She wears oilskins, an Akubra and suede R.M.Williams boots, rides camels, stomps grapes and drinks potato vodka. Susie Boswell meets an amazing local ‘bush’ identity.
Early every weekday morning, at farms from around Bulahdelah and the Manning Valley north to Grafton, from Yarras and on up to the Dorrigo Plateau, thousands of country people slide out of bed, work in the sheds or start up the tractor with one question at least in the back of their minds: “What’s Kim been up to today?”
That’s Kim Honan, Rural Reporter for ABC Radio on the Mid-North Coast – in fact, considered the best ABC rural reporter anywhere in the nation, named winner of the Rural Reporter of the Year Award from among some 60 of her local radio peers dotted around Australia.
Her reports fill the best part of a half-hour between 6.30 and 7am Monday to Friday, concluding with stock market reports from around the districts and preceded by a musical selection she chooses according only to her own quirky taste; in a segment billed as Kim’s Country Classics you’re likely to hear obscure songs or rarely-played bluegrass laments, such as Cowgirls Don’t Cry. When the music fades and her daily digest begins, it’s anybody’s guess where she’s been and the stories she’ll have to tell.
For example, listeners woke earlier this year to hear about Honan’s mount in the Grafton Show’s Celebrity Camel Race. While some of the animals were gentle beasts used to carrying children, or tamed to appear in Outback spectaculars, Honan’s turned out to be a racing camel. Her riding instructions were to “act like Rocky” and “kick and scream like a banshee” – a fairly formidable combination. The lightweight, five-feet-nothing amateur rider did her best at combining the two frightening behaviours, and was bitterly disappointed to be just pipped at the post with a late run on the onside by an entrant who was a former race jockey. “I might have won, except I chose not to whip my camel,” she protests mock-primly, sounding robbed. “The winning jockey whipped his!”
Never mind, she says, it was “the best fun”.
Fun is the key to Honan’s mastery of her round. That is, she has limitless curiosity and enthusiasm and can spot an interesting angle in every yarn; she loves the work and finds it stimulating and amusing, and is willing to have a go and become part of the story herself. She finds and covers an eclectic range of topics – from horseless rodeos (during the equine flu crisis) to sheep and rabbit! field days; from the stomping of the grapes at Bago and strawberry picking out at Ricardoes to animal management and worm and tick control; from rusty tractor restorers parading a pink Massey-Ferguson to dairy farm economics, goat cheese production and the possibility of a locust plague.
Today it might be nature conservation work and land care initiatives; tomorrow it’s as likely to be potato-vodka tasting at a spud festival. Next week she could be covering bison training, interviewing a breeder about methods to stop the beasts bucking – and reporting on the tastiness of bison burgers versus Galloway sausages. She’ll get in the arena with wild livestock, if not the chute.
In this age of multi-media, much of her work can be seen as well as heard, via the ABC’s website: Honan also files print stories online, along with photos. Browsers may read her Port Macquarie race day adventures there, and see images of her holding the Port Cup in one arm, the winning jockey in the other. She was awarded for her work in this medium too, honoured for filing the Online Feature of the Year.
Perhaps one day soon there’ll be a cyber record of her taking part in a potato sack race or potato ironwoman event, something she missed out on last time it was held. Atypically, she failed to step up to the plate for the most recent ironwoman contest, blaming the fact that she was wearing thongs that day. Strange footwear for a rural reporter! But not necessarily surprising if you know Honan, who’s certainly not bound by convention. The ironwoman competition involved sprinting with a 10kg sack of potatoes over the shoulder, eating dry Weetbix, drinking green cordial laced with raw egg, swallowing half a cold meat pie and blowing up a balloon till it burst. It, too, would have been “fun”, she muses, clearly regretful at missing out. Another challenge she’s yet to indulge in is whip boxing: participants don Drizabones and fencing helmets, and pelt each other with stockwhips, scoring points for a hit square between the eyes. The odds are the story won’t lie unreported for long.
Honan has been given other honours for her work this year, two of them within two months: runner-up in the print category of the NSW Farmers Association Mackellar Awards and finalist in the Northern NSW Journalism Awards for Best Use of Medium. She’s also in the running for Australia’s premier journalism award, the Walkley, announced this month. Earlier this year she took leave in New Zealand, and then in Canada for the Calgary Stampede, paying for her own holidays but recording and filing stories throughout the trips. The variety of stories she found was simply amazing. It’s worth seeing one of her blogs at www.abc.net.au/rural/content/2008/s2284128.htp.
There are limitless news and feature items always cropping up that she wants to do. For example, she’s seeking the history behind the battered second-hand Akubra she wears, and would like to go out prawning off the coast. In September, she took out a recreational fisher’s licence to support her bid to eat only local food for the month – but found her ability as a fisherwoman was poor. “Oh, I caught some, but I’m not into taking them off the hook, gutting them and filleting,” she admits, apparently disappointed with herself.
In fact, Honan is a high achiever. At just 32, she’s already the mother of sons Brent, 14, and Dylan, 12; she and the boys’ father, Andrew, have since separated, but both parents live in Port. She was born and bred in Glen Innes and the couple moved around in the early years, to Goondiwindi and Armidale among other places before deciding to travel down divergent paths, both ending up here. Newly single back then and with qualifications towards financial planning and accounting, she worked in the finance industry in Tamworth, until told by her – apparently misguided – boss that she didn’t have the skills to deal confidently with the public. So she took herself off to uni in Newcastle, her sons aged just 8 and 6, and worked her way over several years as a single mum to a Bachelor of Arts – majoring in broadcasting with first class honours in Communications, producing a five-part radio documentary on the history of refugees in the Hunter along the way. “I fell in love with radio,” she says more than once while we chat.
She worked her way into jobs in the industry via volunteer campus community radio stints, casual work where she could find it in commercial radio, a uni internship in field reporting, finding colour stories, and producing weekend radio programs. She made her own niche by filling in for 18 months while the ABC’s Port-based rural reporter was away on a scholarship, winning the permanent slot two years ago when he decided to step down after 20 years in the post.
Essentially, she didn’t have a rural background. The closest was her widowed gran’s modest farm on the edge of town: “She’d sell one cow, and walk it to the saleyards,” Honan remembers fondly. But she’s certainly taken on the bush ethos now, with an unrelenting interest in all things rural, familiar with exotic cattle and sheep breeds, well-known and respected among farmers around the region … and the butt of jokes among her indie music-loving contemporaries for her passion for country and western tunes. Naturally, she’ll be at the Country Music Festival in Tamworth in January – quite possibly boot-scootin’ down the main street.
While she was in Canada she took time out to buy a couple of pairs of vintage cowgirl boots, and to make a long-distance bid on eBay for a motorbike model she’d been seeking, that she found advertised in Brisbane. She covers hundreds of kilometres criss-crossing the region in her Camry every week: soon you’ll see her around the paddocks and yards using the modern horsepower of her newly-acquired green A100 Suzuki, trucked down from Queensland.
Kim’s own story is far from being completed, one suspects. Not one to let the grass grow under her feet, she uses spare time to file stories for Radio National’s Bush Telegraph, is aiming to do some work for ABC-TV’s Landline and has numerous other projects on the boil. It’s not surprising she’d like her own small farm some day. Meanwhile, she’s looking to move from renting to buying her own first home, depending on finance.
Anyone got a farm sit in the meantime? It seems this is one country girl who would relish, and excel at, the challenge.