Caroline Jones: A girl from the bush who became a trail blazer
A close-up shot in a news report focuses on a bouncing bob being brushed and teased at a hairdressing salon. It's 1969 and a woman can be heard in the black and white footage talking about how men "complain their wives take too long at the salon".
The shot pans out and we see the face behind the hair is a reporter introducing her story in the reflection of the mirror as she sits in the salon chair.
It's Caroline Jones — the first female reporter at This Day Tonight.
But make no mistake, this reporter isn't just about hairdressing and "female" stories.
She quickly forged a reputation as a fierce, credible and hard-hitting reporter.
Caroline Jones died this week, age 84.
In 2009, she told a reporter that her personal philosophy is to "enjoy each day as though it may be your last". And that she did.
Jones is remembered as a warm and kind person with a wicked sense of humour, but perhaps her biggest legacy is the strides she made for women in media and television.
Joining the ABC in 1963, Jones worked at This Day Tonight program, after which she became the presenter of Four Corners, with a weekly audience of 2 million viewers.
"It was such an unusual appointment that it became news," Jones told ABC Alumni news in 2021.
Jones's bold moves and ability to rise to a challenge paved the way for new and future generations of women in the media.
Her legacy will lie in the pages of newspapers, podcasts, television news reports, radio broadcasts and online. Her colleagues remember her as a dignified, respected and much-loved journalist who never shied away from exposing wrongdoings in her reporting.
As Australian Story founding executive producer Deborah Fleming once said: "There are many people in the media who are respected. I think there are very few who manage to be both respected and loved."'I hoped to open the door for other women'
Journalism is in Caroline Jones's blood, but it wasn't until her late 20s that she started in the industry. It came sometime after being turned away from a cadetship after finishing high school.
"I always wanted to be a journalist, but it took me a good long while before I actually got into it," Jones said in an interview with Women in Media (WIM) in 2021.
"I think it was because although I was quite good at writing English and so on, I was a bit timid. I didn't look or sound as though I had much, awful, much drive. And so nobody took me on."
Jones was born and raised as an only child in the small country town of Murrurundi in the Upper Hunter region of NSW.
The girl from the bush was the granddaughter of Ashley Needham Pountney, who was the editor of some of the first newspapers in north-west NSW including the Murrurundi Times, The Werris Creek Express and Quirindi Advocate.
''Murrurundi was very formative for me," Jones told the Newcastle Herald in 2013. "I was growing up in a country community and that stays with you your whole life."
After six years of assorted jobs, overseas travel and an incomplete university degree, a friend helped her score a job with the ABC in Canberra.
"It was great to start in what was then a regional centre because you learnt a bit of everything," Jones said in 2013. "You were answering the phone, you were learning make-up and gradually learning some interviewing and being sent out on jobs. I think that was a very good training."
Jones's natural ability and determination saw her make her way to Sydney for Saturday night current affairs program This Day Tonight. She was 31.
"That was a big deal to be asked to go there, especially since they were all men."
The team she joined included Bill Peach, Ray Martin, Mike Carleton and Richard Carlton.
"I knew that I had been given a unique opportunity when I was invited to join the This Day Tonight team," Jones told WIM in a 2021 interview.
"I just thought, my job now is to do this as well as I possibly can and get on with everybody and I hoped that would open the door for other women.
"If it did, I'm very happy."
"I joined a team of extremely competitive young men, most of whom went on to make their mark in the industry. I did not find that a difficulty, and I found that I was treated with the respect and friendship by the male members of the team."
Jones was up for the challenge. Not only did she meet expectations, but she exceeded them, forging a path to becoming one of the most revered and respected journalists in the country.
Jones made the unconventional decision in the 1960s not to have a family. ''I chose not have children,'' she told the Newcastle Herald in 2013.
She married and divorced early in her career.
"I just made a choice, and it was the right decision for me but now you see, women naturally want a family life, and I sometimes think it's at great cost and strain," she told the Newcastle Herald.Jones joins Four Corners
"Girl will take over Four Corners."
"Brawn now, beauty next."
"She doesn't particularly appeal to me as a sex symbol."
"When I became the first woman to anchor Four Corners, second wave feminism was just getting underway in Australia," Jones told the ABC program Four Corners during its 60th anniversary program. "But that had not reached the ears of the gentlemen of the press.
"Now I think we can just have a good laugh at headlines like those because they are so outrageous. And to young women in the media now, they are completely unbelievable. But they are part of our history."
