NATASHA BEYERSDORF... Asking All the Right Questions
From the time she was a teenager growing up in Armidale, NBN newsreader Natasha Beyersdorf knew she was destinated for a life in front of the camera. With a love of English and a penchant for crafting stories as a young child, it was little surprise that as she grew older, Natasha began to imagine turning her passion into a profession.
“From a reasonably young age, I just loved writing. I loved English, it was my favourite subject, and I’d write these really farfetched kinds of stories … writing was always my thing,” she said.
“When I got into high school, I started thinking that it might be a path that I’d go down (after school).
“I think being a reporter was always in me in a way. My friend’s family got one of the first VHS cameras that came out, I don't know the year, but I think it was early high school. We’d go to all of the school events, like the athletics carnival or Red Nose Day or anything that was on, she’d take the camera, and I’d be asking the questions.
“I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed the writing, but then I realised I also liked getting involved and asking people questions. It became a passion.
“I can't remember how I got the knowledge I needed to pursue it (journalism) because there was no internet; there was nothing back then.
“I remember the careers advisor at school, I went to him in about Year 10 when you’re choosing your elective subjects for the last two years, and I said, ‘I want to be a journalist. What do I need to do?’ And he was like, ‘I don’t know. I don’t think you should be a journalist. You should be a lawyer.’
“And I went, ‘Okay. I guess I have to figure this out on my own,’ and I did.
“So I knew quite early on that’s what I wanted to do, and I feel fortunate that not only did that passion carry me into a job, but it’s stood the test of time. That ‘test of time’ has lasted almost three decades so far, with Natasha securing her start in the industry straight out of university.
“As part of our university studies we had to do work experience in our holidays, so I did work experience at Radio 2TM in Tamworth, which was pretty close to Armidale, about an hour away,” she said.
“Then, at the end of my work experience, they offered me a job, which was right at the end of third-year uni, in 1991. They wanted to give me an on-air announcer job, and I really didn’t have a clue about (how to do) that, I was a news person - they’d been training me up, and I was so scared.
“Then a couple of days before I was due to have my first shift, a person in the newsroom left, so I got the newsroom job. I was cheering; it was perfect timing.”
Natasha said while working in a regional newsroom meant being thrown in the deep end from the start, it provided the perfect all-round grounding for someone getting their first taste of the industry.
“I remember being shocked at how hard it was. It was a two-person newsroom, so one would do breakfast, and then the other person would come in the late morning and go through to the early evening, and so you had to be turning out a lot of stuff,” she said. “It was hard going, and you had to be across everything, but it was an excellent learning ground.
I remember a couple of months into working there; my boss went away, so I was actually just covering the newsroom by myself for a month. There was a fatal bus crash at Tangaratta Creek, and I got a call from Sydney and all of a sudden I was filing reports to Sydney, you know, this young journo, just a couple of months out of uni, just thrown in the deep end.
“It was a lot emotionally to cope with as well, something that big, but again, it’s a grounding into what this business is all about.”
Less than a year later Natasha took that grounding and made the move into television as a journalist with the Prime network in Tamworth. While it was a reasonably insignificant move in terms of location (the radio station and television studio were literally next door to each other in Tamworth), it turned out to be a fairly momentous shift for her career, setting Natasha on a path that she continues to follow 28 years later.
“A job came up at Prime, which literally the two buildings were side-by-side, 2TM and Prime, so I just had to drive in a different driveway,” she laughed.
“It was great, it was very exciting (to move into TV), but it was very much a hardworking, back-to-basics kind of newsroom. I was only the second female journo in there. Kylie Gillies, who’s on Channel 7 now, she was the Chief of Staff, and it was a very different kind of environment. It was still just typewriters in those days. It doesn’t seem that long ago, but, wow, the technology’s changed in that time.
“I had a great boss, Rob Barlow, who was just such a terrific wordsmith and could bring stories to life, and Kylie was a great influence as well, she was a very good writer. I felt very supported.”
While the idea of television may seem glamorous from the outside, Natasha said life in a regional newsroom was anything but – not that it proved to be a deterrent for the passionate reporter.
“I think in my second week there they put me on the nightly news updates and I had to do my own hair and makeup – I really hope there is no evidence of that anywhere because that would not have been pretty,” she said with a laugh.
“I think I still had the long hippy kind of hair from uni; I wasn't quite TV ‘newsified’ by then. It was the start of a steep learning curve; let's put it that way!
“I do remember before I started, I had a week away with my mum at Coffs Harbour. We went shopping, and I bought clothes that I thought were what I needed for TV, you know, lovely skirts and slingback shoes. I bought this really expensive pair of shoes, and two weeks into the job I found myself walking through a freshly-ploughed paddock in these shoes, and I’m like, ‘Really? Okay. This is such a glamorous life.’
