Jane Hutcheon


19 May

On Reaching a Milestone Personal Journalism

Jane Hutcheon

Last week I reached a milestone.

My boss, Tim Ayliffe, Managing Editor at ABC News awarded me the ABC medallion for 25 years of service.  I was so thrilled to receive this acknowledgement in front of my colleagues.  I didn't think anyone in the organisation remembered!

The ABC's Chief International Correspondent Philip Williams sent this beautiful tribute:

Jane is not only a stellar foreign correspondent but she has created her own 'second life' as a fantastic interviewer. She has always determined her own path; never a follower but a leader and has delivered her work with style, wit and grace. Congratulations for 25 years of service to the ABC, but more importantly, to our 'shareholders'. 

We and they are grateful!

I'm lucky, that as a journalist, I was able to have multiple 'careers' at the ABC.  However my thanks goes to you,  the audience (our 'shareholders') for your support and gratitude over the years. It means everything to me.

Share this post:

comments powered by Disqus

02 May

Difficult Conversations Life Books One Plus One FAQ

Jane Hutcheon

I saw this tweet from my colleague Kumi and like many of you, I connected with the sentiment she expressed.

A few years I was doing a Q&A with Rosie Batty at a conference.  One of the things that stuck with me was something along the lines of how she had always feared losing her only son, Luke.  And then the unimaginable happened; Luke was killed by his father.

The Kelly family, like Rosie has been through the unimaginable.  

Hearing about the attack on Thomas Kelly in July 2012 felt sickening.

That his younger brother Stuart would take his own life in 2016 was another incredibly cruel low for the Kelly family.  How could such loss strike twice? 

At the time I hadn’t followed the events between Thomas’ death and Stuart’s suicide too closely, but I know about these events intimately now, having read Too Late Too Soon, Kathy and Ralph Kelly’s blistering, heart-breaking book which has just been launched. 

Two weeks ago I interviewed Kathy for One Plus One which airs this Friday on ABCTV.

When I heard my show had been offered the interview with Kathy, a part of me froze. 

How was I supposed to face a woman who had been through the unimaginable. Twice.

First I had to deal with my own dread.  What if something like that happened to my family?  How would we survive? What would it be like emersing myself into Kathy’s world?  How does anyone move on?  

I read the book from cover to cover. The first chapter ends with Thomas’ death.  It had a pace that puts you right in the scene.  And it was utterly harrowing.  I put the manuscript down and cried.

But as I progressed through the story, scribbling my thoughts down in the margins, the sense of dread receded. I searched for anchors.  There are many experiences in the nearly 500 interviews I've done and the places I've travelled to.  I've had friends and family who have stories of great suffering and great restoration.  As I crafted my questions, I read poetry (mainly Mary Oliver) about loss and meaning.  I read up on resilience, and noted how Kathy said she and her husband Ralph dealt with grief in different ways.

I now had a pathway. I tidied the questions into a neatish road with a beginning, middle and end. 

I’ll never be ready, I thought.  But then I never think I am. 

I’m usually thinking up questions to the last possible moment.

Before I knew it, interview day had arrived and Kathy appeared in the studio.  We chatted briefly.  She was cheerful and seemed to be in a good place. I liked her instantly.   

Did I hit the mark with the interview? 

I’m never the best judge.  But now when I think of Kathy I don’t think of her as a sad person with incomprehensible loss weighing her down. She is someone with multiple dimensions.  I think of her walking the dogs in the park.  I think of a partnership she's held together, of nurturing her daughter Madeleine. I imagine her having dark moments as well as times of clarity and lightness and joy.

For me that feels better than the cocoon of sympathy we sometimes wrap people in. 

Share this post:


17 Feb

Messages From Zanzibar Travel Zanzibar

Jane Hutcheon

It’s hard to describe the riot of colour that bombards you from every direction in Zanzibar, an archipelago off the coast of Tanzania. It’s a former overseas holding of Oman, which is why it was a destination in my recent tour, The Frankincense Route.