The newspaper cut-outs show just how Jones was portrayed in those early years.
"I was dispatched on a one-day publicity trip to Melbourne. This produced a full front-page on the Listener-In, and showed my painful inexperience of being in the media spotlight," Jones told WIM in 2021.
"Incredibly, with hindsight, I allowed myself to be photographed sitting on a bar stool in a mini-skirt, applying lipstick, and answering questions from a reporter a lot smarter than I was.
"I was mortified, shocked by my own naivety. I wasn't prepared to become a public figure; my pride was in being a reporter; I had no idea how to handle the media attention. I had to learn the hard way."
Jones said back at the ABC her gender had not created quite the same fuss.
"While I was the first woman to anchor and to report, on Four Corners, I was by no means the only woman there," she told ABC Alumni in 2021.
"The program depended on the essential work of fact researchers, film researchers, archivists, script assistants and admin staff, not to mention make-up – all women, all highly capable, and all paid at a lower rate than their male counterparts."
Jones worked at Four Corners for nine years, which she combined with presenting ABC radio's public affairs program City Extra. Then, in the late 1980s, after taking an extended break from the industry, she returned to host the Radio National program, The Search for Meaning.
It was these intimate portraits of human life that inspired the current affairs program Australian Story.A 'warm and calming voice' on Australian Story
"Hello, I'm Caroline Jones."
It's the warm, familiar voice viewers looked forward to hearing Monday evenings when Australian Story aired on ABCTV.
In a narrator-less storytelling format, Caroline became the face of the program.
"Although our paths had crossed previously, I really got to know Caroline properly in 1995 when I was assigned to work with Deb Fleming on a new program, with the working title 'Australian Correspondent' — which morphed into Australian Story by the time it first aired in May 1996," former supervising producer and good friend Helen Grasswill said.
Jones had to "audition" for her presenter role, but it was clear she was the stand-out candidate. Even until her final episode introduction she never used an autocue.
"We called her 'one-take' Caroline'," Grasswill remembered.
"Although Caroline had long retired from the ABC, we thought we’d approach her and see if she might consider becoming involved.
"I organised to film Caroline’s audition at a beautiful historic home of a friend on mine who lived at Avalon on Sydney’s northern beaches.
"Her presentation offered everything we were looking for — warmth, authority, trustworthiness."
Australian Story cameraman Quentin Davis said Jones had a knack for arriving for filming well rehearsed and focused. Every hair in place, the blouse and scarf carefully chosen.
"She always nailed it in one take, but we'd always do a few more," Davis said.
"It was always a pleasure working with Caroline, she knew her stuff.
"We used to send her over a VHS of the program so she could watch and become familiar with the story and the visuals before she memorised her intro."
Jones worked at Australian Story from its inception until her retirement in 2016.
Founding executive producer Deborah Fleming said the Search for Meaning radio program was inspiration for the program.
"I was a big fan of Caroline’s Search for Meaning Radio program," Fleming said. "It was groundbreaking at the time — there was nothing like it anywhere else, here or overseas.
"It inspired so much of what followed when we eventually launched Australian Story."
Fleming said Jones brought to Australian Story warmth, compassion, immense credibility and integrity.
"She helped keep us all on our toes behind the scenes with her forensic journalistic brain and intense interest in all the stories."
Even after her retirement in 2016, Jones remained the program's "biggest supporter", often staying up late on a Monday evening to chat with viewers on Twitter — no matter what time zone they were in.
In a 2009 interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, Jones said her biggest achievement in life was being asked to be the presenter of Australian Story. "I believe it's the best program on television today," she said.
Australian Story executive producer Caitlin Shea said Jones's credibility was fundamental to the program's early success.
"If she hadn't lent her credibility and stature to this new program coming out of Brisbane, I doubt we'd exist today let alone get past our first season," she said.
"She was so much more than a presenter. She was a champion of the program and an ambassador, a discerning taste-tester of stories and a cheerleader for weary producers.
"Even after Caroline left the program, she continued to email feedback and words of encouragement. She was a big part of our family."
Long-time Australian Story producer Belinda Hawkins said Jones was key to creating community within the Australian Story team.
"I remember the first time I met Caroline at the end of year Australian Story gathering in the heat of pre-Christmas Queensland 17 years ago," Hawkins said.
"I was still feeling my way on the program. She approached me, sat me down and asked how I was going.
