Burgi breaks new ground

14 Jul, 2014 06:14 PM
"They were heady times for a 21-year-old"

THE editor who offered her a journalism cadetship called her a trailblazer, but Anne Burgi would have none of it.

But there's little question she broke new ground when she started at Stock & Land in 1976 as the only female journalist in its newsroom.

She'd studied agriculture at the University of Melbourne – one of only 10 women among the mainly male student cohort – with the goal of becoming a veterinary student or a journalist.

At the end of her three-year degree, one of her lecturers Stuart Hawkins contacted Chris Griffith, the then editor of Stock & Land, recommending her for a cadetship.

"Chris didn't agree, but he did offer me a short-term role working on a readers' survey," Ms Burgi recalled.

"It involved meeting and talking to farmers and a telephone survey of more farmers.

"At the same time, I was applying for other jobs and was shortlisted for a cadetship at ABC Radio.

"I didn't expect anything because Chris was clear from the start he wasn't going to offer me a cadetship – but he did."

Ms Burgi began as a cadet with Don Story and Nigel Austin.

She was the only woman in the newsroom, but Mr Griffith expected her to report agricultural news the same as everyone else.

"They were heady times for a 21-year-old – deadlines, bylines, Royal Melbourne Show, field days, property sale reports and dusty days at stud sales," she recalled.

However she spent the first year of her cadetship mainly covering property.

"Writing about the results of the previous week's auctions for a year taught me a lot about writing well and succinctly," Ms Burgi recalled.

"I think it became obvious to me, long before Chris realised, that I was better at administration and organising people than at writing.

"After a couple of years I began organising people to cover stories and collating information, checking photographs before printing them, sorting out the page layouts."

At just 24, Ms Burgi was appointed sub-editor, with a considerable rise in salary – she was assisted by a couple of men working part-time and was responsible for getting the newspaper out each week.

By then she had more female company in the newsroom.

She recalls receiving a call from her former university lecturer about a student who wanted to be a journalist.

"I said, 'is this payback for getting me this job?'," Ms Burgi said.

The student was Sue Neales, who has since carved out her award-winning career as a rural journalist (see left).

Ms Burgi remembers from the many letters received weekly from people wanting to work as journalists, Mr Griffith was "very good at choosing people and he never chose a dud".

"He was very good at building teams that had a mix of nuances," she said

Other females in the newsroom included Fran Cleland, who used to come in one day a week to write the horse column.

One day she showed Ms Burgi some of the other stories she'd written.

"I laughed so hard while I read them and went to see Chris straight away," Ms Burgi said.

"Those stories were the beginning of 'From The Homestead' (See p43 ).

"The stories, while not about farming, were relevant to farmers – sometimes funny, sometimes serious."

The stories were always accompanied by a 'Sam the Ram' cartoon, drawn by John Howcroft (see p44-45).

Another female who made a mark was Merrill Boyd who worked as the paper's Riverina contributor covering news and stud sales.

She elicited a big response from an article she wrote about the boy sweeping in the Tom Boyd painting (set in the Riverina), Shearing the Rams.

"The boy was a girl and Merrill interviewed her – then an old woman – about participating in the painting."

Ms Burgi went on to work at other newspapers and began a business contracting sub-editing services to Stock & Land and other publications but looks back fondly on her days as a rural journalist.

"We all reported on field days, cattle and sheep sales, stud sales and rural news.

"It was good training for life – no matter what, journalism teaches you that a deadline will be met."

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Sorry did i get it wrong..? Rankins Springs is still open..?!
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No doubt a few frosted Freddies out there who will wish they had taken a closer look at the AGC
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Matthew, I was wondering if you had followed up this story with the farmer after the whole