TriCare Retirement Communities are wonderfully diverse, and everyone has a story to tell. It is a privilege for staff who get to hear from residents first-hand – in fact, the tales are so rich that they deserve a bigger audience. We hope these blogs provide an insight into the amazing lives of our remarkable residents. In this Resident Story, we will meet Peta, a Compton Gardens Retirement Community resident.
Newspapers play an important part in everyone’s life, including the journalists who write the stories. But in the days before technology took hold of the newspaper industry, not many school leavers considered journalism as a career choice. One such person was Peta Jane Charman, who began her career as a journalist for the Hamilton Spectator in rural Victoria after she completed her matriculation exams in 1960 at Hamilton High School.
An auspicious start in journalism
“I did not know what I wanted to do. I had my heart set on being a vet, but because I had a problem with maths, I couldn’t follow through. The vocational guidance that people suggested was that the only option for me (because of my high pass in English, art and languages) was to be an English teacher. That filled me with horror!” she jokes.
“Our local newspaper offered me a trial month in the newsroom to see if I was suited as its first cadet reporter. I loved every minute and never looked back. At that time I was only one of two female reporters in the State of Victoria. I won a State award for journalism in my final year.”
Moving around seems to be part of a journalist’s life, and Peta moved from Hamilton to Horsham, then to Albury, NSW. “From Albury, I left Australia for New Zealand and continued in a variety of work including newspapers, radio and then became an editorial advisor and primary writer for a national glossy business magazine.”
During her time in Napier, New Zealand, Peta covered a number of specialist subjects, but her work as a shipping reporter landed her in some memorable situations. One was an invitation to be taken 20 miles out to sea in a tiny Wasp helicopter to land on the New Zealand frigate HMNZ Canterbury. “The photographer and I were collected from the airport at 5am just before dawn. The ship was a tiny speck in the ocean, but we landed on a small helipad on the deck and were taken to the Officers’ Mess for breakfast before I interviewed the captain.
“The second seafaring adventure was being taken by pilot boat out to sea to meet the giant Dutch roll-on-roll-off container ship the Nedlloyd Rochester. I didn’t know beforehand, but to get on board the massive ship, I had to leap from the pilot boat in a two-metre swell and grab a swinging rope and metal ladder lowered down from the halfway point on the ship, where the sturdy crew were ready to grab me. The ladder was swinging in and away from the ship’s side, and there was nothing to hold onto, only the ladder’s rungs. There was no safety harness! Breakfast with the captain and his wife and strong Dutch coffee helped restore my equilibrium,” Peta says.
While in New Zealand, Peta had the opportunity to spend time with the then Prime Minister David Lange. But she did not interview him – much to the disbelief of her colleagues.
“I was on duty over lunchtime in our little upstairs branch office when I heard someone arrive. Suddenly, David Lange appeared, on his own, with no security men shadowing him. He asked me if he could seek refuge for a while as he was being hounded by the national press. I said, “of course, sit down, and I’ll make us a cup of tea”. We enjoyed a good half hour talking about our families, travel, our life as journalists – anything but politics. When the chief of staff eventually heard I didn’t get an interview, I was told would never make a decent hard-nosed reporter.”
After moving to England in 1992, Peta fulfilled her ultimate challenge as a journalist and became a sub-editor on several newspapers, including a business editor. “It was a real experience, using and learning new technology because now entire newspapers also can be read online, and the technique creating this is highly complicated.”
Looking back on a fruitful career, Peta recalls the highs and lows. “My career as a journalist has been a long and eventful one. At times it has been exciting, frustrating, joyful, and enlightening. There have also been times when I have seen and heard things that have been horrifying, including reporting on murder trials, often lasting two weeks. I have learned that it is a privileged profession – you are the eyes and ears of the average person, and in reporting fairly every event, you are providing information for everyone who does not have your access. It is not a situation to be abused, and I can honestly say I have enjoyed the experience.”
Peta’s next chapter at Compton Gardens
After her husband passed away in England, Peta returned to Australia and stayed in Brisbane, closer to her mother, who was still alive and in a nursing home in Carseldine.
I then moved to Compton Gardens in June 2015 and it was an excellent choice to live here. I have made wonderful friends, pursued my love of reading, painting, swimming, and playing music in the CHUMS ukulele group.”