Brought up as Irish although born in
England - due to the influence of my grand dad on my Mother. He was
born in Falls Road, Belfast, and taught her the rebel songs.
First a quick resume of my early years.
1961-63 A First in Philosophy. 1964-67 Masters Degree Theology.
1967-70 Honours Sociology - London School of Economics & Bedford
Colleges, London University. Elected representative of Sociology
students, runner up President 1968. 1970-71 married and overland to
Australia - six months travel back-packing in Asia. 1971-72 teaching.
Two daughters born. 1973-76 National Director of International
Development Action - coordinating educational campaigns on third
world issues funded and sponsored by Australian Aid Agencies, World
Council of churches and other bodies. From this time, full time
writer and researcher. Edited, co-authored and published on
Aboriginal, Pacific and African issues with prominent articles in
major broad sheet newspapers.. Three well received books written.
Produced a number of investigative documentaries, winning a Best
Documentary Nomination. The latest film was transmitted as a
Dispatches on Channel 4 in the UK in December 1997.
Now for a more detailed account.
1975. Aurukun Aborigines, part of the Wik
nation, invite her to report their community on mining proposals ( an
800 sq mile bauxite strip-mine planned for their tribal land.)
Carried out resulting research project for community. Took part in
actions that led to the cancelling of the mine.
1976 Edited and co-authored "The Mapoon
Books", a three part case study of the Mapoon Aboriginal community
(and of the neighbouring Weipa and Aurukun communities ) documenting
their treatment by missions, governments and mining companies when
the world's biggest aluminium (bauxite) mine took a 1000 square miles
of virgin monsoonal forest that was their hunting and spirit
Humphrey McQueen, Australian historian,
reviewed this as "the finest, best researched and through study
appearing in the Whitlam era."
1976 -1979 Set up Aboriginal support
organisations around Europe.
1977 directed edit of shortened campaign
version of film "Ningla-a-Na" on treatment of Aborigines in
Queensland with permission.
1978 Wrote "From massacres to mining";
published War on Want in UK. It was also translated and published in
Netherlands and Germany. Excellent press including a full page in
"The Guardian" in England.
I979 Initiated and researched World in
Action programme "Strangers in their Own Land." A major legal case
issued on this in Australia in which uncontradicted evidence showed
that a British company, RTZ, had bulldozed Aboriginal tree platform
graves, burning the corpses with the trees.
1980. Appointed mining impact consultant
to the National Federation of Aboriginal Land Councils.
The first joint meeting of the N.W
Australian ( Kimberly) Land Council and the North Queensland Land
Council is called to hear her reports of overseas support and discuss
reaction to mining industry pressure. She is asked to advise
communities on the diamond rush into the Kimberleys.
Aboriginal elders invite her to
Oombulgurri Reserve where they have already throw out De Beers. The
Federal Government order the police in by helicopter to remove her as
she did not get a permit from the State Government.
Reason for fuss: the world's biggest
diamond deposit has been discovered nearby at Argyle.
1981. Wrote fully revised and much
expanded edition of "Massacres to Mining: the Colonisation of
Aboriginal Australia." (publ. Dove (Now Harper/Collins)) Book launch
has favourable covererage on main evening news on three major
television networks. Excellent reviews. One of Australia's best known
authors, Xaviour Herbert, (of "Poor Fellow my country" etc) in a
review in "The National Times" said this was his first review since
Miles Franklin persuaded him many years ago. He wrote of "Massacres
to Mining" that:
"There is no doubt about Jan Roberts'
feelings in the matter. Yet she handles her history with restraint
that makes it a work deserving to be a classic in our history. Every
revelation... is authenticated from official records but without
marring the dramatic impact on the reader that is usual objective
Excellent reviews prominently featured in
major papers. The book is used in John Pilger documentaries and by
Robyn Davidson.She asked for permission to "plagiarise it"for her
book about her camel trip across Australia "Backroads". (I was happy
to have the book so used.)
1981. Commenced to write freelance for
"The Age"in Melbourne. Her first article is full page , advertised on
television and nationally syndicated. It is entitled "This is the
largest diamond deposit in the world, it is Australian, and the South
Africans are seeking control." Next day the Prime Minister commented
(lead front page in "The Australian") that the South Africans would
never get control.
1981 Onwards. Many of her photographs
published in books on Aborigines and with her articles.
1982. Consultant, initiator, and
Researcher for BBC "Everyman" documentary on Aboriginal spirituality
in the diamond rush area. Title is "A Plain and Sacred Right."
As the first journalist to get inside the
then secretive Argyle diamond lease, she has a three part series
published in "The Age' on the international diamond industry. Many
other major features and front page stories on various topics
1983-4. Co-Produced and co-directed
television documentary "Munda Nyuringu" with Aboriginal fringe
dweller and author Robert Bropho. This was the story of the last
great gold rush into Kalgoorlie as seen by Aboriginal people. The
film's launch was favourably covered on the main evening news of
three major television channels. "The Australian" praises it for its
power and authenticity.
