Complicated personnel logistics, high-level decision-making and attending crime scenes. These are just some of the tasks…
HerCanberra’s beloved Associate Editor Emma Macdonald has been awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in the the Queen’s Birthday 2022 Honours List and we could not be more proud.
(Also, please call her Emma Macdonald OAM from now on.)
But seriously, this is a massive deal and a well-deserved honour. The Order of Australia recognises Australians who have demonstrated outstanding service or exceptional achievement, and celebrates the inspiring people who make our nation what it is.
In Emma’s case, it’s her “service to journalism, and to women” that earned her this rare gong. Let’s just take a look at her long list of achievements: Associate Editor, HerCanberra (2016–current); The Canberra Times (1994-2016), serving as a senior reporter, Bureau Chief, Education Editor and Political Reporter; Researcher, The Australian Financial Review (1993-1994); ACT Convenor of Women in Media; Founder and Judge, Caroline Jones AO Women in Media Young Rural/Regional Journalists Award; Co-Founder of Send Hope Not Flowers; winner of the 2016 Telstra ACT Business Woman of the Year Purpose and Social Enterprise Award, Distinguished Alumni, University of Canberra (2011), and winner of two Walkley Awards in 1993 and 2003. Phew!
Achievements aside, Emma is one of the most generous, big-hearted, loyal, intelligent and warm people you will ever meet—we can’t think of anyone who deserves this recognition more.
Five minutes with Emma Macdonald OAM
We stole five minutes with our team VIP to see just how she’s feeling about this right royal honour.
You have been lauded for a (very, very) long list of achievements – are you disappointed that you weren’t also recognised for your services to the advancement of cheese consumption?
I agree I have done a lot for the consumption and advancement of cheese, as well as butter and dairy products in general! While I have been very busy in my professional life, my greatest joys have come from cooking and eating with my family. In fact, I find cooking to be a huge form of stress release and a grounding ritual at the end of a busy day! And no meal is complete without cheese. Also, I blame the Ainslie IGA for putting their cheese aisle so close to my house.
You were nabbing your first Walkley while still at uni (while I was setting a sadly unrecognised record for drinking a middie through a straw in seven seconds, at the UC Bar) – did you always strive for a career in journalism?
Since third grade at North Ainslie Primary School when I wrote a story which began “Suddenly I was distracted by the cackling of fearsome witches” which earned five gold stars and the glory of praise in the school assembly, I was encouraged as a writer.
Journalism is the most incredible career and there’s not been a day when I haven’t been grateful that this is how I spend my life (OK, with the distinction of those endless bloody Budget lockups I endured, for those I was not grateful…).
While I find myself doing a lot more televised journalism and MCing these days, the true joy for me comes from placing words on the page. Usually very late at night when the house is quiet and everyone else is asleep.
What have been the proudest moments of your career?
So so many! There have been many exciting scoops and stories and awards of course, but I think I am proudest to be able to tell personal stories with respect and care. I’m proud of the effort I go to to ensure my interview subjects feel safe with me (journos often tend to be viewed with suspicion and hostility) and to tell their personal story truthfully and sensitively.
I’ve loved chronicling the tales of my hometown of Canberra and the incredible people who make up my community.
You are the convenor of the ACT chapter of Women in Media—why is this role so important to you?
I love that there is a national body that links women who are dedicated to the craft of journalism and brings them together for networking and professional development.
As much as I love journalism, I can think of few more demanding, fast-paced or competitive industries, so I see WiM providing some really vital breathing space for reflection on professional life and how it impacts on the personal. It is also an important representation of the voice of women across the media landscape, a voice that is still not equally heard in management circles, although we are gaining ground.
I am also a huge believer in the importance of mentoring, and WiM has dedicated considerable efforts into setting up a national scheme. A good mentor should support, nurture, champion and encourage you. I had exactly this in Verona Burgess at The Canberra Times. She did so much to advance my skills and career, in her own time, because she cared. Women like Verona change lives and I firmly believe in passing it on!
Of course, this honour is not only about services to journalism, but to women. Many may not know that you also founded maternal health charity Send Hope, Not Flowers. What led to this, and what difference has the charity made?
Shortly after my second child was born (Imogen is now 12), my obstetrician Professor Steve Robson was chatting to me about maternal mortality. Did you know that one woman dies every two minutes from complications of childbirth somewhere in the world? Of these, 98 per cent of deaths occur in the developing world and the vast majority are preventable with the most basic health care intervention. I had enjoyed a very safe birth, but nearly 300,000 women lose their life every year while they try to bring new life into the world.
Steve asked if I could use my journalism skills to help raise money and awareness around maternal mortality. As a journalist, you sit on the sidelines and report without ever having an opportunity to roll up your sleeves and get involved. This time, sleep-deprived though I was, I decided I would try to make a difference.
Steve said one of the things he felt frustrated at was how much money was spent on flowers in the labour ward, given most of them are thrown out within the week. It came to me in the middle of a late-night feed with Immy – Send Hope Not Flowers. You jump online at www.sendhope.org and make a donation when someone has a baby. They get a personalised card saying, in their honour, money will go towards helping save the life of another mother somewhere in the developing world.
We have funded programs in nine developing countries including training midwives and village birth attendants, funding emergency birth supplies, providing baby bundles (of newborn supplies) to encourage mums to have supervised births and building waiting houses and hospital upgrades.
Will you be requiring us to curtsy when we see you in the office tomorrow?
No, no curtsies required but I definitely believe we should celebrate over a cheese platter. Want me to bring one in?
Also, I can’t end this interview without saying that my mum, my gorgeous mum, would be so proud. Anything I have achieved in this life is because she sacrificed so much so I could have it all. I wish she could see me now.
Photograph of Emma by Amanda Thorson of Boring Headshots.