Shirley Sinclair (middle) reflected on her long career in journalism.
Shirley Sinclair (middle) reflected on her long career in journalism.

A lifetime spent in news creates powerful bonds

I WASN'T there at the start: July 7, 1980.

Instead, I was probably somewhere in the middle of a University of Queensland lecture theatre, listening to long-time newspaperman Charles Stokes extoll the history of journalism throughout the world and the importance of The Fourth Estate in society.

It would be another five years before I'd lob outside the foyer of the three-storey building on Horton Parade, Maroochydore, to be let in on a Saturday morning by receptionist Joy Prowd, and be led up all those stairs to the office of the Sunshine Coast Daily's first editor David Lonsdale.

I can even tell you what I was wearing: a bright red pencil skirt and long (fashionable!) flannelette shirt in red, black and blue checks and black high heels.

That was two months shy of 35 years ago whe I was given a job as a D-Grade reporter at that interview.

It's funny what you remember.

So as we hurtled towards today's the final printed Sunshine Coast Daily, I had a mixed bag of emotions that ranged between mourning a death in the family to what I expect a messy divorce feels like.

It's hard to say goodbye and walk away from something you love and have been a part of for so long.

Shirley Sinclair, as a young Sunshine Coast Daily reporter. Picture: Trevor Veale
Shirley Sinclair, as a young Sunshine Coast Daily reporter. Picture: Trevor Veale

Believe it when people say newspapers get in your blood. I stayed because in the constantly changing media world, the Daily always offered me new challenges, new roles and publication products, a revolving door of colleagues and countless community contacts - many of whom I now call friends.

I've been privileged to work under all nine editors - from David, to Ken Steinke, Peter Owen, Peter Atkinson, Mark Furler, Darren Burnett, Jenna Cairney, Craig Warhurst and now Nadja Fleet - from that top-floor on Horton Parade through several newsroom metamorphoses at the single-storey Newspaper Place.

And I've learned something from each one in this crazy newspaper game - most importantly, what a good leader looks like and how to nurture and bring the best out of employees.

But much more than that, the editor has always been the patriarch or matriarch of our Daily family - even more so than our general managers.

Granted, at times we were a dysfunctional family, but they headed up a place where I, for one, felt like I belonged.

Every day is different on the frontline of the news.

And every member of this family, in big and small ways, contributes to "the daily miracle" that is newspaper production and now the online news cycle.

We are a team and do whatever is needed to be done to get the product out to the best of our ability, on time.

I've seen the blood, sweat and tears colleagues have put into that one goal over the years. And we did it together.

To a great extent, my real family has had to become a part of that, too, and learn to fit in and adapt - especially around some interesting rosters over the years.

In the days before paid maternity leave, after using up my six weeks of holidays when my eldest son was born, I returned to full-time work and to what we then called "subbing on the stone": the 6pm-1.30am shift of subediting and putting the final pages of the paper to bed.

When the compositors and typesetters (names including Craigo, Mick, Bruce, Steely, the two Dougs, Ronnie, Sheldon, Kath, Rosco, Jeff, Ossie, Gary, Elvis, Tony, Mark, Keith and Steve, Louisa) took their 10pm break and watched TV in the newsroom, I was around the corner, out of sight in the dark of an interview room with only the lights of The Big Top shopping centre for company, using a breast pump to express milk.

The milk would then be placed carefully in a cooler bag in our lunch fridge, later transferred to our home freezer, to be thawed slowly on the stove and used by my husband to calm a no-doubt screaming, hungry baby boy the next night.

That went on for 13 months and my night-shift friends were none the wiser.

By the time son No. 2 arrived three years later, I was able to work from home mostly in the role of The Shopper Editor.

Each week, I was paid to search out the best bargains across the region, profile retail businesses, and inform readers of new products and seasonal fruit and veges within an inserted publication that attracted enviable local and national advertising and generally ran 24 pages (but once went to 48).

Occasionally, I had to go on the road for interviews with baby in tow. And luckily only once did a businesswoman feel the need to pick up my crying son from the pram and soothe him while, with notebook and pen in hand, I asked the remaining questions I needed.

It's funny what you remember.

Having spent many years on night shift, I have fond memories of working with former print editor Trevor Hockins and sports subeditor Robyn Peach to our then 10.30pm deadline. But it was while "moonlighting" with Trevor as sub-editor/designer for a time when Australian Provincial Newspapers dabbled in street press that we had to do our most careful work.

Young hot-shot music artists and bands trying to make a name for themselves featured heavily within the pages. And often to stand out, they liked to use the shock factor of peppering their many paragraphs of quotes with expletives.

So that led to some very specific instructions: we were allowed to keep in the F word but the C word was strictly forbidden.

It's funny what you remember.

In the name of the Daily, I've climbed Mt Tibrogargan with belts and ropes and had lunch on the "forehead of the Gorilla" as the mountain looks from a certain angle.

Shirley Sinclair. Photo: Lisa Williams
Shirley Sinclair. Photo: Lisa Williams

I've jumped from a coast guard boat on to a steel ladder on the side of the USS New Jersey warship as it was still powering through to Brisbane.

