Natarsha Belling’s Mudgee child­hood


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IT’S NOT EASY for Natarsha Belling to talk about her­self. “I find it re­ally un­com­fort­able and so self-in­dul­gent,” the news­reader ad­mits. But that is only un­til the conversation turns to her child­hood in the NSW town of Mudgee, about four hours north-west of Syd­ney. Then, the pas­sion, love and joy in her smooth, familiar voice is pal­pa­ble. “I feel in­cred­i­bly blessed to have had a coun­try up­bring­ing be­cause there are so many won­der­ful ad­van­tages that come with that,” she says. “Of those, the most sig­nif­i­cant for me is the spir­i­tual con­nec­tion I have to the land. That’s some­thing that will never leave me.” Natarsha has called Syd­ney home for al­most two decades, get­ting her first taste of city life when she moved there to join the Net­work Ten news­room as a med­i­cal re­porter in 1998. She now lives with her hus­band, Maserati gen­eral man­ager Glen Sealey, and their sons, Har­ri­son, 10, and Hugo, eight. As the net­work’s na­tional news­reader and a reg­u­lar co-host on Stu­dio 10 morn­ing show and The Project in the evenings, life is busy for Natarsha. When she gets a rare break in her sched­ule though, it’s usu­ally spent in her “mag­i­cal piece of par­adise”. “As soon as I drive over those hills and into Mudgee, my whole world be­comes peace­ful,” she says. “I adore Syd­ney but I love be­ing able to en­joy that bal­ance, that coun­try fix.” Born at Mudgee Hos­pi­tal in 1975, Natarsha spent her early years liv­ing in a Fed­er­a­tion house where she can re­call sunny days spent play­ing in the back­yard, sur­rounded by lus­cious gar­dens, which were al­ways metic­u­lously tended to by her green-thumbed par­ents, Jan­ice and Paul. Those gar­dens are just as ex­quis­ite to­day — Natarsha’s par­ents still live in her child­hood home. “When­ever I have a week­end off, the boys — Glen in­cluded — will beg me to go back there,” she says. “There’s so much fun and free­dom in the coun­try.” It was with a heavy heart, but al­ready with an am­bi­tion to be a jour­nal­ist, that Natarsha first waved good­bye to her home town, bound for Saint Vin­cent’s Col­lege in Syd­ney, where she spent her high school years board­ing. “I was so home­sick that I’d cry my­self to sleep every night but I also un­der­stood the importance of get­ting a good ed­u­ca­tion.” She spent school hol­i­days do­ing work ex­pe­ri­ence at the Mudgee Guardian and Namoi Val­ley In­de­pen­dent news­pa­per in Gunnedah be­cause she “knew it was the only way to get a foot in the door”. Later, while study­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tions at Charles Sturt Univer­sity in Bathurst, NSW, the coun­try girl got her first big break on Prime Tele­vi­sion in nearby Orange. “From Orange, I went to the ABC in Dar­win, which I loved. I was 21 when I said ‘yes’ to the job and I don’t think I’d ever been on a plane.” Only 18 months later, Syd­ney came call­ing. Look­ing to the fu­ture, Natarsha says she’d love to have her own coun­try re­treat one day: “We’d have a gar­den, an­i­mals and plenty of room to have our fam­ily and friends stay. But I’m a news junkie first and fore­most so that will prob­a­bly have to wait un­til I re­tire — at 90.”

“It seems silly now but I would also prac­tice read­ing the news when I was a kid. ”

The two of us had ex­tra­or­di­nary fun go­ing on ad­ven­tures, play­ing elas­tics and gos­sip­ing. I went to Saint Matthew’s Catholic School and had won­der­ful teach­ers who in­stilled in me a great pas­sion for learn­ing. It felt like there was al­ways time for cre­ativ­ity and crit­i­cal think­ing. My nick­name was ‘Ex­tra Credit’. Need­less to say, I was a bit of a nerd. I al­ways put in 110 per cent ef­fort. I started creative writ­ing in Year One, mostly short sto­ries, but I knew I wanted to be a jour­nal­ist long be­fore that. I’m not kid­ding, prob­a­bly from the age of three I knew it’s what I wanted to do. As well as writ­ing, I loved ask­ing ques­tions, which used to drive my fam­ily a bit mad. It seems silly now but I would also prac­tice read­ing the news when I was a kid. I’d sit in my bed­room and read the news from that day’s news­pa­per. I never had an au­di­ence. I was so lucky to have a lot of fam­ily liv­ing on the land nearby in Gunnedah, about three hours north of Mudgee. That’s where our grand­par­ents lived, as well as our aunts and un­cles. We would spend school hol­i­days to­gether at our grand­par­ents’ house, which was mag­i­cal and what I’d de­scribe as a quintessen­tially Aus­tralian ex­pe­ri­ence. My grand­mother, Edith, was the most pa­tient woman I’ve ever met. Hav­ing eight grand­chil­dren in her kitchen eat­ing a bowl of cup­cake bat­ter in­stead of help­ing to put it into trays for the oven was en­tirely okay with her. I blame her for my sweet tooth. We would of­ten ar­rive at her house and the whole kitchen would be full of baked sweets. The smell of sponge cake takes me straight back there. Nan taught me a lot of things. She taught me how to sew, which is a skill I don’t use nearly as much as I’d like to. She also taught me the seren­ity prayer. It reads, ‘God, grant me the seren­ity to ac­cept the things I can­not change, courage to change the things I can, and wis­dom to know the dif­fer­ence’. I’ve kept that with me ever since. Pa was also great fun. Once we kids had ex­hausted Nan in the kitchen, he would take us out to the lawn to run un­der the sprin­kler — that’s what an Aus­tralian child­hood is all about I reckon. Then we’d all sit around and eat freshly cut wa­ter­melon that had come from one of my un­cles’ prop­er­ties.

There’s a nice sense of com­mu­nity in the coun­try. I re­mem­ber neigh­bours call­ing in for cups of tea and us all band­ing to­gether when­ever some­one was hav­ing a rough time. Even to­day, coun­try peo­ple know their neigh­bours and they look out for each other. I feel so lucky to be able to make new mem­o­ries in the house I grew up in with my hus­band and boys. The house still looks pretty much the same so it’s al­most as though Hugh and Har­ri­son get to en­joy the same magic of my child­hood. The boys aren’t al­lowed tech­nol­ogy at Nan and Pa’s but they don’t even think about it be­cause there’s so much to do. My par­ents have chick­ens and veg­etable patches so they show the boys how things grow and work. It gives them a real un­der­stand­ing of where things come from. Grow­ing up in the coun­try taught me that my ac­tions al­ways have con­se­quences. In­creas­ing sup­port for our ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties is some­thing I feel so pas­sion­ate about. If we don’t give our farm­ers the help they need, we’re go­ing to wake up one day and not have any lo­cal pro­duce in this coun­try.

FROM LEFT Natarsha as a stu­dent at Saint Mattt­thew’s Catholic School; Natarsha’s sec­ond birth­day. “Nan made this birth­day cake and I loved all her amaz­ing coun­try cook­ing,” she says.

FROM LEFT Natarsha cud­dling Angie the dog circa 1977; “This photo re­minds me so much of Hugo, he of­ten strikes the same pose,” says Natarsha.

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