Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Contents - Pho­tog­ra­phy TARA CROSER Words BELINDA SEENEY

News­reader Kay Mcgrath is fired up about the need for more di­ver­sity on TV.

It’s Kay Mcgrath’s day off and the vet­eran news­reader for Seven News Bris­bane is spend­ing it ac­cord­ingly: she sits in the cor­ner of a leafy cafe, leisurely sip­ping a long black as she en­joys the warmth of the win­ter sun­shine. And even though she is dressed down and free of her usual TV ar­mour in a denim jacket and pink blouse, you can see the flick­ers of recog­ni­tion on the faces of cafe cus­tomers and young moth­ers in an ad­ja­cent play­ground.

Mcgrath is a house­hold name and one of the most fa­mil­iar faces in these parts, a trusted pre­sen­ter who has de­liv­ered the news across Queens­land for 37 years. A lo­cal leg­end, she has bro­ken bar­ri­ers, slapped off stereo­types, reached the top of the rat­ings heap and won a Lo­gie Award. So you could for­give her for buy­ing into her own hype – ex­cept that she never will.

Asked to ex­plain her longevity in a no­to­ri­ously fickle in­dus­try, she quickly an­swers: “Work hard, don’t take your­self too se­ri­ously and don’t be­lieve your own pub­lic­ity. That’s been one of the keys to sur­vival in the cut­throat world of tele­vi­sion.

“I have seen peo­ple get caught up in their own pub­lic­ity. And that’s a dan­ger­ous thing to do.”

ONE COULD PROB­A­BLY also credit Mcgrath’s sense of ad­ven­ture, which spurred her to leave her na­tive New Zealand and hop on a flight to Lon­don in the late ’70s, leav­ing be­hind her older sis­ter, prop­erty-in­vestor fa­ther and ac­coun­tant mother. “I had a red back­pack, a re­ally bad perm and a pair of clogs,” she laughs. “And away I went.”

A crip­pling bout of home­sick­ness brought her back to the South­ern Hemi­sphere – first to visit an old flame in Syd­ney, then a for­mer flat­mate on the Gold Coast. Mcgrath landed a job at the Gold Coast Bul­letin the day af­ter ar­riv­ing there, and she also started moon­light­ing at TV0 (now Net­work Ten), work­ing hard to lose her New Zealand ac­cent.

“Not long af­ter, the [ Gold Coast Bul­letin] ed­i­tor called me into his of­fice and said, ‘Kay, I can’t help but no­tice you’re on the 6pm news each night while you’re work­ing for us,’” she re­calls wryly.

Tele­vi­sion won her heart, and Mcgrath ended up be­ing pro­moted to

news­reader at TV0 Bris­bane be­fore busi­ness­man Christopher Skase bought the Seven Net­work. He coaxed her to come aboard in Syd­ney where he in­stalled her as co-host of the flag­ship morn­ing cur­rent af­fairs pro­gram TV AM in 1988. Mcgrath openly con­cedes her year in Syd­ney didn’t pan out the way she had hoped.

“The role wasn’t what I signed up for,” Mcgrath re­veals. “It was a very blokey en­vi­ron­ment and the penny dropped. I’d think, ‘Is this what I wanted?’”

She and Skase ne­go­ti­ated an am­i­ca­ble re­turn to Bris­bane. “Hon­estly, Christopher was a fan­tas­tic boss. He and [his wife] Pixie were an ab­so­lute buzz to work with,” she says. “It ended very badly, but they were the halcyon days: ex­trav­a­gant gifts and cham­pagne brought up on ice when we won the rat­ings through an ex­clu­sive I had that blew the whis­tle on cor­rup­tion.”

Mcgrath her­self has en­joyed a scan­dal-free ca­reer, mus­ing it is the re­sult of her po­lit­i­cal neu­tral­ity and be­ing “cau­tious by na­ture. I have of­ten been heard to ad­vise cau­tion and re­straint. It’s very easy to get ex­cited – to tweet, to Face­book, to post that photo, but think about it for a minute.

“What’s the say­ing? ‘Bet­ter to be thought a fool than to open your mouth and con­firm it.’ I’m afraid we have stepped over that line. Twen­tysome­things are be­ing overly en­cour­aged to share their opin­ions.”

