|31 Oct 2022|
|Past Student News|
On Tuesday 11 October, St Margaret’s held its 125th Annual Speech Night at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC). Past student Isobel Roe (‘08) had some parting words for the newest members of the Old Girls’ Association, our graduating Year 12 students.
“Good evening Sister Gillian, Sisters of the Society of the Sacred Advent, Ms Debbie Smith, Chair of School Council, Ms Ros Curtis, Principal, distinguished guests, staff, students, and families.
Tonight is the start of such a thrilling time for the Year 12s. Thank you so much for letting me be part of it again. The last time I spoke in front of this many people was exactly here on this stage 14 years ago. I was the MC of Speech Night. Between introducing people, I sat over there in the band, with my flute. Then I popped up and down to sing in the choir every now and again. Got a couple of prizes. Real over achiever.
I talk to people for a living now, but never about myself. As a journalist, the focus of my conversations is always the other person and so this feels a bit uncomfortable. But I want to use some of my stories to hopefully share some life lessons with this year’s Year12s…. and maybe a bit of inspiration. Because self-doubt almost made me give up this wonderful career a few years ago.
I don’t remember why I wanted to be a journalist. My only recollection of any thought process was that I saw that Hugh Jackman trained as a journalist, and if I too did that I may one day also be a world-famous actor. Stupid methodology but somehow got the right answer.
I did a Bachelor of Journalism at QUT here in Brisbane and immediately knew I had chosen the right career. We had a TV subject where we worked with actual camera operators and put together a nightly news bulletin on the local community TV channel Briz31. There was something about the urgency and the controlled chaos of a newsroom that I couldn’t get enough of. And I’ll never forget the first time I was taken to the ABC in 2009… which at that time was running out of the basement of Channel 10 up at Mt Coot-tha. I was introduced to the ABC by a St Margaret’s mother… Teena Girdis. She was the Executive Producer of Stateline, the state TV current affairs show. As a first-year uni student, I used to sit in a corner and transcribe interview scripts for her … and hang around late so I could squish into the control room and watch the nightly news go to air. Teena is no longer with us, and I will be forever indebted to her for introducing me to my passion.
I quickly found out that being a journalist can be scary. You often have to do things you don’t want to do, and sometimes you have to learn when to say no to your boss. Or when to pretend you did something but you actually didn’t.
In 2012, in my final year of uni, I was working as a junior producer for Today Tonight – which doesn’t exist anymore, but it was Channel 7’s version of A Current Affair.
There was a very high-profile missing person case… I’m sure every parent in the room will remember Alison Baden Clay. The media was starting to look at her husband Gerard Baden Clay… and my boss at the time asked me to drive to his house with a camera, knock on the door and ask him if he was a murderer. I was 19. I got in the car and I went. And I was absolutely terrified. I remember sitting outside the house in my car for a very long time. It just felt wrong. And this is life lesson number 1 – sometimes you need to be brave enough to do what you think is right. So I lied. I sat in the car and texted my boss that I’d knocked and he wasn’t home. And I left. Hope he doesn’t hear this.
As soon as uni was done, I gave my mother a heart attack by announcing I was moving out of home, to Rockhampton. I’d scored my first full time job as the radio news journalist for Sea FM and Hot FM, the local commercial radio stations in central Queensland. On a Friday I was in my childhood bedroom in Brisbane and on the Monday I was on the radio across central Queensland. I had absolutely no clue what I was doing. But here’s lesson #2 – in the early part of your career, say yes to everything. Take every opportunity you’re offered. If you think you can’t do it – yes, you can. You know the saying, “fake it til you make it?” Turns out that feeling never goes away, so best just get used to it.
In 2013 I landed my first real ABC job in Townsville and all up I spent about five years living and working in regional Queensland. This was the best decision I could have made both for my career, and for gaining a sense of independence. And I commend it to you … moving away from home in your twenties. These are probably the best years of your life… if you’re lucky you will only have two responsibilities: your job... and having a good time.
I had several boyfriends and I dumped all of them to move to the next city. Actually, for the sake of accuracy, one of them dumped me. Lesson #3 – dump 100% of your partners in your twenties. You don’t need them getting in the way of your careers. Don’t let me hear of a single one of you forgoing a great opportunity for a love interest. This is your time.
In 2019 I got a job back in Brisbane. This was the big time... I’d made it back to a capital city to work in radio and TV. But the media can be cruel. I was on a series of short-term contracts, and then one day I got a very brief email. My contract wasn’t being extended. I had three weeks left and I could pack up my desk. I couldn’t believe that after everything I’d given to my career, I was about to lose it. Maybe my managers didn’t like me. Maybe I was bad at my job. Maybe it was just an example of how tough the media can be.
I was absolutely distraught. And I was embarrassed. I spent a lot of sleepless nights wondering if this meant I should give up.
I could have thrown in the towel then, and I know many young journos who have. But while most of the self-belief had been ripped out of me…there was a tiny bit left. I managed to get another short contract down the hall, in yet another job I’d never done before, producing local radio. And it’s just as well I did, because I’ve ended up in Sydney covering national current affairs... the sort of job that Year 12 Isobel couldn’t have dreamt up.
I want you, Year 12s, to especially remember lesson #4. Don’t let one rejection stop you. There will always be people who don’t think you’re good enough. But if you know deep down that you can do it, those naysayers are wrong. Hold on to that last remaining bit of self-belief.
Journalism has given me some amazing opportunities.
I’ve flown to stories in tiny planes and helicopters.
I’ve taken camera equipment in a boat, strapped it to my back and climbed up a ladder on the side of HMAS Canberra to watch a plane land on the deck.
I’ve slept in the office during a cyclone in Townsville to make sure I could be there for my early radio shift.
I’ve sparred with politicians and sprinted after baddies outside court.
I’ve had Clive Palmer hang up on me... And I’ve had to hang up on Bob Katter.
I was in the room as Prime Minister Anthony Albanese declared victory in front of his party faithful earlier this year.
In the 2019 bushfires, I travelled alone for ABC radio current affairs... driving through town after town where the ground was still smouldering, speaking to residents.
In the northern NSW floods this year earlier this year, I was one of the first reporters into the devastated town of Woodburn as the water receded... and worked without reception, power or sewerage. Always take your own toilet paper into a flood zone.
And I’ve cried with people as they’ve told me their stories.
These last few years of work in particular have been physically and emotionally taxing.
And at the end of the day, you’ll get an email from a wonderful ABC viewer who hates your jacket…
You might not know it yet, but St Margarets has given you the sense of self you’re going to need one day. The confidence to be an independent young woman, to try new things and to stand your ground. I am so grateful that I was instilled with the understanding that women can do anything. It’s always been women who have lifted me up and mentored me and given me opportunities. And after 10 years in this industry, I’ve made a point of giving back, and mentoring other young women. That’s my final lesson for you – lift other women up with you in your success. We need to have each other’s backs.
It’s been an exceptionally hard couple of years for humanity... and the data about the impact of the pandemic shows us it’s been the hardest on young people. And I want to acknowledge how impressed I am with you all for adapting and keeping going.
I think what we’ve all learned is that life will always throw you curveballs. What matters is how you handle it. And each time another curveball comes, you get a bit better at dodging them. Maybe the next one won’t smack you in the face quite as hard.
Just a quick recap of the life lessons before I go:
#1 be brave enough to do what you think is right.
#2 say yes to every opportunity
#3 dump all of your partners in your twenties
#4 don’t let one rejection stop you
And #5 lift other women up with you.
Good luck. Being an adult is so much fun. Thank you.”
A recording of Speech Night is available here.
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