History as it happens with Amelia Adams, Ch9 Europe Correspondent
Mat: Hello everyone. Welcome to Living History, coming to you again from London. Something a little bit different today. I’m joined by Channel 9’s European correspondent, Amelia Adams. We’re going to talk about all things to do with history, news, current events. Amelia, thanks so much for joining us.
Amelia: Oh, thank you for having me on. Certainly no shortage of topics to cover in London at this time, is there?
Mat: We will probably run out of tape before we get to the end of all of them, but I should say we actually met on the battlefields last year and since then we’ve done both the Western Front and Gallipoli together. Let’s start with that. What was it like for you to walk? When we talk history, there’s nothing more historic than Gallipoli or Pozieres or these famous battlefields. What was it like to walk that ground?
Amelia: It was incredible for me because firstly personally I do have a really intense personal interest in and I guess respect for war history. My dad instilled that in me very young. We actually lived in Europe when I was 11, I think – 11/12 and we did all the battlefields. He was just obsessed. I would be surprised if he hasn’t been on one of your tours in the past, and so I got over here at a very lucky time because of course it was the centenary year.
So 2018, I started in July and then it was straight into I think was August, the Battle of Amiens, and then from there the centenary in November, so to go back as an adult and obviously not just to be taking it in but to be reporting on it and covering it was a completely different experience, and something I’m always very conscious of is that every year we do the same commemorations and the same services and we cover them and that’s incredibly important and we have obviously … I mean, I work for a commercial network so we have a lot of viewers who are veterans and who are very invested and who are very involved, but we have a lot of people who aren’t and who don’t go to those things and I always think the key is how do you engage those people, because every battle story has been told. Every commemoration has been covered. Every war cliché has been spoken in a script, so it’s a matter of I guess finding a different story or the human story and there are a couple of really emotional stories actually down in the battlefields that sort just is a reminder that there’s always I guess a new take, and also that this far on and people are still so affected and those memories are still very emotional for people.
And then in Gallipoli as I discovered through you, there are still things that haven’t been uncovered, because one of the most incredible things I did was walk that new trench system
Mat: That’s just extraordinary, isn’t it?
Amelia: Or that newly-revealed trench system, and I’m thinking 104 years on and the landscape is just revealed – is it’s Siltzburg?
Mat: For those who don’t know the Turkish authorities are in the process of what I think is a wonderful program to clear scrub away from key sites at Gallipoli and even since we were there, Amelia, they have done more great work and so now some of the key Australian sites like Shrapnel Valley and The Nek and all these famous places that we know so much about, you’ve always been able to visit them but they’ve always been quite obscured by a century’s worth of undergrowth. They’re clearing those away bit by bit so now when we go like you and I did at Siltzburg, you can now walk in the Australian trenches. It’s absolutely extraordinary.
Amelia: And to show people at home that haven’t been to Gallipoli and perhaps might never get there that there are still things that are untold and that is sort of revealing themselves. I’ve always wanted to go to Gallipoli. That was on my bucket list but I didn’t realize until I got there, two things. One was that again every year we cover Gallipoli in the news and it’s so important and they have these incredible service but the numbers have been dropping. This year 2019, it ended up as the lead story because there was a terror alert and it sort of gave it new relevance and new significance, and the other part of it was walking what felt like a new discovery up there in those trenches, and hopefully showing people at home that there’s always still remarkable things to be seen.
Mat: Did you feel that weight of history at Gallipoli, because I always do when I go there? I love the Western Front as well and there’s places there that are extraordinary, but there is something about standing on that beach at Gallipoli or climbing those heights. Did you feel that weight of history when you were there?
Amelia: Absolutely. It was actually quite overwhelming. The first morning we got there and I’m filming some preview stories for 9 News, we were there for sunrise to get some of those beautiful shots, and I was really taken by that sense early on of just standing on that beach and I suppose looking up, and it seemed to me a lot smaller in real life as well because I’ve seen so many war documentaries and movies and have studied Gallipoli, but to stand there in real life it’s … and when you walked me up to that ridge and you can see across the whole sort of terrain and think, “this was it. What chance did they have?”
