When did you know you wanted to become a journalist?
It always at the back of my mind, but it took me some time to figure it out. After high school, I did a year of medicine which was not at all a good fit. My parents dreamed of me being a doctor. I let them down! I switched to a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in English and Italian. I then completed a Diploma in Education and taught at secondary schools for a few years. In 1990 I did my post grad in journalism at RMIT and that was the turning point for me. I always wanted to write, it wasn’t so much the idea of journalism, it was the idea of writing. Journalism was the only way I felt I could be a writer and earn a living.
Why did you pick arts journalism?
I love the arts. I love what artists do and I wanted to write about what I love. It seemed to me that arts journalists were having the most fun and were writing creative and colourful features. I was so fortunate to marry my love of writing and the arts. Nowadays it’s sometimes described as ‘lifestyle’ journalism – a term I detest as it trivialises the arts. What do we remember about a civilisation or society? It’s art, architecture, literature. The arts are a such an important part of societies, and, I believe, should be written about and critiqued with a level of seriousness. That doesn’t mean arts writing should be boring, impenetrable or jargon-filled!
How important is it to write about something you are passionate about?
If you’re able to do something you love every day for a living, why wouldn’t you? To be a good writer you have to be stimulated by your subject. Journalism is such a demanding craft that if you don’t feel a passion for what you are writing about it can be draining. Your passion for a subject can get you through those times when you may be feeling weary from the constancy of deadlines.
What are standout moments of your career so far?
There are so many.
Getting the first ever interview with David Walsh, the creator and owner of Hobart’s Museum of Old and New Art (MONA).
Winning the first year of the Trawalla Foundation Arts Journalism Scholarship, which enabled me to travel to the 2009 Venice Biennale and report on it for The Age.
In 2000, I travelled through the United States with eight other journalists who had been chosen for the World Press Institute Fellowship. We were based in Minneapolis/St Paul but spent most of our four months in the US on the road, living with American families, visiting newspapers and significant organisations such as the United Nations. It was trying at times, but definitely a life highlight.
The year before, 1999, I travelled to New York for the first time, to interview the director of the musical Rent for a subsequent feature article in The Age.
Most recently, pitching a book to Melbourne University Publishing about the biggest art fraud trial Australia has seen – involving three fake paintings in the style of Brett Whiteley. My proposal was accepted and I am currently working on the book.
Is there one piece of work that you are most proud of?
It’s very hard to pick one work in more than 20 years of journalism. I was pretty excited about getting the first interview with David Walsh as this required a bit of investigative work. Before I met David I travelled to Hobart and sought out council documents to see what he had planned for the city – it was amazing seeing those early council plans for MONA. I like a challenge – discovering things you’re not supposed to know, that don’t come to you in a press release. Covering the Black Saturday bushfires was incredibly difficult, heart-wrenching and poignant. I was only in the field for three days – many of my colleagues were there far longer and did astonishing work – but as an arts writer I was out of my comfort zone, not to mention my fear of fire. It was the last thing I would have wanted to do, but the experience has stayed with me. Particularly the courage of those who survived. I’m just so thankful that I have had more than 20 years in journalism, and that I’ve been able to sustain it for that long.
What’s the best advice you can give someone starting out in journalism?
Persistence. It is normal to have doubts about yourself as a writer but you have to keep going, we keep learning as writers. Yes, journalism is competitive, yes it is a difficult environment, but if it’s what you want to do, keep persisting, even if at first the jobs aren’t easy to come by. And if you are really not passionate about it, get out. There are easier ways to make money. There must be!