers online, but talking to people is more often the case. People will come up and say, oh, have you heard of somebody? Or will you do a segment on whatever the topic is that comes to mind? So we get suggestions from members of the community speaking.

Maram Ismail: About their journey and coverage. Orietta recalls the years when the show even became a lifeline in the isolating time of the pandemic.

Orietta Wheatley: I live by myself, so for me it was also something to do, something that, um, was regular and that I would do to keep sane. I started Covid with the attitude, this is, this is it, this is here. We’ve got to be able to cope with it. So what am I going to do to make sure that I get through this? Nobody else is going to do it for me. It’s this thing of accept the things you can’t change, cope with the things you can, and accept that there are things that there’s nothing you can do about it. So that was the attitude I took from the beginning. And continuing the program became a fairly important issue in that I knew that there were lots of people on their own struggling who couldn’t go out. My mother was being one of them. Turning on to the radio was the thing that they did regularly on certain days and certain times. And so to provide something that would cheer them up offer at least a sense that there was still part of this community and we get requests for songs. And so I indulge in, in doing things that we knew gave pleasure to the listeners. And that was from both Women’s World and the Mauritian Program. In fact, at one stage, I think I was doing a program a week, but it was important to keep going through a few challenges because there were the things that you don’t have at home that you rely on. In fact, I was here on the Friday, the Friday that was the last day before the lockdown occurred. So knowing that, I made sure I went home with things that I would be able to use at home, check the locker in. Took a set of materials that would be useful for me to continue at home. There wasn’t going to be a return. I had no idea when we would be coming back to the studio, but if I was going to be recording at home, I needed some headphones and I needed to make sure I had the voice recorder that was in the locker, for instance, and some CDs that were normally in the locker that I would have them at home to, to use.

Maram Ismail: Her dedication and colleagues’ dedication to their community went the extra mile beyond Melbourne and Australia’s borders.

Orietta Wheatley: A few years ago, there was a big flood in Port Louis, the capital city of Mauritius. It caused a lot of damage and some people died as well. The some of the villages were badly affected, with small houses washed away and almost a whole village disappearing. The people approached us about doing a fund raising. Now the radio does not allow us to do fundraising outside of for the radio. However, we were able to negotiate and work out a way of talking about. And we had people phoning in with their stories about what was going on and to direct people to the fundraising, which apparently was quite successful. And that was one of those times when I think the radio here made a big impact on assisting the disaster that was occurring in Mauritius, and there have been other instances like that, but this is probably the main one.

Maram Ismail: Since its inception, 3ZZZ has been a platform for developing volunteer skills in content creation and nurturing presenters to grow into roles that resonate with their audience. Orietta has played a crucial role in this process, offering her valuable insights and experience.

Orietta Wheatley: I think that’s partly comes from when I was a teacher and I was in a state school. Schools would get requests to help train teachers who were on doing their final year of training so that the hands-on part in my schools, we always had people doing that, remembering how worthwhile mine was. It was always good to be able to participate and help, and my attitude to that was, these people are going to become my colleagues when they finish. So it’s in my interest and theirs that we give them the best experience possible, because that person could be my colleague next year, and would I want to work with this person or not, or would I want them to just flounder? The obvious answer was do your best to help them be part of the system. Once I became a trainer here, that was the same experience. They’re going to be part of this station when they go on air. It’s a sense of pride in they’re doing a good job there, that you’ve done a good job getting them there, that they can cope and manage their program by themselves. Yeah. So I guess that’s what it is.

Maram Ismail: Orietta recognises the challenges that come with community radio, despite the wide range of possibilities it offers, her programme has brought together diverse community segments, giving underrepresented voices a chance to share their stories through three seasons. Despite these accomplishments, there are still obstacles that they are working to overcome.

Orietta Wheatley: There are codes of practice that we need to follow, would not be creating conflicts within our community or within communities we need to follow to make sure that we follow the media law practices and be aware of the kind of community we’re broadcasting to, so that not to alienate any parts of that community, whether it’s to do with difference of ages or difference of voices or community of several ethnic groups as well in Mauritius, and the same here. So we need to be aware of that and be aware that there are some members who associate more with the Indian community because that’s their background or the Chinese community or Africans or European or sometimes it’s a mixture of all of that as well. That would be one where a little bit of caution, a little bit of care needs to be taken to know what is what are the sensitive issues. When this group was created, there were few members of the broadcasting group who sort of identified with the Indian or the Chinese members of the community here of the Asian community. It’s taken a little while to break down that barrier. One of the reasons is political in the sense that Mauritius became independent, which is why a lot of people left. There were conflicts in Mauritius between the Indian community and the rest of the population. So there’s been a bit of a divide, but. At some stage, we started to also acknowledge the facts that there are feast days which are specific to the Indian community. Some feast days or specific to the Catholic believers, for instance, and some to other national groups. And so started to in fact acknowledge those and talk about it on the on the radio and occasionally play a song which is in the language of that community that hasn’t always gone down very well. Even now, there are still some members of the community who find that offensive. But it’s working out a little bit, a bit gradual. I’m not too sure how long it will take before those barriers come down altogether. Trujillo has always been open to inviting and accepting new groups and new communities. The program Women’s World is one area where that’s become so because we have guests from all sorts of different communities in Melbourne on the program. Certainly we did a lot more of that before Covid. We’ve been a bit less adventuring into inviting guests to the program. I think that’s the best way of putting it. But then every now and again, somebody would also approach the session and say, we’d like to be part of the radio, but we don’t have an ethnic group to join. And if this person is female and doesn’t matter what age and we there’s directed to have a chat with us. Sometimes that’s how they’ve got into radio by being a part of women’s world. As long as you’re a member of the station, you can come in to be part of to join Women’s World. Now, Women’s World is not a community group. We don’t have a committee. We all women from around the station will belong to Italian, Polish and other communities and we come together to do this program. It’s a bit more flexible in also welcoming and nurturing other communities.

