Five decades is a long time to be in one career, but veteran newsman Mal Walden found that the media world was the one for him when he was just 17.
Retiring from the Channel 10 news desk in 2013, 73-year-old Mal has just written a book called The Newsman: 60 Years of Television, where he reflects on his long career.
The genial news host of Channel Seven and then Channel 10 began his career in radio as a 17-year-old, after leaving Mentone Grammar and applying for a job as a cadet broadcaster at 3YB in Warrnambool, in south-west Victoria.
Mal’s first big break in TV journalism was connected with The Salvation Army, on Christmas Day 1974—the day Cyclone Tracy struck Darwin.
‘I was a cadet journalist and had spent Christmas morning with The Salvation Army in Melbourne recording a story of how they were helping the underprivileged and homeless celebrate Christmas. On my return to HSV7 I was told to pack a bag and prepare to fly to Darwin,’ Mal tells Warcry.
‘I was struggling to impress my news director and his final words were, “Don’t let me down, this is your last chance, this will make you or break you, son”.’
As history was to prove, it was the making of Mal Walden, newsman.
‘I was the first to file a story from cyclone-devastated Darwin. One of the most amazing moments was meeting up with the same Salvation Army staff I had encountered in Melbourne the previous day—those guys really moved fast in a crisis’, Mal recalls.
While this was a definite career breakthrough moment for Mal, in his book he doesn’t shy away from the low points and difficult stories in his long career. Recalling the death of his colleagues, the Balibo Five, in Indonesia was one of them; another included a helicopter crash near the Victorian town of Lang Lang in the early 1980s, which killed four of his colleagues.
Then there was the personal loss of close former colleague, newsreader Brian Naylor, in the Black Saturday bushfires.
But sometimes good things can flower from tragedy. Some readers may remember the case of eight-year-old Eloise Worledge, who was abducted from the bedroom of her Beaumaris home in 1976, and Mal was sent to interview her distraught mother, Patsy.
‘From the moment I met Patsy Worledge we formed a friendship that continues to this day. She spoke of her close friend Pauline who was offering her such loving support—that was the same Pauline who was hired months later as secretary to my news boss,’ Mal says.
‘Several years later Pauline became my wife, and today Patsy Worledge is godmother to our daughter Sarah.’
Mal is clear about the elements that led to his longevity in a volatile career.
‘Being in the right place at the right time; it’s not what you know but who you know; and having had a good Christian upbringing by very loving parents,’ he said.
The Bible says that ‘a faithful witness tells the truth’ (Proverbs chapter 12, verse 17), and, as the newsman we welcomed into our lounge rooms, Mal Walden has always endeavoured to do just that.
The Newsman: Sixty Years of Television, RRP $34.99, published by Angus