Joe Hildebrand: The boy who took the nong out of dandy

Joe Hildebrand.


JOE Hildebrand, host of a gritty new television documentary
series, credits his teenage years in Dandenong with giving him a
well-rounded view of the world.

“I think the best upbringing for anyone is to grow up in a place
that is a bit rough and ready,” Hildebrand says. “This isn’t a
cookie-cutter suburb; it has its ups and downs, a place that is very
ethnically diverse.”

In his six-part ABC TV show, Shitsville Express,
he sets out in a double-decker bus to explore some dark issues,
including unemployment, housing shortages, gambling and alcohol-fuelled

He says the concept of looking at Australian life beyond the well-heeled suburbs was inspired by his Dandenong experience.

Last year, Hildebrand won critical praise as host of the ABC show Dumb, Drunk and Racist, in which he spent three weeks trying to change the views of four Indians who believed that to be the Australian stereotype.

This time he invites four young people with political aspirations
to join his road trip. They are Jai Martinkovits, 26, a staunch
monarchist from Sydney; Francis Ventura, 22, a Labor Party member from
Melbourne; Madeleine Charles, 24, a Greens activist from Hobart; and
Siobhan Harris, 21, of Melbourne, a libertarian and campaigner for the
Sex Party.

At the end of the series, they will share their conclusions with a former prime minister.

Hildebrand, a Sydney Daily Telegraph journalist, is also writing a book about his life experiences. It is
due out in December and will include yarns about Dandenong, such as
the story of the church-going granny mistakenly busted on drug charges.

Hildebrand, who was raised by a single mother living on a pension,
says that at Dandenong High he saw plenty of fights and rough stuff
initiated by the occasional bully.

“There was heaps of violence in Dandenong and in the school, but race was the least cause of it,” he says.

“Young people fought over other differences like sports and being nerdy.

“Even if you were racist you couldn’t afford to show it. There
were so many other races out there you would either get bashed or get
put in your place.”

Hildebrand says multicultural Dandenong gave him an insight into living with people from diverse backgrounds.

“I think racism originates when people haven’t been exposed that
much to other races and cultures, [unlike] when you are living with a
whole host of other ethnicities like everyone else that I went to school
with was,” he says.

“[At school] there would be fights over whether you
played soccer or AFL on the oval. Every time you saw a group of
teenagers there was a 50-50 chance they were going to bash you,
especially if you were a big nerd like me. ”

But Hildebrand says he had great times growingup. He and his best
friends, Nick Munro and “Ash the Bogan’’, loved to hang out at Capital
Centre, now Dandenong Hub.

Then, like now, it is not easy for young people to find places to socialise.

“Many young people of Dandenong and similar suburbs do not have
thriving hangout places,” he says. “There needs to be more than people
hanging out at food courts . . . drinking spots that aren’t just beer

Though Hildebrand explores the world far from Dandenong, he reckons he’s still “a bogan at heart”.