Māori writer helps bring aboriginal story to TV

Acclaimed storyteller Briar Grace-Smith is the only Māori in a team of aboriginal writers who have created the first scripted live-action series for an indigenous Australian television network.

The series 'Grace Beside Me' recently received funding to screen on NITV in Australia.  It’s the story of a 13-year-old aboriginal girl named Fuzzy Mac, who lives in a small Australian country town and discovers she can see spirits.  Her best friend is a Māori named Tui, who grew up in Australia.

Grace-Smith (Ngāpuhi), one of Aotearoa’s most accomplished writers of plays, films and TV, joined the writing team in Australia last year to help give the Māori character an authentic voice.

“I was touched how important that was for them,” Grace-Smith says. ”They have guided me with the aboriginal expression, protocols and language and I have helped with the Māori character. It was a reciprocal relationship.”

Adapted from a novel by Sue McPherson, the drama addresses issues that have had a profound effect on aboriginal communities such as land confiscation and the stolen generation. Grace-Smith says she loved the opportunity to meet and work alongside aboriginal writers.

“They are also indigenous people so all the values are the same as Māori so it wasn’t too much of a leap for me. It’s been an eye-opening experience. The writing style is snappy, fast paced and I had to evolve," says Grace-Smith.