Leading First Nations media executive Dot West, OAM, acclaimed director, the late Shirley Barrett, and award-winning showrunner, writer and director Tony Ayres have been conferred honorary degrees from the Australian Film Television and Radio School (AFTRS).

Each were awarded Doctor of Arts, Film and Television at AFTRS’ annual graduation ceremony held last Friday in this, the 50th anniversary year since AFTRS’ establishment in 1973. Shirley Barrett’s posthumous hononary degree was accepted by her husband, Chris Norris.

Three days after the Federal Budget announcement, which saw AFTRS receive an additional appropriation of $500,000 to support course offerings and upgrade facilities, the Minister for the Arts, The Hon Tony Burke, attended the AFTRS Graduation Ceremony, where he addressed the students on the importance of their formal training: “The reason we have a cultural policy isn’t a set of arts announcements, we have a cultural policy because the work you’ve now been trained to do as graduates is essential for Australians to know themselves, for us to understand each other and for the world to come to know us.”

The ceremony saw 141 students graduate from the 2022 academic year.

Dot West, nee Henry, is a Noongar woman from the south west of Western Australia, with ancestral ties to the north. She has been living and working in the Kimberley region since 1977. Dot started her media career in radio in 1987, before moving across to the screen industry. For ten years Dot was Head of Productions at Goolarri Media in Broome overseeing radio, television, music and events operations. Dot has held numerous board positions across the industry. She is currently working as a scriptwriter, story advisor and accredited trainer, and serves as Director of Goolarri Media Enterprises and Ramu Productions in Broome, as a Board Member of Cinefest Oz Film Festival and as Chairperson of the First Nations Digital Inclusion Advisory Group. Since 2014, Dot has been the co-facilitator of the Goolarri Writers Program where she supports emerging Indigenous writers.

On receiving her degree, Dot West said: “I am honoured to receive this recognition from an institution that, for the last 50 years, has supported the growth and development of our creative industry to become the revolutionary force it is today for Australia and the world.”

Shirley Barrett was a screenwriter, director and novelist. She graduated from AFTRS in 1987, specialising in writing and directing. Her final year film Cherith won both the Dendy and AFI Awards for Best Short Fiction and the Prix Canal+ award. She went on to write and direct three feature films. Love Serenade (1996) won the Camera d’Or (Best First Feature) at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival. The film was also awarded Best Film at the Valladolid International Film Festival Spain 1996, selected for screening at the 1997 Sundance Film Festival and was the opening night film at New Directors New Films, New York 1997. Walk the Talk (2000) screened at the Toronto and Rotterdam Film Festivals. South Solitary (2010) had its world premiere opening the Sydney Film Festival 2010. Shirley was awarded Winner Western Australia Premier Literary Award 2009 (Premier’s Prize and Script Award) and Winner Queensland Premier’s Literary Award 2010 (Film Script). Shirley also worked extensively in Australian television as a director and writer. Her credits include Boys From The Bush, A Country Practice, Heartbreak High, Police Rescue, Packed To The Rafters, Wild Boys, House Husbands, Mr & Mrs Murder, Love Child, Winter, A Place to Call Home, Offspring, Five Bedrooms and Home And Away. She wrote three novels: Rush Oh! (2015 Picador Pan Macmillan) and The Bus on Thursday (2018 Allen and Unwin).

Mrs Hopkins is to be published by Allen and Unwin in June 2024.

Shirley died in August 2022.

On accepting Shirley Barrett’s degree, Chris Norris said: “Shirley and I met when we were nineteen. It was exciting to be with her as her talent flourished. I watched as she thrived at AFTRS. It was there that she developed her unique voice. She often spoke of what a privilege it was to have the opportunity to play and experiment in an environment that was so well-resourced, supportive and unrestrictive. Her final year film, Cherith, which she wrote and directed, gave her the confidence and resolve to follow a creative path that was her own. Her distinctive comedic style was piercingly funny but always compassionate.

As the years went on I marvelled at what a determined, disciplined and uncompromising artist she was, but also an inclusive and generous collaborator. It was these qualities that made her greatly loved and highly regarded in the Australian film and television industry. That and the fact that she was so much fun to be around.”

Tony Ayres is an award-winning Australian showrunner, writer and director, and one of the founding members of Matchbox Pictures. In 2018 Tony established his own production company Tony Ayres Productions (TAP), developing and producing feature films and television for global audiences and international marketplaces.

Overall, Tony’s feature films and TV shows have been nominated for over one hundred Australian and international awards, and has won over sixty of these awards including an International Emmy, a BAFTA, a Golden Horse (the Asian Oscars), six AACTA awards, and six Logies.

Tony was the creator/showrunner on The Slap, Nowhere Boys and global number one Netflix hit, Clickbait. He co-created and was an Executive Producer on Glitch, Stateless, and Fires. He has Executive produced acclaimed shows such as Barracuda, Seven Types of Ambiguity, Wanted, Creamerie, The Devil’s Playground, Old School, Underground: The Julian Assange Story, The Straits, and The Family Law.

In feature films, Tony directed Cut Snake (2015), The Home Song Stories (2007), and Walking on Water (2002). He has also executive produced award winning feature films such as Ali’s Wedding and Lou. His films have premiered and screened at A-list festivals around the world including the Berlinale and the Toronto Film Festival.

Accepting his degree in person, Tony said: “I attended AFTRS in 1989 at a time when I was very uncertain about whether I belonged in the screen industries or not. It was the inspiration and guidance of key teachers there (in particular, Barbara Masel) which set me on the course that sees me still in this industry thirty-four years later. For me, the idea of revolutionary screen content is finding the courage to say what is not being said, to be additive to current cultural conversation, and to humanise polarising debates.”

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