Socially conscious Channel 10 news presenter, Narelda Jacobs, opens up about her poignant family history, raising her daughter Jade Dolman as a single mother and the importance of positive mentorship for Australia’s youth…. Oh, and she would also like the opportunity to marry her partner, Lauren Swinfield.
Narelda Jacobs won the coveted position in 2008 to become the first Aboriginal female newsreader to anchor a leading commercial station, and has now been reading Perth’s nightly news for Network Ten for nearly eight years. This fascinating woman and mother generously shares her story to reveal a life of enviable achievement against the odds.
Jacobs graciously attributes her achievements to great role models and having had a lot of help along the way. Her journey began as the youngest of five daughters to Reverend Cedric Jacobs, a WhadjukNyoongar man and member of The Stolen Generation, and his wife Margaret, a Belfast born woman of Irish and English descent. Jacobs was raised in a family with a strong sense of culture and belonging, an environment which fostered the belief that goals could be achieved.
“I had fantastic role models,” she says. “My parents were leaders in their community. There was always a sense of pride in our culture and pride in being able to share it with others.
I never had a sense of being part of a minority. I never thought, ‘I can’t do that because I’m a girl’ or ‘because I’m Aboriginal’.”
Strong family threads are woven tightly into the fabric of Jacobs’ story and her identity and culture, which to her is indistinguishable, is dependent on family bonds. “Our sense of identity, our culture gave us confidence and a sense of belonging and protected us from feeling misplaced.”
Jacobs took this confidence to her first job where, aged 18, she began working on the front desk of The National Native Tribunal (NNT) but, with a long-held desire to be a reporter, soon made her way into the organisation’s media department. She knew in Year Seven that she wanted to be a journalist.
“I had little interest in Maths and Science and had always enjoyed storytelling and writing stories. My parents were current affairs junkies and I was always interested in what was making news.”
Jacobs humbly credits the support of others as the recipe of her success, although she shrugs off suggestions she has ‘made it’.
“I guess you just put a goal out there, try to reach the goal and people help you reach it. I wanted to get a job as a reporter and I tried for that and everything that has happened after that I just can’t believe. So many people have helped me along the way and for that I am extremely grateful. You can’t get anywhere on your own, everyone needs help, don’t they?”
“I found myself a single parent and living back home with Mum and Dad,” she reveals.
While working at the NNT Jacobs fell pregnant to her boyfriend of two years, succumbing to family pressure and a religious upbringing she got married at 19.It was a mistake and within six months the marriage was over.
“I found myself a single parent and living back home with Mum and Dad,” she reveals.
Returning to the NNT from maternity leave, Jacobs describes managing life as a young single working mother. “Family pitched in and helped,” she says. “Mum and Dad were amazing; when Jade was a baby Mum would help look after her until I eventually used childcare. I couldn’t have done it without their support.”
Jacobs freely admits the importance family played in raising Jade.
Mother and Aunty in Nyoongar culture are interchangeable, the parenting role stretches beyond the biological mother and Narelda and her five sisters nurtured Jade and her 12 cousins within this maternal structure.
“Jade is an only child but she doesn’t feel like one. If she needed telling off then one of her aunties would tell her off and I was completely comfortable with that,” she says.
Jacobs had been working at the NNT for five years when, after two failed attempts, her boss encouraged her to again audition for Western Australia Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA). Third time lucky, she describes her acceptance into Broadcasting as ‘The beginning of the rest of my life’.
Post WAAPA, she worked at GWN, a country television station and then joinedTen News as a court reporter which meant her hours were less predictable.
“As a reporter I worked really odd hours. Jade was about six, so before and after school care became difficult. Family often helped out.Marion (Towndrow, Jacobs’ ex long term partner) was very good when Jade was young and very good at the discipline side of things. I was a bit of a cotton wool mum but Marion would say what needed to be said. They’re still close, despite all the tears (Jade’s from getting told off),” chuckles Jacobs.
Jade also shares a close bond to her father, an Eastern Arrernte man from the Alice Springs region.
“Work and family life balance is better these days,” tells Jacobs. “Jade is older (aged 21) and has her independence and my work hours are less stressful.” As a newsreader, Jacobs’ day generally begins at 11am and finishes shortly after the nightly news.
Life in Jacob’s Mount Lawley home in Perth’s northern suburbs is good. Lauren Swinfield, her partner of four years and four months, a detail tenderly offered, is a happy addition to Jacobs’ family life. Asked how a change to marriage equality laws would affect her family she simply states, “Lauren and I would get married. We would like to be married and recognised in our own country”.
