Jane Hutcheon


18 Jul

Life and Birth in Ethiopia Journalism Travel Ethiopia

Jane Hutcheon

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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 ‚Äėthe land of the gods‚Äô it‚Äôs 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 ‚Äėthree wise men‚Äô 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. 

‚ÄúMore of this,‚ÄĚ he‚Äôd 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 ‚Äėcleanse‚Äô the environment.¬† In the Omani home it‚Äôs 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. 

‚ÄúI cannot live without this!‚ÄĚ Exclaimed Fouad, the man I met at Muttrah Souk adding that he often swallows a tiny piece of frankincense if he‚Äôs 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)

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