Mat: Yes, it’s one of the wonderful things about Gallipoli. The wonderful and terrible things about Gallipoli is when you climb up where we did and you look out over the entire battlefield, you can see why it was such a massive failure and why so many people were killed, and that’s the reason we should go. That’s the reason we should walk this ground. You can’t get that perspective from reading a book or watching a documentary or listening to a podcast. You’ve got to go and walk the ground.
You mentioned the people that you met and I’ve been with you and people recognized you and come up to you for a chat all the time, and you’re always very gracious to talk to people and answer their questions, but I think there’s something special about being on the battlefields because I get it as well. I speak to a lot of people when I’m over there. How did you find speaking to not just a few Australians but dozens and hundreds of Australians who’d flown all the way from Australia to come and walk that ground? How did that make you feel seeing so many Australians still want to be over there and walk the ground?
Amelia: I felt very proud, very patriotic actually being in Gallipoli and it was a real cross-section of Australians, isn’t it, which I suppose shouldn’t surprise me but I loved seeing all the young Aussies getting off the bus and all their tour t-shirts and setting up and some of them had obviously had a couple of drinks, setting up their blankets in prime position. I love seeing that generation being so interested and a lot of them have worked it into a trip of Europe and that is still a key destination I think is really, really …
Mat: They give a bad rap too, young people, I think. Older Australians are keen to say, oh bloody young people, they don’t respect it. I’ve been to Gallipoli a lot. I’ve seen thousands of young people there. I have never seen a single incident that I didn’t think was appropriate and respectful. There’s minor things that go on because they’re probably not used to walking a battlefield, thank God because they’re not involved in wars and battlefields, which is great, but I’ve never seen anything that I thought was disrespectful. In fact, I’ve seen young people doing some remarkably respectful things on battlefields.
Amelia: Yeah, and I think that the people I spoke to all found it very harrowing. They really did take in the experience and get that sense of “my goodness. these guys were our age when they were sent to the slaughter here”, and it could have been us and how lucky we are 104 years on and how much we just need to take that time every year to focus on that, remember that and have a think about some of those lessons. Very different world we’re living in now obviously, and then the older Australians which I love as well who are really taking their time and especially in France you see they’re taking their time on their tours and enjoying the whole experience. They love meeting the local French villagers. They love having the French food and making the connection with all those towns where the Australians are so revered and still are, and having their moments on the battlefield as well, which is so important.
Mat: We’re very lucky that the historic coincidence that the Australians fought in northern France occurred because I’ve just come back from a tour there and it does mean you can see some incredible history, but at the end of the day as you and I did, you can enjoy some lovely cheeses and wines and relax in some beautiful areas, so it is a lovely part of the world to get over there and it’s respectful. Pay our respects to people in these beautiful corners of the world.
European correspondent for Channel 9 – pretty good gig!
Mat: Yes, it’s incredible actually and it sort of came out of the blue. I had not been on the road reporting because I’d been returning from maternity leave for my second child so I’ve been presenting in the studio but always missing that – being on the road reporting and especially the big stories. When the job popped up, so I grabbed the opportunity and moved over here with my husband and two kids and it has been an absolute whirlwind. As I’m talking to you and I was thinking back to the Battle of Amiens and commemoration and November, there are things I actually can’t remember because it’s such a blur. My youngest was 16 months when we moved here so really still a baby. Moved here, my oldest started school. He was four and I took off. I went to NATO following Donald Trump which was an incredible experience, and actually I’ve done three Trump kind of tours since I’ve been here, which has been really fascinating.
Mat: You arrived at a time when … you could have done this job in other eras and you had nothing to report on except the Chelsea Flower Show.
Mat: But you’ve been here at a time when there is so much going on. Do you get your teeth into that and go isn’t this fantastic, or do you wake up some mornings and go, I wouldn’t mind just a little bit of a break?
Amelia: No, absolutely because actually the 18 months before I started was all about terror. There was so many terror attacks right across Europe and I came here thinking I’m going to be going from one bomb blast to the other, but the intelligence and what’s happened over in Syria has kind of shuttled that down thankfully, so I actually haven’t covered a terror attack, but of course I walked into this incredible political situation and my first … well, my first British political story you could say was actually Boris Johnson resigning from Theresa May’s cabinet in July after Donald Trump had been here, and she’d put her Chequers, so-called Chequers deal together and Boris Johnson said I can’t work with this woman and can’t support this, and a year later he was Prime Minister so that’s been a fascinating story to follow and completely unpredictable because we kept saying, whatever happens Brexit is March 29, 2019 and it was the countdown and whatever happens, and then of course it was delayed and delayed again and now we’re in absolutely uncharted territory to the point where I think a lot of people are questioning if the UK Parliament can do its job, can actually function because it’s completely paralysed actually.
