The teller of stories
Screenwriter Kodie Bedford (BA 2007) points to a searingly hot day in Halls Creek, a small town in Western Australia's vast Kimberley region, as the moment her life took a significant turn.
The young Aboriginal woman with a big smile grew up in Geraldton, in WA’s Mid West, but had strong family links to the East Kimberley. After university, she moved there to stay with her paternal grandmother while she worked out what was to come next in her life.
“It was a hypnotising landscape with blood-red dirt, secret waterholes and colossal boab trees,” she says. “My people, the Jaru and Gija people, had walked this part of the country for thousands of years, and every now and then I would get a calling to do the same.
“One day, my Nan was being interviewed by an SBS journalist. I struck up a conversation with the journalist afterwards and she asked me what I wanted to do with my life. I told her I wanted to be a storyteller.”
Two months later, after being tipped off by the same journalist, she successfully applied for a cadetship with SBS in Sydney and her new life began.
When Uniview talked to Kodie, she was just back in Sydney after a hectic few weeks travelling with the ABC Writers Room. At the same time, the high-profile ABC drama Mystery Road – for which she wrote Episode 2, ‘Blood Ties’ – was receiving critical acclaim across the country.
I clearly remember my first tutorial at UWA and walking into the Arts Building. We were asked to introduce ourselves and to describe what we’d be doing in 10 years’ time. I was beside myself with nerves.
I said, ‘I’m going to be a writer and I’m going to win an Oscar in 10 years’ time.’ The lecturer said, ‘Okay, well you’ve said it out loud now, and so it’s going to happen.’ I was only 19 years old.
Kodie Bedford - the write stuff. Photo credit: Anna Sinclair
I’m 32 now and while there isn’t an Oscar, that desire hasn’t changed. I’m so lucky to be doing what I love.
I remember sitting out on the grounds. Awkwardly that’s the thing that I remember the most. I’m always telling my partner and friends I went to the most beautiful university in the world. I see them roll their eyes and yet when they come back to Perth with me and I take them to UWA, they absolutely get it.
I enrolled in Arts because it gave me an opportunity to study most of my interests: English, history, linguistics and communications. I had always gravitated to the art of storytelling. With great support from the School of Indigenous Studies (SIS), I completed my Bachelor of Arts in Communications.
My Nan had always said to me, ‘Why don’t you go to UWA?’ I finally moved to Perth and there I was, this little kid who wasn’t wearing any cool clothes but, you know, it was all in my head, that feeling I didn’t belong.
I flatted with another girl from Geraldton. We all banded together, all of us country girls. The staff at SIS were amazing; just the caring, the real sense of community.
I played for the SIS basketball team and I was secretary of another SIS club – we had so much fun and I’m still in touch with so many of the people there.
I now live in the Blue Mountains in NSW. I moved up there this year. Being a WA girl, I’m so used to space. I needed to breathe again after eight years of living in inner Sydney. It’s done wonders, being up in the mountains.
I’m living with my partner, Bjorn, who’s an actor, and we share a house with another actor. It’s a creative household. I met Bjorn six years ago when he was working on Redfern Now [the first Australian drama series written, directed and produced by Indigenous Australians].
I was working behind the scenes on the series and had just started some of my early writing. Six years ago, our love story blossomed. I laugh that it was a Redfern Now love story.
My breakthrough gig? I was a journalist; that’s what I thought I wanted to be. I had to move to Sydney to be a TV journalist. I worked at SBS and then went into ABC documentary research.
I was doing all of that and then one day I stood and looked at myself in the mirror and said, ‘No, you wanted to be a writer, to be creative.’
And so I took a risk and left my job. It was quite a scary time. Redfern [in inner Sydney], where I was living, had become very gentrified and expensive and so I was doing a lot of part-time jobs to pay the bills and keep myself afloat.
Kodie might live in New South Wales but she says her heart is in WA. Photo credit: Anna Sinclair
I started working in the ABC Writers Room, just taking notes to help out the writers and doing odd jobs for them. At the same time, I wrote a play and a short film to prove myself and to show what I could do.
I was taking notes for the team on Mystery Road when one of the writers dropped out, and so the producer and head writer said, ‘You want to be a writer, so why don’t you do it?’ They took a risk on me and I am so grateful.
I got the gig, and it helped that the series was set in the Kimberley. I wrote Episode 2 and I had a lot of great feedback. It’s funny, that was two years ago and a lot of what we wrote I had forgotten about, so it was lovely to see what the director, Rachel Perkins, had done with it all. It came together really well.
What do people most recognise about my writing? Well it might be the fight scenes! I’m always getting asked to take the swearing out from my action scenes, which ironically forces me to be more creative. After my episode showed, I got a message from my friends asking whether I had written the fight scene. I like action!
I was an only child but I grew up with a lot of cousins around me and so I never ever felt alone. I have great fun ringing up my cousins and asking them how they would do this or that as I’m working on a scene. I draw on the people I know and sometimes they get a good laugh.
As part of Mystery Road I had to write a sports commentary piece that was on the radio in the background and I created a character, a football player, Deadly Bedford. It was pretty funny. My cousins and friends recognise things like that and contact me.
How do I work through writer’s block? I might go to an antique shop and just walk around. I’m an old soul. Or I’ll go for a bushwalk, to work through a character or motivation. Sometimes the head writer will ask me to go back to the drawing board and that’s fine; it’s a process and sometimes it takes a while to nail a scene.
My favourite TV show is RuPaul’s Drag Race. I make everyone in my house sit down and watch it but they hate it. I’m trying to get into gardening. I was told a writer’s garden is the best because they’re always looking for something to do other than writing. And I think that’s pretty spot on; my garden is surprisingly weed-free!
I’m also travelling a lot for Writers Room. I’m working on three different shows right now, none of which I can mention at the moment, but it’s all fun. I have to pinch myself every day that I’m doing this job. I’m doing a job where I just use my imagination, how amazing is that? Every day.
My hope for the future? I’ve become a big Rachel Perkins [Australian film and TV director, producer and screenwriter] fan. Listening to her talk is so inspiring. I’ve become involved in lobbying local councils and local government meetings for funding for Australian drama.
If Mystery Road proved anything it is that Australians want drama that is made and produced in Australia. There is a pressure to make stories that have international interest but I’m passionate about regional stories, and stories with a diverse point of view. I want to get governments and non-writers to see the value in that.
The importance of art itself…it’s been around since the beginning of time and it’s important we hold on to that because it reflects our past and our present and what our future could be, and so I’m passionate about that.
I want to write WA stories. I have three stories in me and I want to come home and do that. It’s all in me and ready to go. The industry is all there in WA, it’s set up and it’s ready to burst into life – I just wish people would recognise it more.
Films can change the world. Stories and theatre and especially comedy can draw people in and help people get an understanding of a different point of view. I truly believe that films have the power to change things.
As for the Oscar, I don’t care about awards anymore. I care about the stories that are being made. You look at the majority of Australian television and, for me, it’s not reflecting what’s on the streets anymore.
I’d give away any award to see more diversity, more minorities. For a kid in the Kimberley, looking at someone black on screen gives them pride and it gives them hope. And we need more of that.