A fascination with the production processes behind top-rating Australian crime drama Underbelly led Anne Ferguson to research her PhD.

What makes her journey all the more remarkable is that Anne lost most of her sight from a series of strokes while partway through her Bachelor of Arts Honours degree at Griffith University.

With the support of Griffith University’s Disability Services and screen reading software, Anne persevered and completed her honours in 2007, before embarking on a PhD.

“It’s been a long but rewarding journey,’’ she says.

“I couldn’t have done it without the support of my husband Doug and sons Jesse and Daniel, as well as all the lecturers and support staff at Griffith.”

Anne was also helped by her seeing-eye dog Labrador Perry who was with her every step of the way throughout her undergraduate degree. Sadly, he was attacked by a Pit Bull dog in 2010 and never fully recovered.

“He was alright with me if we were in familiar territory but as soon as another dog appeared he went to pieces,’’ Anne says. So Perry retired and enjoyed the rest of his life as a pet with Anne and family at home.

Her new dog Wendy has been with her throughout her PhD journey.

“Wendy is a lot more like me than Perry — she’s more nosey and wants to explore everything,” Anne laughs.

TV crime blends fiction with fact

Anne’s PhD, undertaken through Griffith’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, explores the blurring of fact with fiction in popular TV crime dramas like Underbelly, and the implications for the judicial process.

Based loosely on events in Melbourne during 1995-2004, Underbelly retold the story of how and why a gang war was carried out on Melbourne streets. It also told the story of why Task Force Purana was formed to bring the gang war to an end.

As Underbelly was scheduled for broadcast in 2008 in Victoria during a murder trial related to the gangland wars, it raised concerns about the judicial process and the rights of the accused to a fair trial free from external interference.”

“What once might have been just a sensational news story was now the basis for television drama,’’ said Anne.

Court restriction

In an unprecedented move, Victorian Supreme Court Justice Betty King banned Underbelly from being broadcast within the Victorian jurisdiction, stating “It will be difficult for the viewing public to sift through what is factual material and what is fictional”.

Anne said the involvement of police in crime dramas has until recently, been an advantage because it provided writers and actors with the opportunity to add realism to their show and to the characters.

“But it has also created problems with programs like Underbelly as police have now become the primary definers of reality.”

Now her PhD is completed Anne, also a part-time lecturer with the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, is looking forward to a well-deserved break.