Former Miss Australia turned journalist Jo Palmer read her final news bulletin on Friday night. Childhood friend, Brian Wightman, reflects on her life and career.
When you walk in, the studio is simple - a minimalist set-up delivering a popular news program.
Blue and green screens, an archaic autocue, a single television camera, two small desks with stools, a hard copy of the bulletin as a backup, and pencils to underline difficult to pronounce words and complex phrases complete the set.
IN OTHER NEWS:
An experienced and established media professional sits at the desk.
She is instantly recognisable; the girl next door who became a staple in our households. She rehearses the reading; focused on pronunciation and concise elocution. She is unflappable. Making mistakes is not part of the business nor is looking shabby.
An assertive message instantly reconnects my brain to my mouth: "Tell Brian Wightman to be quiet."
I am a guest of Southern Cross News watching how the nightly bulletin is produced and delivered. She knows me well.
Palmer's resignation was a shock. Nonetheless, the time was right after 24 years; 18 of those anchoring the nightly news. She is no different to most, but that is what makes her special. She is adored, respected, and will be sorely missed on our television screens.
Jo [Palmer] has faced adversity every day, dealing with comments regarding what she was dressed in and how she looked... What was harder to deal with was presenting news on wars and their residual human consequences, terror, disasters, famine, heinous crime, and human suffering.Colleague Peter Murphy
Peter Murphy - confidante, nemesis, raconteur, weather presenter, dear friend and interim news anchor replacement - reflected on their time working together: "Jo [Palmer] has faced adversity every day, dealing with comments regarding what she was dressed in and how she looked. She managed to shake them off, mainly because most of them came from me.
That wasn't real adversity. What was harder to deal with was presenting news on wars and their residual human consequences, terror, disasters, famine, heinous crime, and human suffering. We dealt with it by deflecting and chatting about where our children were up to or the best marinade and cooking method for quail or salmon. I would go home and my wife would ask me about some of the news she saw to which I had to reply that I didn't see it because Jo and I were chatting about Henry going to college or how her husband, Andrew, won't eat chicken thighs".
Palmer retorted with customary and infectious repartee, "Mr Peter Murphy - what a crazy, naughty and fabulous human being. My strength behind the scenes and a thorn in my side on air".
"Our relationship has developed into a great friendship. He spent two decades jumping out from behind doors, putting spiders on my desk, teasing me relentlessly on air, and enjoying watching me squirm. But he has also had my back - especially emotionally. When I was struggling with a hard story, he always kept me focused on the job I had to do," she said.
It is difficult to remember when Joanne Dick and I first crossed paths. She lived around the corner, a couple of streets away, we went to Trevallyn Primary School and both attended Riverside High School. Her adored brother, Callum, and I crossed paths during our primary and high school years.
By 1993, she would be crowned Miss Tasmania and then Miss Australia. Palmer still finds it remarkable a girl from Launceston could be the first Tasmanian awarded Miss Australia since 1927.
In the role she witnessed hardship she had never seen before; extreme poverty, drought-affected farmers and broken families who opened her eyes up to what really mattered - her own family and her community.
Palmer and I have a special connection. The Dicks and the Wightmans attended Central Baptist Church, Launceston together. "This is Brian and Katie Wightman. Brian knew your grandfather," Palmer reminds her older children.
When very young, my father and I would visit Palmer's dad, Don Dick, at his home. Multiple Sclerosis had taken hold of his body. Mr Dick's bedroom was like a Leonardo Da Vinci blueprint; full of bespoke contraptions to make a very challenging life just that little bit easier.
There were pulleys and strings to open doors and control the television and handles and levers to make the bed more comfortable.
Dianne Dick, Don's wife and Jo and Callum's mother, personified love and kindness. Family time was spent discreetly caring for Don's physical needs including feeding and toileting, listening to stories, and playing chess. Palmer doubts many kids spent as much time with their dads as she did.
Palmer hated leaving her father to attend Trevallyn Primary School. "I ran to the toilets and wanted to go home. That's when my path crossed with Mrs Morris' - the office lady. She scooped me up, wiped away my tears, and told me I would be ok. She is still my friend today!" Palmer remembered fondly.
Palmer's childhood was tough. They didn't have a lot of money, but her parents provided everything money could not buy. Palmer and Callum were content and happy.
"Our clothes were secondhand or made by mum on her trusty sewing machine. I remember thinking I was so lucky to have a mother who could turn any old bit of material into a pretty dress," she recalled with pride.
As a budding journalist, Palmer started on the very bottom rung. She was a junior reporter under the tutorship of renowned Tasmanian pundit Maura Angle.
Maura was a profound influence, covering the aftermath of the Port Arthur massacre and the illness of the late Premier, Jim Bacon, with empathy and skill. After a solid grounding in news journalism, more challenges would quickly surface. "I was told when I started reading the news, by a certain producer who will remain nameless, that I needed to smoke at least 30 cigarettes per day before he would allow my voice to go to air. He said I sounded like a squeaky schoolgirl and needed some depth."
"The very first night I read a live news bulletin, I was eight months' pregnant.
I received about 10 minutes' training, was told where to look and what to say if a story crashed. That was it. But I must have done something right, because two decades later I was still there," she said. Nowadays, Palmer, a far more experienced and wiser journalist, has presence; the ability to fill a room no matter your stature nor position.
As Tourism Tasmania chief executive John Fitzgerald reflected, "Jo is everything that is grounded and down to earth about Tasmania. That's why she hosted the Qantas Australian Tourism Awards - in Hobart in 2013 and Launceston 2019".
It is difficult to think of a time when Jo was not the face of the nightly news in Tasmania. We will miss her, and she will miss us.
Palmer's all-time favourite story of a dedicated viewer came from a dear old lady whose husband was dying. "He told her to be strong and go about her day as per usual, then at 5.30pm get her dinner ready and be sitting in the lounge chair by 6pm to wait for Jo and Murph."
Palmer is as well known for her charity work across many worthy organisations as she is for presenting the news.
Tasmanian Health Service Community Engagement officer Lou Partridge offered, "Tasmanians owe Jo Palmer a debt of gratitude for her unwavering support for the Give Me Five for Kids annual appeal to help sick children in our hospitals".
"She is unfailingly kind, enthusiastic and empathetic working with everyone across the health system especially families and kids in need."
The charity work will continue; it is far too important and meaningful; it centres Palmer and reinforces the importance of hope and kindness. But as one chapter closes, many more will open.
"In the words of Christopher Robin to Winnie-the-Pooh, 'Promise me you'll always remember: You're braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.' Whatever lies ahead, I know my family will be right beside me and as proud of me as they always have been," she said.
Tasmania is proud of you too, Jo. Thank you.