Whether it’s the crazy boys diving into the ocean, tropical trees bursting with vibrant flowers and fruit, or the school kids running in the alleyways of Stone Town, this island exudes an energy and an intoxicating sense of joy.

On my first visit to Zanzibar a year ago, I began to notice rectangular pieces of cloth that were used in different ways.  On a dhow (boat) cruise, it was used as a table-cloth, but mostly it was worn by women around their heads or as a wrap skirt.  I thought I’d like to wear one as a scarf.

In the Darajani textile market I discovered a selection of the light cotton cloth and also found out its name; Kanga, which means guinea-fowl, a bird with elegant, loud plumage.  Kanga originated on the coast of East Africa in the mid 19th century.

The cloth has bold design and bright colours with a border around it. It’s sold as one long piece but it’s actually two identical rectangles. 

I met Moses in the Kanga shop.

He was buying Kanga for his wife as a surprise.  He told me Kanga are a traditional gift in East Africa; husbands give them to wives, parents to their daughters, a woman may split a pair to give half to her best friend. Babies are wrapped or carried in them, like an African Baby Bjorn.

But there’s more to it than decoration or functionality.

Our guide explained that the custom of a man being permitted to have up to four wives, often creates an atmosphere of envy or disappointment among the women. He pointed to the bottom of the cloth where there was a phrase or jina in Swahili.   Each Kanga comes printed with words from well-known proverbs, popular lyrics or poetry to personal statements. 

So apart from its role as a piece of clothing, the Kanga telegraphs a woman’s feelings by its brief statement aimed at a competitor, a problem wife (or wives) or the husband.

Disturbingly, in 2006, the Kanga took centre stage during the rape trial of South African President Jacob Zuma.  He testified that the woman he had sex with, known as Khwezi, was wearing a kanga at the time and he interpreted her dress as an invitation to seduce. Zuma's case was dismissed and Khwezi, who was seen as a pariah for reporting her rape, fled South Africa for a time.  While in the Netherlands she wrote a poem - I am Kanga - part of which I’ve reproduced here. 

I am Kanga

I wrap myself around the curvaceous bodies of women all over Africa

I am the perfect nightdress on those hot African nights

The ideal attire for household chores

I secure babies happily on their mother’s backs

Am the perfect gift for new bride and new mother alike

Armed with proverbs, I am vehicle for communication between women

I exist for the comfort and convenience of a woman

But no no no make no mistake …

I am not here to please a man

Khwezi died of HIV/Aids in 2016.

I bought quite a few Kanga during my trip including a large piece (without a saying) which I'll use as a table-cloth.  I didn’t buy based on the messages as I don't read Swahili, but I was hoping to collect some clever quotations.

When I got home, I asked my Tanzanian friend to translate my newly-purchased Kanga for me.  Here’s a selection of my Kanga messages:

Maso Maso Mwanangu Usimuone

Stop gazing at my child (This was a wedding Kanga, so intended as a gift from a father or mother?)

Mso Hili Ana Lile

You never stop picking on me

Wewe Kwangu Zilipendwa Chuki Za Nini

To me your days have past so why continue to hate?

Kanipenda Mwenyewe Laajabu Silioni

Nothing is surprising as [he] loved me first

Nibure Zenu Chuki Na Pata Yangu Riziki

Your hate is useless as my blessings continue to flow

It turns out, I had inadvertently picked designs with jealous messages. 

I'll be a bit more careful next time.

Share this post:


15 Feb

Frankincense: Now and Then Travel Oman

Jane Hutcheon

In 1493 BC, the Egyptian Queen Hatshepsut organised a major trade mission  outfitting five ships to journey to the Land of Punt.  Often referred to as ‘the land of the gods’ it’s believed to be southern Arabia, present-day Somalia or Eritrea.  As part of the mission, thirty-one frankincense trees were brought to Egypt.  It was the first time the trees were successfully transplanted to another country where they grew happily for centuries.

