I love audio, because of its intimacy, power and reach. Voice and sound (be it music or ambient sound), the twin pillars of crafted audio storytelling, 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.

HIP019 Dana Chivvis Serial producer group GEN

Since I wrote this, PODCASTING has taken off! I was lucky enough to be on  a panel about podcasting with SERIAL producer Dana  Chivvis (centre, pic) at the Global Editors Network media  summit in Barcelona 2015,  just months after SERIAL launched and changed  the podcasting landscape for ever (5 million downloads in first month; 480 MILLION for the first three series by 2018).

Since then, I’ve been consulting producer on three investigative podcasts with The Age newsroom in Melbourne, led by the indefatigable multi-awardwinning journalist Richard Baker. They are: PHOEBE’S FALL, WRONG SKIN and THE LAST VOYAGE of  the PONG SU.  All three won gold at New York Radio Festival, along with a slew of other awards. I wrote about Podcasting as Extreme Narrative  Journalism and interviewed Richard here, for the Nieman Lab Storyboard.

Words achieve special force on radio or via podcast; 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 and podcasts can simultaneously engage heart and mind. They’re accessible – audio can accompany you around the house or in the car. And they’re democratic – radio stories and podcasts can reach even people who are not literate. New research indicates that people retain far more of what they ingest as audio, not video – because video is a passive medium, whereas audio unleashes the imagination. We make our own pictures from it and so they stay with us longer.

Another passion project that has been a long  time in the making is HEART of ARTNESS. It’s a podcast and oral history collection that explores the little known crosscultural connections that lie behind the production of contemporary Aboriginal art. It’s the  result of a five-year journey that started in 2015, when my collaborators Ian McLean, an art historian at  University of Melbourne, and Margo Neale, art curator and Head  of Indigenous Knowledges at the National Museum of Australia, headed to the remote community of  Yirrkala, in Arnhem Land, NT. In the years following,  I sat down with some amazing artists, art centre workers and associates  in Arnhem Land, the Central Desert and Brisbane. Heart of Artness podcast has six episodes up, with more to come. We are delighted that Episode 2 won Gold in the Culture and Arts category at the New York Radio Festival in  2019.

These and the older radio documentaries/podcasts below 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 use in-depth oral history interview as the basis for radio   documentary.  This approach combines the creative or poetic   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.

Scroll down to listen to my recent podcasts and earlier radio programs, also available online as podcasts.


PODCASTS I’ve worked on:


TGM001 The Greatest Menace_Cover


Motherlode screenshot

The Last Voyage of the Pong Su (2019)

My third collaboration with Richard Baker and The Age newsroom, to tell the amazing story of a North Korean cargo ship, the Pong Su, that tried to drop 150 kilos of heroin on a lonely beach in Australia.  As consulting producer, my role was to advise on script, narrative structure and generally optimise storytelling-through-sound, adding what Richard calls ‘sprinkles of magic’ 🙂 Wonderful team work, with Rachael Dexter as EP, Kate Cole-Adams as narrative consultant and Tom McKendrick supervising. This turned into a riveting human story of how North Korea operates and how the Australian Federal Police surveilled the drug mules for days – and gave us the secret recordings to use!

Pong Su screenshot


A remarkable production from the Supreme Court of Victoria – the first time, we think, that judges have revealed the inner workings of their court process and commented on everything from sentencing to juries. Hosted by Greg Muller (Wrong Skin EP) and Evan Martin with wonderful composed sig tune by Barney McAll. I was Consulting Producer. Gertie’s Law won Gold in the Education category at New York Radio Festival, was in Apple’s Picks of 2019 and was singled out by the Sydney Morning Herald as ‘a more successful version of Serial’s third season, offering the perfect mix of fly-on-the-wall soundscapes, narration and interviews.’

Gertie's Law Screen Shot 2022-02-22 at 3.37.05 pm


A cold case in a remote Indigenous community in Western Australia reveals a clash between traditional culture and modern love. Another collaboration with the remarkable Richard Baker and The Age.

