Harriet Tatham is an ABC features reporter based in Mount Isa, an iconic mining town in north west Queensland with a population of about 20,000 people.
A video journalist working across two of Queensland’s largest news bureaus, Harriet covers stories from Birdsville, on the South Australian border, right up to Queensland’s northern coastline in the Gulf of Carpentaria.
Her experience in regional journalism has been a wild and rewarding one – from camping with crocs on remote beaches, to driving alone in one direction for 700km to reach a story location.
I caught up with Harriet to talk career, life in regional Australia and her take on being a young woman in the workforce.
Harriet thanks so much for sharing your story with The Grapevine Club. Journalism can be very intriguing from the outside looking in, can you give us some insight into what an average day at work looks like for you?
I think I’m pretty lucky because I honestly don’t have an ‘average day’ at work. Because I’m a features reporter, rather than a journalist working for a set show or program, my stories are filed across all the ABC platforms, whether that be online, radio or TV.
A big part of my day-to-day job is building relationships so I make a tonne of phone calls and travel around a lot to meet with different people.
I often work in remote locations outside of Mount Isa and in those parts of the state there aren’t many media managers or public relations departments. Because of that, a lot of what I do is old school journalism, like tracking down stories on my own and learning about what’s going on through my relationships with locals.
During an average week I probably make about 20 cold calls to chat to different people and ask them what they’re up to. Then I’ll jump in my car with my equipment and head out to follow up the story.
Geographically you definitely have a huge news area to cover! Do you work on your own or as part of a team?
I’m part of a team of six here in Mount Isa and we work across two different bureaus, ABC North West and ABC Western Queensland.
Anyone who chooses to take on a regional journalism gig is usually pretty interested in storytelling and pushing themselves outside of their comfort zone. I feel like my team mates echo my excitement for the job and I rely on them a lot for advice and support.
While I work in a team of six, I’m a video journalist so most of the time I’m a one woman show. I interview people, write the story, shoot video, manage sound, take photos and edit everything together. When I do get to catch some of my work on air it’s usually pretty rewarding because I know how much went into pulling it all together.
I’ve actually only ever had a camera operator with me once the whole time I’ve been out here. I was covering a big national story about floods at the time and seeing as it was happening in such a remote part of the state, I was the only journalist in the country covering it. It was great to have an operator with me for that particular story but I really enjoy shooting things on my own too.
Being a video journalist sounds like a pretty full-on role! Was journalism something you always wanted to get into?
Yes, I was definitely engaged with media from a really young age. My childhood was set to the sound of Fran Kelly presenting news on the radio and my parents always had about three of four newspapers delivered to our house every day. They are both phenomenal storytellers in their own right too.
On top of that I was always interested in photography and well-crafted visuals so pursuing a career in journalism made a lot of sense for me.
It does seem like a pretty good fit! We actually first met at university in Brisbane when you were studying Journalism and Arts. Not long after I met you, you began working with the ABC. How did you get your big break?
Well it was actually during university that I landed an intern role with the ABC’s National Reporting Team. Once it finished up I continued to hang around for longer than I probably should have and they ended up moving me to another internship in the newsroom.
After that I hung around some more and landed a third intern role with their Breakfast program and on that very first day the news director offered me a real job! That was the start of about two years of short term contract work with the ABC that meant about six moves around the state.
Finally at the end of those two years I was offered my full time role here in Mount Isa and made the big move west.
You grew up in Grafton in northern New South Wales, not too far away from Byron Bay. Grafton is a pretty different place to Mount Isa, and distance-wise it’s about 2000km away. What has it been like moving to a more regional part of Australia?
Truthfully when I was first offered the job I cried! I had never been to Mount Isa before and I had a picture in my head of it being a horrible, remote town that I would be stuck in. But as soon as I got out here my perception totally changed. I love it! There’s a real charm to this place and population-wise it’s a really young town.
Every weekend is booked up with things like rodeos, camp drafts and different sporting events. I love the sense of community and I’m busier here than I ever have been.
Because I’m travelling around so much sometimes I feel like I’m a 25 year-old grey nomad! I feel really lucky to be working in this part of our country because I’m getting to see things most Australians never will.
As a journalist in regional Queensland there’s real opportunity to establish yourself. More so than working in the big cities. People know who you are out here and usually, other than the local paper, you’re the only other media organisation in town. It gives you the chance to scoop stories and get good coverage. I also feel really fortunate because I get to shed light on parts of our country that are often neglected by media purely because they are so remote.
As much as I enjoy living out here sometimes you can feel isolated. Living in Brisbane during university meant it only took a couple of hours to drive home to Grafton. Nowadays getting back home is a logistical nightmare and flights in and out of Mount Isa are pretty expensive. Being unable to get home to Grafton easily has been challenging but it’s also encouraged me to really get to know and appreciate the local community.
You’ve been working in media for a number of years now. What has your experience been like working as a young female in media?
Truthfully I have had a really good experience as a young female in media. I have so many accomplished and established women working around me, especially here at the ABC. Actually, most of my bosses are female. My bureau is really lucky to have a phenomenal regional editor who I really look up to. She’s been in media for decades and I really admire her work as a journalist.
With that said sometimes working so remotely as a young woman can be tricky. You need to have your wits about you especially when you’re travelling alone. I’ve had to learn a lot about taking care of myself on my own. Especially with things like my vehicle and driving off the beaten track. I can now do all types of things I was never able to, like changing tyres, towing other vehicles and getting un-bogged.
Do you have any advice for young people just starting out in their careers?
My advice would be to reach out and build relationships with the other young people working around you. I have found that really rewarding here in Mount Isa, and I definitely put that into practice when I first started working with the ABC too.
Thinking back to my first internship with the ABC, I was juggling five subjects at university and working every day as well. At first I found it so stressful and really overwhelming. You get thrown into this big office and no one really prepares you. People don’t have the time to hold your hand and explain every little thing so you just get thrown in. You have no idea what you’re doing because you’re so young and so green. You start learning as you go but it’s a confusing time because someone has obviously spotted some type of sparkle or ability in you but you just have no confidence in yourself.
During that time I really relied a lot on the other young people who had also just started. I remember we would get together and ask each other, “Am I doing this right?”, “Can you help me here?”. They also really understood how I was feeling and I think we were a good support system for each other.
City of Mount Isa via Outback Australia
A big thank you to Harriet for taking the time to sit down and share her story with me. She is a passionate and strong young woman working hard to present the unique views of her regional community, and I’m sure she will go on to make her mark on regional journalism.
My key takeaways from her interview:
- Don’t be afraid to push yourself outside of your comfort zone. Harriet took the leap and moved the 2000km to Mount Isa and it has been the making of her career.
- Getting work experience early is so, so valuable. Many of us wait until the final few months of university or training to actually get out into the work place. Getting work experience early means you begin learning real world skills from the get go. This will serve you well once you begin looking for full-time work. And it also may mean that you are in the right place (with the right skill set) at the right time when your employer needs new staff!
- Reach out and connect with the other young people around you. Harriet built a support network around her during her first few months at the ABC to help find her feet, and has since replicated that again after moving to Mount Isa. It can be scary but forging new relationships is a rewarding and important part of your career.
I hope you’ve found this interview valuable. I personally have taken a lot away from it. If you’d like to follow along on Harriet’s adventures, you can follow her work with ABC and find her on Instagram and Twitter at @harriettatham.
Until next time,