"I didn’t have the life story where I would settle down and have children in my 20s. So if you’re not doing that—which is one way a lot of women went—you’ve got to be on some other journey. So I was on this journey of taking the opportunities as they came.
In your 20s, you just have boundless energy. I never watched television in my 20s, I never went out to restaurants for dinner. I was on the move the whole time. I was singing in bands, I was tap-dancing, I was doing self-defence, I was organising rallies. I was taking everything in. I’d go dancing a couple of nights a week and work through the day when I finished studying.
After uni, a job fell into my lap and it turned out to be something I really enjoyed: Activities Officer at Flinders Uni. They needed someone, I said, “Sure, why not?” and moved from Adelaide to Melbourne. It involved booking bands and putting on concerts. Even though I’d never organised anything in my life, I took to it like a duck to water. I was like the Minister for Fun.
When I moved to Melbourne, I got invited to join a women’s band that was just starting up. It was called Toxic Shock, because that was in the news at the time. We were an all girl band and we were feminists. We had a terrific time. I was the singer and looked a little bit punk: bleached blonde hair, short skirts and leather jackets. My rock idols were Chrissie Hynde—I saw The Pretenders every time they came out—Suzi Quatro, Chrissie Amphlett, Blondie, Siouxsie and the Banshees, that sort of rock ‘n’ roll girl.
Within a year, I was at La Trobe Uni, doing my job on a much bigger scale with the fantastic title of Entertainment Officer. It was very cool. Big rock ‘n’ roll events, festivals, workshop programs. Then, at 26, I began coordinating the Statewide Women’s Arts Festival for Victoria’s 150th anniversary celebrations. It was a very big job that I shared with another woman, but it turned into two full-time jobs straight away. We had 30 staff, oversaw a budget of a million-plus dollars and managed staff, programs and a statewide publicity campaign.
I learned an enormous amount, but I was absolutely exhausted by the end of it. I took six months off and travelled overseas: New York; a month or so in Italy; three months in London. It was when I was overseas that I realised I wanted to try to get into journalism. Suddenly, it just became crystal clear to me that this was what I wanted to do. It was about taking a step back away from the fun and the games, and the sense I’d reached the end of something. I was also 29, so there’s a Saturn’s return in there. Perhaps that explains it. It was only when I was overseas that the idea really crystallised for me.
I got an interview for a job in current affairs radio with the AM and PM programs in Melbourne. Of course, I didn’t get it, but I did get an interview and a callback offering six weeks’ work, because someone was going on holidays. So I got to work there for six weeks, and I was on PM for my first day there. I turned 30 while I was on that job, and it was just terrific.
People always say “I’d never be 20-something again,” but I would always be 20-something again. This is a great period in your life. My advice is to make the most of it and use the energy levels you have, because trust me: you think you’re going to have that much energy forever and you don’t. That’s just a hard fact of life. Make the most of it. Don’t sit around. Get out there.”
Fran Kelly (Toxic Shock)