Monday September 15 & 22, 8pm on ABC
The impact of the iconic Neighbours program, which has been on air in Australia and overseas for more than 30 years, arguably owes some of its success to Jan Russ.
Russ was the initial casting director for that program and remained in the role for nearly 25 years. In that time she cast many of Australia’s future stars, launching people like Jason Donovan, Kylie Minogue, Delta Goodrem, Natalie Imbruglia, Liam Hemsworth and Guy Pearce.
Having herself featured in many stage and television shows, Russ well understood what was required from the thousands of young unknowns wanting to be discovered. But until very recently Australia’s star-maker hid from everybody her deep, dark secret and the shame of having relinquished her illegitimate child nearly 50 years ago.
Last year, then Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, issued a national apology to the estimated 150,000 Australian women who were forced to relinquish their babies between 1951 and 1975. Jan now feels safe to come out of the closet and tell her story, but still she is scarred with shame.
The program explores the impact of this event on the various intersecting lives of people involved in Russ’s story, including her brother and sister in law who were dramatically involved in the handover of her baby daughter which she was forced to surrender for adoption.
“For my whole life, I thought that I was just not good enough for anyone and if people knew about me, they would turn away.” Jan Russ
Russ’s son, Sam Hammington who she had many years later, discusses the issues he has had to confront since learning he has a half sister. Ironically, Hammington, who speaks fluent Korean, is now a mega star in his own right in South Korea. Australian Story features his Korean wedding to his South Korean bride which was televised nationally in South Korea. “It was the most amazing ceremony,” says Russ. “I felt like I was on a Baz Lurhmann movie set actually.”
“It seems like the tables have turned…I grew up as Jan Russ’s son…now she’s Sam Hammington’s mother.” Sam Hammington, son and South Korean TV star.
It is a deeply moving program rich with layers of psychological elements, twists and turns spanning five decades since the dramatic event which has shaped Russ’s life ever since.