Indigenous actors celebrate 25-year milestone
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Indigenous actors celebrate 25-year milestone

Seasoned and up-and-coming Indigenous actors are celebrating 25 years of Screen Australia funding.

This month marks two and a half decades since Australia's peak film and television funding body established its Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander department. In that time, the funding body has provided around $35 million to more than 160 productions.

Previous recipients include popular TV series Redfern Now and the award-winning film Bran Nue Dae.

Leah Purcell, who has a string of acclaimed screen credits to her name, said when she started her career there were very few Indigenous people on Australian television.

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"Growing up as a kid, you go, where are the black faces?" she said. "Where are the stories I can relate to? I was very lonely out there."

In 1999 – in the early days of Screen Australia's Indigenous Department – there were just two Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people on television, according to the 2002 study Broadcast in Colour. That figure has since grown significantly.

Around five per cent of main characters on our small screens are now Indigenous, despite making up three per cent of the population.

Actor Leah Purcell, right, with Hunter Page-Lochard at Carriageworks for the 25th anniversary of Screen Australia's Indigenous Department.

Actor Leah Purcell, right, with Hunter Page-Lochard at Carriageworks for the 25th anniversary of Screen Australia's Indigenous Department. Credit:Louise Kennerley

"To know there is now a whole unit out there telling our stories with our mob and reaching everybody is amazing," Ms Purcell said.

"That little unit's got a lot of weight behind it in terms of awards. Their films are received around the world to standing ovations. So it's paid for itself over and over again. We've proven our stories do need to be told and need to be heard not just nationally, but internationally."

Cleverman's Hunter Page-Lochard was born the same year Screen Australia set up its Indigenous department. The young actor said the opportunities he's afforded now would never be possible without the people who came before him.

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"The younger generation couldn't be doing what we're doing with the Rachael Perkinses, Leah Purcells and many, many more," he said. "Without the Deborah Mailmans, we wouldn't have anything. But we've got this rich pool of talent and knowledge now to draw on."

Page-Lochard is set to star in Australia's first original Netflix series (the upcoming supernatural drama Tidelands).  He also said he's aware of some other "dope" films and TV shows in the works featuring Indigenous talent.

"We've done great in 25 years," he said. "I want to see what the next 25 years hold."