She is blunt in her as­sess­ment of what re­sults. “As a ma­ture con­sumer of news, I prob­a­bly won’t put much store by the opin­ion of a 24-year-old with lim­ited life ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Mcgrath re­cently turned 61 – she has es­sen­tially aged on tele­vi­sion, and says she has no qualms about get­ting older. She hits the gym and does re­sis­tance work with a per­sonal trainer, jok­ing that her busi­ness­man fi­ancé Richard Moore is a self-ap­pointed sec­ond trainer who “whips me up hill and down dale” on af­ter­noon walks with their dog, a joo­dle (a cross be­tween a Jack Rus­sell ter­rier and a poo­dle) named Loui. Mcgrath also makes a con­scious ef­fort to med­i­tate ev­ery day, and has com­pleted her first level of mind­ful­ness train­ing.

She says there is pres­sure on women in her field to “look youth­ful and keep their fig­ures”, but adds that “I don’t feel my age. And I can at­test that as you get older, you do grow into your­self and feel more com­fort­able and con­fi­dent. That’s a very pow­er­ful thing, par­tic­u­larly for women.

“There are more ma­ture women on our screens now – hal­lelu­jah – than there were 20 years ago. When you turn the telly on, you want to see your­self there. But chances are you’ll see some­body well un­der the age of 50, [and] they’re go­ing to be white and at­trac­tive.”

Her con­cerns spread well be­yond age. “When you look at our di­ver­sity – and I’m talking eth­nic­ity, age, re­li­gion – we’re per­form­ing poorly on free-to-air [TV].”

MCGRATH HAD PLANS to com­plete the sec­ond level of mind­ful­ness train­ing by the end of this year. Then Dame Quentin Bryce came call­ing with a re­quest: she wanted the news­reader to suc­ceed her as chair of Queens­land’s Do­mes­tic and Fam­ily Vi­o­lence Im­ple­men­ta­tion Coun­cil. “Quentin Bryce warned me it would be a big job – and it is,” Mcgrath says. But it is one that suits her, since the role builds on al­most 33 years spent as a child pro­tec­tion ad­vo­cate, be­gin­ning in 1984 when she called to or­der the first com­mit­tee meet­ing of PACT (Pro­tect All Chil­dren To­day) in her lounge room. At the time, Mcgrath was a po­lice re­porter with TV0. Two Ju­ve­nile Aid Bu­reau of­fi­cers ap­proached her about es­tab­lish­ing a sup­port net­work for young vic­tims and wit­nesses in the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem.

In ad­di­tion to her work with PACT, Mcgrath has been an am­bas­sador for chil­dren and fam­i­lies char­ity Act for Kids since 1999, is a pa­tron of the Daniel Mor­combe Foun­da­tion, and ear­lier this year was awarded a Medal of the Or­der of Aus­tralia. Hers is not pas­sive pa­tron­age; she may be spend­ing this day off re­lax­ing in a cafe, but on any other you might find her in­side Queens­land’s first ded­i­cated do­mes­tic-vi­o­lence court on the Gold Coast, im­mers­ing her­self in pro­ceed­ings to bet­ter un­der­stand the is­sues.

In the rare free time she does have, Mcgrath tries to stay on top of plans for her wed­ding to Moore. She sounds al­most apolo­getic when she ad­mits that the cou­ple, who be­came en­gaged last Septem­ber, have yet to even lock in a date. “Ev­ery­body keeps ask­ing us and we feel like we’re dis­ap­point­ing peo­ple!” she says. “We’re toss­ing around a few ideas and we will get to it… but noth­ing is planned yet.”

When it’s sug­gested the two sim­ply do away with the stress (and the spot­light) and elope, she laughs.

“We would like to,” re­veals Mcgrath, cit­ing an ob­sta­cle that has vexed women – of all ages – since time im­memo­rial. “But if we did, we might be in a lot of trou­ble with a few peo­ple. Par­tic­u­larly his mother.”

“Hon­estly, Christopher Skase was a fan­tas­tic boss. He was an ab­so­lute buzz to work with”

BE­HIND THE NEWS (clock­wise from top left) Kay Mcgrath and Dame Quentin Bryce; in the Seven News stu­dio; Richard Moore.

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