This film was Nominated as Best
Documentary in the AFI Awards, won a Jury Commendation in Lisbon and
was exhibited in several major international festivals. It received
film of the week front-page treatment in Television supplement of
"Sydney Morning Herald" as "easily the best of the first Australians
Write reviews of computers and computer
software for major computer magazines.
1985-6 write book "Jack of Cape Grim" - an
account from original manuscripts on how a group of 5 Tasmanian
Aborigines (including the famed Truganini who was supposed to be the
last Tasmanian)fought settlers and three military expeditions on the
outskirts of the newly established Melbourne. ( this was Jani's
contribution to Melbourne's 150th anniversary). Well received.
Publishers (Sally Milner of Greenhouse Publications also funded her
to develop it as a mini-series script.)
1987 ABC commits to put major resources
into producing a three part series written by her on the
international diamond cartel. The series is called "The Diamond
1988. Write and research treatment for the
ABC on Daisy Bates - an Irish woman and writer who lived with
Aborigines in Central Australia. The research involved driving alone
some 3,400 kilometres across the deserts, camping on sheep stations
or with Aborigines, tracing from Daisy's accounts and by using
Aboriginal guides, places of Aboriginal ceremonies and traditions,
learning much from Aborigines.
1988. The ABC send Jan to the National
Investigative Journalists Conference in Minneapolis, USA. Commenced
scripting research for the diamond series. Sign contract for series
with ABC as the Producer of the Series. Research in 1989 takes her to
Northern Australia, Russia, Japan, Israel, Switzerland, Belgium, the
UK and to the USA where WGBH "Frontline" pre-purchase USA rights
immediately on seeing the script.
1990 the BBC commits to the Series three
days after reading the script. While waiting for Australian contracts
to be signed, Panorama sends Jan to Moscow because she has unique
access to a meeting of western intelligence operatives and the
1991 BBC Enterprises commits to
international marketing of Diamond Series. Australian funders Film
Finance Corporation, Film Victoria and AFC join funding
She writes some of the first major front
page articles on the arming of Iraq by the White House. Helps
initiate US television programme on the same subject which brings
about an Congressional investigation.She assists with the unmasking
of the Foreign editor of the Daily Mirror as an arms-merchant for the
Evening Standard, London.
November 1991. Pre-production commences of
"The Diamond Empire". Estimated delivery time January 1994. It is
shoot in five continents and is transmitted in the UK and USA in
This is one of the highest profile
investigative series ever committed to by the BBC. It is pre-sold to
American, Swedish, Dutch and Australian Television. 1994. De Beers
tries to ban her film from being shown in the diamond rush area of
Arctic Canada. Their heavy handed action leads to the Federation of
Trade Unions, the local environmental movement, Ecology North and the
Dene Indians inviting her to speak to her film. She is flown to
Yellowknife. Her film is put on in the largest hall in town and it is
standing room only. Later she is the guest of Dene Indians (See the
article on this web site on Frozen diamonds)
1994 and 1995. She goes to South Africa
and Namibia to research her diamond book. She tours diamond mines
despite De Beers banning her, staying in black and coloured townships
as a guest of the Mineworker's Union. She shows her film on De Beers
property to the miners. The Union told her she is the first person
banned by De Beers since the Emergency of 1988!
1995 The World Council of Churches agreed
to her request to help fund the first post apartheid miners'
conference for Southern Africa. She was a guest key note speaker.at
this conference held in Namibia. While in Namibia she also helped
make a two part series on Namibia's diamonds broadcast on Namibian
TV. As she highlights that a key advisor to the president is a
diamond merchant previously involved in African anti-democratic coups
(well known as a companion of Jackie Onassis Kennedy) an American
agent warns her that her every word is being reported to Washington.
The World Council of Churches also gives seed money to help towards
the setting up of a Centre for Economic Reform in South
More recently she has been been writing on
health issues for a major UK newspaper looking particularly at
suspected vaccine damage - with several front page stories. (These
also caused a parliamentary debate) I have also been writing about
the threats faced by the Dene Indians in Northern Canada from diamond
mining, about cyanide spills in rainforest - and the threats posed by
mining practices in West Papua where live a sister people to
My most recent project was on a
contaminant that got into the polio vaccine through the ill-advised
and unnecessary practice in the US and the UK of growing the polio
vaccine in the extracted kidneys of wild-caught monkeys. This has led
to monkey viruses being injected into hundreds of millions of people.
This fact is now acknowledged by the US and UK governments. What they
are being coy about is the recent work of many scientists that links
one of these monkey viruses, SV40, with severe human chromosome
damage and several human cancers. My work included co-producing a
documentary on this for Channel 4, transmitted in the UK in December
These stories are here, in Jan's Library
where a more detailed account is given of some of the events
surrounding her diamond film.
Now the above is the story of my working
life - as a writer, a freelance investigative journalist tilting at
the big and powerful. But there's a lot I haven't told. In "Jan's
Library" personal or gender rooms you will find:-
A. More about the fight with the BBC
and De Beers.
B. The delight of being a woman - and
the struggles it has entailed.
Click to return
to the Library Entrance.
To Contact Jani Roberts