The land where frankincense trees have traditionally flourished and where they abound to this day is in Oman’s southern province, Dhofar.  For millennia, this quiet corner of earth supplied the civilised world with a key luxury item.

Frankincense is a resin, harvested from the Boswellia Sacra tree. When the trunk is slashed or wounded, a white resin oozes from the cut to heal the wound.

Since high school, history has always been my passion.  The difference now is that I look for history in the every day. 

Frankincense was such a valued commodity, (the story of the gifts brought to Jesus by the ‘three wise men’ is an example of its reputation) that its country of origin came to be known as Arabia Felix (Blessed Arabia) and the trade in incense created a series of global trade routes by sea and caravan.

Considering the Roman Emperor Nero once burned an entire year’s harvest of frankincense at the funeral of his favourite mistress Poppaea, the frankincense industry has slowed to a trickle today. But the trees are still grown, maintained and flourish in Dhofar. 

I recently took a group of travellers to Oman to see the main historical sites relating to the frankincense production and trade in ancient Arabia.  We visited the archeological park of Sumhuram.

Established in the 3rd century BC, the port settlement - perched on a headland with its own natural harbour - existed for at least eight centuries.  Apart from homes, kilns, temples, a burial complex and a mint, the city contained warehouses to store frankincense collected from inland regions, until the monsoon winds were favourable to carry the commodity to the markets of India.

In the frankincense alley of Muscat’s Muttrah Souk, I watched as a procession of families came to a halt in front of one stall. 

I could see smoke rising from the clay burner in front of a mystical woman her as she mixed her potions.  Later I met one of her patrons, Fouad, who explained that he was buying bakhor, a blend of ingredients including wood-chips, fragrant oils, sandalwood, cloves, sugar … and frankincense. 

The bakhor-maker, Fatima, had learned her craft from her mother and grandmother who came from the south where the frankincense trees grow.  She mixed the ingredients according to Fouad’s direction. 

“More of this,” he’d say.

The bakhor’s aroma is released by the heat of the charcoal and this perfumes the entire home.  At the stall next door there are pyramid-shaped stands which you can drape laundry over, so clothes too can be perfumed by the bakhor

Omani men wear a tassle on the right side of their dishdasha (long, collarless dress) so they can keep their favourite scent close by.  Whether you enter a hotel, a shop or even a car in Oman, the aroma of frankincense follows you. 

After seeing wild frankincense trees at Wadi Dawkah, we watched clumps of dried resin being sorted and graded at Salalah’s Al Husn Souk.

Incense has been burned for millennia to freshen and ‘cleanse’ the environment.  In the Omani home it’s as traditional as rose-water sprinklers, cardamon-scented coffee and dates. 

One lovely custom from the 18th century, was that incense-burners would be carried through a home after the conclusion of the meal to signal it was time for guests to leave. 

“I cannot live without this!” Exclaimed Fouad, the man I met at Muttrah Souk adding that he often swallows a tiny piece of frankincense if he’s feeling unwell. 

As I turned to wave goodbye, Fouad was still inhaling bakhor, a look of deep satisfaction on his face.

Muttrah Souk

(Image of frankincense resin "The Drip" courtesy Maxine Brodie)

Share this post:


08 Feb

Gifts From the Desert Travel Oman

Jane Hutcheon

The tour guide noticed that I applied cream to my psoriasis-affected fingers which were split and painful.  

We were in southern Oman, travelling on the road to Yemen, an ancient caravan trade route still used to this day.

“You have a problem with your skin?” queried Quaid solemnly.

At the driving wheel, he was dressed in a turban, pristine Dishdasha and Ray Bans.  As he glanced sideways, his expression softened.  Within seconds, he was grinning. 

“Do you want to try the local treatment?”

Having just told us a joke about desert camels being black because they don’t use sunscreen, I wasn't sure how to take his offer.

