Kerryn Johnston is one of Australia’s most respected newsreaders, delivering WIN Television’s Illawarra and Canberra bulletins each week night. She is a loving mother of two and a dedicated ambassador for Aspect – Autism Spectrum Australia, the Mother’s Day Classic (Canberra) and the William Campbell Foundation. Kerryn is also smart, funny, beautiful and she gives great hair. Which explains how, when we found ourselves talking over tea on the grounds of the serene Nan Tien Buddhist Temple, just days after Christmas, I began by asking her about her HAIR…
Amber: How do you do your hair like that Kerryn?
Kerryn: Really? Ahhhh… I can’t do this, no.
So far, the interview is NOT looking promising. It is my very first official interview for The Beautiful Lens and my subject is not only a woman who I have admired and looked up to for a very long time… she is also my sister-in-law. Lucky for me, she’s forgiving.
AM: I have to ask you about style and beauty and fashion as well as other (wiser) stuff.
AM: Did you have to learn any specific styling techniques or did you just pick them up in the newsroom over time?
KJ: Just over time and also having a daughter who requires her hair to be done for dancing. I probably learn more about hair from doing hers.
AM: Do you use a barrel curler? Or a straightener?
KJ: Just a GHD.
AM: And any product (to hold the curl) or just hairspray?
KJ: Just hairspray.
AM: See, my curls don’t hold like that. Maybe because of my length.
KJ: I don’t have any product in there at all, just spray. But I only wash it every second day.
AM: What about your beauty regime?
KJ: It is very simple. I only use makeup wipes and moisturiser.
AM: You don’t use a face wash?
KJ: I used to find most commercial face wipes quite drying. Then a girlfriend who had started working for Motives suggested I use these ones. They’re really nice. It feels like I’m putting moisturiser on my skin when I take my makeup off. I was almost ready to give up on wipes because my skin was really dry.
AM: And what about moisturiser. Do you use any special moisturiser?
KJ: Not at the moment, just Olay.
AM: You have such good skin.
KJ: I have a lot of makeup on. (laughs)
AM: Do you use a particular brand of makeup?
KJ: Yes, I use MAC.
AM: Do you find you need MAC for TV work?
KJ: Well, I used to alternate between MAC and Napoleon, but the make-up artist we use likes MAC.
It was time to segue.
AM: Do you like to read?
AM: Have you always read?
KJ: I have always read, but I think since having kids I have probably read less. I’m reading more now, but in the early days of kids, no.
AM: I think that must be a universal problem for mothers. What genres do you like?
KJ: I pretty much like anything other than science fiction.
AM: I’m feeling you there.
KJ: I like fiction, I like drama. I have a wide, kind of eclectic collection of books. But yeah, definitely not science fiction and horror. Right now, I’m reading Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty and really enjoying it. I just finished and highly recommend We Are All Completely Beside Ourselvesby Karen Joy Fowler. Loved, loved it. Before that, I read Jodi Picoult‘s Leaving Time and prior to that Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan, which I found very interesting.
AM: You’ve been reading news for more than twenty-five years…
KJ: Yeah, twenty-three down here [in Wollongong] and two in radio.
AM: And what do you think you have achieved that stands out to you from that period, career-wise?
KJ: There have been a few awards along the way, but that’s not really that meaningful to me. It’s more, I guess, about doing things like working on [TV] specials. Things that I care about. That’s probably been the most rewarding thing for me.
AM: Can you tell us about the TV special that you worked on this year?
KJ: This year’s special was on childhood cancer. And even though we have been fortunate enough to not have had our lives affected by it, it’s impossible for it to not impact upon anyone’s feelings. I find it quite life-changing meeting those people. It’s glib, but it’s true, once you’ve experienced these people’s lives for a couple of hours, it really gives you an entirely different perspective on how fortunate you are in your own home.
AM: I imagine that it is quite a change from reading news too. I imagine that you’re able to add a lot more of your personality and your own experience.
KJ: Absolutely. I was a journalist for a long time, but once I had kids I was purely presenting, so having the opportunity to actually write again, albeit infrequently, is lovely. I am blessed that I get to choose what I am writing about too, it’s not a sausage factory, it’s not every day having to pump out four stories. Infrequently, I’m choosing a special, and I’m just working for a few months on it.
AM: So it’s about you bringing an idea to the table at work? It’s not something that you have a requirement to do, like a certain amount of specials each year?
