I have my Estonian roots to thank for my introduction to Australia. In 1988 my grandmother suggested that it might be a fun adventure if we plotted a trip across the Pacific and made our way to the Estonian festival that was being hosted in Melbourne over the New Year period. Left in charge of the logistics I booked us on a leisurely route that went Toronto-San Francisco-Honolulu-Fiji-Melbourne and got us into Victoria’s state capital in plenty of time to register for various song, dance and culinary events. While my grandmother caught up with old friends who’d ended up in various corners of the world, I used a rather vague set of credentials from my university and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation to gain introductions to the news chiefs at numerous Australian TV networks. With many of the networks on slower work schedules I spent my nights riding around with overnight news crews, helping out on stories and practising my production and presentation skills. A week later, up in Sydney, I toured the newsrooms of channels Seven, Nine and Ten and decided that I not only wanted to work in TV news but I’d be applying to Australian networks once I graduated.
Having grown up in Canada, my sights had always been set on a journalistic career in the US. But three weeks in Australia convinced me that this was the more interesting place to gain experience and spend my first years away from home. While the US was very familiar and I’d spent most holidays south of the border, as well as doing a brief stint at a New England college, Australia was oddly more familiar yet exotic at the same time. The Commonwealth connection turned out to be much stronger than I’d ever considered and I immediately felt at home.
The geography mirrored Canada: two big cities in the east, a quirky national capital born out of compromise, little in the middle, a vast and occasionally lawless high north and a feisty city on the west coast. Of course the weather was better, the TV stations had outdoor swimming pools and, unlike Canada, Australia looked to both Europe and the US in equal measure; Canadians were fixated with gazing south. The Australians also had a sense of national pride and identity that I never quite felt back home.
Some months later I dropped out of university and found myself working for the bbc in their decrepit regional HQ in Manchester, rather than a gleaming Aussie station with rolling lawns and tennis courts in North Sydney. It was just as well because a couple of weeks after joining a weekly TV news show on bbc2 the Eastern Bloc started to unravel and before long I found myself reporting from Berlin. In an instant the newsrooms of Sydney and Melbourne seemed very removed from the action unfolding across Europe.
In the summer of 1990 my dream of working for Australian TV came good when I was hired by Channel Nine to work as a London-based producer for the Aussie edition of 60 Minutes. For a couple of months I got to work with correspondent Richard Carleton and was sent to West Africa to co-ordinate coverage of the Liberian civil war. As news gigs go, it remains one of the best things I’ve ever done. It also cemented a relationship with Australia’s media scene and got me thinking about leaving the UK and heading back to either Sydney or Melbourne.
By the mid-1990s I started travelling to Australia more frequently. Vogue Australia was offering choice freelance assignments to interview the Arafats, I was spending Christmases up at Palm Beach and found myself telling my mom how much happier she’d be in Sydney rather than Toronto. When it came time to start raising funds for the launch of monocle it was an Australian investor who committed to the first round of investment and in our 10th year of business since launch (hence the cake), Australia is our third-biggest market in the world.
The daydreams about a life up in Sydney’s northern beaches or running a smart little hotel in Queensland still pop up now and then. But every time I think about living in Australia I’m also confronted by its rules and regulations: seemingly more alarmist public-service messages than Honecker’s ddr, fences around everything and heaven forbid you go near the pavement with a glass of wine in hand. Plus there’s its ability to turn a first-world problem into a national crisis and the fact that it’s still too disconnected from Asia.
Health-and-safety obsession aside, things are improving. Yet Australia would be truly unbeatable if it borrowed a bit more from its Italian, Greek and Lebanese communities and let life spill out onto its streets, balconies and terraces. Its media outlets could also seize a unique opportunity by playing a bigger regional role, reporting from and broadcasting to the major capitals and emerging centres that will define Australia’s place in the world over the next few decades.
Finally, we’re still on the hunt for a good bureau and shop set-up in Sydney (Melbourne could also work) so do drop us a note, either to me at email@example.com or my assistants Mat (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Hannah (email@example.com). Thank you for your support.