Mat: It’s extraordinary, isn’t it?
Amelia: It is extraordinary and also kind of goes to show that perhaps it’s not so much the Prime Minister or it’s not that person. It’s not the leader now, is it because Teresa May had three cracks at getting a deal through and ultimately Brexit was her demise and Boris Johnson came in on this whole platform of positivity and a new energy and I’m going to make this happen do-or-die, and he is now in a very, very tenuous situation.
Mat: The reason I was so keen to get you on the program to talk about these things is because it’s an absolute cornerstone of everything I do that history does not belong on the dusty old shelves that history is something that’s an evolving creature. That’s why my podcast is called Living History. History is something that belongs to us and I’m not interested in politics very much but I’m very interested in the whole Brexit thing, the whole Trump situation. People ask me why, and the reason is I think it’s a rare time when we are living through history that we know people will be talking about. In 50 years people will still be talking about this and why did they make the decisions they did and why could they not see x, y and z coming, and unfortunately from this perspective we don’t know what x, y and z is, but I just find it very exciting in spite of all the problems. I find it a very exciting period to be able to be living through such historic times.
Amelia: It is.
Mat: You’re reporting on it every day for the news. Do you have that feeling?
Amelia: Oh absolutely. It’s an incredible time to be a journalist especially in Europe, and when I stand as I do so many early mornings and late nights in front of the Houses of Parliament, I do. I take a moment to look up at Westminster and just think anything could happen today and I think when you’re in a situation where whether you’re here or in the US at the moment, you’re turning on all the different networks and reading all the different papers and commentators and everyone is just saying this is crazy. Who knows what’s going to happen? You’ve got people slamming the US President, slamming the Prime Minister here, calling for people to be impeached and calling people to resign, Boris Johnson should go to jail. It’s pretty incredible the things that are being called for about world leaders at the moment, and I guess that’s because of their behavior. That’s because of – certainly here in Britain – the stalemate that the country feels.
When I arrived here, I got the sense from what you would call I suppose the pub test, and for me perhaps it was more the school gate test, what mums and dads and people in the street, supermarket, whatever are really sort of chatting about and what they’re saying, and when I arrived here in the middle of 2018, I got the sense that people just wanted to get on with Brexit. A lot of people felt that those who had voted for it didn’t fully understand it. They didn’t know what they were voting for and therefore it was a bad idea, but that was what was happening and let’s sort of get a move on with it. Within six months, people didn’t even want to talk about it. People get angry – they just don’t want to talk about it. Everyone here is so over it and so furious that they haven’t had any progress from their leaders, which you can understand and now it’s at a point where let’s just get this done and dusted but actually – how?
Mat: It’s funny. When I arrived at the airport I got in a taxi and the first thing the taxi driver told me was a joke about Brexit and he said, what’s OXO stock cubes latest flavour? The laughing stock and it’s wonderful that the British sense of humour is still shining through, but I think you’re right. I’ve made several trips to the UK since the whole Brexit thing kicked off and I am starting to see the cracks. It’s starting to show the strain on people. I speak to my British friends and whatever side of the divide they are on – for or against – everyone is just starting to feel the tension.
Amelia: It’s getting pretty dark and I actually read a piece just this morning about Boris Johnson warning about riots like we’ve seen with [unclear; 15:34] and we saw in LA in the 90s, that people here in London and across the UK would take to the street and that’s pretty terrifying, and I think people are scared about what could happen with No Deal and that’s always been the case because no one really knows what’s going to happen with trade and immigration and all of those things, and that some of the projections and some of the reports are really dire.
Mat: The UK government is now running advertisements on TV for businesses saying, prepare for Brexit on October 31. If I was running a business in the UK I’d say, I’d like to but what the hell am I supposed to be doing?