KJ: No, no, it’s more about having an area of interest and just working on it.
AM: You have two children (my fantastic niece and nephew). Having a daughter, do you feel a responsibility to pass on any particular advice to her in terms of a lineage of womanhood?
KJ: Possibly, but I think it’s more… I know people that have three boys, and they have different hopes for each of them. I don’t think it’s gender-specific, not with my two at least. I have certain things I really hope they achieve, because like all of us there are areas where we shine and areas where we have deficits, so there are things that I want to build in them. And with my daughter I suppose I really want her to be strong. She is a kind child, she has a kind heart, but I want her to be a strong woman. I think that is really important. And I don’t mean a bra-burning feminist; I mean to have the confidence not to have to be a bra-burning feminist. And I want her to have the confidence to feel that she’s okay, wherever she is.
AM: Your mum is here today with us. What lessons do you think you learnt from her, whether directly explained to you or things you just identified?
KJ: She’s a very hard worker; she is a really, really strong woman. I think I’m quite independent, and I’ve probably got that from her. Her independence was probably thrust upon her, whereas I’m fortunate, not to be in that situation while my children are growing up, but I still think I probably inherited that from her. Whether it’s in my DNA or just from watching her, and I think that’s a good thing.
AM: We have been to the Nan Tien Temple together lots of times. I know both of us appreciate it even though we’re not Buddhists. What do you get from being here?
KJ: Well, the temple is our peace. This is our place of peace, and it seems to me, whenever I make a resolution or a plan for change, it’s always about trying to include more peaceful moments in my life. Whether it be in my family or whether it be globally, as soon as I drive in here and as soon as I walk into the temple I feel a sense of peace that I feel I don’t get anywhere else. And my whole family feel the same way, there’s something about this place.
AM: What do you think you’d like to do in the next year in terms of personal achievements, growth or things you’d like to work on?
KJ: I think about this a lot at this time of year.
AM: It’s a hard one isn’t it because you don’t want feel like you’re just grabbing at random straws.
KJ: I find I come up with ten things, that’s my issue. I overthink, and then I’m like, ‘It’s too much’ and then I find by January 2nd if I haven’t achieved something in all of those areas I feel like I have failed. So, look, this year, and I say this every year really, I want more calm in our home, I want us to slow down. And I want to not feel guilt over having those moments. I think that’s a big issue for me.
AM: Why do you think you feel guilty about that?
KJ: I don’t know, I really don’t know where that comes from, but we are all fairly highly strung.
AM: But you’re also really high achievers, all four of you.
KJ: Yeah, I just feel like if I sat down and read for an hour in the day, and Stu’s forever suggesting it and he bought me that amazing chair and I think I’ve sat in it twice, that egg chair…
AM: You’ve sat in it twice?
KJ: Truly, and if I could just sit and read for an hour every day. And if I could say, and this is my plan every year, because I love photography, that two hours on a Wednesday or whatever is going to be the time that, no matter what I will devote to that, with no guilt even if the lounge room is a disaster. It’s finding that. It’s being okay with that second bit that makes me struggle with the first bit. If I could just look at the house and go, ‘I’ll do that tomorrow’ I’d be alright, but… that’s my struggle. And I need to find something, and I say this every year too, I really want to find something for me. Like learning a language or doing something that is just for pure joy.
AM: And sometimes those things lead you to great adventures! I know you guys learnt Italian for a year or so.
KJ: Yes, I’d love to go back [to lessons]. Every December I vow that I am going to do that again and then every January when things get chaotic again with the kids I think, ‘Nope. I can’t fit that one in’.
AM: There is something about the years of prioritising other people that changes you forever.
AM: Parenting makes us less selfish, but it can also mean that we forget how to take what we need for ourselves.
KJ: It absolutely does.
AM: And to prioritise those things, when actually, as the kids get a bit older you probably can do those things again. You’re just not, you haven’t done it for ten years or longer, how do you start to?
KJ: Well it does, it teaches you humility and patience, but in my experience, as they get older their needs, in some ways, become greater. They don’t need constant supervision, and you don’t need to shower them and to feed them and do all that type of stuff. They have a lot more independence, but their needs in terms of my free time, which is fairly limited anyway, their needs are quite high. Abbey’s in particular with her chosen sport. But fortunately I actually get joy out of it. I am, sadly, a self-declared dance mom.
AM: Hahaha. Okay, you’re bringin’ it.