“It will hurt the first few times,” he said. “But it will fix any skin issue.  And it’s free.”

"Is it a tonic?" I asked, naively.

"Sort of. You can even mix it in milk and drink it.”

He assured me he wasn’t joking.  And when you’ve tried pretty much every cure for split fingers, you tend to be up for the next miracle potion.

The cure, according to Quaid, is to use the urine of a virgin camel aged around 4 years old, applied to the affected area twice a day for at least three days.

I was game to try it, although I preferred application to the consumption method.  But as he added more detail, it transpired that the urine wasn't to be found in a small, clean bottle from a pharmacy or anything like that.  You source it from a Bedouin farmer.  I could see a problem continuing this treatment in the medium term, although as Quaid helpfully reminded me, we have camels in Australia too.

Thousands of camels roam the Southern Omani province of Dhofar.  Despite appearances, they are not wild and have the right of way on highways. 

Sometimes camels are passengers too.

Desert camels are either dark or light in colour, small with a small single hump (dromedaries rather than bactrian).  They are farmed for milk, meat and their hides. 

“It’s good for everyone to keep a few camels,” Quaid said. “Even in my family we have around ten or twenty camels.”

For his wedding recently, Quaid bought four camels for the buffet feast to feed 1,500 guests.  It wasn't enough. The meat ran out at 12.30 pm, which, for an all day event, was not ideal.  Men don’t need invitations to turn up to a wedding, so estimating guest numbers are tricky.  There is a separate event for men and women.  To attend a woman’s wedding you need an invitation.  In the past, the families spent days preparing for a wedding feast, but in modern times there are caterers.  All the groom has to do is to provide the meat.

Our discussion took place in the Najid Desert, on the highway towards Yemen and our destination, the fabled sands of the Empty Quarter.  This unforgiving terrain drew the great explorers of the past from Bertram Thomas, Wilfred Thesiger (AKA Mubarak Bin London) to Freya Stark.  

While the desert can conjur up images of romance, there is nothing romantic about travelling on a camel.  My witty co-travellers pointed out that Nicole Kidman (playing the role of Gertrude Bell in the film 'Queen of the Desert') sat in front of the camel hump and appeared dignified and commanding, whereas  I was instructed to sit behind the hump which was neither dignified nor commanding.

From two trips into the desert in the past ten days, my greatest fear was our 4WD slipping sideways down a dune.  But our guide Quaid was right.  The desert needs a kind of ’no surrender’ attitude. 

“The secret of the desert is not to show fear.” he says

For travellers of the past, surrender meant certain death.  Quaid has a point.  Indecision combined with fine, ochre sand is a poor partnership.

But such thoughts were banished as a herd of camels came into view as we observed from the top of the dune. It was like being on the set of the remake of ’Lawrence of Arabia’, only the desert in front of us was not brown and oppressive.  It was very green.  Two cyclones in southern Oman last year saw parts of the Empty Quarter flooded. The  desert hasn’t been this verdant in sixty years.

Later that day, we saw another herd of camels feeding between clumps of wild Frankincense trees.  Southern Oman is one of the few places in the world where this special tree grows (more in another post).  I wondered if I should approach the Bedouin farmer accompanying the camels about obtaining some medicinal camel urine.  But Quaid had other ideas.  At the foot of the Frankincense tree (which was not in a protected area, I hasten to add) someone who'd come before us had cut the bark and white sap was oozing onto the ground. the resin was still moist and pliant.

Quaid suggested I put a bit of the sticky resin on my split fingers.

“Maybe this will be simpler than the other cure. It’s like nature’s band-aid.”

I later discovered that camel urine (not necessarily from virgin camels) is widely believed to have healing powers. However scams have surfaced where unscrupulous vendors have used a urine source closer to home.

I still have split fingers.  But they seem to work okay as I reminisce about those wonderful desert creatures that filled the imagination and delight of my fellow travellers on our Oman to Zanzibar adeventure.  Now if I can just work out how to sit in front of the hump….

