In 2004, a single punch rendered Daniella Borg a single mother. Her partner, Kevin Rule, the man with whom she shared a life and nine daughters, was killed by a coward punch. Their youngest daughter Hannah was only a few weeks old at the time.
Twelve years on, a glimpse into the Rule household in Western Australia belies this trauma: there is seemingly little trace of the enormous personal challenge Borg and her nine girls have faced.
Aside from raising her daughters, who are aged from 30 down to 12, Borg finished her secondary education and has gone on to study for a BA Social Science at Edith Cowan University. She also works as Aboriginal Indigenous Education Officer at the same school her youngest daughters attend and is responsible for the care and wellbeing of the 150 Aboriginal students.
We learn this in the first episode of Family Rules, an up close and personal television series being aired on NITV in January.
Filmed over six months, the observational documentary provides an exclusive insight into modern Indigenous family life through the eyes of nine sisters and their mother.
It is immediately apparent that these Noongar women – and this family – are unique. At the same time there is something universal about these young women navigating adolescence, teenage angst, peer pressure, all whilst trying to find their own identities – inside and outside the family.
The result is captivating and heart-warming television that will evoke tears and laughter.
The three eldest girls – Angela, Shenika and Helen (known respectively as ‘second mum’, ‘the enforcer’ and ‘the quiet one’) – all live within a five kilometre radius of their mother’s house with their own families. These young women are juggling the challenges of having young children and their own career ambitions.
The middle girls – Kelly, Kiara and Sharna (known respectively as ‘the fun one’, ‘the golden child’ and ‘the protector’) – are trying to live independent lives free from their frustrating but lovable younger sisters.
The youngest girls – Aleisha, Jessica and Hannah (known respectively as ‘the rebel’, ‘the perfect one’ and ‘baby Rule’) – live at home with Mum and are consumed with adolescent dilemmas.
On a daily basis Daniella navigates these intra-familial dynamics and seeks to keep her daughters happy and her family together.
The series has been produced by Perth-based production company, Metamorflix with the support of Screen Australia, ScreenWest and Lotterywest and National Indigenous Television.
This series about women was made by women: Renee Kennedy, the founder of Metamorflix & an award-winning producer, was the executive producer. Karla Hart is an Indigenous filmmaker, actress and writer with Noongar heritage co-developed the idea for Family Rules with Renee and was the co-Executive Producer and field director. The series producer was Gillian Moody an Indigenous filmmaker with more than 20 years’ experience in telling Indigenous stories.
Kennedy and Hart worked together in 2014 when they made Angela’s Rules for the ScreenWest & NITV documentary series From The Western Frontier. That half hour show planted the seed for the Family Rules series.
“After writing and directing Angela’s Rules I just knew, before I finished I said ‘I’m going to work on a series for you,’” Hart told Women’s Agenda. “I knew in my heart, they were made for TV and their stories had to be told.”
It was after seeing Angela, an accomplished singer and songwriter, the second eldest Rule sister, perform that Hart discovered this family.
“I brought Angela in [to the radio station] and then she kept bringing her sisters in and her mum. I noticed her mum was very young, and then I realised it wasn’t even all the sisters. I was fascinated by the nine of them!”
Her fascination didn’t wane as she got to know them better,
“They represent so many of us. They are hardworking and resilient. They are comfortable in their Aboriginality and in the wider white community. They are amazing role models for young women – black or white.”
Their ‘everydayness’ is what strikes Hart as particularly compelling.
“They aren’t pop stars or famous sports people. They are looking after their children and having happy successful lives. Sometimes we put too much expectation on people to be “great”. I’m really proud of the fact these women are role models for everyone.”
When Hart approached Renee Kennedy, with whom she had a strong relationship, about making the series it happened quite quickly.
“I really liked the idea of a documentary series that provided storylines that are very universal – but focused on females – through the prism of indigenous Australia and in particular Noongar people,” Renee Kennedy told Women’s Agenda.
She was drawn to working with this really strong group of Noongar women who are very modern and relatable while also very connected to their culture.
“The philosophy of presenting indigenous Australia through a universal prism really appealed to the girls and particularly Daniella,” Kennedy says. “I’m sure there were moments during the filming when they thought ‘Oh what have we got ourselves into?’
After they saw the first six episodes – Daniella said “It’s exactly what you said” which was really gratifying.”
Kennedy says because this series is very much a look at modern domestic life, through the eyes of Noongar women, the crew needed to reflect that.
“For us, it was really important that the team behind the camera not only be diverse and include Indigenous people in positions of authorship but that the team have a weighting towards females,” she says. “If we are telling the stories of Indigenous people, it needs to be Indigenous people telling that story, and it’s the same if it’s a story of women, women need to be involved in the telling.”
For Hart, the opportunity to tell this story is particularly rewarding.
“To tell a woman’s story and to work with a family I love, admire and respect, is very important to me,” Hart says. “I am a mum and I have four sisters of my own – I know we walk in two worlds. We walk in white society but we are very cultural. We see ourselves as very different in lots of ways.”
Family Rules illustrates this balancing act particularly well: it is an eye-opening and life-affirming snapshot of family life.
For six nights across two weeks in January, you are invited to look into the lives of these ten women.
It will air at 7.30pm on NITV on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays across two weeks: Jan 9, 10 and 11, Jan 16, 17 and 18.