Having worked solidly on building our experience on-air since the beginning of 2003—slowly creeping into better time slots, filling in for the regular breakfast show—after two years Sarah Robinson and I had made it to a place where we were able to take a huge next step: our own permanent full time positions. At the end of 2004, we signed contracts with 104.7 in Canberra to be their new breakfast show, with plans to start in early 2005.
On December 31, 2004, Sarah and I said goodbye to our friends and families, crammed everything we could fit into my 1981 Commodore, and made the 13 hour trip to Canberra. We nearly didn’t make the whole trip, because a 1981 Commodore doesn’t like doing that kind of thing on a whim. There was a real touch-and-go moment featuring a struggling radiator, a roadworks-induced traffic jam, and a heartbreakingly close but inaccessible BP: it nearly killed our careers, our friendship and the car. BUT: eventually we made it to the nation’s capital, ready to start our new lives.
The whole experience was bizarre and intimidating. Even though we were still idiot kids from Brisbane who had no idea what we were doing (we tried to keep that quiet as long as we could, but eventually we had to actually go on the air), we were being treated like minor celebrities. High-spending clients of the radio station gave us the oddest free things, like gym memberships and meat trays (MESSAGE RECEIVED, CANBERRA #bodyshame). We had cocktail events held in our honour, did local TV commercials and “appeared” at events as if our being there was a big deal. On one occasion we were the “celebrity judges” for Fashions on the Field at a Race Day: that event currently holds the record for The Least Qualified I Have Ever Been To Do Anything, Ever.
The pièce de résistance, though? WE GOT OUR NAMES ON A FUCKING COFFEE MUG.
The whole time this was happening; while we were being celebrated and paraded around like something worth seeing, we were completely befuddled. We didn’t feel like important people, we didn’t look like important people. It all felt so out of place. Not to mention that we were dead on our feet. With no budget for a producer, we were doing all the background work ourselves, and with no real clue what we were doing, all the background work took twice as long as it should have. Between interviews, planning meetings, pre-records, audio editing, writing, client call-outs and other show prep work, for the first several months we would start at 4:00am and not finish until around 4:00pm. Tired and confused: that sums up most of 2005.
Finding living arrangements befitting of this new life was at once very difficult and exceptionally easy. The difficult part was learning that Canberra was more expensive than I had realised. I had grown to love living alone since my time in Kelvin Grove, and was determined to do it again, but discovered I couldn’t afford to do it in Canberra. (Sidenote: This is not even a little bit true: I absolutely could have lived on my own in any number of places if I’d put more than five seconds thought into it. But remember: I was very tired.)
But once I’d come to terms with having to share, finding somewhere to live was the easy part. I wanted to be in the Ascot of Canberra. And I decided that the Ascot of Canberra was Dickson. Dickson is quaint and adorable and its main street looks like a movie set. It was pretty and central to my needs and I decided I was going to live there no matter what. (Sidenote: Dickson, while definitely lovely, is not the Ascot of Canberra. Kingston is the Ascot of Canberra, and is on the other side of the lake. I was way off. But remember: I was very tired.)
I’d even picked the building I wanted to live in: it was called Coventry.
Sitting above a startlingly dense collection of restaurants, “The Coventry” is part townhouse complex, part apartment complex, part secret hidden rooftop garden. The townhouses/apartments themselves form a border around the edge of the complex, while the middle is made up of an oasis of palm trees, water features and boardwalks.
I had to live there. I was going to live there. And I searched every corner of the internet looking for any sharehouse listing for 12 Challis Street.
I finally found one, which is how I ended up living with Hai. Hai mostly kept to himself playing World of Warcraft on two computers at once: His main character on his PC, and his secondary character “mostly for healing” which ran from a laptop on his knee. Hai was very friendly, though he was also a world class mansplainer. And he did do a lot of complaining (manmplaining?) about his impending promotion and how the move to six figures would push him up a tax bracket. Like, a lot of complaining. It dominated most conversations. But I would have happily listened to any number of complaints or unnecessary explanations of simple things if it meant getting to live in that building, which I was so in love with despite not once looking at any other place in any other suburb even for a single minute.
The apartment itself was glorious: two storeys, with each bedroom featuring its own full-sized bathroom. The shower took up one third of the entire room, so I could comfortably lie flat out on the shower floor without touching any surface (which, can I say: it cannot be overstated how handy that was for a hangover). Meanwhile, one entire wall of the bedroom—floor to ceiling—was glass. This was alarming at first; not just for me, but for the birds who flew headfirst into it on a semi-weekly basis.
One time a magpie slammed straight into the glass right in front of my face as I was idly staring out the window. I didn’t know the true meaning of “high pitched squeal” until that day. And those stupid winding windows that only open a fraction meant I was never able to reach far enough to get all the feathers off the splat-mark.
Avian suicide attempts notwithstanding, the apartment was wonderful and the location was great. And I don’t just mean the location of the suburb within Canberra, I mean the location of the apartment: twelve feet above seven different restaurants. And it wasn’t even twelve feet of stairs: there was an elevator. As it was, the new hours I was working did not lend themselves to good choices, meal-wise:
4:30am: Ughhhh. Breakfast.
9:00am: Show’s over! Phew, I’m starving, it’s technically still breakfast time, yeah?
12:00pm: Oh my god I haven’t eaten since breakfast at 4:30am! Let’s have lunch!
3:00pm: I work so hard, I deserve a little treat.
5:30pm: No, see, because of how early I start, everything is earlier, so technically this is my dinner time.
8:00pm: Why yes, I’d love to meet you for dinner!
And so on. Combine that with living 27 seconds away from Chinese, Szechuan Chinese, Japanese, Ethiopian, a dessert place that only served frozen custard, the best Indian restaurant I’ve ever been to, and Dominos (and this isn’t counting the dozen or so other restaurants and fast food joints directly across the street) and it wasn’t long until things went south.
Well, not south. More like simultaneously east and west.
Okay this isn’t part of the main story. This is a bonus. Consider it a thank you gift for staying with me for nearly one whole year. Like any fresh new radio show, we were thirsty for ratings. We were always looking for big stunts to do. Long story short: I lost a bet on air and my punishment was learning a cheer routine with the Canberra Raiders cheerleaders, and then performing said cheer routine at a game alongside the Raiderettes. Which is how, on April 10, 2005, I ended up at Canberra Stadium in front of 19,000 people looking like this:
You read that correctly; this image is embedded from Getty Images (which, incidentally, is why it is so inelegantly placed: thanks, rudimentary embedding code!). Getty Images’ one and only image of me is in drag and mid-cheer routine. Worse still? This photo has now been on the internet for TEN YEARS.