I love radio, because of its intimacy, power and reach. Voice and music, its twin pillars, are deeply affecting and  connect us through mood, emotion, empathy. Sound itself is both evocative and subjective, turning the listener into a collaborator, or co-creator, as the story unfolds. A sizzling frying pan might conjure cosy domesticity to one listener, guilt to another, who is watching his weight.

Words achieve special force on radio; besides their literal meaning, there is a wealth of social, cultural and emotional content embedded in the sound: accent, tone, timbre, delivery, create a unique auditory impact. Radio can simultaneously engage heart and mind. It’s accessible – it can accompany you around the house or in the car. And it’s democratic – radio stories can reach even people who are not literate.

The radio documentaries on this page are not the worthy, boring kind memorably described by a radio colleague in the US, John Biewen, as ‘sonic brussels sprouts’.

Documentary need not be sonic Brussels Sprouts!

I often make what I call the COHRD form: Crafted Oral History Radio Documentary.  This format combines the creative production elements of the radio feature, the editorial gravitas and balance of the documentary and the in-depth personal narratives at the heart of oral history. It aims to move, inform and inspire, and in so doing, connect past and present lives.

Here’s a visual representation of the COHRD format. Scroll down to listen to my radio programs

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My RADIO DOCUMENTARIES – A SELECTION:

‘MARRYING OUT':  (2 x 53′ series)

HINDSIGHT : ABC RADIO NATIONAL 2009, RTE Radio, 2010,  Radio New Zealand, 2011 
AUDIO OF TWO-PART SERIES AVAILABLE HERE
John Haynes, a Protestant, was cut out of 3 wills for marrying Helen, a Catholic, 1962

John Haynes, a Protestant, was cut out of 3 wills for marrying Helen, a Catholic, 1962

This powerful and revealing radio series, written and produced by Siobhan McHugh with original music by Melbourne composer Thomas Fitzgerald, explores the religious bigotry and post-colonial tensions between English (Protestants) and Irish (Catholics) still prevalent in Australia only two generations ago.

Based on three years research and over fifty oral history interviews, the series explores the family feuds occasioned by Protestant/Catholic mixed marriage and the virtual social apartheid that at times resulted from systemic discrimination against the Irish Catholic underclass until the 1960s. The series also contests the use of the misleading term ‘Anglo-Celtic Australia’ to denote non-Indigenous Australia prior to the mass immigration that followed the Second World War.

WINNER, GOLD MEDAL, NEW YORK RADIO FESTIVAL 2010 (Religion)
Shortlisted, United Nations Association (Australia) Media Peace Prize 
Winner, Bronze medal, New York Festival of Radio 2010 (History) 
Excerpts from Marrying Out were featured in a major 2011 exhibition at the National Museum of Australia, Not Just Ned – The True History of the Irish in Australia
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The Irish at Eureka – Rebels or Riff-Raff?

Hindsight ABC Radio National 2003, RTE Radio Ireland 2004  (53 mins)
Shortlisted for NSW Premier’s History Awards 2004
The uprising on the goldfields at Eureka in 1854 is considered by many to be the birthplace of Australian democracy. It followed monster meetings demanding a bill of rights including the right to vote (only property owners could at the time) and miners’ wives tore up their silk petticoats to provide the white cross on the rebels’ huge flag, which depicts the constellation of the Southern Cross. Though the actual affray lasted less than an hour, Mark Twain, who visited Australia around that time, called it ‘the finest thing in Australian history’.
16 nationalities took up arms, but the Irish were most prominent – the rebel leader, Peter Lalor, was from a politically active Irish family, and most of those killed were Irish. Was Eureka an extension of the Irish struggle against British colonial oppression at home, an attempt to redress corrupt and unjust practices in Australia, or a traitorous rampage by disgruntled profiteers, as the Crown alleged? If the latter, why did a jury acquit every last man?
This program explores this turning-point in Australian history through oral histories of the miners’ descendants.
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Reconciliation: From Broome to Belfast 

 Encounter ABC Radio National 2002  (42 mins)
Finalist United Nations Media Peace Prize 2002  

Patrick Dodson (Photo: Mayu Kanamori)

Aboriginal leader Pat Dodson and Belfast Catholics
   and Protestants explore the nature of prejudice.
   
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Minefields and Miniskirts

1993 ABC RADIO NATIONAL (Talking History)   (6 x 30′ series)

Shortlisted, Women and Media Award

25 Australian women veterans of the Vietnam War – nurses, entertainers, journalists, volunteers – present a very different side of that war. This acclaimed series and associated book was the first historical account of the role played by Australian women in the Vietnam war.

Lorrae Desmond performing for Australian troops at Nui Dat, 1969. (Photo: Australian War Memorial)

MINEFIELDS AND MINISKIRTS RADIO SERIES: SAMPLE EPISODE
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Estate of Mind 

ABC RADIO NATIONAL (Radio Eye) (43mins) 1999

A Samoan extended family, Claymore, NSW (Photo: Mayu Kanamori)
Benign vigilantism by immigrant Samoan chieftains on a troubled Sydney housing estate, where a community garden and an enlightened public housing official effect an astonishing reconciliation.
(Links to Chapter One of my book ‘Shelter From the Storm’)

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Out of Their Feeling

Hindsight, ABC Radio National, RTE Radio, Ireland, 2001  (42 mins)