Jacobs is proud of her daughter who is studying Fine Art and Indigenous Culture.Jade has also been co-ordinating Aboriginal Art and Cultural Workshops for schools, organisations and community events. Workshops include learning about Dreamtime storytelling and Nyoongar seasons, which culminate into the production of individual artworks or large scale collaborative murals.
“It turns out that there is a real need for these kind of workshops in schools,” says Jacobs, who goes on to explain that Jade has also extended her workshops into The Deaf community.
“Yes, I’m very proud of her and all the things she is doing; sometimes I just think ‘Where have you come from?’”
Jacobs, a formidable inspiration in her own right has not only juggled motherhood, a successful career and a loving relationship, she is also an active member of the community. Jacobs is involved in mentoring Indigenous youth, is an ambassador and patron for a number of community organisations, including the David Wirrpanda Foundation and Breast Cancer WA and stands out as a glamorous role model for Indigenous Australia and the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transexual (LGBT) community.
Jacobs has been involved in a youth mentorship program with The Smith Family and also periodically visits Indigenous youth at Banksia Hill Detention Centre in Perth’s East.
“A lot of people don’t have good role models and these kids need to hear good messages from a variety of people..”
Jacobs concedes there can be an inherited mistrust of authority within the Aboriginal community and acknowledges the legacy left behind by cultural traumas such as The Stolen Generation but insists there is a need to move forward. Jacobs does not see the point of, “laying guilt trips on anyone about the past”, but expresses the importance of being aware of Australia’s cultural history.
Sometimes I’m shocked when people don’t know about the massacres (referring to mass killings of Aboriginal people Australia wide during White Settlement), you just kind of expect people to know and I suppose this goes back to education.
“Sometimes I’m shocked when people don’t know about the massacres (referring to mass killings of Aboriginal people Australia wide during White Settlement), you just kind of expect people to know and I suppose this goes back to education. Teaching this in school can help to shape the minds of young students and inform their attitudes as adults. Then attitudes can shift from a place of complaint such as ‘why are these people receiving hand-outs?’ to a point of understanding as to why some people need extra help.”
Jacobs is also quick to point out that progress and understanding must be a collaborative pursuit, that choosing to hide behind injustice or using it as an excuse is unhelpful and that at some point everyone must be accountable for themselves, “We’ve all got to wise-up”, she says.
Jacobs discusses the sense of shame that can surround culture and explains that at times shame is perpetuated within one’s own family. “Kids may hear things like, ‘you can’t do that, do you think you’re a big shot or something?’, it can be a matter of pulling each other back and being limited within your own family, but there is no shame in success. If you’re good at something – great, you should be proud.”
Jacobs expresses the need to share a sense of pride and self-belief with Indigenous youth caught up in the justice system.“It’s important to have mentors from all different walks of life and we shouldn’t give up on giving out those positive messages.”
Positive mentorship is something Jacobs values and is also mindful of upholding within her own family and it is clear how much she values her partner’s influence, “Lauren coming into our life has been great timing”.
As a step parent, Swinfield has assumed a role of confidante. “Lauren came into our lives at a really good stage for Jade,” Jacobs explains, and says that she is able to empathise with the issues Jade may be facing. “She can relate because she’s younger and is able to give really good advice. At 30, those issues are fresher in her mind and let’s face it, there are some things mums shouldn’t know and that’swhere Lauren’s really good because it’s really important for Jade to get the right advice from the right people. Peers and others may not always be giving good advice.”
Jacobs has provided a solid foundation for her daughter to build upon and she credits her own mother and father for instilling her strong sense of family, culture and community values.
Jacobs’ father, Reverend Cedric Jacobs was born in York, in the Western Australian Wheatbelt. His father, a shearer, moved the family around the area following the shearing seasons. At eight years old, Cedric and his brothers were forcibly removed from his parents’ care and sent to the Mogumba Native Mission near Moore River, an hour and a half North East of Perth. The Mission was brought to national attention when portrayed in 2002 film Rabbit-Proof Fence. Reverend Jacobs remained at Mogumba until he was 16. Tragically, he was never reunited with his parents who passed away while he and his brothers were held at the Mission.
Reverend Jacobs has been an Aboriginal activist and advocate of Constitutional Change for many years, raising awareness for the need of appropriate recognition of Aboriginal people within Australia’s Constitution.
“It’s something Dad feels really passionate about. It’s an act of healing for him and something he has been campaigning for his whole life. It goes beyond symbolism and to him it holds real practical meaning, something that the whole community acts upon.”
Where has Jade Dolman, Narelda Jacobs’ daughter, come from?
Like her mother, she appears to be the product of a strong family, grounded in culture, belonging and good values.