HD: So, I have seen the first episode of Dinner Guest. I watched it this morning. I couldn’t stop smiling, it was the most joyous half an hour ever.
NJ: Thank you! What did you like about it?
HD: I liked that I felt like I was just watching friends have dinner and it didn’t feel like you were saying the things you were just because there was a camera there. It felt like a natural conversation between people who exist in a world not necessarily built for them – something I can empathise with as a disabled woman. I think it was an important conversation and I learnt a lot about all of you, which was good. I think it’s a joyous show that everyone should watch.
NJ: We so appreciate hearing that because – you just nailed it. That was the intention of the whole thing, we didn’t want it to feel staged. We didn’t want to ambush anyone with conversations they weren’t prepared to talk about or share. The day we filmed it, we didn’t notice the cameras. They were purposefully hidden away. They weren’t in your eyeline.
SC: Yeah, I forgot about the cameras.
ML: And it’s not about saying things we know we will get clicks. It’s conversations we have wanted to have. Conversations we have in lunches by ourselves together. And being able to share that experience with everyone and have it met with kindness and the intent we set out to achieve – it’s lovely and great to hear.
HD: I really, really enjoyed it. I’m so happy we live in a world where the three of you can be on a commercial network and people think ‘this is cool,’ and no one is thinking about ticking a diversity box. Narelda, how did this show come to be developed?
NJ: Good question! It was just perfect timing. Height of the BLM movement highlighted to Australia – people were saying ‘I’m glad we don’t live in America.’ But it was like - what Australia do you live in? There was a huge divide that BLM highlighted. For some people, it’s a daily struggle. We are this country that has a huge gap. It was kind of born out of knowing we need to hear from underrepresented voices.
SC: It’s such a weird notion that it’s underrepresented but not the minority. We are not a minority. It’s most of us, but the dominant voice is the minority voice.
NJ: Census results – perfect timing for anyone championing diversity. People being born overseas or having one parent born overseas. Where are these people on TV? That was the whole idea of it. I had always admired Melissa and Susan. In my mind, it was always them. And I just wanted to force a friendship with them.
HD: Best excuse ever for a friendship! Let’s have food and a chat and become friends!
SC: Well, that’s the funny thing, can you remember when we all went out for lunch before we started- that lunch could’ve been what we filmed! It was such an easy conversation and we connected so well. We were either learning from each other or agreeing from each other. That’s what friendship is like for a lot of people. An audience want to see the conversations they are having in real life reflected back at them. Or maybe they aren’t getting to have these conversations and want to be a part of it. As Narelda said, this is Australia.
HD: Knowing that you conceptualised this around the time of BLM, Narelda, was it intentional then that it came out to mark NAIDOC week?
NJ: No, it’s a complete coincidence! We actually filmed it in February, and it has been ready to go for months. The stars just aligned, the ancestors wove their magic, and the drop day was the beginning of NAIDOC week. It’s a gift. It’s a coincidence, but a very happy coincidence.
SC: It’s not a coincidence, Narelda, it was meant to be.
ML: It clicked, it made sense. When there’s a degree of effortlessness, there was a degree of support from the universe – we were meant to be doing this, we were meant to be having these conversations and were meant to be sharing them. It’ll hopefully grow to include so many other perspectives that underrepresented in Australian society.
NJ: Yes, and there’s so much symbolism too – down to where we end up. It’s not a coincidence that we ended up in a Greek restaurant in Melbourne. So, we when we get commissioned, the restaurant and location will change each time depending on the dinner guest. We were at a Greek restaurant in Melbourne because Patricia Karvelas’ heritage is Greek, and she lives in Melbourne. That’s part of the symbolism of it. A lot of programs, you feel like the spotlight is on you and you feel the pressure. You have built up some walls. We wanted the complete opposite of that.
HD: It definitely felt like that watching it. That you guys were on equal footing and that you weren’t treating Patricia like she was a traditional interview guest where you guys held all the power. Was an equal conversation where I learned so much about all four of you and that’s important too, as sometimes the interview format can be weird and stressful, especially for those who live at the margins of society as it were anyway.
SC: It can feel like an interrogation. It was a conversation.
NJ: And there are conversations that you’re probably sick of having as well.
SC: Yes, Hannah like you’re tired of having conversations and that there are things that you’re constantly being asked.
HD: Yes! Sometimes I feel like I should walk around like the guy in Love Actually with the cards and just have it already written out. Like “this is what you want to know.”
NJ: Hannah I completely appreciate that you know where we are coming from. The first episode we knew we needed to touch on because there are people who didn’t know us. Surprise, surprise, there are people who don’t know us.
HD: How is that even possible!
