I had the privilege of interviewing one of Australia’s best-known television and radio journalists, Leigh Hatcher. Leigh’s career spans over four decades, which includes work as the Bureau Chief for the Macquarie Radio Network in the Canberra Press Gallery. He worked for the Seven Network as a Political and European Correspondent as well as the network’s Chief Olympic Correspondent. Leigh has also written a best selling book, "I’m Not Crazy, I’m Just a Little Unwell".
In “I’m Not Crazy, I’m Just a Little Unwell” Leigh shares his experience of battling with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Last year, Leigh resigned from Sky News and finished hosting the national Sunday night radio program Open House on Hope 103.2FM. Leigh is also a husband, father and yet to be discovered “rock star” and now, Leigh believes he’s walked into the biggest story in the world today – the new Director for Public Affairs with HammondCare.
With much success in both television and radio, you have now begun a new journey as the Director of Public Affairs for HammondCare. What’s the big news story people need to hear and what’s one of the aims you would like to achieve in your new role?
The big news story is the care and support for our ageing population. The baby boomer bubble is coming through and they’ll be having more and more complex health issues. There are about three million people at the moment over the age of 65 and that number will grow to eight million by 2050. The miracle of modern science means that we are staying alive longer and we are managing our increasingly complex health problems. However, there are big challenges ahead and big questions about how to provide quality care for and support for people, especially the needy. HammondCare is on the front line of that. As the Director of Public Affairs, one of my aims will be to show Australia a quality model of true care that has been built up over many decades by HammondCare. I’ll also be aiming to promote a better understanding of the health and aged care challenges ahead, especially in dementia care.
How did HammondCare help you when your family needed assistance?
Two years ago we cared for my in-laws at home. My father-in-law was sadly dying of leukaemia and my mother-in-law had dementia and was on dialysis. We tried for months to get them residential aged care but no one would take them together, due to the complex medical challenges they presented. That was until we came to HammondCare, who went the extra mile for us and came through for us where others didn’t. They said ‘We don’t do dialysis – but we can learn’ – and they did!
...there is nothing more that will keep you grounded as having kids!
What are some of the highlights of your career and did you ever find yourself in a dangerous situation reporting the news?
There are so many highlights but very early on in my career when I was 19, and to my utter amazement, I was appointed the Macquarie Radio Network’s Canberra Bureau Correspondent. I arrived on budget day 1975 – the beginning of the so called constitutional crisis of 1975. For the next three months we had this crisis unfold until the first sacking of an Australian Prime Minister. It was a baptism of fire. Frankly, I hadn’t known much about politics up until then, so I had to learn on the job – fast! Other highlights would have to include being appointed the Seven Network’s Chief Olympic Reporter, and covering two Olympics – in Atlanta and Sydney 2000. I was there when Sydney was awarded the games in Monte Carlo – when Juan Antonio Samaranch said those now immortal words, ‘and the winner is Sydney!’ I’ve also done some significant stories about not-so-famous people who have made immeasurable contributions to others. Soon after Fred Hollows died, we went with Gabi Hollows to Vietnam. While we were there we also did an interview with a lady who started an orphanage for abandoned children in the old Saigon. Christina Noble is her name and her story had such an amazing response when it went on air on the Seven Network. As a result, an Australian Christina Noble Children’s Foundation Australia was set up to raise funds for the vital work of helping children in need. It was one of the most moving stories I have done. My wife and I had the privilege of going to Saigon about two months ago and we dropped in and saw a still thriving orphanage 20 years on. Undoubtedly the most dangerous situation I faced was in the 1994 bushfires in the Blue Mountains of NSW. It was on the final day of the fires and we went into this blaze at Winmalee as it was wiping out a row of houses. I had already recorded my 15 seconds reporter’s ‘piece to camera’. I immediately lost the camera crew, and fearing I’d die of smoke asphyxiation – I ran for some clear air. Then I thought I couldn’t leave them in there. I found them and in the midst of the chaos yelled – ‘we’re out of here – no story is worth more than our lives!’ As we’re running, my cameraman screamed out – ‘I’m rolling, do your piece to camera again’ so I turned around and blurted out my lines again as we literally ran for our lives. Before long we were taken into a sort of protective police custody in the back of a paddy wagon for about half an hour!
In such a dynamic and cut-throat industry, can you tell us how you remain true to yourself and down-to-earth?
I’ve got a family!!! I’ve got a wonderful wife, Meredith, who’s always been extremely adaptable. She’d worked in the medical and pastoral arenas – very different from the world of media – and that’s been good for us. Plus, I have four kids and there is nothing more that will keep you grounded as having kids! I have made a number of significant decisions in life to be a relevant husband and father. As I look back now, they have been the most significant and important decisions of my life.
We’re out of here - no story is worth more than our lives!
What are some of the technological changes in media that you have observed throughout your career?
I first started 40 years ago and that world of the media is absolutely unrecognizable now. It’s remarkable to contemplate how much it’s changed – from those clunky old telephones on the desk, reel to reel tapes and no mobile phones. One of my earlier jobs was being copy boy at the Sydney Morning Herald. I’d pick up the copy through the night shift and fax it through to 2GB. I’d put it on kind of a barrel machine and it would take five minutes to send each page through. Now, you have instant access to any information all around the world. In 1988 I got to take out Channel Seven’s first mobile phone – it was like a small case! When I was the European correspondent, we had one satellite feed a day. Now, you simply take a little satellite briefcase with you, open it up and you are live on air.