Amelia: That’s right and I think well the latest being and this this could change every five minutes but certainly the latest from the EU leaders as of a few hours ago is that the only real options are No Deal on the 31st of October and I think that’s 34 days away now so we’re getting close, or for Boris Johnson to ask for an extension, which I think he’s now legally required to do but he refuses to. So whatever plays out in the next 34 days, it’s going to be really interesting but potentially…
Mat: It’s exciting times to be alive
Amelia: And it’s exciting times to be a correspondent and I love it. I’ve sort of had to study the UK political system and Brexit for every day that I’ve been here so I can follow all of this, but as you said, whether you’re really interested in the ins and outs of Brexit and what it means for business or whatever, it’s just a fascinating beast to watch how it evolves when you just break it down to this Kingdom that wants to leave the EU after so many years and how that has turned out to be so difficult and almost impossible, and what the consequences will be for people here, people in Northern Ireland. I mean, it is fraught.
Mat: These moments in history – good or bad – your job as a journalist is to convey what’s going on, to report on these historic moments. Some of the great moments in history we know about and we have a good understanding of because of the way they were reported by very talented journalists. Are you aware of that when you’re reporting on these things? Are you conscious of the fact that something could happen and you could, all of a sudden, be the face of that story around the world? Is that something that you are aware of as a journalist, or do you just get up every day and go and do your job?
Amelia: No, it’s not something that I think about. You put it in my head now, I’ll be nervous next time.
Mat: No pressure
Amelia: It’s not honestly. I don’t think of it like that although you’re absolutely right and as I’m talking, I’m thinking through a little show reel of those key moments in history which you do associate with a certain journalist or reporter.
Mat: Walter Cronkite announcing Neil Armstrong on the moon. People remember Walter Cronkite’s reporting more than they do the footage of the moonwalk.
Amelia: Yeah, those iconic moments. That’s right but I don’t. I absolutely don’t think of it like that. I do just get up and go to work and it’s always so unexpected. I was in Normandy for June the 6th this year
Mat: I’m so jealous. I wanted to be at that one but I missed it
Amelia: It was incredible to mark 75 years since D-Day and of course Donald Trump was there so I followed him from his state visit in the UK to that beautiful, the American War Cemetery. They have just done such a stunning job with it and that was the end of 7 days of probably 20-22 hour days, which is the reality when you’re on the road covering a big story and trying to get ahead of the President and filing for different time zones, so very early in the morning and then very late at night and then during the day, we’re following whoever were following so there was a bit of a relief for me as I was doing my last live across that night which was probably 11 p.m. French time, and then we realized that a certain Australian was doing really well in the French Open and had just gotten into the semi-final. Hang on a second. That could be something! This could be a story. Oh no, surely she won’t win. This is not going to happen. So we got up the next morning and thought, you know what? We’ll drive towards Calais and we’re exhausted and we’ve totally ran out of clothes and whatever else, looking forward to getting home to the family. We’ll drive towards Calais and see what happens.
So we livestream the semi-final with Ashleigh Barty at Roland Garros, and sure enough, halfway through we pulled over on the side of the motorway and watched the end of it, watched to see her win to make the final of the French Open, which was historic in itself, and we turned the car around and we drove straight to Paris. So those things are really unexpected and I would never as my job as a reporter in Australia get sent to cover the Australian Open, let alone the French Open which is like … the French Open!
So there I was at Roland Garros and of course she won and it was just an incredible story because of … yes, it was a sports story, but it was a story about this amazing 23-year old and her life, and her quitting the sport that she loved and going to cricket and giving that a go, and her resilience and her journey ending up at Roland Garros and the way she played, and also just her personality and also very much what it meant for Australia’s tennis, because we really needed a great role model in that sport, and so there I was in front of the Eiffel Tower for three nights and one of the nights, I think it was about three o’clock in the morning local time, I ended up on our Sports Sunday program doing a seven-minute cross back to the sports program in Sydney, which is kind of hilarious because I would never be asked for tennis analysis under any other circumstances, but this is one of the great things about being Europe correspondent. There’s only two of us here and so it doesn’t matter what the story is we get to do it. So I did that, I did the World Cup, Wimbledon as well, so I’ve had a really good cross-section. I started telling you that story just as an example of how you can be on one track which is very much like Donald Trump and his state visit which blew up. It was Theresa May’s last week as well and then Normandy which was incredible, and then suddenly I’m writing a tennis report.
