'Art saved my life': Kodie Bedford
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'Art saved my life': Kodie Bedford

Kodie Bedford would write her own scripts for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and dream of being a television showrunner while growing up in Geraldton, 400km north of Perth.

“I am adamant that art saves lives, because art saved my life,” says Bedford, who eventually became a writer for the Bunya Productions ABC-TV series Mystery Road, filmed partly in the West Australian Kimberley, to which she has strong ties as a Djaru woman.

Bedford got her writing break through a chance encounter with an SBS video reporter.

Bedford got her writing break through a chance encounter with an SBS video reporter.Credit:Rhett Wyman

“Being an Aboriginal teenager in the 90s in Geraldton, I never thought I could make it anywhere else, and I didn’t feel I fitted in there.

“I shouldn’t have survived those years, and yet here I am. Writing stories is how I survived.”

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Now living in the Blue Mountains, Bedford is about to see her first play, Cursed!, produced at Belvoir Street Theatre. Chenoa Deemal plays Bernadette, a character modelled on Bedford’s own life, as a “black woman growing up in a conservative place”.

Bedford got her writing break – in journalism – through a chance encounter with an SBS video reporter working at Halls Creek in the East Kimberley, who mentioned a cadetship was going at the multicultural broadcaster.

“For someone like me, who was in public housing in the mid-west and Aboriginal, that was pure f---ing luck I ran into that woman, and that changed the course of my life.”

Bedford wants to tap both sides of her family in her storytelling, never having suffered any identity issues.

“One half of me is from Geraldton, which if you go back is Irish, English, and then the other half is Aboriginal from the East Kimberley, and I can trace them both back.”

In Cursed! the character Bernadette rushes from Sydney back to Geraldton to say goodbye to her dying nan, played by Valerie Bader and based on Bedford’s own late maternal grandmother, Valda Osborn, whose love of Tolkien and Dickens inspired Bedford to write.

The play’s title alludes to what Valda, who had a strong Catholic faith, called the “family curse”.

“My nan called it ‘nerves’,” says Bedford. “I was most like her, I was very sensitive. I had depression like her. Yet we used humour as a way of coping with that.”

The story is centred around grief but much of the play is comic, even as it deals with inter-generational mental health issues.

“Bernadette realises how hard it is to not only deal with her crazy family, but also to get into the ‘West Australian’ lifestyle,” says Bedford. “When I go back to WA, everything slows down. It takes me a few days to adjust to that.”

Earlier this year, Bedford took issue with her former employer SBS, writing in a Twitter thread that during her journalism cadetship in 2008 she was sometimes introduced as “the Indigenous cadet” and was subjected to “micro-aggressions, forms of paternalism and racism”.

Bedford said the response to her criticism was “overwhelming” but supportive.

“I am such a supporter of SBS,” she says. “I never wanted to bring them down. They really took [my complaint] seriously, and all credit to the managing director, he took it really seriously, and he started to listen to his staff past and present, about what changes were needed. He looked me in the eye and said things would change, and he did it.”

Cursed! opens at Belvoir on Thursday

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