Benjamin Erin: Amplifying voices in Australia’s outback


Benjamin Erin can barely walk one block in Alice Springs without bumping into someone he knows and having a chin wag.

And as the manager of local community radio station 8CCC, he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“We have small town friendliness but with the diversity of a big city metropolis and a café-to-population ratio that could probably rival Melbourne,” Benjamin tells Radio Today.

Living in the heart of the Australian outback – with its sweeping horizons and million acre cattle stations – is a world away from Sydney’s inner eastern suburbs, where Benjamin grew up.

But he feels right at home in what he describes as an incredibly supportive community.

“It’s a mixed bag of realities stacked on top of each other and while there can be friction at times, it also feels like a town where anything could be possible.”

Benjamin regards Alice Springs as the cultural heart of Australia.

“There is a richness of experiences and cultural exchange if you are open to it.”

While it might be cheaper to fly to Bali than to a major Australian capital city these days, Benjamin says Central Australia holds unique appeal as a tourist destination.

“While we are isolated, it is in the setting of an incredible natural beauty, with the surrounding desert offering the same humbling immensity as any ocean.”

As a child growing up in Surry Hills, Benjamin played at being a DJ, recording voiceovers into the built-in mic of an old tape deck.

“I enjoyed the vibrancy of the inner city and consider myself lucky to have grown up in an area with a diverse population,” Benjamin says.

“When my parents moved to the area, the block across the road was an empty paddock with a goat in it. Now, it’s a multi storey apartment block.”

After leaving school, Benjamin became involved in community volunteer work.

A pivotal experience was traveling to Alice Springs in his early twenties, at the time of the Northern Territory intervention (a government policy designed to address systemic disadvantage in local Indigenous communities).

Benjamin drove with a group of activists via Port Augusta, heading up the Stuart Highway, camping in the backyard of First Nations activist Barbara Shaw along the way.

He heard first-hand accounts about the experiences of First Nations community members and the impact that policy decisions were having on their lives.

“Then driving 500km west to Yuendumu, we shared a barbecue at the local basketball courts and heard from Warlpiri elders about the changes.”

“I almost missed the flight back to Sydney and it was a shock to the system to find myself back walking down King Street in Newtown, reflecting on the contrasts between the inner city and remote Central Australia.”

Benjamin would return many times, before finally moving to Alice Springs in 2013.

“I actually put in an application to volunteer at 8CCC, but didn’t hear back,” he days.

“When I first moved to Alice Springs I worked in a social work role, supporting households at risk of homelessness.”

With an interest in live music, Benjamin began to learn about audio engineering and mixing, and picked up some casual shifts with (Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association’s) CAAMA Productions.

In 2017, Benjamin found himself working the stage at Big Day Out In Harmony – a huge annual multicultural community event in Alice Springs.

There, he spotted an 8CCC stall. Benjamin headed over for a chat and to offer an audio feed from the stage.

It transpired that the station was looking for an admin worker.

Benjamin researched 8CCC and community radio more broadly and applied straight away.

“I got the job and a few months later I found my own unopened volunteer application in the inbox.”

“With no staffing for over 12 months, 8CCC had been fully volunteer run and had had limited capacity to open its doors to new volunteers.”

Initially, Benjamin started working there two days a week.

“When I asked about training, I was told that I was the trainer!”

Undeterred, Benjamin immersed himself in the challenge, taking on a live show and the production of a series on volunteering in Central Australia.

“When I attended my first Community Broadcasting Association of Australia Annual Conference, my mind was blown.”

“I fully committed to this new pathway, learning from other volunteers and taking on courses such as the AFTRS Program & Content Manager Industry Certificate and a Diploma of Business (Governance).”

Six years on, Benjamin is now full time with a team of six part time and 13 casual staff supporting 8CCC’s radio operations and social enterprise event productions.

8CCC’s office is located in a shop front – with a café and public-facing studio – which Benjamin says helps strengthen community engagement.

Benjamin’s day-to-day role is very hands-on, working across production, sponsorship, technical and volunteer coordination.

“My morning generally starts with a check in with the Brekky team when I drop by the studio to have a coffee at the 8CCC Café.”

The café is a hive of activity, whether it be live performances, training workshops or 8CCC announcers prepping their shows.

A typical day would see Benjamin head to his home office in the afternoon to catch up on emails and admin.

“No two days are the same,” he says.

“It’s a privilege to work in community broadcasting in Alice Springs and Tennant Creek as the work that we do has a tangible and positive impact for our community.”

“We are part of the social fabric of the towns and have opportunities to amplify and support so many positive projects.”

“There is a vibrant local arts and music scene, and we are right in the thick of it.”

8CCC has a programming commitment to play one third local and one third Australian music.

“‘Local’ music for us is Central Australian and the Barkly, which is a huge geographic area that includes many remote First Nations communities,” says Benjamin.

“8CCC’s vision is ‘Many Voices, One Frequency’ and music is a core part of representing diverse voices from our community on air.”

8CCC runs song writing and industry workshops, producing events to showcase emerging artists while connecting them to audiences further afield through the community radio network and AMRAP (The Australian Music Radio Airplay Project).

8CCC’s recent One Frequency Festival offered a week of professional development for artists and audio engineers, culminating in a two day free music festival which was broadcast live on 8CCC 102.1FM.

“Funding through the Australian Government’s Live Music Australia program allowed us to pay over 130 artists at or above the Musicians Australia minimum fee,” says Benjamin.

And as the sun sets on another day in the outback capital, Benjamin says 8CCC remains steadfast in its mission to take radio to the people and celebrate the unique voices of the region.

“It’s been a privilege to be part of 8CCC’s most recent chapter and I am excited for its future.”

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