As a child, trailblazing Network Ten newsreader Narelda Jacobs remembers watching her father being interviewed by journalists.
In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s,Cedric Jacobs, head of the National Aboriginal Conference, had the ear of former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and then Aboriginal Affairs minister Fred Chaney and was sought after to comment on Indigenous matters.
Young Narelda was captivated by the goings-on.
“Dad would travel a lot to Canberra and be called upon to comment,” Jacobs said.
“Journalists would come to our home or ring to interview dad.
“I saw the way they operated and I kinda thought I’d like to be able to do that. I guess from seeing dad interviewed and journos coming to our house, I realised that was what I wanted to do.
“It was his passion through his whole life to make things better for Aboriginal people. He had the peak advocacy position. That passion saw him through to his dying days.”
Jacobs, 42, is well known to West Australian audiences as the long-running anchor of Network Ten Perth news.
Now, viewers on the east coast will get to see more of the popular TV personality when she fills in as a co-host on The Project.
She will join The Project desk from December 31 to January 4 after recently appearing on the current affairs and talk show as a guest and also filling in for newsreader Natarsha Belling in Sydney.
Jacob’s national appearances come as she celebrates 10 years reading the news at Ten in Perth. In 2008,when she took up the post, she was the first Aboriginal woman to front a commercial television network in the state.
A decade on and she still loves it.
“I’m always happy to be there,” Jacobs said. “I love the job and I’m happy to go to work each day. It’s an honour and a privilege and I don’t take it for granted.”
Television news and current affairs always figured prominently in the Jacobs household as she was growing up.
Cedric Jacobs was a Whadjuk-Noongar man and Uniting Church reverend, and Jacob’s mother Margaret, who was also a church pastor, is British. Both were avid followers of current affairs TV shows, which their five daughters joined them in watching.
Jacobs said she had the utmost respect for her father, who passed away this year at the age of 75, and who had been a member of the Stolen Generation.
Removed from his parents when he was eight, he grew up at the Mogumber Native Mission at Moore River, about 90kms north of Perth. His mother and fatherdied while he was at the mission and he never saw them again.
“It’s important for people to remember it is only one generation away,” Jacobs said. “I always had the utmost respect for my dad — to be a fantastic dad when he didn’t have parental role models because he was stolen from them.”
“For him not to carry any sort of bitterness and to pass it onto us is testament to the man he was.”
Jacobs said her family has always been proud of its Aboriginal heritage.
“It gave us a sense of identity and belonging,” she said. “We always knew who we were and who our family was. We’ve always had this strong sense of belonging and identity and I guess that is the way we’ve been brought up, close to our culture.”
At the age of 18 Jacobs began her working life as a secretary at the then newly established National Native Title Tribunal. On her third audition she was accepted to the WA Academy of Performing Arts to study broadcasting, which she did while continuing to work, and raise a young daughter.
She broke into the television industry on country television in WA before joining Network Ten in Perth as a reporter and spent about eight years in the field before landing the plum news reading job.
Jacobs said becoming the state’s first Aboriginal newsreader on a commercial station wasn’t something she thought about.
“That didn’t come into it,” she said. “You kind of hope you get these things on your merit. That’s what you hope. You would hope the thinking is they put the best person in. The other thing is a side issue I guess.”
While Jacobs has been a familiar face on Perth television in the last decade, her daughter Jade Dolman has grown up and at age 23 has her own career as an artist and cultural educator.
She graduated from the University of Western Australia last year with a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Indigenous Knowledge, History and Heritage and Fine Arts and now runs her own business.
“She’s the whole package in teaching culture through art and she’s doing an amazing job,” Jacobs said.
“It was something she found herself.”
Jacobs said the loss of her father this year along with a split from her long-time partner Lauren Swinfield had made it personally“the worst year of my life”, but she’s thankful for the solace she’s found in work and the support she has had from friends and family members.
Meanwhile her advice for those looking to follow in her footsteps?
“I would just say aim high,” she said. “The best piece of advice I was given at the WA Academy of Performing Arts was, when we were asked the questions, what do you want to do when you finish uni? What is your dream job? I kind of said like a Living Black Aboriginal magazine type program on the ABC or SBS. My lecturer at the time said to me, ‘Why do you want to pigeonhole yourself? If you get into a job like that you are an Aboriginal journalist on an Aboriginal program. Why don’t you go into the commercial environment?’”
“I kind of looked at her and went ‘Wow’. Because she had faith in me beyond what I thought I could do, I thought I’d better give it a go.”
“My advice to young people is to dream bigger than what you think. You can do more than what you think you are capable of.”
By Wendy Caccetta