Looking for my Aunty

By Nancy Cato
February 17, 2013

Nancy Cato

Nancy Cato

Yes – silly isn’t it. I feel rather foolish making this awful public confession that I’ve sort of lost my Aunty, but it’s a fact – if a fact can be ‘sort of’. Anyway, I do my share of complaining about the lack of any sort of facts in much of today’s media, so ‘fess up I must. It’s embarrassing. Aunty Ambidextra Balancedia Clarificia (ABC for short) has been in our family for – well, since she was born really, in 1932 – making her only 7 years 5 months older than her niece. It happens in families.

Mind you, she’s not just my Aunty and she’s not really my Aunty at all – as in a blood relation or anything. My Mum and Dad just happened to take her in as a tiny baby and reared her as my Aunt. This also happens in families. Goodness knows where her parents were – she seemed to be surrounded by fusty, old, white, politically-absorbed males at the time – but that’s for later.

When Aunty arrived in our house she was just a noise – no visual accoutrements at all – but she sure made her presence felt. Dad was a busy dentist; his surgery attached to our house allowed him to sneak home regularly, in-between patients, to listen to Aunty holding forth on one thing or another of national importance. He’d get up at some ungodly hour like 4am to listen to Alan McGilvray commenting on the overseas Test Ashes Series and managed to know exactly what was going on in the much-loved serials The Lawsons and Blue Hills every lunch hour.

It was in those early days that Aunty did three things of enormous significance for my family; three things that formed a bond between my Aunty and me, changed the course of my life, and caused this current rising panic because I can’t find her.

First Significance: Dad was a cricket tragic and as soon as I was old enough to appear to be able to understand what he was saying, he explained the system that Aunty had used 2 or 3 years earlier in 1938, to telegraph Test results back home from England. Apparently, I was sitting on the floor playing with my toy monkey and had my back to him. He was tapping a pencil on the kitchen bench to show me how the broadcasters in Aunty’s Studio simulated the sound of  bat hitting ball. I showed no interest. Dad tapped louder, but not even clap of hands and stamping of feet made any difference. I don’t remember that bit of the story, but I DO remember getting swooped up suddenly into an enormous, heaving bear hug and trying to wipe my dad’s tears away with Bunky’s tiny hands.

Aunty had inadvertently alerted my parents to the fact that I was unable to hear a word said. I was deaf.

Second Significance: Dad was a Menzies man. He thought the world of Pig-Iron Bob, Prime Minister at the time of my birth in 1939. Bob could do no wrong, say no wrong, think no wrong. And because Dad understood that lip-reading was useless for radio, he started to interpret what was being said via Aunty, right as it was being aired. Faithfully he imparted News Bulletins, Political Debates, The Country Hour and countless discussions of life in the 1940s.

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I’m not sure at what point I started to question my Dad’s political wisdom, but question it I did. I suspect it was during Bob Menzies’ second stint as Prime Minister from 1949 to 1966. Life as Dad explained it seemed to be all about ‘privilege’, and this seemed at odds with what I saw around me. My best friend in the whole world – a girl of similar age but vastly different lifestyle to mine, would only come across the word ‘privilege’ by reading Jane Austen, which she did, avidly. As a flow on from The Great Depression of 1929, her dad was out of work and their lives were those of devastating hardship and deprivation. It took five minutes in the local milkbar one day after school to realize that people could be judged by their perceived wealth or lack of it. I was served at the counter; my friend was ignored. She was nine.

Aunty had forewarned me of the world of privilege, aspirational politics and ‘The Born To Rule’ mentality – where those who HAVE can want you to WANT to have but not necessarily HAVE. And from that moment in time, although my 1940’s schooling forced me to become ambidextrous, I made sure my natural left-handedness kept me from straying too far to the right to taste the Tea Party scones.

To his credit, over the years Dad did everything in his power to relay the messages coming out of Aunty’s mouth. We argued loud and strong and learnt to be fair and balanced with each other’s points of view, just as Aunty was.

Third Significance: One day in the late fifties, just before Aunty blossomed and started manifesting herself publicly, wearing all manner of costumes in the new Black and White medium of her choice, she did something else for me. She financed celebrated stage and radio actors Patricia Kennedy and Wynn Roberts to tour country Victorian Regional Centres to record a series of radio plays with local talent. I was extremely fortunate to be one of the chosen and my new career was on the way.

Aunty offered me – a country teenager with a profound hearing impairment in times he of gross ignorance of disability – the opportunity to audition. That led to training with top professionals like Keith Eden, George Fairfax, Wal Cherry and Corinne Kirby (Whitbread); professional performances of radio and television plays; living with and learning from Patricia Kennedy, one of the finest actresses Australia has produced, and perhaps most importantly of all, continuing my love of hosting Children’s Television in its own ‘Adventure Island’.

