Alumni in acclaimed SBS TV series

Catherine Deveny and Dr David Corlett
Catherine Deveny and Dr David Corlett

Two La Trobe alumni, Dr David Corlett and Catherine Deveny will appear in the SBS TV series return of Go Back to Where You Came From later this month.

Asylum seeker expert, Dr David Corlett returns as program host and social commentator Catherine Deveny is one of the six prominent Australians chosen to experience refugee life, alongside Peter Reith, Angry Anderson and others.

Go Back To Where You Came From is a ground-breaking, award-winning SBS documentary series which debuted last year, giving Australians a taste of life as a refugee, in an effort to challenge assumptions and opinions and deepen their understanding of the divisive issue.  

This year’s participants embarked on a confronting three week journey which took them to Mogadishu, Kabul and a detention centre on Christmas Island.  

Catherine described her experience as an extraordinary journey.  “I will never forget arriving in Afghanistan.  I was given a scarf to cover my head.  We had left the heat of Melbourne in February to be confronted with snow.  Here I was at Kabul Airport – a girl from Reservoir High and thought -   I wonder what eight year old Catherine would make of this!”

Catherine says she believes it was easier for her than some of the other participants, as she started her journey with a more sympathetic view of asylum seekers and has always stood firm on the issue, stating “We are a signatory of the United National Refugee Convention.  No one is illegal.”  The experience only deepened Catherine’s understanding of the grave plight facing refugees.  

Standing firm and speaking her mind have always come as second nature to Deveny, who cut her teeth performing gigs at La Trobe’s Union Bar as a student in the late 1980s and went on to a successful media career.   Deveny is widely considered one of the most gifted, versatile and prolific writers in Australia.  She has been described as ‘outspoken’ by some, as a ‘cultural terrorist’ by others and has described herself as a ‘serial pest and professional pain in the arse’.

Like many La Trobe graduates Catherine was the first in her family to go to university.  She grew up locally in a housing commission house in Reservoir and was dyslexic.  On her 13th birthday she was given a La Trobe hoodie, which she ‘wore to death’.  And so her relationship with La Trobe began.

Catherine credits La Trobe with drastically improving her life prospects and choices.   “My life looks so different to the women in my family who have come before me.  There is no doubt that I could have achieved what I have without going to La Trobe.”  

Catherine also shared her view that she might be the first and only student to complete a Bachelor of Arts in Cinema Studies in the designated three year period.  She feigned surprise to learn that there wasn’t a statue of her in the Agora to celebrate this achievement.  

While more than 20 years has passed Catherine’s memories of her student days are still strong.  Graduation day was a particular highlight. The moving ceremony caused her to reflect on the significance of her arts degree and what she had learned at La Trobe. “It was really special.  It turned what was an event, into a punctuation mark in my life.”