KJ: I am. I’m not the one off the show, but I love it…
AM: I haven’t seen the series, is it worth watching?
KJ: Oh it’s horrifying. It’s hard to believe but apparently it’s true.. But I’m not that dance mum. I just get such incredible joy watching her dance, and being a part of it.
AM: She has remarkable focus. For a child to spend so much time dancing at her age is remarkable.
KJ: She just loves it. Well, her little friends that are there too, and that’s her second family, it’s really lovely, it’s become a second family. And for me to a degree too. In the first few years I railed against it because I thought ‘This is insane, I’m not going to become this person.’ you know. My life is not going to revolve around my children’s sport. But it doesn’t feel like a sacrifice anymore. It feels like something that she loves so much that I get joy out of as well.
AM: Your background sports-wise was in physical culture…
KJ: And Ballet.
AM: Do you do any of those types of things for yourself now?
KJ: No I don’t. I have a gym membership that I pay every week and don’t utilise.
AM: But obviously you’re a fit, healthy woman.
KJ: I’m healthy-ish yeah, I think you just self-monitor don’t you? You just feel ‘Alright, I don’t feel great at the moment, so I’m going to eat more fruit, and I’m going to be a bit more active’. I think we’re so active with the kids that I think that is probably the equivalent to going to the gym.
AM: Do you have any particular vices?
KJ: Coffee is probably my greatest vice but, fortunately, I can’t overindulge because it affects me. It makes me super anxious, so I can only have one, maybe occasionally two in a day.
AM: And, as a contrast to your vices, what are you good at?
KJ: This is a question you’ll find most women will stumble on.
AM: I know. I think we’re often shy about our achievements. And probably that ability defines men in so many ways. They are, even if they’re not boastful and even if they’re very charming and charismatic, they’re kind of okay with saying that.
KJ: Yeah, I don’t know. I think at this point in my life, and it changes all the time, but I think I do my job well. I think that my skill in the workplace is less about reading and more about the fact that I actually really care about and love the language and I like to make sure that what I am reading is correct and I am interested in editing and that aspect of it really appeals to me.I think that’s probably my strength in the workplace. Other than that, at this point in time, I am a mum and trying to facilitate my family’s needs and I don’t see that as a sacrifice, it makes me happy, sometimes makes me irate (laughs) only because we’re time poor.
AM: I know that you love to travel.Where was the last place you went?
KJ: Tasmania was probably our last big trip, our bike trip around Tasmania.
AM: Where are you going next?
KJ: We’re going to Vanuatu with the kids. So the bike trip was a once a year thing that I do with my husband when my mum and step-Dad mind the kids and we go away for a week, which is an absolute blessing and we look forward to it every year. Vanuatu is with the kids, because its paradise, you’re relaxing, you’re forced to read a book and do nothing else and the kids love it.
AM: And where is your dream destination, if somebody was going to book you a trip for, say, July next year…
KJ: I would go back to Italy. I’ve been a couple of times, but I absolutely love everything about it and I would go in a heartbeat.
AM: Where have you been in Italy?
KJ: I’ve done all the cities like Venice and Rome and Naples. I’d really like to do, what’s it called on the cliffs there?
AM: The Cinque Terre.
KJ: Yes, I would love to do that, I love the food, the language, I love Western Europe. I mean I would do that again before doing things I hadn’t seen which is probably to my detriment but I do love it that much.
AM: You haven’t taken your kids yet, have you?
KJ: We’ve always contemplated it, but we’ve never done it because we weren’t sure how James would go in the past with any long-haul trips. But they’re actually quite good travellers, both of them. They sit in the car to Byron several times a year, and they’re happy. So yes we will, we’ll do it but the other thing is, selfishly, we liked Italy so much that we’re like, ‘Ahh, I don’t know that we should…’
AM: I certainly found that it’s a lot more exhausting travelling with kids.
KJ: And I think, where our kids’ interests lie, they wouldn’t get enough out of it at this point.
AM: I look forward to travelling with our kids when they’re in their early twenties or something like that. I think that will be fun, exploring somewhere we haven’t been before together. As adults.
KJ: Yeah, absolutely, Abbey has already booked us in for Paris when she’s sixteen, so we might wait until she’s eighteen. So we can lure her away from the whole idea of schoolies and offer her Paris.
Paris always sounds good to me.
Words and Photography by Amber Melody | The Beautiful Lens