“The image and the reality are quite different, but that’s not to say it wasn’t enjoyable. It was really fun. They were good times.”
Adding to Natasha’s happiness during the time was the fact that she met and fell in love with fellow Prime journalist Brett Lavaring, who had moved down from Far North Queensland to start working at the television network just a few months before Natasha. In 1997 Natasha moved to join Brett at Prime’s Newcastle studio, initially working as Chief of Staff before later being promoted to News Editor.
Her time in television ground to a temporary halt four years later, however, when a massive rationalisation saw Prime abruptly shut three of its newsrooms, including Newcastle.
Brett moved straight into a role at ABC radio but Natasha, who was offered a job at the time by network rival NBN, decided to take a break from journalism and accepted a public relations role at Hunter Health.
“I was devastated. I felt fully invested in that role, working long hours, and I felt very responsible too for everybody, as you do when you’re the boss of a certain department,” she said.
“But there was nothing that I could do that was going to change the decision. Brett moved into ABC straight away, and I went to Sydney and looked at a few things and got some job offers down there, but in the end, I just didn't want to leave Newcastle.
“Even though there were great opportunities in Sydney, I didn’t want to live there. It’s not really my style, so I ended up taking a job at Hunter Health with the Children’s Hospital.
“That was a nice departure from what I’d been doing for my whole career really. The PR and communications team there were very nurturing people, so it was good timing.”
As much as she enjoyed the new environment, it didn’t take long before her passion for journalism pulled Natasha back into the newsroom.
“I remember speaking to Jim Sullivan, who was the news editor (at NBN). I think he actually rang me after Prime folded, and he was lovely. He said, ‘We can find something for you here,’ but I just wasn't ready to do that. That was just too much of a shift from very strong competitors, and I thought, ‘You know what? I need to do something different’,” she said. “But then a year later, I did hear of an opportunity (at NBN), and I gave Jim a call, and I said, ‘Hey, I think I’m ready now.’
“And I actually really love that when I went to NBN, I wasn’t in a senior position or reading (the news), I was just reporting. It was really fun, going back to those basics of why you started that job in the first place.“From then I was like, ‘This is the right call. This is where I belong’.”
Natasha’s friendly face has been beaming into Novocastrians’ lounge rooms for almost two decades now, with 2021 marking her 20th year at NBN.
An impressive career milestone in anybody’s books, Natasha said she remains just as passionate about telling people’s stories as she did during her first amateur forays into “interviewing” as a teenager. “I’ve had the opportunity to do a whole range of jobs within a newsroom,” she said.
“At Prime, I was given the opportunity to do updates but worked my way up the line and became a producer and then a newsreader, and was still on the road. Then I moved down to Newcastle with Prime as the Chief of Staff here and later became the News Editor, so I ran the newsroom.
“I’ve done a whole range of different things, I’ve managed the staff, the budget, the editorial and I think that variety has kept it interesting.
“I’ve been reading the news now for NBN for a long time, and that’s worked in well with my family needs. But I’ve always kept that reporting element there at least a couple of days a week. To me, that’s just the core of it, to learn about people and tell their stories. That’s still what keeps me going, the storytelling.”
Natasha and her kids Campbell and Tilly.
Outside of work, it’s clear that family is where Natasha’s passion lies. Having married Brett a few years after moving to Newcastle, the couple have two teenage children, Campbell, 16, and Tilly, 14.
Natasha said while working in television proved somewhat challenging when her children were younger, finding the balance between work and family was “hugely important” to her and her husband, who now works as Group Executive Director of PR at Enigma advertising agency.
“It was challenging when the kids were little, Brett was actually at ABC radio doing breakfast, which meant that I had to do all the getting up in the night when they were babies,” Natasha said.
“And doing the news, I’d get home, and they had an early bedtime so I wouldn't see them, or I’d get home, and it was time to tuck them into bed, and that was it.
“Now that they're teenagers I'm fighting to get them into bed of course… it’s a bit of a different situation.
“We’ve always just made it work, although I have found that since Brett’s been in PR, it’s been a bit easier to balance with public holidays and all of that sort of stuff that journalists don’t get.
“These days our spare time is very much about the family and the kids and spending time with them, helping them with their interests and taking them to the different places that they want to go.
“I just love hanging out with them. Cam is happy to do anything with me at any time; he’s just that kind of boy. Tilly’s getting to the age where she’s doing TikTok and sometimes she ropes me into doing them too and I’m just really, really bad at them.
“But just to get out together and do stuff, just hang out and have a chat, it’s time well spent.”