Emily Herbert catches up with the darling of Australian television, Edwina Bartholomew, to chat snakes, renovations and getting out of your comfort zone
First published Downtown Magazine, Australia
Edwina Bartholomew is someone you can imagine having a wine with.
She’s driving her car on speaker phone during our chat – her partner of six years, Neil Varcoe, also in the car and seemingly suffering with man flu.
“Sorry about that,” Edwina says over the faint coughing in the background.
“He has a cold and he’s dying a slow death in the car.” She continues in a stage whisper – “Could you keep your death a bit quieter? That’d be great thanks.”
The journalist, weather presenter, Dancing with the Stars host and all round Channel Seven sweetheart is as chirpy on the phone as she appears on TV, and as easy to chat to as a longterm gal pal. Having travelled to every dot on the map with her three years presenting the weather on Sunrise, she says it’s the tiny country towns that have resonated the most with her.
“It was always the smallest town that had the biggest welcome,” she says. “I’ve been to pretty much every place, from Arnhem Land, that was an incredible trip, to the Kimberley, all the across the Nullabor and down to Tassie. It’s an authentic Australian experience, being able to pop into country towns. You always find something and someone interesting, a tit-bit of history, and all that space in between. That incredible hospitality you don’t really get in the city.”
Travelling all day, often arriving in the dark, waking with the sparrows in time for a fresh dawn colouring in a new landscape; it has its perks, but is one not without its share of labour. But this gypsy lifestyle is perhaps something she was prepared for early in life.
“I had a very transient childhood,” she says. “I was born in the country, then moved to the city, then lived in massive cities like Kuala Lumpar and Tokyo. Home is such a fluid concept for me, I guess it is just where my family is and where my latest collection of throw cushions happen to be.”
Taking up a slightly more permanent residence back in Sydney, she will be winging her way to Tamworth March 10, signing up as the guest speaker for regional womens network Savvy Birds, in celebration of International Womens Day.
“I think International Womens Day allows you to celebrate being a woman, celebrate the women around you, so for me that is what is so important about it,” Edwina says. “It’s such a great vibe around the world – so many positive messages about feminism, empowerment and girl power to use a Spice Girls phrase. It’s a great reminder for everyone, and I hope that everyone takes away something for the rest of the year. It’s about what women can do for themselves. And that’s why Savvy Birds is so great - it’s about women helping other women and doing it for other women, and the founders deciding, let’s get together and do something. And I think that should be celebrated every day.”
Edwina studied journalism at Bathurst University before winning an internship on Sunrise – soon transcending the role of making coffee, to making mornings just that little bit better for viewers around the nation. Looking back, she’s quick to tick off the things she’d tell her 18-year-old self if she could.
“Work hard, get used to early mornings, don’t be afraid to work all hours, be a journalist but first of all, be a human,” she rattles off. “I’ve managed to survive my whole career putting the people in my stories first. That to me is the most important, that you walk away as a good human, not just a good journalist. It’s hard in some situations, you’re not always the best liked, but just try and do the best by people.”
Before her appearance at Tamworth’s Town Hall, she’ll be reporting from the Super Bowl and the Oscars in the US – versatility simply something that comes with the job. But above all else, it’s her passion as a storyteller that keeps her showing up to work every day. Well, that and her mortgage (Edwina and Neil have just bought a little farm between Lithgow and Mudgee that they’re renovating.)
“It’s the fact that people are willing to tell me their stories,” she says. “It might be your 100th story, but it’s their first. And you really need to do as much justice to their story as to the first one you did. I never tire about hearing about peoples’ lives and experiences and their extraordinary and ordinary lives. That to me is why I still do it. It’s the fascinating, interesting, quirky, crazy, heart-breaking people that you meet, that really keep me doing what I do. And just the simple act of being able to film and tell their story is a real honour, and it’s certainly a real joy to me.”
Appearing on live television countless times, it makes me wonder what stepping out of the comfort zone looks like for Edwina.
“I’ve done everything from sky diving to bungy jumping. I don’t have any fears as such for work. Stepping out of my comfort zone for me, is probably what everyone else (at the Savvy Birds Tamworth event) in the room is used to. We just bought this farm, we’ve had two snakes this past week, spiders as big as your head. For me, that is taking a risk, doing something unusual. It’s not usual to buy a farm at 33!” But beyond her distaste for all things that slither and crawl, scuttles another quiet fear we can all relate to.
“A fear of failure,” she continues “is something I think a lot of women share. Even though you have a successful career, there is always that fear. It seems particularly a female trait.”
Her time ping-ponging around the country has meant she and partner Neil have developed a certain resilience other long-distance lovers know all too well.
“I think for us, being away was actually a really good thing, as it made us appreciate the time that we had together,” she says. “Sure there were a few times – probably every time – where I’d come home on a Friday night, conk out on the couch, and not leave much in the tank for home. But then I think you begin to focus on the time you do have together, and make sure that can be as good as it can be. It becomes less about who did or didn’t take the garbage out, or who did or didn’t do the washing up, and just enjoying that time together. The time away has made us a better couple. You have to be very conscious of it – I say with a very messy house at the moment – but you know, you try. No-one’s perfect.”