Maram Ismail: As you can hear, Orietta’s contribution to 3ZZZ was not limited to the Mauritian program alone. She played an instrumental role in shaping and structuring the Woman’s World English program, created to amplify women’s voices, and has since evolved into a dynamic and influential part of the station’s fabric.

Orietta Wheatley: It goes back to 2004, in fact, a little bit before that, following the annual general meeting of the station, it was found that the 16 members of the board were all male. There was not a single female on the board. I think there might have been previously 1 or 2, but that was the one year the manager of this station was female. A Maureen O’Keefe was manager here, and I’m not too sure what sparked this decision, but a meeting was called of the women broadcasters. There was one also for youth, but the women broadcasters to talk about what are the barriers, what prevents the female members of this organization to be involved. And several meetings took place, and it was a bit of a forum for the women broadcasters. And she went out and said, well, maybe not that many, but the outcome was that a number of people said, we would like to be involved, but the men in our group don’t encourage us to or make it difficult. In some instances, was quoted that it was something more of a cultural barrier that, um, the women in certain groups didn’t feel comfortable being trained, for instance, by male members of the station. And at that stage I was only, um, a small group of, of trainers who were all male, others who said they felt that they would like to see a program with women only, not for women, but with women only. So after a bit of a several discussions, it’s this was definitely an important issue. Part of it was also to work out how to get women on to the council. The board. After a bit of discussion at the next election, there was a concerted effort to nominate women and to make sure that women got elected. And that was 2004 election. Six women got elected to the three opposed council, so that was a great start. Discussions continued about getting this program on the road. Not long after, we had to a vacant position for what was then an assistant manager position, and the person who got the job was Jo Curtin, who had just finished a term of being manager of SYN FM. And SYN FM has an age limit as well. She came to join the station and it was she who then was given the role of following up the discussions. We. Getting to those women’s program. They applied and got a grant from the VMC to which at that stage had a specific project in mind. And through that process, we then were able to set up Women’s World. So I was one of the people involved from the beginning in the discussions, became one of the councillors of those six councillors I talked about and as a member of council, was one of the people on the panel to appoint to Joe to the position. So I guess I got involved fairly deeply from the beginning there. I retired from full time teaching at the beginning of 2006, and that’s when I became more involved, because that’s when we were really setting up Women’s World. There was a project manager appointed to see us through. Some of us had not before panelled, so we learned to do that so that we could all the program could be run entirely by women, and a lot of discussion about how we were going to work together, because we were coming from so many different nationalities and groups, some with more or less experience of being behind the microphone or at the panel. So we worked through a number of areas there, and I was one of the first presenters on the group. I remember walking down, coming into the studio one day, and the manager at the time said to me, do you know if you want to see this program, go ahead. You’re going to have to take some initiative. You can’t leave it to staff. And I was at that stage. I was I had already retired from teaching and I thought, yeah, he’s got a point. So we need to take this over.

Maram Ismail: Orietta’s dedication extends beyond the microphone. She has been instrumental in mentoring aspiring broadcasters across the station, finding her greatest reward in witnessing their growth day after day.

Orietta Wheatley: I guess the ones I’m most proud of are where there’s a new group. I remember one of the it’s some years ago, they’re not here anymore. They moved on to a different premises, I think, but there was a group called Karen, the Karen people. There were refugees, most of them, and terrible stories to tell about their what happened in the wars in their place. And some of them had very poor English as well. And one guy lived not far from me. In fact, I would pick him up and to bring him to training and he would tell me his stories in the car. They went on to do radio and very enthusiastic, very energetic, but I think they simply there was a radio station closer to where the community is and they’ve moved on. I think that’s what’s happened. But that was one of those times where it was great to see them grow and actually take up a program. There were all sorts of age groups. There were some of them who were still doing VCE at that stage. Some young girls and their program was going to go on in the morning. I think it was something like eight in the morning, and they would come into the station and, and then go straight to school in their school uniform. So that’s where I think the greatest pleasure comes in in terms of training.

Maram Ismail: She looks to the future with hope, aspiring to see 3ZZZ continue to be a vibrant community cornerstone and Orietta offers words of wisdom to those who wish to tread the path of community broadcasting.

Orietta Wheatley: A quest to continue being able to expand and bring in groups that need airtime, and enabling them to do that and get in touch. And don’t be scared. Do what you can if you can’t. Yeah, if you can’t present because you think your voice is not good enough, but you technically minded, you can do the panel if you can. If you can do both. Yeah, there are other areas in the station that you can put your skills into. Just get in touch and let’s see what we can do.

Maram Ismail: Thank you for listening to this episode of radio for the Community Spoken Histories from 3ZZZ.

Radio for the Community! Spoken Histories From 3ZZZ is proudly supported by the Community Broadcasting Foundation.