Return to Rabi on the horizon for Ossies climate doco crew?

Blessen Tom and Hele Ikimotu

Professor+David+Robie+presenting+the+certificate+to+Blessen+Tom+who+made+the+documentary+with+Hele+Ikimotu+...+%22you%E2%80%99re+in+a+world+far%2C+far+away+%E2%80%A6+it+was+transforming.+I+don%E2%80%99t+know+how+to+explain+it%E2%80%A6%E2%80%9D+

Khairiah Rahman

Professor David Robie presenting the certificate to Blessen Tom who made the documentary with Hele Ikimotu ... "you’re in a world far, far away … it was transforming. I don’t know how to explain it…”

Highly commended for their recent success at the Ossie Awards for the best student journalism in Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific in the video story category (over two minutes) for their documentary Banabans of Rabi: A Story of Survival, Hele Ikimotu (Niuean and Banaban-Gilbertese) and Blessen Tom can’t rule out a return to the remote island of Rabi.

During the Second World War, the inhabitants of Banaba in the Gilbert Islands (now Kiribati) were forcibly displaced to Rabi in the Fiji group while the British Phosphate Company mined on Banaba, decimating the island.

The Banabans had to make a fresh start on Rabi, where they now face a new threat – climate change.

READ MORE: The Ossie Awards – the full winners list

The student pair travelled to Suva, Fiji, and were based at the University of the South Pacific before catching a boat to Rabi to tell the story of the people of Banaba as part of the Bearing Witness climate programme (International Journalism Project) run by Professor David Robie and Jim Marbrook at Auckland University of Technology’s (AUT) Pacific Media Centre.

While the talented Hele Ikimotu, who works as an initiatives and projects team member at AUT’s Office of Pacific Advancement, could not make it to the presentation of the certificates, Blessen Tom took time out from his work as an assistant producer on TVNZ’s Fair Go investigative programme to attend.

Dr Robie presented the certificates yesterday and read out the commendation from the Ossie Awards organisers, Journalism Education and Research Association of Australia (JERAA), saying the prizes recognised the “cream of student journalism”:

“More than 22 journalism schools across Australia, New Zealand the Pacific compete for these awards so it is a tremendous honour to get a highly commended for Blessen and Hele, so it is a tribute to both of you,” he said.

“The judge’s comments were passed onto to me by the co-ordinator of the awards, Dr Peter English.

Judge Nicole Hegarty of the  Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) Queensland said:

‘Burning desire’
“Blessen and Hele’s short documentary has a nice story arc coupled with nicely framed and focused shots. The use of drone footage provided a great overview of the island. The inclusion of the reporter [Hele] in story helped to personalise or localise the story for the audience.”

Tom, who hails from Trivandrum, Kerala, India, on the coast of the Arabian Sea, explained why he has a “burning desire” to return to Rabi – in the middle of the Pacific.

“It feels like home when I went Rabi. You have a lot of coconut trees and a tropical climate, and I felt similarity to the people there. So I felt like I was coming home,” Tom says.

“When Hele’s mum [Janet Tawaketini] told the story about the original Banabans and their community that has suffered so much, it kind of resonated with me.

“Infrastructure needs a lot of work there because there aren’t any good schools and hospitals, and electricity is very sparse.

“You feel like you you’re in a world far, far away … it was transforming I don’t know how to explain it …”

With no mod cons such as wi-fi and electricity they had to take a lot of batteries for the single camera used.

Blessen Tom and Hele Ikimotu … Rabi storytellers. Image: PMC

‘Lot of challenges’
“We had a lot of challenges; they didn’t have much power, so we had to be careful with what we shot.”

Tom talks about returning to Rabi because he feels an urge within to do something for the people there in the best way he knows how.

“If all bricks fall into place, I’m hoping to document a return to Rabi, because there is a plan to take all the Banabans for anniversary celebrations…they have to raise the money and then there are the logistics of getting them all to Rabi.

“And, if possible, I would like to go to Banaba and shoot the decimation done to the place.”

Banabans of Rabi poster.

The nine-minute documentary got credits for screening at the Nuku’alofa International Film Festival 2018 in Tonga, Pasifika Film Festival 2019 in Salt Lake City in the USA and Maoriland Film Festival in Otaki last year. It was “published” by Asia Pacific Report last August.

The annual Ossie Awards, named after foreign correspondent Osmar S. White, are organised by JERAA. Senior journalists and editors judge the main award categories.

The winning video story (over two minutes) was Nasir Sobhani, The Streets Barber, by Catherine Smith of RMIT, and another highly commended story was Gladys Liu vs Jennifer Yang about political rivals battling to make history as the first Chinese-Australian MP, by Youja (Kate) Tan of Monash University.

Sri Krishnamurthi is a postgraduate writer for the Pacific Media Centre.