Chris Graham Takes The 20 Questions Challenge


Last week, Ben Eltham bravely faced the inaugural 20 Questions Challenge. This week, we’ve left the NM fold and recruited Chris Graham to answer the next round. Chris is the editor of the National Indigenous Times and travels the country from his Canberra base reporting on Indigenous issues. The NIT is a fortnightly independent newspaper that has been produced by a small and dedicated group of black and white Australians — without government assistance — since 2002.

Chris and the NIT staff sent an interview request to Minister for Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin on 16 February 2009. They’re still waiting for a response.

1. If you were given $5 million, what would you spend it on?
I’d buy a kick-arse Explorer motorhome, a 4WD to tow behind it, and all the equipment I’d need to head bush and still be able to write and research (including some ridiculously nice camera gear… a Nikon 2.8 600mm lens for a start). Then I would drive around filing stories on Aboriginal communities and highlighting the extraordinary racism and government neglect that has forced these people to live in Third World conditions. I’d keep encouraging public servants to break the law and leak me information, and I’d mock the Australian Federal Police’s increasingly frustrated attempts to raid my constantly moving home.

2. Who would you most like to be stuck in a lift with?
I’d love five minutes alone with Wilson Tuckey, Tony Abbott and Mal Brough. I’m a big bloke, I reckon I could take all three of them at once.

If I had to settle on one person, it would probably be Kevin Rudd. I’d congratulate him on his national apology — the first time in a long time that I felt genuinely proud to be Australian. And then I’d help him get started on his next apology to Aboriginal people, for all the horrendous things his party has done while in office (not to mention the things his party isn’t doing in office, but should be). He can deliver the second apology shortly before leaving office, which I hope is soon.

3. What trivia topics will you beat everyone else in the pub to the buzzer on?
Indigenous affairs. The death penalty in the US — my private obsession… don’t ask me why. And Chomolungma (aka Sagamartha aka Mt Everest). Hope to climb it one day.

4. The headline you’d most like to see on the front page of a daily newspaper.
“A SHOCKING REALITY: The tragic tale of Curious Wilson, the fork and the live power socket.”

5. Complete this sentence. I’d like to hear Kevin Rudd say “. . .”
“… and that’s why Julia will be moving into The Lodge tomorrow.”

6. If you could have made one major life move differently, what would it have been?
Sometimes I wish I’d never become involved in Indigenous affairs. I love what I do, and I feel incredibly privileged to work where I do, and to write about black issues. (This week, I’m off to a remote central Australian community to camp in the bush and write a feature. Really, who gets paid to do that!!?)

But when you discover the “Awful Truth” about black Australia and the way they live (or more to the point, the way we have treated them, and continue to treat them), it’s very hard to sit and watch, knowing that no matter what you say or do, it’s pretty much going to continue regardless. You have the occasional victory, but governments are still going to do the bare minimum or less, they’re still going to play politics with the lives (and deaths) of Aboriginal people and the media is still going to miss the point every single day. Working in Indigenous affairs — or rather, working passionately in Indigenous affairs — signs you up for a lifetime of frustration and regret. That said, I don’t intend to walk away — the generosity of spirit I see in Aboriginal people inspires and sustains me.

7. You’re on a desert island with only a magical television for entertainment. It only broadcasts sports. It can only broadcast one sporting code. You choose the sport.
Ice hockey. I wasn’t aware there was any other sport?

8. You’ve been appointed research director for an organisation funded by a hands-off philanthropist. What do you tell your staff to find out?
The bank account details of the Ampilatwatja people. They’re officially the most disadvantaged community — black or white — in Australia. They recently walked off their community — literally — in protest at the Northern Territory Intervention. I’d have my organisation help them build a new community outside the bounds and control of the most racist and ineffective policy in living memory.

9. How often do you check your email?
Too often. I now own an iPhone, so I can check it even when I’m out and about on the road. Believe it or not, earlier this week I was lying drunk and naked on a blanket in Central Australia. I was literally in the middle of nowhere, checking my emails and surfing the net… reading about the death penalty, ho hum… and Facebooking. Awesome night.

10. What annoys you about politicians?
Their unwillingness to lead on black issues, and their willingness to play on fear and ignorance to win popularity contests. I hate populism with every grain of my DNA. Hate it, hate it, hate it.

11. Name someone in Australian public life who deserves a promotion.
Rachel Siewert and Andrew Bartlett.

12. Name someone in Australian public life who should be out on their ear.
Jenny Macklin.

13. Can we fix climate change?
We’re f*cked if we can’t. Either way, I’d rather not die wondering. I’m not as tied up in the climate change cause as I’d like to be… but I figure I’m doing my bit elsewhere. Aboriginal people would love to live long enough to see a 2 per cent rise in mean temperature (or not, fingers crossed), but many who should, won’t.

14. If we were in a karaoke club and not online, what song would you sing?
“Treaty” by Yothu Yindi. Or possibly “Special Treatment” by the great Paul Kelly.

15. Have you ever seen a ghost?
Indeed I have. I see dead people all the time. I sh*t you not. I can also confirm that I once shook Philip Ruddock’s hand, so I can let Ben Eltham know that meeting Ruddock does not count.

16. Computers could be improved. How?
I’d love them to refine Voice Character Recognition. Then I could just talk at my computer, like I talk at my long suffering partner, Jacqui. And I could describe myself on my business cards as “Talker” instead of writer.

17. I’m going to get a coffee? What can I get you?
A large skim latte. The hockey season just finished, but I’m trying to stay in shape for the next one.

18. Do you have a hidden talent?
Not really. I lack humility, so any hint of a talent — and I emphasise the words “any hint” — and I tend to shout it from the tree tops. Or I use it to bludgeon my opponents… I’m very competitive like that.

19. What image should hang on the wall of the PM’s office?
A photo of Mulrunji Doomadgee, an Aboriginal man who was killed in a police cell on Palm Island in 2004. And next to that a photo of Lex Wotton, an Aboriginal man still in prison today over the incident. It’s one of our great enduring ironies that a black man is killed by police, and the justice system responds with the mass jailing of more black men. No cop to this day has even been disciplined over the death, let alone jailed.

20. What question should we ask our next interviewee?
How many politicians does it take to change a light bulb?

BONUS: This is the question from our last interviewee
What would you call the new Kraft cheesy Vegemite snack?
Annoying Publicity Stunt 2.0.

This will be a weekly section at and we’d love to hear your feedback. Got a question you want to ask? Or a brilliant candidate to answer all 20 Questions? Let us know via the comments.

Chris Graham is the publisher and editor of New Matilda. He is the former founding managing editor of the National Indigenous Times and Tracker magazine. In more than three decades of journalism he's had his home and office raided by the Australian Federal Police; he's been arrested and briefly jailed in Israel; he's reported from a swag in Outback Australia on and off for years. Chris has worked across multiple mediums including print, radio and film. His proudest achievement is serving as an Associate producer on John Pilger's 2013 film Utopia. He's also won a few journalism awards along the way in both the US and Australia, including a Walkley Award, a Walkley High Commendation and two Human Rights Awards. Since late 2021, Chris has been battling various serious heart and lung conditions. He's begun the process of quietly planning a "gentle exit" after "tying up a few loose ends" in 2024 and 2025. So watch this space.