Expanding Networks of Care: The Humanitarian Storytelling of Olivia Rousset

Helena Grehan, Olivia Rousset


Olivia Rousset has made a major contribution to independent journalism in Australia (and beyond) for more than twenty years. She is a woman of integrity, deep humanity, and thoughtfulness. Her work positions the reader, listener, or viewer directly in front of the often-hidden subjects—people, lives, stories—that the current neoliberal technologised West covers over. In the Australian context, her work strives for recognition of the rights of asylum seekers and refugees and their advocates, amongst others. Hers is a powerful Southern voice; yet in this era of speed, of citizen-journalism, and of sound bites, it is not easy for makers such as Olivia to find a platform, to continue to urge audiences to listen, and to listen carefully to the stories they need to encounter.

In this interview, Olivia’s lived experience as a documentary maker and journalist draw attention to the difficulties of reporting trauma and its response in powerful and sometimes unsettling ways.


documentary; humanitarian; trauma; listening; witnessing; ethics of care

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Olivia Rousset Selected List of Works

Reveal. “Five Years on Nauru.” Aired 16 February. Reveal, the Centre for Investigative Reporting, in collaboration with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 2019. Audiorecording. https://www.revealnews.org/episodes/five-years-on-nauru/. Radio documentary about the neglect of refugee children and teenagers on Nauru.

Compass. “Lou’s Place.” Aired 26 May. Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 2018. Videorecording. https://www.abc.net.au/religion/watch/compass/lous-place/10248156/. A thirty-minute documentary about “Lou’s Place,” a drop-in centre for homeless women in Sydney’s King’s Cross.

30 Report. “The Incredible Reality for Young Carers.” Aired 31 October. Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 2018. Videorecording. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BIb_k6hp0Rc/. Story for ABC TV about young carers.

Compass. “The Yazidi—People of the Peacock Angel.” Aired 30 August. Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 2016. Videorecording. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W4YPaM4pTAo/. A thirty-minute documentary on the Yazidi in Northern Iraq.

ABC Arts. “Behind The Second Woman.” Aired 8 January. Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 2017. Videorecording. https://iview.abc.net.au/programs/behind-the-second-woman/AC1724H001S00/. A thirty-minute documentary for ABC Arts about the cult feminist performance, The Second Woman.

Dateline. “State of Despair.” Aired 9 May. Special Broadcasting Service, 2007. Videorecording. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dHVh0uBUFy0. A feature about Iraqi refugees exiled from their country, struggling to survive in Jordan. Walkley Award Nomination for International Current Affairs; UN Media Peace Prize; screened in competition FIPA, France.

The Passion of Gina Sinozich. Aired 11 September. Australian Broadcasting Corporation and Vagabond Films, 2007. Videorecording. An observational documentary about the life and art of Croatian Australian Gina Sinozich. Gina began painting at seventy as an attempt to work through the events of her traumatic life. Screened at Dendy Awards, Sydney International Film Festival; Melbourne International Film Festival.

Dateline. “Abu Ghraib Trilogy.” Aired 9 November 2005, 15 February 2006, and 8 March 2006. Videorecording. Special Broadcasting Service, 2005. https://www.sbs.com.au/ondemand/video/240417859815/abu-ghraib-lifting-the-hood;



Three stories about the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq featuring interviews with the tortured and the torturers, revealing the full impact of what went on inside the Iraqi prison. Walkley Award for Current Affairs, Feature or Documentary; George Munster Award for Independent Journalism.

Dateline. “Inside Indonesia’s Sex Trade.” Aired 1 June. Special Broadcasting Service, 2005. Videorecording. Filmed for a month undercover on Batam Island, Olivia followed two fourteen-year-old girls who were sold into sexual slavery and a daring attempt by social workers to get them out. Walkley Award for All Media—Asia Pacific Region; UN Media Peace Award; screened in competition FIPA, France.

Dateline. “Iraq, Sweet Iraq.” Aired 20 August. Special Broadcasting Service, 2003. Videorecording. https://www.sbs.com.au/ondemand/video/341076547744/iraq-sweet-iraq Olivia spent six weeks in Iraq immediately after the US invasion following Hassan Janabi, an Iraqi Australian water engineer who was tortured and exiled during Saddam Hussein’s reign. Hassan returned to work for the US forces and was reunited with his family. This moving and insightful observational documentary offers a personal and conflicted view of a nation on the brink of radical change. Screened internationally including on the British Broadcasting Corporation and Canada Broadcasting Corporation.

Race Around the World. Winner, season 1. Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 1997. Videorecording. Eight young filmmakers travelled alone to ten countries in one hundred days. They conceived, shot, and edited (on paper) a mini documentary in each country without preparation or support.

Refugee Support Services and Resources—for readers

Australian Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC)


ASRC is an independent non-for-profit organisation focused on empowering people seeking asylum in Australia.

Centre for Asylum seekers, Refugees and Detainees (CARAD)


CARAD is an independent, community-based organisation providing advocacy and welfare support to asylum seekers, refugees and detainees in Western Australia.

Phone Credit for Refugees (PC4R)


PC4R is a service that provides phone credit to refugees and displaced people all over the world.

Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA)


The national body for refugee and people seeking asylum support services.

Refugee Rights Action Network (RRAN)


RRAN is a political activist group based in Perth that organises assistance, support and community outreach programs to help end mandatory detention.



STARTTS provides culturally sensitive clinical support for the treatment and rehabilitation of torture and trauma survivors in NSW.

Writing Through Fences


Writing Through Fences is an open space for many writers and artists who are, or have been, incarcerated by the Australian immigration detention regime.

Gifts for Manus and Nauru


An organisation that supports asylum seekers and refugees in PNG and Nauru by providing phone credit, medical and dental treatment and professional trauma counselling.



GetUp! is an independent movement working towards a more progressive, democratic Australia that campaigns for human rights in Manus and Nauru.


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