Noni Hazlehurst, Kurt Fearnley and Casey Donovan host new SBS documentary series 'What Does Australia Really Think About'

THOUGHT PROVOKING: Noni Hazlehurst, Kurt Fearnley and Casey Donovan are the hosts of new SBS documentary series What Does Australia Really Think About.
THOUGHT PROVOKING: Noni Hazlehurst, Kurt Fearnley and Casey Donovan are the hosts of new SBS documentary series What Does Australia Really Think About.

Noni Hazlehurst doesn't hold back as a host on new SBS documentary series What Does Australia Really Think About.

The series investigates what Australia really thinks about disability, obesity and older people through undercover filming, social experiments, personal stories and a nationwide survey.

It's like any period of life, there are good points and bad points. But the main thing is that it's as I get older, I realise that age is irrelevant.

Noni Hazlehurst

The series premieres on SBS on August 18 and Hazlehurst is the host of the ageism episode.

Casey Donovan hosts an episode on obesity and Kurt Fearnley looks at disability.

This series uses surveys reviewed by the University of Melbourne, University of Queensland and La Trobe University to reveal where Australians stand on disability, old people and obesity. The results paint a clear picture of how stereotypes and misconceptions are still incredibly prevalent in Australian society.

It then explores how these opinions can be tested, hardened or challenged using a series of hidden camera experiments. The results are at times shocking and confronting, but there are also many inspiring instances of ordinary Australians who stand up when witnessing discrimination.

In just 30 years' time, 25 per cent of Australians will be 65 or over, yet research shows that bias against old age is more deeply held than sexism or racism. We are failing to celebrate the positives of ageing in any discourse in society.

It's something Hazlehurst would like to change. She has had an illustrious career on our screens but, at the age of 67, she's begun to notice a disturbing reality.

"When you're in your 20s and 30s, and even early 40s, you get a full character description and it's more likely to be a leading character," she says.

"But now that I'm in my 60s, I get offered roles anything up to 80-year-olds, and they tend to just be a very brief character description of mum, typical mum, typical grandma."

One of the experiments undertaken on the series involves taking over a cafe for the day and interviewing for a new barista. The interviewer is played by an actor in his 20s. The job applicant is a 57-year-old woman. Within earshot of the customers, the interview questions get increasingly ageist. It is shocking how many people simply stood by and watched.

Thirty-six per cent of the over-40s surveyed say they feel invisible to society so another experiment was set up where two older shoppers try to buy a new smartphone. They are made to feel not only invisible but dismissed.

The gap between the generations is nothing new but Hazlehurst suspects that things are getting worse.

"I think this divisiveness that we're suffering under now, which seems to be getting magnified - this us and them - it really impacts older people because we're the easiest ones to dispense with, and that's really sad."

The series also looks at the reality facing women over 45 who are at risk of homelessness, systemic failures in aged care, and age gaps in relationships.

"Everyone has a story and the more you find out about them, the more interesting they become," Hazlehurst says.

"But if you don't ask the questions, they're just a blank canvas to you.

"It's like any period of life, there are good points and bad points. But the main thing is that it's as I get older, I realise that age is irrelevant. It's just how are you living in this moment. The past is gone, the future is not here yet. It's about how are you, right now."

What Does Australia Really Think About premieres at 8.30pm, August 18, on SBS. It will also be available to stream on SBS On Demand with subtitles in five languages: simplified Chinese, Arabic, Vietnamese, traditional Chinese and Korean.

This story Documentary asks the tough questions first appeared on The Canberra Times.