Sorry I haven’t written for a while. OK, so it’s been three years. This is just a short note to let you know where I’m up to with things.
As you know, my injury has stopped me from getting a lot of jobs. That narrow-mindedness really makes me mad. Well, now I have a job with The Big Issue magazine as a journalist. My rehabilitation case worker told me this is unrealistic. “It’s a very responsible job,” he told me, “your injury will stop you from doing it properly.” Typical public service thinking. Many would say disability is a prerequisite to being a journalist. Ask anyone who’s ever been interviewed.
So I’ve taken the job with the magazine, despite my rehab worker’s protests. His tests show I would make very good junior records clerk. In fact, that was all I should think of doing. After all, the tests couldn’t possibly be wrong…
The magazine seems to like what I have written so far, and want to hone my writing skills. It seems like a better option than filing and sealing envelopes. And I certainly don’t want to be back living on the streets like I was six months ago. That was before I started selling The Big Issue up here on the streets of Brisbane.
Anyway, I’ll tell you about today, my very first press conference. I went to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting on avian flu, attended by over 100 experts from the Asian and Pacific region. I was proudly wearing my collar and tie, and the $10 black, pretend-leather shoes I’d bought from Red Cross this morning. I stood smugly among my new-found media colleagues, waiting anxiously to hear the booming tones of Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, fearlessly asserting Australia’s leadership on the world stage, in the fight against bird flu. I was a little disconcerted that there were only about 30 or so people there, but noticed I was early. Mental note: media people arrive late.
I saw about two hundred more media people, presumably coming to join us. Great. This was what being a media person is all about. The crowd. Screaming out probing questions. Trying to get the truth from the scheming politicians. They walked straight past us, eyes bulging, tongues hanging out. They were on a single-minded pilgrimage to free drinks and beer-nuts at the Melbourne Cup gala, elsewhere in the building, courtesy of some government department or other. No time to ponder this. The press conference was about to begin.
We were herded into the special press-room, reserved for we media people. Of course, all the experts had long gone. Maybe they were at the Melbourne Cup function, too. Oh well. I settled into my chair, in the largely-empty room, right behind a famous TV reporter from one of the major networks. The feeling of pride swelled in my chest again, being on the same mission as someone so famous. Next to him was another well known reporter, from one of the big papers, in Sydney or somewhere. I’d seen her picture many times.
My ears strained to hear their conversation, and, hopefully, get an insight into the world I’d desperately sought to join for so long. To see how famous journalists behave, and give myself a model on which to mould myself. The TV reporter spoke: “I hope this bullshit doesn’t take too long. There’s a Melbourne Cup do on upstairs.” OK. I’ve got the picture now. A horse race is far more important than millions of lives at peril.
The Foreign Affairs spokesman, conducting the press conference, was a Mr Doug Chester. Mr Downer apparently couldn’t make it. During the questions, Mr Chester had stated that at least one country planned to withhold anti-viral from the general population, as healthy personnel were needed to keep essential services operating. That’s when it happened! The room became charged with electricity. Everyone was suddenly sitting up straight and alert, all wanting answers. I felt the excitement in me reach a peak, and scanned the room, in marvel of the reactions of those I considered “real journalists.”
The newspaper woman wanted to know which country it was. Mr Chester preferred not to say. He seemed agitated, his eyes blinking rapidly several times. The TV reporter then asked the question he had been waiting to ask. I thought it was the most important question of the entire conference: “Is it Australia?” Chester’s press secretary then called a close to the conference, and the question remained unanswered. It was all over.
The other journalists got into their corporate cars. I caught the bus, and read my notes on the trip back to the office, formulating a story in my head. I just hoped I could get it right. Big Issue had given me a new start in life, and I wanted to create a good impression with my first story. I felt very confident.
Even though the horse I backed ran sixteenth in the Melbourne Cup.
Original story published in Big Issue magazine 2006