I owe you so much, Aunty Ambidextra Balancedia Clarificia (ABC). I love you and I want to say ‘Thank You’.

But where the Hell ARE you?

You taught me to trust you. I knew I could turn to you. I knew you’d deliver the news of the day in an unbiased, dignified, professional fashion no matter which political party held the upper hand. You quenched my thirst for information with savvy discussions, widely drawing on the knowledge of men AND women who were experts in their field.

You were fair. You acted on principle. We could trust you. You gave us FACTS.

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And now I seem to have lost you. Why?

Why have you abandoned your principles, Aunty?

Why have you chosen to disguise yourself so?

In the days of Prime Ministers Keating and Howard, each thought that, although they were badly done by, you were fair. You didn’t rush to seek the view of the Leader of the Opposition about every detail, big or small including the inner workings of the Government. Why are you doing that now?

When Kerry O’Brien was in full flight on the 7.30 Report a couple of years back, you allowed him to make mince meat of anyone who avoided questions, blatantly lied or gave the responses of a Dodo. So why treat Jon Faine of ABC 774 with such public shaming and then refuse to answer questions such as those posed most recently by Peter Clarke of @MediaActive.

Why are you insisting on using the same tired old faces of often politically irrelevant, white, mosty-male Opinion-Singers with – it has to be said – the charisma of turtles farting. Have you seen the terror on their faces if ‘same-sex marriage’ or ‘Asylum Seekers’ are mentioned? Why don’t you try a few other words, like, say ‘Ashby/Slipper/Brough? Tampa anyone? Mr Reith?

Why are so many of your journalists not asking the hard questions instead of “Where did you get your glasses?” of politicians of all political persuasions? Why are they relentlessly seeking out opinion over facts?

And what’s with the over use of representation of only one Think Tank on your panels? There are others apart from the IPA.  Do you really believe they’re the smartest brains in the country to give an expertly informed explanation (as opposed to an ideologically based one) on – let’s pick a subject – Climate Science? You might just as well leave the studio-stable door open and let the Bolt horse around with his nonsensical charts.

Why have you abandoned your principles, Aunty? Why have you abandoned me?

You have made me sad. At 73 years of age I cannot afford to be sad. I want to live what’s left of my life to the full and be informed. I want people to have what is rightfully theirs. I want you back, Aunty, just the way you were.

Please come home.

Nancy Cato

Nancy Cato


More stories on Aunty and Jon Faine.




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  1. Wonderful Nancy, made me cry & remember all my ‘Aunty’ times :) Thank you!

    PS. Missed one with the ‘issues’ Equal Billing of New Year’s addresses to the Nation (since when did an opposition leader do an address to the nation at New Years anyhow) AND putting Abbotts name before Gillards in the title of the video :(

  2. sulphurcrested says

    I feel the same way, Nancy.
    A reliable friend, an Aunty with the irreplaceable virtues of calm, balance and constancy, who has been there all my life and taught me so much has completely vanished and been replaced by a dark and sinister Ministry of Information. It feels threatening.

    How can this be legal? Is our public broadcaster, and indeed our democracy, so unprotected?
    It’s taken hundreds of years for the democracy we have today to evolve. The only other democracy before that was ancient Greece (if you were a free-born male).
    Democracy is such a fragile thing. Unbiased, balanced information its life blood.
    Missing Aunty may be lying in a dark back room somewhere (or the ABC boardroom), wounded, her life blood seeping away.

  3. Anne C. Tan says

    Very moving Nancy and so accurate.

  4. Nancy, what a wonderful article covering the most frustrating and annoying betrayal of the current miserable bunch of media hacks.

    Your description of your early years, and your fathers attitude and your reference to Aspirational politics, is very apt, as there is a problem with the aspirational now.

    It is also something that I have written about in my latest post “The Aspirational Voter”


    Thanks for your marvellous insights and honesty, you are an inspiration :grin: :cool:

    Cheers :smile: :grin:

  5. Liam O'Neill says

    I know where your Aunty is. She’s being held hostage by the same people who ignored your friend, until enough people give up the search that they can sell her.

  6. I grew up listening to Aunty. But no more. It has turned into a gutless, cowed, pap filled, entertainment centre, bereft of serious courageous political journalism, and incapable of holding to account the manifest abuses by the powerful and malignant in this world.

    The Murdochisation of the ABC is almost complete. This election is dear Aunty’s last chance. If Abbott wins it is all over, he will trash it.

  7. Our Aunty has been kidnapped. Her mouth is gagged, her hands tied. She is being attacked daily and unable to defend herself. She is dying.

