After 10 years of bringing international news and events to Australian lounge rooms from more than 30 different countries, Downs born and USQ educated journalist Mark Willacy has returned home from abroad.
Settled back in Brisbane with his family, Mark Willacy is finding being busy with home renovations a welcome break from his news reporting in Japan for the ABC which included covering the devastating earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdowns in 2011 and exposing the truth around the Fukushima nuclear disaster. His current work on his house feels even further removed from being a war correspondent in the Middle East, reporting on the downfall of Saddam Hussein and his firsthand experience of suicide bombers. “I have had a good run,” he explains. “All our kids have been born overseas, two in Jerusalem and the third in Tokyo. We wanted to expose them to their Australian culture, roots and family.”
Mark’s parents are still on the land on the Downs and his wife’s mum is close by in Toowoomba. “I was born in Papua New Guinea but grew up in and around Toowoomba. Toowoomba is really my home town,” he says. Mark studied at the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) in the engineering faculty but soon realised he would “make a lousy engineer” and changed to an arts degree majoring in literature and journalism. After graduating in 1995, he embarked on his career, holding postings for the ABC in the Middle East and North Asia. He is a two-time winner of Australia’s premier journalism prize, the Walkley Award, and was named Queensland journalist of the Year in 2010. He has also won the Eureka Prize for journalism for exposing corruption in Japan’s whaling program. In recognition of his achievements as one of Australia’s leading correspondents, his university awarded him the 2012 USQ Alumnus of the Year. He has also written two books, The View from the Valley of Hell, a memoir on his time reporting in the Middle East and Fukushima: Japan’s Tsunami and the Inside Story of the Nuclear Meltdowns, an investigation of the mismanagement by company TEPCO, written for those who Mark met who had lost children and wives in the “man-made” disaster.
He admits that when he returned from the Middle East he found it difficult to adjust to a suburban life but this time he believes he is up to the challenge as he takes on a role as Queensland’s representative on the ABC’s new national reporting team. “I believe I have shown that I can mix it with the journalists overseas now I am looking forward to breaking stories back in Australia. And I really won’t miss being crammed into a train every morning to go to work.”
Willacy’s family have their own adjustments to make. His youngest daughter, who spent her first three years in densely populated Tokyo, believes her Brisbane backyard is the park. And all will have to get used to the loud, gregariousness and openhearted nature of Australians after the polite, reserved and respectful Japanese. Mark Willacy starts back at work with the ABC’s national reporting team in March. “In the meantime I will be renovating my house, working with my hands, sweating away and earning my beer at the end of the day,” he says.
Words by Maria Ceresa