By Eliza Reilly
When Narelda Jacobs was first asked to speak at the 2018 Women in Media Conference, she replied along the lines of: “thanks, but I don’t think I have much to offer”.
Good thing nobody accepted her response. The TEN Eyewitness News Perth presenter, who broke ground as the first female Indigenous anchor for an Australian commercial network, has about two decades of wide-ranging industry experience to offer.
“The conference attracts national names and I guess I felt like a bit of a nobody!” Jacobs laughs.
“I’ve never lived anywhere else, I’m working in a very small newsroom and I just didn’t think that I would be able to share things with people that they didn’t already know.”
Jacobs’ fascination with the media began at a young age.
Growing up in the suburbs of Perth as the youngest of five girls, her parents were both leaders in their local Christian community.
“They were news junkies, they would watch all the bulletins and that rubbed off on me,” she says.
“Dad used to be interviewed a lot on Aboriginal issues, so I’d look at the journalists who would come to our house and think, ‘yeah I’d like to do that’.”
At 18, she began working at the National Native Title Tribunal before her long-held desire to be a reporter secured her a spot at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA).
She entered the program striving to be a reporter on magazine-style Indigenous shows such as Living Black, but WAAPA opened her eyes to the possibility of commercial reporting.
“When my lecturer asked me what I wanted to do, and I told her that, she asked me why I wanted to pigeonhole myself,” she says.
“I looked at her sideways because I guess I was striving for something that was comfortable, so she helped me work towards something that I thought would be out of my depth.”
The lecturer helped Jacobs land her first job at GWN in Bunbury, where she relished the opportunity to learn and practise her craft.
A few months later, a job appeared at Channel 10 in Perth and she sent in her showreel and was invited up to the city for a chat.
“Low and behold, he gave me the job and I just could not believe it,” Jacobs says.
“I was in disbelief that he had given me a chance because I was still pretty green and hadn’t had a great amount of job experience.”
She eventually became the network’s court reporter and filled in as a weather presenter over the Perth’s sweltering summers.
In 2007, tragedy struck. At the time, her former colleague Charmaine Dragun was a co-anchor on Sydney’s Ten Eyewitness News. Dragun died by suicide in early November that year.
Channel 10 had previously announced the production of its Perth bulletin would return to Perth from Sydney.
After a respectful amount of time had passed, management asked reporters to express interest in the anchor role.
Such is Jacobs’ humility, she initially decided against applying but her colleagues persuaded her.
“After such awful circumstances with the passing of Charmaine, that was one of the worst times of my life,” she says.
“I gave it a shot and did some screen tests and once again it was one of those pinch-me moments when I was given the job, it was beyond my wildest dreams.”
Jacobs became the first female Indigenous anchor for an Australian commercial network. She sees her identity as a proud Indigenous woman as merely another page in her story, rather than something to hold her back.
“If you look for it [racism] you could probably find it, but I don’t ever look for racism,” she says.
“I’ve only ever had people who have been supportive and encouraging and wanting me to succeed.”
During her time at the desk, Jacobs has informed WA about leadership spills, royal weddings and the deaths of history-shapers.
“When there’s a big story, I just feel so blessed that I get to report on it and people hear that news from me,” she says.
“It’s a huge honour and a privilege.”
The 2018 Women in Media National Conference will be held at Bond University on the Gold Coast.
Support is available via Lifeline on 13 11 14 or www.lifeline.org.au and the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 and www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au.