In the zone: a balancing act

ABC journalist Zoe Daniel with her children Arkie and Pearl. Picture: FAIRFAX
ABC journalist Zoe Daniel with her children Arkie and Pearl. Picture: FAIRFAX

IT HAS been four months since Zoe Daniel left Bangkok for Melbourne, and she's still winding down.

Call it the correspondent's curse.

"I'm terrible at switching off," she said. "It comes from the heightened state of anxiety of 24-7 postings.

"No matter where you are, you pretty much need to be ready to go at the drop of a hat, know who you're going to talk to, how you're going to get there, how you are going to manage the risks.

"You are just slightly wound up all the time."

Daniel has spent most of the past eight years reporting overseas for the ABC.

She was based in Africa between 2005 and 2006, spent 2009 covering the Khmer Rouge war crimes trials from Cambodia, and served as the network's South East Asia correspondent until two months ago.

Aside from ducking sniper fire, navigating civil unrest and witnessing first-hand the effects of famine, Daniel is one of a rare breed of foreign correspondents who is a working mum.

Her struggle to balance family and a stressful yet rewarding career forms the core of her newly released memoir, Storyteller.

While her book takes the reader to several exotic and dangerous locations, Daniel's own story begins in Launceston - where she was born and raised.

The daughter of Essendon footballer- turned-high school principal Peter Daniel, she finished high school in Hobart and at 18 moved to Adelaide to study journalism.

Between finishing her degree in 1993 and being named the presenter of the ABC's Victorian Country Hour in 1997, Daniel worked in rural New South Wales, Sydney, and even back home in Northern Tasmania.

"I remember speaking to a lot of farmers in the northern part of the state, across to Burnie, Devonport - spending a lot of time getting my hands dirty, which is what I love the most," she said.

"In fact, I'd say rural reporting's not too dissimilar from correspondent work.

"The two jobs have very close characteristics. They both involve being very independent, having a lot of time in the field, talking to people face- to-face. You have to generate a lot of your own stories, and a lot of the time you are working on your own or as part of a very small team."

While working in Victoria, Daniel met her husband Rowan, also a journalist, and the two jumped from posting to posting across the country.

Eventually, her work led to Africa - which she said marked the start of a paradoxical relationship.

"The thing I loved most about my job was also the thing I hated the most about it: travel," she said.

"No doubt it puts pressure on your relationships. We were often away from each other at weeks at a time, passing like ships in the night.

"We were both very aware of that, and when we had the opportunity to spend a bit of time together, we did."

Incidentally, Daniel said the balance became better upon the arrival of their children Arkie (2007) and Pearl (2008).

"Since having kids, it was a lot easier to handle the separation, because there was a sense of continuity. One of us was tethered to the children.

"There was always a home base, even if it was a little destabilising at times."

Now she's back, Daniel has been made the host of The World news program on ABC News 24, which she said should keep her grounded.

For now.

Daniel said eventually, you learn that you can't have it all.

You can either choose to travel and not have a family, which was fine, she said. Or you choose to not travel and have a family, which was also fine.

"If you choose to combine the two, you're going to have a bit less time for your family and a bit less time for your work, and you're going to be stretched a lot of the time. Again, that is your choice.

"When I'm working, I miss my kids. When I'm not working, I'm climbing the walls.

"There is always going to be a conflict there, you've just got to make it work."

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