(Photo of Nicole Kidman: Benaroya Pictures)

Share this post:


31 Dec

Getting the Most Out of Your Year Personal Life

Jane Hutcheon

“Christmas tree!” My daughter yells as we step onto the escalator at David Jones.  It's October and it's a timely reminder that the end of the year is about to hit me with light speed. 

The Christmas tree sighting releases a small surge of panic, but I’m thankful to DJ’s for triggering my annual burst of planning for the next year.  It doesn’t matter when you initiate this.  Another great time is as soon as the 2019 diaries start to appear.  Go for the diaries which start in December because in my realm, a year is thirteen months.

It can be stressful to hit the road in January. I know.  I should have posted this in November.

With a bit of forethought you can ease into the weight of expectation, excitement, inspiration, order, chaos or introspection that can overwhelm us in January with the start of another new year.

Here are some thoughts to get you started...

  1. Holidays.  A good place to start is to block out your leave/holiday dates on a single page calendar or your new diary where the whole year is on a page or a double page.  Using different colours and annotating what you intend to do helps to lift the spirits as you anticipate the journeys or events you’ll make in the coming twelve months. It’s motivating as it’s always good to have something to look forward to.


  1. Do you keep a diary?  My friend keeps a diary which he writes only throughout the month of January. I see him having lunch on the benches of the high-rise building where we work.  He writes long-hand in an A4 notebook and the look on his face as he writes is one of calm and accomplishment.  Then January is over and the the exercise book is put away for another year.


  1. Academic Paul Dolan is a Professor of Behavioural Science in the UK and has advised the UK government on wellbeing.  In his ground-breaking 2014 book Happiness by Design, Paul describes how being happier means allocating attention more efficiently; towards things that bring us pleasure and purpose.

After interviewing Paul in 2015, I decided to do my own annual happiness stock-take, which I’ve done for the last three years.  I keep the lists in a locked file on my phone.  

Doing an annual stock-take gets me thinking about what’s important to me.  

The more I look at the list, the more resolved I feel. 

One thing I noticed was that I did quite a few projects for people, simply because they asked me to. Sometimes I took things on, because there was a decent payment attached to it.  Often, it wasn’t really work I wanted to do.  So I decided to draw up some rules about the types of projects I wanted to take on.  I also learned that if I didn’t want to do something, I should let people know immediately. These two strategies allowed me to say ‘no’ to work that didn’t align with my intentions. 

The start of the year tends to move slowly for some of us.  At around this time some years back, I asked someone I respected if I could meet them for a coffee to discuss a few career-related issues.  Now I schedule coffee-chats or quick lunches throughout the year. You could even suggest a walk-talk. In many cases, if you explain that you a) admire someone’s work b) want to learn c) you are patient with their shortage of time d) can be focused about what you want to gain from talking with them, it’s unlikely they will turn you down.

Related to the coffee-chats is a habit I was taught when I did a life-coaching course a decade ago. Our tutor asked us about self-care.  She told us to make a list of people we enjoyed seeing and other ways that we could look after ourselves. We were urged to put regular dates in the calendar: exercise sessions, massage or hair appointments, lunch-dates during the working week with interesting/inspiring friends.  When I told my friend about the strategy, over one of our lunches at a Japanese restaurant (where we sit at the same table each time ;)) she gave me some extra tips which I am passing on: “Life is about choices," and "every little bit counts.” 

Whether you are saving for a something, trying to lose weight, or attempting to start a big project, making small inroads is better than fretting about the mountain which lies ahead.

In my neighbourhood, someone started a public wishing hedge. It's a lovely idea but to make your wishes come true, you have to make a plan. 

I am always feel a little low at New Year.  The introvert in me makes an appearance.  So I won't wish you a happy 2019, but a thoughtful one where planning can make a difference.  Do the stock-take and let me know what you think. 

Share this post: