I ignored the comment and maintained the required silence.
“So what are you writing?”
I shook my head and slid along the wooden bench. I didn’t want the judge castigating me for contempt of court.
“Are you a reporter, or something?”
I nodded, bringing my finger to my lips, hoping to silence his persistent questions.
“Do you come to court all the time, then?”
Some prisoners are just incorrigible.
I didn’t think my editor would’ve been impressed, though, if I got thrown out of court for chit-chatting during court proceedings. The local cops wouldn't have let me live it down, either.
It was my turn to cover court and police news as a fresh journalist working on a regional newspaper. As part of our multi-tasking, all the young journos rotated between social, rural, council, court, police and sports rounds.
It was a great training ground which taught me to ask questions about things I knew nothing about, or wasn’t remotely interested in, such as wool prices or cricket. It meant I had to be extra vigilant with my facts, which explains my incessant questions; so don’t take it personal if I’m always wanting to know who, what, why, when and how.
I also did time writing wedding reports, obituaries and sat in on lengthy, uninspiring council meetings. (You just never knew where the next news scoop would come from!)
I especially enjoyed the social rounds, though – not because I was a social butterfly, but because there was always food available. As the newly-graduated college student, I always volunteered to cover the Country Women’s Association monthly meetings (sandwiches and scones) and often attended events outside work hours, such as the Pizza Hut official opening one Saturday night. Yes, I was a dedicated journalist!
Of course, there were numerous other opportunities during my newspaper years:
• A helicopter ride inspecting power lines
• Flying in a two-seater glider
• Interviewing a teenage Michael Diamond long before he became an Olympic gold medalist
• Flying in a four-seater plane over a fire-ravaged region.
My first front page byline
“Just heard on the police scanner that a student’s trapped down a cave,” Warwick, our young photographer announced. “Are you coming?”
Who was I to bypass an exciting news story like that, even at 4.30pm, just as I was finishing work for the day?
We sped (legally) out of town and headed for Bungonia State Recreation Area, just south of Goulburn in NSW, stopping briefly at the Head Ranger’s home to borrow overalls and gumboots.
“What happened?” I casually inquired at the cave entrance (read: a hole in the ground) where a group of high school students waited anxiously as Police rescue officers abseiled into the abyss.
“One of our friends slipped and she’s stuck down there. They think she’s broken a rib so she can’t climb back out.”
“Sorry, no comment,” a teacher interrupted when he spotted me and Warwick in their midst. “We’re not talking to the media! You’ll have to call the school and talk with the principal.”
Dang, I almost had all the information I needed.
A couple of hours later, the rescue team gently eased the injured student through the cave opening, secured her in a stretcher and whisked her off in the ambulance, leaving her distressed boyfriend behind.
“We’ll give you a lift back to the hospital, if you like” Warwick offered, giving me a conspiratorial wink.
“So what’s the girl’s name? How old is she? What school are you from?” I got the finer details from our captive passenger as Warwick drove us back into town. Sneaky, I know.
“This student is here to see that young girl who was just brought in,” Warwick announced at the hospital reception desk.
“What young girl?”
“The one with the broken rib. The ambulance left Bungonia half an hour ago.”
“But we haven’t had any ambulance deliveries,” the receptionist insisted.
“Err, there’ll be an ambulance arriving shortly,” I told the receptionist. “Can this student wait for her here?”
Warwick broke into a Cheshire cat grin as I dragged him out to the car; we’d beaten the ambulance back into town (legally, of course).
We returned to the deserted news office, where I headed for the computer while Warwick disappeared into the darkroom to develop his photos (yes, that was decades before digital cameras!)
“Hold the presses!” I’d been waiting to say that since I started working as a journalist a few months earlier. “We’ve got a scoop for tomorrow’s paper,” I told the editor over the phone.
I have to admit, it was quite a thrill seeing my article and name on the front page of the newspaper for the first time. Even after countless front page bylines, feature articles and back page sports stories since then, they just didn’t have the same warm inner glow as that first one all those years ago.
What’s your fondest memory of a significant first achievement?