Mat: You are doing a job that many people would consider a dream job – best job in the world. Do you have to pinch yourself, a girl from suburban Sydney who made good on the world stage? Actually why don’t you tell us a little about your journey to get from growing up in Australia to now here?
Amelia: I always wanted to be a journalist and I was one of those kids that I was allowed to stay up late only one night a week to watch 60 Minutes and that’s my memory of…
Mat: So you’re always going to be on Channel 9?
Amelia: Well, it was my dream and I used to get a little tape recorder when I was when I was a kid like 7 or 8, and I would make cassettes of the Charlton family – that’s our family name – evening news and reports about who done what that day, silly stuff like that and writing. I was always really into writing and making up stories so I always wanted to do that and then I think at University, I did a very practical degree. I was doing local radio, live local radio from my second year of Uni and regional television by the time was 20
Mat: Which university did you go to?
Amelia: Charles Sturt University in Bathurst, which has an incredible communications degree
Mat: Yeah, their media degrees are very well-known
Amelia: And I mean you’re 19 and 20 and you’re on air for Prime Orange or the local radio station so that was really solid, and then I was very lucky and I got into internships in Sydney quite easily and did some time regionally and I worked at Sky News as a producer which is great, so but always it’s not easy television with the hours and I can remember when I was at Sky especially because I was a line-up producer so I was writing but also putting bulletins to air and I was 21 and I was living in a share house in Newtown with all my friends. We just finished Uni and it was just Party Central and there was I, starting work at 2 or 3 a.m., doing 14-hour shifts so it’s hard yards.
I actually went to Queensland as well to work for Channel 10 News, which was fantastic. Did some time on the Gold Coast Bureau which again there was just two reporters and two cameraman so we covered that whole coastline – shark attacks and drug raids and stabbings – and there’s a lot that happens.
Mat: Very Gold Coast for that description! You summed it up well.
Amelia: Then back to Sydney to work for Channel 10 and then on to ultimately Channel 9 and I’ve actually just marked 10 years at Channel 9 this year, which has been great and I’ve had a real variety of experience there. Did the Today Show and worked on the 6:00 p.m. News and hosting different daytime bulletins but yeah, as you said this is definitely the dream job and I honestly thought that a Bureau opportunity had been and gone for me because I had a family. I had two little kids and I thought well I’ve chosen to do that rather than hold off and see if I could get a Bureau, but here I am so hats off to Channel 9 and to my bosses for saying, do you want to give this a crack with two very small children?
Mat: Well, that’s something you and I have discussed over glasses of red wine at the end of long days
Mat: Many. Cheese and wine was how we how we commemorated Anzac Day in France, but you are very well respected as a journalist obviously, but also I have seen a lot of media reporting, also that sort of “Mum of the Year” and you are held up as a sort of the poster woman for “having it all”, that whole torturous expression having it all which seems to only apply to women and never to men.
Amelia: I know
Mat: And I’ve seen all the articles and your husband Luke about what a great guy. He’s staying home with the kids so you can go off and pursue a career. It’s wonderful that people recognise it but it must also get a bit tiresome.
Amelia: First of all, can I just say no one would ever call me Mum of the Year, least of all my children. It was really interesting when I got the job because as you say there was a bit fair bit of media generated and Daily Tele did a big thing and I did some radio, and that’s all part of being given a great opportunity and the publicity that comes with that, and it is the first time that Channel 9 has sent a mum to be in the London Bureau, so it was a big deal and good on them, like absolutely. It is progressive but yes, I hear what you’re saying. There is a bit of an irony isn’t it, and there were definitely moments where the first thing I got asked, are you taking the children with you?
Mat: For 2 years?
