Ruth Cullen: The Storyteller

October 9, 2018
It was personal, and a little bit political, for the documentary maker when she took on The Scribe.

Graham Freudenberg was a Labor Party speechwriter during the Gough Whitlam, Bob Hawke, Neville Wran and Bob Carr eras. Now 84, and still very much lucid whilst puffing away on a cigarette compulsively during The Scribe, he recounts the significant moments in politics through his working life, and unwraps the way he works, without giving much away of his personal life.

“Honestly, with those guys and that generation, politics was their personal, there was nothing else, that was their entire world,” says Cullen. “They weren’t at the football on Saturdays…But for me, it was his brain that was personal. Every conversation I have ever had with him is about politics.”

Cullen had known Freudenberg all of her life, with her father Peter a former Whitlam staffer and later lobbyist. “I grew up in that world. Politics is really important. Graham is a very charming, personal man, but he’s also a major thinker and has been a real force behind the scenes. So, I thought, yep, particularly in the age of Trump, we need this more than ever.”

And despite Cullen and Freudenberg’s obvious political leanings, The Scribe is never about ideology.

“I didn’t want it to be about Bill Shorten versus Malcolm Turnbull,” says Cullen. “I wanted to get bigger than that and get back to the intelligence. It’s really about breaking down that cynicism around politics; there’s a lot of reasons for it, especially of late, but I wanted to get bigger than that. And Graham has that sort of brain; he gets down to the really big questions – why are we here, what’s holding us together, why is politics important?”

Interviewing Freudenberg in his Brisbane home over a few well-researched days makes up the majority of the footage in the film. Judiciously inserting select archival footage (surprisingly, apart from Whitlam’s ‘It’s Time’, most of Freudenberg’s most famous speeches have been lost) – which adds perspective on this country’s history – and a few notable talking heads, ultimately, it’s surprising how compelling The Scribe turns out to be, despite being such an uncinematic premise – it’s about a man who wrote speeches for a living. “I wanted the location to be inside Graham’s brain,” says Cullen. “I wanted his ideas and his brain and to be inside his head.”

The Scribe is playing at Sydney’s Antenna Documentary Film Festival on Wednesday October 10, 2018, followed by a Q&A with Ruth Cullen.




  1. Lisa Freudenberg- McNamee

    Hi Ruth,
    My name is Lisa McNamee née Freudenberg – Graham’s niece. My family is very keen to see your documentary and I was wondering if it is screening anywhere or if it available to view.
    I would love to hear back from you
    Lisa – 0413 771 400

  2. ruth

    Dear Lisa, The ABC are going to screen a 1 hour version of the documentary on Sunday July 14 at 9.30pm. We will also start selling DVD’s from that date too of the longer version (71 mins). YOu will be able to get them from my website which hopefully will be up and running by then. My mobile is 0412 541 068 if you need to get in touch with me. ALl the best, Ruth

  3. Marianne Leitch

    Hi Ruth thankyou for making this, I saw it on the ABC and enjoyed it so much. Beautifully made, including the graphics, editing and soundtrack. A great reminder of a different era, even though in chronological time not so long ago, it feels like an age.

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