Creative physio finds Safe Harbour

While working part-time in youth services and encouraging others to pursue their dreams, Simon Kennedy (Bachelor of Physiotherapy ’98) realised that perhaps he wasn’t following his own advice.

“I enjoy physio but my heart has always been in the arts,” Mr Kennedy said.

“I was a lead singer and guitarist in a band, and I wrote lyrics so I thought I’d try my hand at writing words without music."

 After some initial success and a win at a national short story competition, Mr Kennedy turned his hand to writing for screen, a decision that has culminated in Safe Harbour - a four-part series premiering in March on SBS and available on SBS On Demand.

Mr Kennedy, along with script-writer, Phil Enchelmeier, adapted the concept to suit TV, and pitched it to production company, Matchbox Pictures, who pitched it to SBS.

“It’s been a wild ride since then!” Mr Kennedy said.

“Matchbox were able to attract some amazing veteran writers to the project and I learned so much from them.”

Safe Harbour follows a group of holiday-makers who come to the aid of a broken-down asylum seekers’ boat. The group’s actions have a ripple effect, leading to a tragic series of events that return to haunt them years later.

“I did three months of research, reading up on Australian immigration policy and poring through UNHCR reports, then we tried to create characters that represented the various voices within the [asylum-seeker] debate in Australia,” Mr Kennedy said.

Filmed on location in Brisbane, Safe Harbour has been touted by SBS as one of their proudest achievements.

“It’s not only a gripping thriller that will keep audiences guessing, but an exploration of the ethical decisions people make under pressure,” said SBS Director of Television and Online Content, Marshall Heald.

“It combines high concept drama with relatable characters that put a human lens on an issue usually only discussed in the news, current affairs programs, and political debate.

“Safe Harbour forces us to ask hard questions of ourselves.”

It’s not the only time in his varied career that Mr Kennedy has tackled tough social issues. In his 20 years of being a qualified physiotherapist, he has predominantly worked in the industry only part-time while also being a youth worker, a church pastor, and a work-for-the-dole supervisor.

It was in the latter role that another successful venture was born.

“I’d written, directed and helped to produce a couple of plays for my church and was asked to run a project that took job seekers through the same production process,” said Mr Kennedy.

The project took on a life of its own, eventually becoming short films and giving Simon an opportunity to add filming, editing and – years later – animation to his long list of creative skills.

Using stage lighting from his days as a musician and a large green sheet pegged up in his garage, Songs with Simon was born – a YouTube channel offering quirky, silly and funny versions of classic children’s songs that have amassed more than 30 million views from around the world.

“I learned to edit basic animations into the background but eventually I hired a couple of talented friends to take over the music production and illustrations, keeping it simple to make the costs manageable,” Mr Kennedy said.

“My wife hits record, I do silly things for the camera, and then edit everything together.

“It’s a tiny production compared with something like Safe Harbour and it amazes me that it’s done so well.”

While his creative pursuits are reaching new heights, Mr Kennedy isn’t in a hurry to give away his physiotherapy career. Working part-time with the Australian Army, he says helping people is still a key priority for him.

“It used to upset me when I couldn’t ‘fix’ someone but over the years I’ve come to understand the limits of my abilities and responsibilities. 

“Now I see my job as helping people to create an environment in which their bodies are more able to heal themselves.”

Mr Kennedy’s diverse and creative skill set and passion for story-telling is opening up new opportunities for him, however, and through the connections he has made working on Safe Harbour, he is already developing a number of new TV shows.

“I hope that some of the shows and movies I work on will be as meaningful as Safe Harbour,” he said.

Safe Harbour airs over four weeks, premiering Wednesday 7 March at 8.30pm on SBS. All episodes will be available after broadcast anytime, anywhere, for free via SBS On Demand. Join the conversation with #SafeHarbour.

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