"A rush of calm came over me. She still has the same effect on me over the years.
"She was the greatest believer in the power we all have to drill down into what it is to be human."Achievements snapshot
- A Logie award in 1972 for an investigation of inner-city slum landlords
- Walkley Award for Outstanding Contribution to Journalism, 2013
- Australian Media Hall of Fame, 2021
- Women in Media patron
- Made an officer of the Order of Australia and named a 'Living Treasure'.
Jones's long and successful career has been much celebrated, however, it's her personal charities, causes and projects that have brought her the most joy, particularly in her retirement years.
Jones has travelled from state to state to play an integral role in Women in Media (WIM) networking events and run the nationwide mentoring scheme. She took her role as co-patron of WIM very seriously. Her passion for helping other women was obvious.
It's clear at every WIM national conference by the line up of those wanting to speak with and grab a selfie with the "living treasure" just how much she means to the next generation of journalists.
The WIM T-shirts even display a quote from Jones herself which reads: "I know there is a special place in Heaven for women who help other women".
Jones was particularly focused on helping lift-up regional and rural reporters. Perhaps it's her country upbringing shining through.
The Caroline Jones Women in Media Young Journalist's Award is the first of its kind in encouraging young female rural and regional journalists to experience first-hand the complexities of the media and political landscape across the nation’s capital.
“Maybe it’s because I come from the bush; or because my grandfather Ashley Pountney was editor of the first newspapers in north-west NSW, this award is close to my heart," Jones told WIM when the award launched.
ABC News launched the Caroline Jones Scholarship in 2018 — a 12-month cadet position providing financial and on-the-job development for a talented Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person who aspires to be a journalist.
Journalist Lisa Millar spoke of Jones's passion for mentoring in 2017 when the veteran journalist was inducted into the Australian Media Hall of Fame.
"Caroline is so selfless in how she goes about her mentoring, especially of younger female journalists," Millar said.
"Even now after this incredible career, she never sits back and says, 'Oh well, I'm done, I'm the queen of the castle, you can all go do your own thing'. She basically wants to bring you into the castle with her.
"It's a pretty incredible feeling knowing Caroline Jones has got your back."
Jones had a deeply rooted sense of public duty and throughout her life worked extremely hard behind the scenes helping countless people who needed a lift-up.
When the Taliban took back control of Afghanistan in 2021, Jones, at 83, spearheaded a fundraising campaign to assist Mahboba Rawi, whose organisation Mahboba’s Promise assists Afghan orphans and young refugees to come to Australia and support them as they start a new life.
"Single-handedly Caroline called prominent business people and convinced them to donate everything needed to furnish and supply the houses, along with cash donations," good friend and former colleague Helen Grasswill said. "She even went to retail outlets to help choose much of the furnishing."
Jones didn't stop in her retirement years. In fact, she was busier than ever.
The retiree became a reading tutor, travelling once a fortnight to Sydney's western suburbs to help primary school children who are struggling to read.
"I was taught to read and write by my beloved grandmother before I went to school, and reading and writing have been one of the great joys of my life," she told the Sydney Morning Herald in 2009. "So it's a pleasure to help small children learn to read."
But for Grasswill, it's Jones's selflessness that she admires most.
"Her work ethic on these voluntary projects reflects the work ethic that I saw throughout the 22 years of working with her," Grasswill said.
"I have the utmost respect for Caroline on every level. Caroline was immensely loyal to everyone she came in contact with.
"I salute her."
ABC Managing Director David Anderson described Jones as a hugely influential, respected and loved journalist, writer and broadcaster, who broke down barriers throughout her career.
"Caroline was an important voice for many Australians and she served ABC audiences with distinction and class," Mr Anderson said.
"Like many ABC journalists of her generation, she helped to define Australian broadcast journalism.
"As well as a razor-sharp mind and unflappable self-possession, she had a wonderful voice and warm presence that Australians respected and loved.
"In her honour, in 2018 the ABC created the 12-month Caroline Jones Scholarship, providing financial and on-the-job development in ABC News for a talented young Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander journalist.
"Caroline was a loved and valued member of the ABC family and will be tremendously missed. On behalf of everyone at the ABC I extend my sincere sympathies to Caroline's family and friends."Credits
Reporter and digital production: Megan Mackander
Photos: ABC Archives, Australian Story, Women in Media
Video: ABC Archives, Australian Story, Four Corners, This Day Tonight