Natarsha Belling’s Mudgee childhood
THE PRESENTER AND STUDIO 10 REGULAR SHARES HER CHILDHOOD TALES OF FUN, FREEDOM AND FRESH-CUT WATERMELON WITH ROSIE KING.
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.