Amelia: No, I think I’ll just leave them home, and I got asked things like, well how will you do that with the kids? How can you do that job? Things that a man, a father would never be asked, which was really interesting but also confronting in many ways. My husband did get many accolades and rightly so, because he gave up his very good job as Director of a production company to come and support me and be a stay-at-home dad, but that’s something that a lot of women do all the time when their husbands get promotions or postings overseas and they do it silently. Whereas it was seen as quite a big deal I think because it was the first time and hopefully I guess what I can say about that is that it’s great to be seen as a bit of a trailblazer in that sense, but hopefully that won’t be a big deal going forward and I know that’s how my boss feels as well. My network News Director and my News Director both have children and are very focused on the fact that having a family need no longer mean that we can’t do these fantastic jobs and these crazy hours, and I couldn’t do it and I have to be, I want to be real as well because I get particularly women tweeting me and sending me emails and a lot of feedback on Instagram saying, oh how do you do it? You’ve got it all and how do you manage this amazing job? And well the reality is, I have a husband who gave up an amazing job and we have a full-time nanny now when my husband is working, which we needed to do. We’re living in London with two kids so I have a lot of support and I’m not here for a lot of dinner, bath and bed most nights. I don’t get to put my kids to bed. I barely cook so those are the things that … I’m certainly not scouring around cooking everyone dinner and telling everyone bedtime stories and then going out and doing five hours of live crosses on Brexit. You can’t actually do that. You can only do one.
Mat: As a professional woman in a demanding career, how do you feel we’re going? There is obviously a strong focus on equality and just breaking down some of these silly barriers. I’m a fan of just ignoring gender. Let’s just start judging people as people. How do you think we’re going in that crusade to make the world a better place?
Amelia: It’s an interesting one, isn’t it. I’m of the mind that we …well I think there’s a lot of progress obviously and I’m just thinking of my own industry. Obviously, here I am for Channel 9. One of my Channel 7 counterparts is a mum. Laurel’s got a 14 and a 12-year old, so Channel 7 now has a mum for the first time in the Bureau. The TV NZ Reporter has got two small children as well, so you’re starting to see a lot more women with kids in these roles which previously people would have said too hard, couldn’t do the hours, couldn’t manage, would need to be at home so I think that’s great progress. I think that there is also a bit of a line where we go over the top with this stuff and people will criticize me for saying that, but I tend to think sometimes we make too big a deal of our women doing this and women doing that. Let’s just get on with it. Let’s get on with working hard and doing the jobs that we want and being awesome. I do have a real issue with the gender pay gap and that’s still something that just irks me because it just shouldn’t be, but there’s a lot of … just conversation is progress and leading to progress in that area and I hope that will continue. It’s not something I’m on a personal campaign to change or get involved in, but I certainly think it’s something that’s really important that we keep talking about, and I think the more women that we have in kind of management roles and in mentoring roles, the more that stuff trickles down. I often have younger producers and reporters coming to me, asking how should I ask for a pay rise or how should I approach my boss about this, and I think it’s great if we’ve got women in roles where we’re giving each other advice and guidance and help to have those conversations and that’s probably how we will effect change hopefully, ultimately.
Mat: I hope you’re right. What’s in the future for Amelia Adams? How much longer are you going to be in Europe for, and what do you want to/ hope to do after that?
Amelia: Well, it’s coming to an end. My posting will be up next year so it’s been an absolute whirlwind, but as we’ve said I look back on it and think, what an incredible time to have been here. We’ve still got Donald Trump’s coming back in December for NATO, so I’ve seen a lot of Donald Trump this year, so that’ll be very entertaining no doubt, and then of course what happens in the next 34 days with Brexit. Look, there are definitely things that I’m looking forward to about heading back to Australia and that job lifestyle, because being a foreign correspondent is all-consuming and there’s not a lot of time for anything else.
I haven’t really made any friends here because it’s work or family when I get a chance, so I’ll be looking forward to being a bit of a more present parent, maybe do some Cartoon Judy or be some sort of useful mother at school, stuff that I’ve had to completely tap out of, but when I think about that I think what an experience and great to show my kids as well that okay well while we’re in London I’m not particularly present in many areas of their life, but also it’s a role modelling thing, isn’t it. like I’ve got the job that I really worked hard for that I’ve always wanted. I’m working hard and we’ve been able to show them a bit of Europe while we’re here, so hopefully they’ve taken away a lot from the experience, and mainly I’m just looking forward to having a back yard again to be honest, Mat.
Mat: The things we take for granted. I lived in London as well and it’s the small things we take for granted.
Mat: And some fine weather. It’s a very rainy day today as it’s been all week. Thank you so much for joining us and sharing these thoughts about so many topics. I mean, when we sat down, we had no agenda. I had no idea where we were going to wander off, but it’s been really great. It’s been an absolute pleasure. Thank you so much. I’m sure we’ll chat to you again in the future.
Amelia: Thank you