A Sailor’s Tale: Kate Holland

‘Smooth seas do not make skilful sailors’ – African Proverb

I met Kate over a decade and a half ago when we shared a neighbourhood, and our young boys shared a love of Lego. 

Since then, I have tracked her career vicariously. As a listener of ABC morning and afternoon radio, I knew Kate was in the background plying her talents to make sure the ‘show went on’.

More recently, we reconnected when Kate provided me with support to re-establish my professional life after an extended break recovering from a serious health issue. Kate’s work was instrumental in assisting me regain the confidence to re-enter the work fray.  

I came to understand more fully the course Kate had sailed, navigating herself from the calmer seas aboard the ABC ocean liner to the choppy ride in the dinghy of freelancing and self-employment. 

She is truly a skilful sailor in so many ways. Her ‘Sailor’s Tale’ contains no exaggeration or embellishment. Just an account from an individual who knew in her heart when it was time to ‘jump ship’ and swim for it!

Kate’s Trajectory

Truth be told, I’ve chartered fresh waters a few times.

In primary school, I thought I wanted to be a horse-riding park ranger or an archaeologist when I grew up. Both still sound great, if I’m honest, but possibly a tad too lonely for this loquacious (aka highly talkative) people-person. 

I think I talk so much because I’m naturally inquisitive. Not nosy. Interested. I’ve always loved reading (I was voracious growing up) and I love to hear stories in person too. I’m curious to know how people tick. 

I studied Psychology as part of my Bachelor of Arts and almost chose to major in it. I love to blame a high school bestie for talking to me too much during maths and ruining my chances of nailing stats, but I also wasn’t ready at 19 to split people into categories.

I focused on English Language and Literature instead. And despite the criticism an Arts Degree can bring, I have no regrets. It taught me critical thinking skills that serve me to this day, and I have never stopped loving learning for the sake of learning itself. 

Towards the end of my university years, an opportunity came up to work at a conference with Stephanie Johnston from local book publisher Wakefield Press. She then invited me to fill in at their front desk while someone was on leave. While I was there, the publicist left. They asked me if I wanted to have a go. I dove in.

I’m forever grateful for everything they taught me. I learned to write a press release and had to cold call media outlets all over the country to gauge their interest in writing a review or running a story. Ringing the literary editor at The Australian was terrifying. I also had to call venues out of the blue to see if they’d stock our books.

Members of the public would wander in off the street determined they had a story worth writing about. Sometimes they were right. Other times they were incredulous that I would ask for a synopsis of their life, because ‘it’s insulting to condense your existence as a potato farmer into a single paragraph’. I grew up fast.

Michael Bollen is an incredible editor and watching his decision-making in action was like a permanent master class. Hearing him and Stephanie speak at book launches was always inspiring.

Wakefield Press also introduced me to the ABC, an institution I had always wanted to work for. I took authors over to Collinswood for TV and radio interviews. The radio process really caught my eye. So, when it was time for the next adventure, I cold called 891 for some work experience. Sadly, the answer was no.

Via more personal connections I managed to land a role with a small advertising firm called Insync Creative. I spent about a year absorbing so much from three incredibly talented creatives. My role focused on writing, but I loved learning about the design process too.

I remember getting incredibly frustrated that I couldn’t conjure headlines like “Just Do It” as easily as I’d hoped. But as my dad pointed out, we can’t have natural aptitudes for everything. Something that did come quite naturally was direct marketing. It involved writing to people in a way that really engages. Often conversational in style.

It was a skill that served me well when it was time to move on and 891 (now ABC Radio Adelaide) did agree to give me some experience. Writing for radio is very similar. I’ll never forget the buzz I got when the Drive presenter, Kevin Naughton, asked me to write a slug (an intro for an interview) on day one. He then read it verbatim on air. I nearly fell off my chair. And he continued to encourage my efforts.

(For what it’s worth, I’m much better at headlines now. Getting old isn’t all bad. Life experience gives you many more touch points and references.)

