Journalism trailblazer Narelda Jacobs paves the way for future Aboriginal, LGBTQI+ news anchors and leaders
The voice that brings the entire world into the space where old armchairs sit warm and full, the voice that thousands of households rely on to bring all things important direct to them, the voice of Narelda Jacobs is going strong.
Ms Jacobs made history by becoming the first Aboriginal, lesbian, female anchor of a major commercial news network – 11 years on, her reign continues.
Home-grown in the suburbs of Perth, Ms Jacobs was the youngest of five daughters and grew up in a very traditional Christian family.
Her father, a reverend of the Uniting Church, was very active in Aboriginal politics and was constantly in conversation with journalists.
Ms Jacobs believes this is something that drove her to wanting to pursue a career in broadcast journalism – deciding in Year 7 that that was her calling.
“There would always be journos over at the house or calling Dad. I would take the phone and pass it on and seeing them in action, I was inspired,” Ms Jacobs said.
“It’s where the dream started, I love telling and writing stories – we always had news and current affairs on at home.”
After graduating high school, Ms Jacobs applied to Western Australia Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) but was knocked back due to her age. She then began working at the Native Title Tribunal, however realised shortly after she was pregnant.
“I was pregnant at 18 and because of my upbringing, it was a no-brainer I’d get married. I fell pregnant and got married at 18, Jade was born when I was 19,” Ms Jacobs said.
“And it was no surprise the marriage didn’t work out, when Jade was six-months [old], we separated.”
A single teenage mum, Ms Jacobs leaned on her family for support.
“My mum and dad and sisters were incredible. Jade had this amazing family around her, it wasn’t just me. But I accepted the responsibility of motherhood and took it seriously.”
Ms Jacobs went back to work, returning full-time when Jade turned one. In a last-ditch effort, Ms Jacobs reapplied for WAAPA and was successful, beginning a degree in broadcast journalism.
“I like to think it’s the beginning of the rest of my life. I absolutely loved it, I tried so hard, my lecturers worked in the industry and I impressed them – which paid off because when I finished, they helped me get my first job at Gold West Network in Bunbury.”
In 2000 Ms Jacobs joined the ten network, and in 2008, she became the official anchor of Perth’s 5pm News.
“I love the responsibility that goes with it and the privilege.”
Although a dream come true, the circumstances of her promotion were heart-breaking – taking over the position after the tragic loss of fellow anchor Charmaine Dragun in November 2007.
“There was a lot of sadness when I took over the position – there was that element of needing to respect her, honouring her and making her proud,” Ms Jacobs said.
“It was a matter of months before I could do it. She passed in November and it wasn’t until June the following year that I started.”
Ms Jacobs is a powerful woman, paving space for not only Aboriginal women in the media industry but members of the LGBTQI+ community.
One of her hardest moments was revealing her sexuality to those close to her.
“I knew they would never accept it, when I came out to my mum the best thing I expected was what she said – she would never accept it but she would always love me and always welcome me home.”
“We will never see eye-to-eye but I appreciate my mum saying this. Our votes cancelled each other’s out for the marriage equality referendum, but I want that relationship with my mum and she will always love me and I will always love her.”
Being an influential figure, Ms Jacobs recalls the pride she had advocating during the marriage equality referendum.
“To be in a position where you could influence people was incredible. I’ve felt that I’ve been in that position before and I relished it, I love to be able to declare to the world that as a lesbian, I want to marry the woman I love. I hope I did sway a few votes,” Ms Jacobs said.
“It is hard, but people need to know they aren’t alone. I knew my parents would not accept my sexuality, but coming out set me free. You need to be true to your identity and back yourself. There are so many people out there like you and there are people who will support you.”
She has an incredible journey paved behind her and the bricks to build a powerful future.
“You just don’t know what life is going to bring, and at what point are you satisfied with what you have achieved? Do you want to achieve more or are you satisfied with where you’re at and are happy to stay there? Do we owe it to ourselves to keep pushing ourselves to see where we can go?”
“That’s where I’m at now, I love reading the 5pm news but I also love new challenges.”
With 11 years of moulding the anchor seat under her belt, Ms Jacobs pondered what will be said by people sitting in her chair in the years to follow, and the opportunities and support it has given her.
“We are going to see so many different cultures standing in Parliament representing every sector of the community,” Ms Jacobs said.
“We are going to see transgender Australians, we are going to see more Islamic Australians, we will see more gays and lesbians, more people from Asian descent, people from all walks of life who represent our community so much better than what is representing us right now.”
“It warms my heart and at times makes me emotional when I see the people proud of me and when I think of the love people have given me in the years, Aboriginal people and LGBT community. I don’t take it lightly and I want to keeping making them proud, my family proud and myself proud.”
By Rachael Knowles