Siobhan at Great Famine memorial, Co Mayo, Ireland

 John Behan’s bronze memorial in County Mayo, Ireland, to those who died in the great famine of 1845-49. The ‘sails’ are all skeletons. 4,000 Irish orphan girls aged 14-18 came to Australia after the Famine – these vulnerable but resilient girls were the subject of Out of their Feeling.
 READ Siobhan’s article in The Australian magazine on Irish famine orphan girls
EXPANDED ABC RN version, The Famine Girls, on Hindsight 2013, HERE. Includes interview with historian Cormac OGrada.
Cited as an essential part of the research for Evelyn Conlon’s novel, Not the Same Sky (Wakefield 2013).
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Beagle Bay: Irish Nuns and Stolen Children  

ABC Radio National, 2000  (32 mins)

Finalist, Walkley award
A documentary on the complex relationship between religious sisters in a remote community  in the Kimberley, Western Australia, and their Aboriginal charges. Siobhan’s documentary was showcased as part of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the Bringing Them Home report on the Stolen Generations. The program  includes a taste of the powerful music from Bran Nu Dae, the 1990 hit musical (adapted for film 2010) written by Jimmy Chi, who was also taught by the John of God nuns.
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And the Music Caught Fire: The Rebirth of Irish Music

(2 x 53 mins)

ABC Radio National, Into the Music,  2007 

Planxty re-animated Irish traditional music

Two programs ‘The Awakening’ and ‘The Roaring Tiger‘, exploring the renaissance of Irish Music over the last 50 years, presented by Dr Thomas Fitzgerald and Siobhan McHugh
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THE SNOWY – THE PEOPLE BEHIND THE POWER

ABC RADIO NATIONAL 1987 -TALKING HISTORY: 6 x 30MINS

Norwegian miners at Guthega, 1950s

The people of 30 nations who built the epic Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric scheme – when it aired in 1987, said to be the first time ‘ethnic’ voices outnumbered Australian or English voices on the ABC.

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Walking on Eggshells (43 mins) 1993 

ABC RADIO NATIONAL (Coming Out Show)

Two wives of Vietnam veterans talk candidly about the terrible burden women bear living with war-traumatised men.
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 Broken Hill, The Seventh State (4x 30 mins) 1987 

ABC RADIO NATIONAL (Talking History)

Coal miners at Broken Hill c. 1905  (Photo: Norman Andrews, National Museum of Victoria)

One hundred years of this unique and isolated NSW mining community and its diehard union tradition.

‘A pungent piece of social history that avoids many stereotypes’ – Barry Hill, The Age
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 Palm Island, A Punishment Place (2 x 30mins) 1991 

ABC RADIO NATIONAL (Talking History)

Aboriginal Dancers at Palm Island, 1930. Photo: Queensland Historical Atlas

Aboriginal Dancers at Palm Island, 1930. Photo: Queensland Historical Atlas

History of the incarceration of Aborigines on what has been claimed to be the most violent place on earth, where Aborigines who had committed no crime were subject to a life of institutionalised toil and discrimination until the 1970s.
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 Water, More Precious Than Gold (4 x 60′ series) 1991 

ABC RADIO NATIONAL (Talking History)

Rice is a major and controversial irrigation crop in the MIA

History of the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area since 1912, and its Italian, Welsh Patagonian and returned soldier settlers.

‘A marvellous excursion… McHugh has a real feeling for country people, and it seems, our country.’Barry Hill, The Age
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 Huts to Highrise (6 x 30′ series) 1991 

ABC RADIO NATIONAL (Talking History)

The Great Barrier Reef

History of tourism and development on the Whitsunday Islands of the Great Barrier Reef.
Hayman Island, now a luxurious resort, used to have fibre shacks and goats, while on Brampton, guests were expected to help with the washing up.
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  The Irish in Australia, Past and Present (6 x 45′ series) 

ABC RADIO NATIONAL: EDUCATION

Celtic Cross, Waverley Cemetery, Sydney

As Australia’s first and longest-lived ethnic (non-indigenous) minority, the Irish played a crucial role in shaping the character of the emerging nation. Their political and cultural influence was enormous, especially until World War Two, when other immigrant groups arrived in vast numbers. This series charts much of that impact, through interviews with diverse Irish-Australians and commentators such as historians Patrick O’Farrell and Edmund Campion and poet Vincent Buckley.

‘These programs are an important event. Everyone, from the Pope down, should listen to them’ – Barry Hill, The Age.

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 ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’.

RTE Radio One, Documentary of the Week. 18x 30 mins. 1984

Social history of Ireland in the 1960s, capturing the major social, cultural and political movements of the decade, including Civil Rights in Northern Ireland, the folk music revival, the nascent women’s liberation movement and the economic revival. Presented by singer/songwriter Shay Healy and produced by Siobhan McHugh.

Winner, Jacob’s Award (equivalent of Walkley).

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Moving Hearts’

RTE Radio One, Documentary of the Week. 30 mins.  1984 

Documentary about this extraordinary hybrid jazz/trad group, fronted by the legendary Christy Moore, co-founder Planxty.

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‘In a Strange Land’

RTE Radio One, Documentary of the Week. 30 mins. 1981

My first documentary – an exploration of ‘aliens’ in Ireland, as immigrants were officially known, at a time when they numbered only in the hundreds. Features a Greek mathematician who speaks Gaelic, Finnish cartoonist Arja Kajermo, a German farmer in Connemara gone native, a Nigerian student and a Muslim family, then a very rare presence in a country that was still 95% Catholic.