After a stint with Kevin, I asked the late Philip Satchell if I could spend time working with him. He was also incredibly supportive. He even invited me to volunteer on a road trip out to Mungerannie Station on the Birdsville Track where we aired several outdoor broadcasts. Working with Philip, I discovered the art of the pregnant pause. The way he tilted his head and went silent during interviews is a skill I’ve never forgotten. People are quick to fill the silence and the gap can kickstart even the most reluctant of speakers.

Philip also advised me to keep saying yes, every time a shift was offered. So, I did. And when they were infrequent, I painted my parent’s fence and made extra cash wherever I could. Eventually, I became a regular casual. Radio became my full-time work and ABC Radio Adelaide became my working family for over 20 years.

So much changed in that time, not just the presenters and timeslots I worked on. Our roles as producers and content creators morphed as technology changed and social media arrived. It was never, ever dull.

What remained the same was the magic of radio. It’s so raw and real. Mastering the art of informing and entertaining was a wonderful challenge. I loved how it provided a reason to investigate the lives of others because everyone has an interesting story to tell. Many people turned to us for support and company, and I never took that responsibility for granted. Travelling out of the studio to visit other regions was so invigorating for us and validating for them. Personally speaking, being able to promote local music on-air was a thrill.

I loved my family of smart, passionate, and interesting presenters, producers, and marketers. We were close, sharing so many personal anecdotes as we brainstormed segments and events that would connect with our audience.

The Tension

My radar for new learning was always there. And it grew louder. From time to time, I would apply for roles that I thought might stretch me in different directions or align with my creative passions. A chance conversation with a friend gave me an opportunity to try my hand at writing again, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. 

When my shifts changed, I sought permission from the ABC to reduce my hours and write a bit on the side. But, wary of potential conflicts of interest, I didn’t push my new services hard. Plus, the thought of leaving ‘my family’ always made me cry. 

The Turning Point

There was a distinctive moment when it no longer felt right to split my focus. It was time for a clean break. A leap of faith. It was time to promote myself properly. 

I wanted to carve out my future, not ride out my future. 

This meant gaining flexibility for my actual family but also leaving behind a regular income, sick pay, annual leave and super. That was scary, even with a shared income to rely on. And I’m proud. I still wanted to contribute as much if not more.

I’m happy to say that the opportunities since I jumped the ABC ship have been many. My fear of ‘only’ knowing radio couldn’t have been further from the truth. So much is transferable. I already have plenty of contacts to sound out for advice. Plus, all the years of cold calling (as a publicist, copywriter, and radio producer) have made me relatively confident to reach out to people I don’t know too.

I’ve joined some networking groups and discovered so many supportive and interesting people. Any concerns about being lonely as a solopreneur (a stark contrast from a busy radio station) proved to be unnecessary. I meet new people all the time. Better still, I get to deep dive into them and their business. I must. If I want to write about them, and for them, I need to know exactly how they tick. 

Investing in my professional development has also led to fantastic new people (as well as work). My love-hate relationship with social media remains because I’m now a part of Facebook groups that I wouldn’t want to do without, LinkedIn is an incredible connector, Instagram offers lots of advice (sometimes too much!) and X can be a great way of discovering editors.

Given my tendency to talk a lot, I know it might surprise others to learn that I also enjoy time to myself. I’m relishing space and quiet to digest the stories I’ve uncovered, so I can put them into the right words.

The Take-Away

I was right to take the leap. This is a step I craved and was preparing for my whole career, even if I didn’t know it yet. 

As a freelance creative, I’m able to utilise all my skills while pursuing a wide variety of activities and subject matter. It’s perfect. Radio exposed me to such a range of topics that I’m addicted to variety. Meanwhile, my love of learning is continuously stoked.

And I still get to play around with audio. I edit podcasts for PodTalk and record audio life stories for a company called A Lasting Tale. Addressing the internal debate about specialising might be fodder for a future article…

Maybe I wasn’t as far off the mark as I thought back in those early years. Park Rangers connect people, places, and space. Archaeologists uncover artefacts, linking them to stories and the people they belonged to. 

Modern-day me is a connector, a communicator, and a storyteller. I merely swapped the saddle and shovel for a laptop and mic. 

Could I swap tools again? Maybe. The world is full of new opportunities, whether we see them and pursue them is up to us. 

By Kate Holland 

check out her website here.



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