NJ: There is an element of that. But what is important is that I don’t always want to just be talking about how I’m Aboriginal. I want to be able to talk about all the other things that impact people’s lives. And that is the point of it. And you’re the same! How often would you like to talk about…
SC: Climate change, makeup! There’s so much more to all of us than just that. But there’s still a part of ourselves that we bring to the conversation. Bringing our whole selves to the conversation without trying to appease people with who we are as well.
ML: If you have the lived experiences that we have. Then your guest is much more likely to be forthcoming in a personal way. By us putting our hearts on the line, we invite them to do the same. Sharing food is a great conduit for that spirit of what we are trying to achieve.
HD: Absolutely. I love that you guys are centring lived experience. Because it’s something I am constantly yelling about to anyone who will listen. Because guess what, it’s actually a form of expertise. And if all the people who make the decisions and present the ideas all look the same, then the world is going to be a pretty one-dimensional place.
Now obviously Narelda and Melissa, people who watch this show who will be familiar with who you are. Susan, whoever might be a bit of a surprise sometimes. Like people definitely know who you are, but often you are presented in relation to who you are married to, rather than a person who is a Dr and an incredible academic and a writer. So, I’m curious as to how that feels to be like forging your own – not your identity because you’ve had that all along – but introducing yourself to your identity.
SC: That’s a really interesting question and I don’t know if I gave it any thought. Narelda called me when I was in Coles doing the shopping and said “I’ve got this idea for a show and I think we are going to make it for Pilot Week.” And I was googling “what is Channel 10’s Pilot Week?” It isn’t about creating an identity or a profile. I liked Narelda, I liked Melissa and I liked the idea of the show and I think it’s important and interesting. It was just that this was something that I wanted to be a part of. That was the intention behind it. It hadn’t entered my head about people get to know me per se. Even when talking about publicity clips for this, that Narelda would think about ‘what about this clip?’ and I’ll say ‘this is boring, let’s focus more on you guys.’ I don’t find myself particularly interesting.
HD: And that is where we are sitting there saying ‘no Susan, tell us more!’
SC: I think it’s just that these are the conversations I want to be listening to and that is why I wanted to be a part of the whole initiative.
NJ: We were sitting at the table for three hours. It’s a half hour show but we were sitting there for three hours! And when we finished, we were kind of looking at each other going ‘well we thought it was interesting!’ but would other people find it interesting? So to hear your feedback, Hannah, was really good.
HD: Especially for you Susan, hearing from Muslim women and women who have actively made the choice to engage in the Muslim faith is really rare – obviously from a cultural standpoint we don’t often hear from Muslim women. Given the state that the world is in right now and what are happening to women who follow the faith around the world. It’s important and special to hear from you.
SC: I think there are a lot of stereotypes about Muslim women – about what a woman is, and what we think about Muslim men. On the one hand it’s nice being able to give people a different perspective. Going back to the Census, there are a lot of negative stereotypes about Muslim women and what is taught, but there’s very few people in Australia who has a Muslim friend, neighbour – because there are so few of us - only 800,000 of us out there in a country of about 26 million. This means that the sole source many people have about Muslim people is the media. If the only information they are getting about Muslim people are terrorists and oppressed Muslim women, that is what people think. If me, or people like me being part of a show like this where we are prepared to show our full selves and in full humanity – as the rich, complicated, nuanced people like everyone else – I hope it can shift the really wrong and very flattened perception of what it means to be a Muslim man or woman.
NJ: You have hit on something that is also completely relatable to First Nations people – the amount of the population. It’s the same amount of the population. 800,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people but how often do you see us represented in the media, and how much of it is negative? Its pretty much all negative. Being able to speak on things. We call it the deficit discourse. Everything is about closing the gaps. Highlighting the gaps and incarceration rates. That’s a minority of First Nations people and its not representative of First Nations people. We want representation? Look at the people who won awards at the NAIDOC awards on Saturday night. That is who we are! We are achievers. We are people who are changing the world.
ML: The dangers on reporting like that for any minority. We are multifaceted and have a lot to say and have so many perspectives within each and every one of us and we should be celebrating that nuance and those similarities together, but it all has to come out on the table. Not 2D cartoon characters.
HD: I think the most surprising thing I learnt about you Melissa was that you grew up in the Shire. I did NOT know that! For context, I live in the St George area and went to high school in the Shire. So, I am well familiar with how hostile an environment that might have been for you – you probably couldn’t have picked a more white Australia area to have grown up in. I’m really curious about how – you touched on this in the show – handling the dissonance between the two halves of yourself. How has that manifested as you have gotten older and built a profile? With people stopping you on the street and saying ‘we loved you on Masterchef!’