As a star-struck 20-something, I interviewed my music hero Iva Davies, from Icehouse.

I visited Richard Branson's exclusive Makepeace Island and was fortunate enough to travel Australia and the world.

I remember the day Steve Irwin died, the dogged efforts to be the first news organisation to confirm that horrible news, and the frantic weeks and months that followed to do his memory justice through tributes and to satisfy a world in mourning for the Crocodile Hunter.

I remember the night Nambour burned, the Spotlight fires at Kawana, Witta's night of terror, Sian Kingi, Daniel Morcombe, the day HMAS Brisbane was scuttled, so many senseless lives lost in car accidents and domestic violence …

But among the most satisfying moments were helping countless schools, businesses, community groups, clubs and organisations put bums on seats, fundraise, give pats on the back to volunteers, workers and children doing their best, promoting artists, bands, drama and theatre groups and telling good news stories.

At one time, I was features editor in charge of nine staff. I've mentored hundreds of university journalism interns - up to six at one time. And some of the most satisfying moments of my life were being able to help many of those find a media job at the end of their studies.

I've been Sunshine Coast Sunday editor and Sunday magazine editor in charge of dedicated news teams. I've been a weekend editor on roster, and fill-in night editor and print editor, and even the ocaasional day when everything came down to me as acting editor.

I was Caloundra reporter for about four years including a stint when I was affectionately known as "the sewage reporter" when Caloundra City Council was considering the ocean outfall we have today.

In 35 years, I've seen many more faces come and go than I can recall without prompting. But our newsroom has helped nurture some very talented and fine professionals - award-winning journalists, photographers, subeditors and designers who have made a name for themselves while here or gone on to do bigger and better things.

Amy Remeikis is Guardian Australia's well-respected political reporter and often features on TV commentary on The Project, for example.

In 2010, after scoring a world-exclusive interview, Kieran Campbell was invited to fly with Christine Assange, the mother of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, as she tried to visit her son in jail in London.

Tenille Bonoguore won a prestigious Walkley Award while a Daily journalist for a special investigation into the deadly stone mastic road surface at Federal that had claimed lives in road crashes.

Samantha Cohen joined the Buckingham Palace press office in 2001, became the Queen's assistant private secretary and later the private secretary to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex before joining eco-charity Cool Earth, an organisation dedicated to reducing carbon emissions.

And love him or hate him, Bill Hoffman has done some of the best reporting of his life in the past five years in fighting to change laws and give subcontractors a fair go, highlighting the financial damage and mental toll on subcontractors caught up in a string of insolvencies in the Queensland construction industry.

Names such as Christine Middap, Sue Hetherington, Ian Waldie, Erle Levey, Sam Walker, Nikki Parkinson-Hubbard, Sam Cohen, Nic Falconer, Blythe Moore (Seinor), Sarah Randall, John Tuxworth, Travis Meyn, Greg Davis, Warren Lynam, Kathy Sundstrom, Leisa Goddard, Sean Waddington, Janine Hill, Ted Robinson, Barry Leddicoat, Brett Wortman, Lou O'Brien, Cade Mooney, Peter Hall 1 and 2, Ruth Ward, Hayley Gillespie, Anthony Brand, Wendy O'Hanlon, Scott Sawyer, Sharon Luck, Ian Young, Steve Walsh, Louise Pemble, Jenny Campbell, Gary Campbell, Andy Kippen, Ann Rickard, Michele Sternberg, Peter Gardiner, Frank Wilkie, Richard Bruinsma, Gary Thompson, Debbie Southern (Krome), Belinda Warren, Michelle Smytheman, Gail Forrer (Arnold), Glenis Green (Rasmussen), Rae Wilson, Nikki Joyce, Candice Holznagel-Kaminiski, Rebecca Marshall, Stuart Cumming, Mark Bode, John Rumney, Owen Jacques, Kerryn Manifold, Lisa Williams, Miranda Cashin, Roxanne McCarty-O'Kane, Nathanael Cooper, Nicole Fuge (Richardson), Damian Bathersby, Nicky Moffat, Gordon Clark, Sarah Crawford, Steve Zemek, Jan Richards, Emily Haynes, Patrick Williams, Trevor Veale, Bianca Clare, Amanda Burnham, Glen Corbett, Matty Holdsworth, Saya McDermott, Tessa Mapstone, Sarah Land, Patrick Woods, John McCutcheon, Megan Mackander, Hayley Nissen - the roll call of bylines is very distinguished and much longer than I'm able to publish here.

Add to this dear friends such as newsroom co-ordinators Roz Hoolihan, Annette Linwood and Jacquie Maynard, and subeditors and designers in arms such as Brett Bambling.

All have touched my life, professionally and/or personally.

We've discussed the news of the day and the news of the world. We've laughed together. We've acted as sounding boards for each other's ideas.

We've shared a breather from pressing deadlines, meetings and frantic typing to get breaking news online.

I'm there at the end of the printed version of the Daily and have tasted the new era of online.

In a lifetime of news - from horrific murders, robberies and sadistic criminals, council decisions, campaigns, heartwrenching accidents and heartfelt personal stories, what remains with me the most are the people. The Daily family.

It's funny what you remember.

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