  8. I missed the Geert Wilders interview on Lateline the other night. As I was reading the tweets in my feed I mentioned to my OH that years ago we wouldn’t have seen Wilders on a show like Lateline. We remembered back to when the ABC declared it would show “The Great Global Warming Swindle” and the uproar that ensued. Now there are no more uproars when highly suspect decisions about content is aired on the ABC. At one time you could rely on the ABC not providing a platform for cranks, conspiracy theorists, and denialists. Today we see the likes of Wilders and Monckton treated with all seriousness. And that of course is just the tip of the iceberg. It makes me terribly sad.

  9. Beautifully said. Sad but true.

  10. Deb Colquhoun says

    Thank you Nancy! I ‘m with you all the way. I’m scared we may never find Aunty again. It’s not funny, and it seems portentous. Very sad. I do hope we have our faith renewed again some day soon.

  11. Mark johnstone says

    So faine copped some flack. Big deal he has attacked anyone who dare critisizes gillard. Well the abc isnt a alp party tool. Its mine to. And he has never been impartcial and i cant wait till he signs off for good.

  12. Absolutely brilliant. Well done Nancy for articulating what many are thinking about the demise of one of our most beloved gems.

  13. There was a time that I really would have liked to have worked for Aunty, I grew up with it Nancy, in fact it was you who was among one of the first faces I saw on it.

    I’m not really sure now, but it was a nice dream while it lasted.

  14. Brilliant!!
    Whilst some might say the article was laced with nostalgia (correctly I think) the overriding message was that it is blatantly obvious that there is a not-so-hidden agenda. Is it the board? Is it the lack of journalistic skills? Whatever, it is so obvious that it almost demands a senate inquiry.

  15. Full disclosure by the IPA is my present pet hate. How an astroturfing neocon organisation like that can have so much representation without disclosing interests like Gina R activity pushing her un Australian economic exclusion zone is beyond me.

  16. Good morning readers,

    Re the IPA and the ABC, Please sign this petition (adding your comments, too, if you wish), and share it to the friends and contacts on your network.


    Reading the comments already left on the petition, it is clear there is wide dismay at Aunty’s degraded state.

  17. Beautifully told Nancy, you have expressed the feelings of countless Australians who also miss the days when Aunty was with us as she was supposed to be, beholding to no one, no Political Party, media organisation, business. self interest group,
    She was staffed by true broadcasting professionals, who knew the meaning of her charter, and were proud to uphold it. When she went missing, so too went most of those professionals and principals. She has been leaderless. Run by a political puppet, who scrapes the very floor to obey his masters.
    Until we have a Govt with the spine to find Aunty, regardless of attacks from their opponents, restore her to her once proud former self, I fear she has been lost forever

  18. Dear Nancy, you still know how to use a camera.

  19. A superb and highly moving piece. How we miss such quality that we always felt entitled to expect. I thought thought originally that this was just a lurch to banality as the management sought to develop a 24 hours news and cross-platform series of programs.

    But the evidence is growing that something evil has occurred. It is bad enough that a paid shill group such as IPA should dominate talks and opinion segments. And surely the dominance of Reith, a discredited politician, in The Drum and similar can hardly be justified.

    But to attempt to discipline Faine for calling the bluff of a wingnut is simply outrageous. Especially when the same management constantly ignores hundreds of listener/viewer complaints on partisanship.

    We need more with Nancy’s skills and charisma to speak out. We deserve better. It is a great institution and a great cultural heritage. It still does many fine things. But on news and current affairs it has shamed its noble history.

  20. The ABC made me who I am, I was weened onto Kindergarten of the Air, I was an Argonaut, we listened to old Dr Floyd and Poets tongue, later Blue Hills by Gwen Meredith – episode 1873, and the final music which indicated I was late for school. The reporting was superb and always trustworthy. I can hardly watch it now. What is happening to Australia?

  21. Bradley Willis says

    Beautiful and so sad, I couldn’t agree more, such a shame that those with an agenda have been allowed to tarnish what once was anchor in a sea of chaos. I also hope for the day when sanity returns and the ABC realizes just how much it was relied on to deliver us, unbiased facts. I learnt so much from the ABC now I shun it as it pains me to see it’s fall from grace.

  22. While this doesn’t make up for all the ways ABC has fallen short …

    this project sounds really great : This is part one of Mama Asia, a long-form journalism series in which Sally Sara meets 12 inspirational Asian women.


  23. Looking for my Aunty http://t.co/kDV8Lq7bUe

  24. @juliadaydrummer I am not the only one looking for Aunty. @nancycato1 ‘s beautifully piece about losing our ABC http://t.co/MS4uqBVP6h