ACM award-winning podcaster Tom Melville explains what drives the Voice Of Real Australia

AWARD-WINNER: Tom Melville host of ACM's national podcast Voice of Real Australia, with Dusty. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos
AWARD-WINNER: Tom Melville host of ACM's national podcast Voice of Real Australia, with Dusty. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

PODCASTS are a dime a dozen. The time-honoured formula of listening to people tell stories continues to gather pace. You can literally find a podcast for any topic imaginable.

So to cut through the noise, you need to present something special. You need to share stories that truly matter.

In April the duo also won a NSW Cricket award for their podcast exploring the lack of Indigenous cricketers.

We asked Melville how he captures the voice of real Australians?

How do you select the stories for the Voice of Real Australia?

There are all sorts of ways. Sometimes I'm reading something and find I have more questions so I set about answering them myself. Other times there are issues that I think deserve some examination. But mainly it's talking to people - at the pub, at the supermarket. Once people find out you're a journalist all you have to do is listen and the stories often come to you.

How much time does it take to put a story together?

We have two weeks between shows and stories at various stages of development. Big projects could take months to put together - lots of interviews and scripting. Smaller stories we can do in a couple of weeks. I'm never quite sure how we do it, but there's always a program in there come every second Thursday.

What makes podcasts such a different way of storytelling from print?

I love how listeners are able to hear the subject's voice. They can hear their voice crack with emotion as they tell their own story. There's a lot more space to let them speak, I think, with our style of program. Listeners can develop a stronger, more personal connection with the story. I also love building sound-rich shows because the listener can get more of a sense of where something is taking place. We all know what a home kitchen sounds like, and hearing someone make me a cup of tea as we get down to chat is quite universal and grounding.

IN THE FIELD: ACM podcast journalist Tom Melville interviews Nick Fejer, chair of Solarshare. Picture: Karleen Minney

IN THE FIELD: ACM podcast journalist Tom Melville interviews Nick Fejer, chair of Solarshare. Picture: Karleen Minney

What kind of feedback have you been getting from audiences?

We've nabbed a couple of awards so far so people seem to be responding to it well! Beyond that, we're actually conducting a listener survey to understand more precisely who our audience is and what they want.

Do you consider ideas from the listening public? How can they contact you?

Absolutely. I'd recommend doing the survey or send an email to Questions, comments, concerns, and ideas are welcome.

What made you come back to Australia after working overseas in London?

I always wanted to come back. I remember a couple of years ago wondering if I ever would - I had a life in London and a job. It's difficult to turn your back on that. I came back here after a stint in Tunisia was cut short due to COVID.

I saw all my friends, I travelled for a bit when things opened up, then I wondered how I could have ever considered moving overseas permanently. It was a nice moment, realising I was home.

What's the difference between how Australians from the country perceive life and challenges from city folks?

I tend to think the difference is overstated. Everyone is working towards similar goals - kids, work, community - it's just unfolding in different environments. I do think there's a lack of interest from the city in the nuance of regional Australia, which is a shame because this country is vast and diverse and beautiful. COVID is forcing people who might have travelled to Bali or Paris for a holiday to reconsider their own backyard, which I think is positive.

What has been your most satisfying podcast in the Voice of Australia series?

I loved working on the story about The Drip Gorge, near Mudgee. Walking along the track with this group of women who've dedicated their lives to protecting this wonderful space was a special experience.

What podcast has generated the most response so far in the series?

Probably the Snow Gums episode. Kosciuszko is such a special place for so many people, but no one really knows that this beloved tree is in such bad shape. Or the episode about the Port Arthur Massacre. To have so many people talk to us for the first and only time since the event 25 years ago was very special, and a lot of people were pleased that we handled it so delicately.

What is your dog's name? Tell us more about him?

That's Dusty! She's a Kelpie cross something (we're not entirely sure what).She's a failed sheep dog. She was excellent at rounding up sheep, but not quite so good at stopping when you wanted her to. She's settled into a new life in the suburbs nicely.

Where is home for you?

That's a complicated answer! I grew up in Canberra, so all my friends live there, but my house is in Newcastle. I spent most of my 20s overseas so I'm rootless in some ways. I'm lucky that in my current job I get to travel around so much. I'm sure I'll settle down at some point, but I get itchy feet!

Where is your spiritual home?

I love being outside and one of the things I love about Australia is we're never too far from some vast wilderness.

What's your favourite place in Australia?

The Drip! It's so special to have such an unknown natural icon only a few hours away from Newcastle. I thoroughly recommend it - it's near Mudgee too, which is always worth a visit.

This story Casting a wider net for real Australian stories first appeared on Newcastle Herald.