Dr Julia Baird was the keynote speaker at this year’s Drinks Association’s International Women’s Day event. The broadcaster and author has survived cancer, heartbreak and the fierce newsrooms of Australia and New York, and now hosts one of Australia’s most esteemed nightly current affairs programs, The Drum on ABC Television.
Baird has written books on the representation of female politicians by Australian media and Queen Victoria but her keynote speech for the Drinks Association centred mostly on her growing interest in the science of how human interactions with nature, and its wonders, benefit our physical and mental health; building up our sense of connectedness, resilience and strength. For Phosphorescence, Baird researched writings, philosophies and learnings from indigenous people, ancient philosophers, astronauts, and the abundant literature and experimental findings from natural and environmental scientists.
Baird actively searches for awe and wonder in nature, from cuttlefish, to whale song to phosphorescence. She strongly believes that seeking them out helps her to find her light within. Baird observed, “We don’t talk about awe and wonder nearly enough,” and challenged us to “make that part of our every day, not as an optional extra but as something we really need to do”.
When we press pause in our day, immerse ourselves in nature and look for awe and wonder, we become mindful, connected to the earth and we gain a whole new way of looking at ourselves, aware that we are but a speck in a wondrous and infinite landscape. For Baird, this practice has helped her to feel more connected, more resilient and built up her reserves of inner strength, particularly in her darkest moments.
Baird swims in the ocean near her home almost every day and has been doing so for a decade. It’s a practice that takes her outside of herself and reminds her to realise and relish her smallness on this mighty planet of ours.
She said: “Part of awe and the importance of it is the need to feel small. We talk a lot about the need to feel big: to occupy space, to command attention. And all of that is fine in a professional scene. But I also think we sometimes forget the importance of being small.
“When we feel small, we are more likely to feel connected to each other; more likely to feel connected to the earth.”
And it is not just nature where awe can be found: Baird also pointed to art, to music and opera as opportunities for encounters of the awesome kind where we can feel energised and strengthened by experiencing something far greater than ourselves.
Interview with Embrace Difference Council Chair, Simon Durrant
Following the keynote speech, Baird spoke with Embrace Difference Council Chair, Simon Durrant when the conversation turned to newsrooms and the male dominated environments that they have been. Baird shared two insights: firstly, that when women are in those newsrooms, conversations change and the idea of ‘what is news’ changes.
Secondly, she said that when television networks lost huge numbers of female viewers to the internet, the definition of 'news for broadcast' needed to change. Baird said that female viewpoints, expertise and experiences must be included in news making: they speak to half of a broadcaster's potential audience. Perhaps that's part of the reason that Baird has felt nothing but supported by her male counterparts when pulling together stories about domestic violence and other 'women's' issues.
On The Drum, the production team ensures just over 50% of panellists and guests are women and there are various mechanism in place at the ABC to ensure that balance is achieved. She said it requires a deliberate and conscious effort to ensure a diverse set of voices are at the table every time.
She said that "women’s voices, really always change the debate. But you have work to get them to that position. You have to encourage and coach and train women.” Whereas men will eagerly agree to appear in panel discussions, her production team often work hard to convince female guests that their expertise and experience is important, needs to be heard, and moreover, that there is an audience who wants to hear what they have to say.
“We are having a massive debate at the moment about whether women are heard and we need to be conscious on acting on some of the things that we have known for some time. Perhaps it is time to give those with a wealth of knowledge and experience a nudge," she said.
The two also discussed how the pandemic has pushed along our interactions with nature - it's where we had to go for exercise and socialising, forced us to get off the screens, to “get out and look around” and to be mindful all the while, as well as raising daughters and the ‘million ways’ open to them to be a woman.