Wrong Skin Screen Shot 2022-02-22 at 3.34.06 pm

HEART of ARTNESS (2018-)

This podcast brings you rare interviews on the relationships between Aboriginal artists and the white managers and gallerists they work with, to mutual benefit, in the production of contemporary Aboriginal art. I had privileged access over three years to two remote communities, in Yirrkala, NE Arnhem Land and Yuendemu, Central Australia, and to the urban collective proppaNOW in Brisbane. The series is co-hosted with Margo Neale, Head of Indigenous Knowledges at the National Museum of Australia and is part of an ARC research project led by art historian Ian McLean. Episode 2 won gold at NY Radio Festival. More episodes due 2022!

Siobhan interviewing Warlpiri artist Alma Nungarrayi Granites at Yuendemu, 2017. HIP016 Siobhan interviewing Alma Granites

Phoebe’s Fall (2016)

I was Consulting Producer on this first narrative podcast made by The Age newsroom in Melbourne: the six episodes were hosted by investigative journalists Richard Baker and Michael Bachelard. The series explored the bizarre death in a garbage chute of 24-year-old Phoebe Handsjuk and the botched police investigation that followed. Phoebe’s Fall was cited in the Victorian parliament and triggered a review of the Coroner’s Act. The series went straight to #1 on Australian iTunes, (deposing Serial!) and stayed there for most of the run. It won three national awards (Melbourne Press Club Quill, Kennedys Outstanding Radio Current Affairs, Castaway (Australian Podcasting Awards) Best Storytelling /Documentary podcast) and one international (Gold, New York Radio Festival 2017).

Phoebes Fall Screen Shot


EAT PRAY MOURN: Crime and Punishment in Jakarta.

Yusli's grave

Family mourn the death of Yusli, 23, killed by police for allegedly stealing a motorbike

Today, in Indonesia’s new democracy, a criminal’s life is cheap. Community lynchings of undesirables are common. Meanwhile, the police execute an unofficial policy of punishing recidivists, shooting them dead or in the legs. Media reports don’t question the police’s version of events and the community is generally ambivalent towards criminals. Through the stories of three women who are mourning their beloved ‘criminals’, this program asks questions about the hidden legacy of authoritarianism and the kind of violence that’s condoned and perpetuated in Indonesia’s new democracy. Presented by anthropologist Dr Jacqui Baker and produced by radio studies academic Dr Siobhan McHugh for ABC 360 Documentaries. Dur: 50mins

Winner, Bronze award, New York Radio Festival 2014

Selected for screening at International (Radio) Features Conference, Leipzig, 2014

‘MARRYING OUT’:  (2 x 53′ series)

HINDSIGHT : ABC RADIO NATIONAL 2009, RTE Radio, 2010,  Radio New Zealand, 2011 
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.

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
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.

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.

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)


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’)


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 are the subject of Out of their Feeling, remembered via interviews with their descendants.
 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).

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.

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



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. The series captures both the birth of multiculturalism in Australia and the incredible engineering feat behind Australia’s biggest infrastructure project.


Walking on Eggshells (43 mins) 1993 


Two wives of Vietnam veterans talk candidly about the terrible burden women bear living with war-traumatised men.

 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

 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. Here I interviewed Bill Congoo, the last surviving leader of the 1957 strike on the island. Bill and the other leaders were taken off the island in chains. “They took away our land, they wouldn’t let us speak our language… you wouldn’t understand,” he said bleakly when I first asked to talk to him. ‘I’m Irish,” I told him. “They did the same to us.” “What – you’re Irish? Well sit down!” And we sat there side by side on the beach, as he recounted a grim tale that is far too little known in Australia.

 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

 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.

  The Irish in Australia, Past and Present (6 x 45′ series) 


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.


 ‘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).


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.


‘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.