ML: My parents chose to move to the Shire before we were born – wanted to give us the classic Australian experience. I’m 40 – I turned 40 this year. I’m still consolidating the things I let go of from my culture in an effort to be accepted by a reasonably white Australia. My mum called me recently and apologised, saying ‘I’m so sorry I taught you to hide who you are and your culture, because I just wanted you to fit in and I’m afraid I taught you how to do it too well’ – so you gave up a lot of it and you’re grieving for it. And I am grieving for it every single day – language skills, cultural ties, the tightness I feel with my roots – I don’t have as much of that as I would like. But this is my experience and it’s an experience that a lot of people share. So to be able to give voice to it and to facilitate conversations around the country about it.
NJ: Did she say that after watching it?
ML: I haven’t shown it to her yet. But she’s such a fan of you guys so she can’t wait to watch it. It was from something I had written about in Stellar. Sorry to bring the mood down but you can feel the power in it. We have all given up certain and hidden certain parts of ourselves in an effort to try and be accepted by the broader Australian society of which we are a valid part of. We want to champion these conversations and for people out there to feel bold. And step into who they are and not apologise for it.
NJ: You touched on something beautiful and that is how to have a conversation with someone about it. Showing people how to have a conversation about certain things. I’ve had texts from my family about this show with sobbing emojis saying ‘we have never heard you speak like that.’ Because sometimes in your families you don’t have these conversations. You go about your life and, I don’t know. But they are really important conversations to have.
SC: Wow, that’s an amazing reaction from your family. It must’ve been validating.
NJ: It was. But I know there are conversations I just can’t have with my mum. She’ll watch it and go and make a cup of tea when I talk about being a queer woman. I don’t know how she takes that every time we talk about it. It’s too uncomfortable with her. It’s bizarre.
ML: Maybe she might.
NJ: Well, I’m going to be with her for a week on a holiday in an Airbnb so there’s a lot of time! But it’s her conviction. It’s her beliefs. It’s more than generational for her. She has come a long way with it.
SC: Don’t give up on it. Sometimes it can take a long time.
NJ: We love each other. Like I want to have cuddles and crawl into her bed! It never goes away.
HD: So, what are you hoping people get out of watching Dinner Guest? Like presumable you’ll have friends who have watched the show and already be there. But people like your mum, where the conversations may be uncomfortable.
NJ: I think an appreciation of what Australia is. Who and what should we aspire to be? I’m not saying we are aspirational in any way. But it lays down a bit of a challenge. If you’re not having these thoughts or conversations with people. It’s the best conversations you have. You can have shallow conversations with people. You’re not really…its superficial.
ML: None of us do small talk well. So let’s get to the heart of the conversations that we want to have, while we have a platform to do that. Sparking conversations in other people’s houses and restaurants. It’s a wonderful thing.
SC: Everyone is saying how divided we are. Australia is so divided, US is so divided. All in our silos and no one is talking, and we can’t understand each other. My hope is that a show like this – people will listen and hopefully feel like they are a part of the conversation and learn about ourselves and experiences. We are not trying to convince anyone of anything. I’m not asking you to become Muslim! I hope people watch and think like ‘I know I wouldn’t make that decision for myself’ but they understand where I am coming from, and they can respect that for you. We don’t all have to think the same, but we should all come to the table metaphorically and literally on our show and listen to each other and learn from each other. It could be a really positive thing. At the moment, there’s a lot of division – and we are just trying to bring it all together.
HD: I’m going to ask maybe one more question – potentially the most important. How do we make sure this show gets picked up?
NJ: Make noise. You had a fantastic comment on your first Instagram post about roaring.
ML: It’s not about ranting, it’s about roaring. We need interactivity. Use the hashtag #DinnerGuestAU. Go onto TenPlayAU – press play! Get everyone to watch it and talking about it. And tag Channel 10. They need to know that this is what people want and that this is what the audience wants. We need to show them. We are so lucky to be on a network that wants to see representation happen. We need the audience to back it up and push this forward. Now it’s your turn.
NJ: Watch it and spread it on social.
ML: When we go live on this show, we want to see who people would like to have dinner with and whose faces you want to see?
HD: Who are your dream guests?
NJ: I’m fresh from the NAIDC Awards and Ash Barty won NAIDOC Person of the Year, I would love to have Ash Barty. Would love to talk to her about things that aren’t tennis! Because there is more to her than tennis. So that is what I’d love to talk to her about.
ML: We have so many people in mind. A long list of people who bring things to the table. We want to share those conversations.
SC: But we also want to hear from the audience! Who do you think we should have on the show?
HD: I mean, I wouldn’t be opposed to coming out?!
SC: Then you need to make sure we need to have a second episode!
ML: You’re now part of the sisterhood, so you need to help us!
HD: We are a very stylish quartet. Well thank you so much. I know you have a very busy few days with people wanting you here there and everywhere, so I appreciate you taking the time to chat to us.
SC: Thank you and thanks for giving us the chance to chat to you.
NJ: And congrats on everything that you do, and your voice is so strong. On behalf of this country thank you for everything that you do.