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Sally Riley

2017 Alumni Award for Social Impact

Head of Scripted Production, ABC

Bachelor of Creative Arts (Theatre), 1991


Sally Riley has used her voice and talent as a filmmaker to advance representation of Indigenous culture globally, and drive a substantial shift in common perception – and misperception – of Indigenous life in Australia.

A woman of the Wiradjuri nation, Sally is a filmmaker, writer, developer and producer at the forefront of the Indigenous film and television industry. Her early career was spent as an independent filmmaker, director and freelance writer, and in 2000 she won the prestigious AFI Award for Best Short Fiction Film for Confessions of a Headhunter. The film, which explores the conflict between the Indigenous people of the Perth area and colonial culture, also won the script category of the Western Australian Premier’s Book Awards in 2001.

In 2002, she left independent filmmaking behind to take up a critical post as Head of Indigenous for the Australian Film Commission, now Screen Australia. Over the course of ten years she played a vital role in developing a new generation of Indigenous artists in Australian film and television, and created a safe space and culture in which Indigenous work could not only flourish, but stand on equal footing with the best in non-Indigenous creative output.

Sally joined ABC TV as Head of Indigenous in 2010. She has since delivered an outstanding track record of programming that has broken new ground in the industry. Under her guidance, programs including Black Comedy, Mabo, Gods of Wheat Street, 8MMM Aboriginal Radio, the multi-award winning Redfern Now and the critically-acclaimed drama, Cleverman, took Australian audiences by their hearts and minds. Redfern Now was the first of its kind to be commissioned, written, acted and produced by Indigenous Australians, and created 250 jobs supporting Indigenous employment in the creative sector.

In an industry prone to self-aggrandisement, Sally has modestly and quietly made a significant impact on the way in which Indigenous culture is represented and regarded in the broader Australian community. Black Comedy’s play with cultural stereotypes of Indigenous people, and Redfern Now’s examination of pressing contemporary social issues, suggest a maturity of approach to Indigenous representation. This approach plays a critical role in celebrating the diversity of modern Australian society.

Sally was promoted to Head of Scripted Production at ABC TV in 2016, where she leads the Fiction, Comedy, Indigenous and Children's production teams. She is an accomplished television executive who has built a significant legacy.

A strong advocate for Aboriginal self-representation in the film and television industry, Sally has consistently developed initiatives that have delivered increased participation and profile for Indigenous artists. She is a passionate and enduring mentor and facilitator for developing artists, and an exceptional role model.

Underpinning Sally’s indelible impact is a lifelong sense of purpose, a drive to change hearts and minds and give people a better understanding of Indigenous life and people. She has expertly harnessed the power of entertainment and emotional engagement to shift attitudes and change the face of Australian television – for audiences both local and international.

Sally’s contribution was recognised with the Australian Public Service Medal in 2008 and the Australian Directors’ Guild Cecil Holmes Award in 2011. In 2016, she was named among the Top 100 Foreign Policy Leading Global Thinkers, a distinguished program celebrating thinkers whose ideas have translated into action that has changed and shaped the world.

Chancellor, Sally Riley has demonstrated a passion for risky and bold storytelling that is not just uniquely Australian, but that resonates with the rest of the world. Through her vision and unwavering commitment, she has fostered the development of a thriving and unique Indigenous film and television industry able to change the way Australian life, stories, heritage and culture are seen globally.

It is a great honour to present Sally Riley for the Alumni Award for Social Impact.

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