Liz Hayes on how things have changed in her 22 years with 60 Minutes
It was like going to a new school.
In 1996, with my hair pulled back and socks pulled up I nervously negotiated a set of old wooden stairs leading down to the 60 Minutes compound.
I’d come from ten years of big hair and shoulder pads, a face full of make-up and mostly being studio bound at the Today Show.
And even though I’d done what seemed like a million interviews over millions of hours of live TV, something told me that I was going to be starting again.
And, so I did.
I learned to pack a bag not really knowing when I’d be back, or even exactly where I’d be going.
A trip expected to last four weeks could blow out to six.
Trekking boots were stuffed in with high heels.
My wardrobe always had to include enough undies to cover the inevitability that there wouldn’t be a laundry for a country mile.
All shoved in with suits and jackets appropriate for interviews with presidents and prime ministers, and the odd celebrity.
On one trip alone I remember standing in a paddock looking slightly agog at Dolly the newly cloned sheep in Scotland; suddenly becoming claustrophobic deep inside a crumbling Colombian emerald mine; feeling a little hungover and just a bit star struck (not a good mix) interviewing the Bee Gees in Miami; and standing up squealing “what was that!” when everyone else was hitting the deck on the front line in Afghanistan.
“What was that”, by the way, was incoming and if someone hadn’t shouted “get down”, I could well have been out-going.
And yes, those undies got a work out.
Just like all those adaptor plugs I’ve needed for all those countries, so too have I. Adapted.
But the learning curve has sometimes been sharp.
I’m way more knowledgeable about health and safety.
A sudden and unexpected allergic reaction to medication in Zimbabwe certainly focused my mind, along with applying the Heimlich Manoeuvre (apparently no longer recommended) when our guide out in the wilderness of the Arctic Circle suddenly started choking.
Actually, it was my producer who did the job, at my insistence. And he survived. My producer however, was never the same.
Our assignment in the Arctic Circle proved to be a little confronting on many levels.
Apart from our choking guide, there was the brain scrambling light. It was summer and that meant nearly 24 hours of sun.
We were flown in on what I believe was a Beaver. Certainly our pilot looked like Biggles.
He landed us on the tundra in the middle of nowhere. That may be tautology.
And Biggles wasn’t sure when he’d be back. Maybe in six days.
We slept in tents and were armed with toilet rolls, matches (to burn the toilet paper), a plastic shovel each… to um, dig a hole, and bear mace. I mean, what could go wrong?
My first observation was that there were no trees. Nothing.
I know, it was the tundra. But knowing that day would never become night, mmm, what to do with that shovel.
And the bear mace! How close did you have to be for that mace to be effective?
As for food, well it had to be stored in a tent away from we humans.
Bears of course can smell a packet of instant noodles from here to Japan.
Maybe I shouldn’t eat, I thought while opening a packet of nuts.
But for six days and no nights, we made it work.
Yes our guide nearly died and our tents, pitched by the Aichilik River, were flooded out when the rain suddenly came, but there were still plenty of laughs and it was an adventure I will never forget it.
Oh, yes of course, the story you ask?
Well we were there because American President George Bush had decided he wanted to drill for oil in the Arctic Circle.
Such a plan was akin to taking a jackhammer to the Barrier Reef, said locals. And it was all to occur in the middle of the migratory trail for herds of caribou.
It’s one of the hundreds of stories I felt fortunate to tell.
During my 22 years at 60 Minutes I’ve experienced nothing less than a technology revolution.
My portable typewriter became a computer.
Stories were once shot on film. The introduction of videotape meant interviews no longer had to stop every 10 minutes to reload another magazine of film. Amazing!
Now of course everything we do is digital.
There is much more, but for another day.
It’s fair to say that being able to tell so many stories almost anywhere in the world is an incredible privilege. But I do it with others. It is a true team effort.
Every person at 60 Minutes has a role that is integral to keeping that stopwatch ticking.
In another 40 years I won’t be around, but reporting will be, and I hope that includes 60 Minutes.
To watch 60 Minutes’ 40th anniversary in special, head to the official website.