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Saturday, January 07, 2006

Wooley lands a gentler lifestyle

Wooley lands a gentler lifestyle

ASK globe-trotting reporter Charles Wooley what has driven him to change his lifestyle and he spits out one word -- suitcase.

"I'm sick of my suitcase," Wooley says with venom.

"I won't miss the international travel. I'm sick of the hotels and I'm sick of the jet lag, but you can encapsulate the reason I'm changing my life with one noun -- suitcase."

After 13 years with Channel Nine's flagship current affairs program 60 Minutes, Wooley is swapping the seemingly glamorous and enviable lifestyle which has taken him to some of the most exotic places in the world for the daily routine of hosting a radio program from the Magic FM studios in Hobart.

Given Wooley's quirky style and natural wit, Across Australia, which goes to air weekdays between 9am and midday from January 30, will be a lively addition to the morning menu.






His new employer, Macquarie Regional Radioworks, will be expecting him to deliver the goods after dumping the nationally syndicated radio legend John Laws from its regional stations in favour of the greenhorn from Hobart.

Despite Wooley's extensive media experience, which includes brief stints in radio, it's been in TV that he's made his name with programs such as This Day Tonight, Four Corners and Nationwide before joining Channel Nine with the Sunday program and then 60 Minutes.

Across Australia represents Macquarie's biggest program investment since it was formed in September 2004 through the merger of RG Capital Radio and DMG Regional Radio.

While putting Wooley into regional areas where an entire generation has grown up on a daily diet of Laws is something of a gamble, Macquarie is confident that in Wooley it has found the quintessential Australian who can wean people off "the voice" with a minimum of fuss.

The new program will be specifically tailored to the needs of regional Australia.

It is looming as a battle for the bush as Laws has vowed to hit back by signing up new regional stations to his program.

"Charles is a nice fellow, but how they think they can do it from Hobart is a bit beyond me," Laws said in one interview.

Wooley says Laws has completely missed the point.

"Hobart is typical of regional Australia as it has all the problems but all the advantages of a great lifestyle as well," Wooley says.

"Lawsie's show has to bang on about Sydney issues if it's to survive, but they don't mean much to people living in Burnie, Bundaberg or Broome.

"I will have to work out the commonality between these places.

"But when it comes to problems, I think we already know what they are.

"Regional Australia has the lowest wages, the highest unemployment, the lowest retention rates at high schools and the longest waiting lists at hospitals."

Wooley wants Across Australia to have a magazine-type format and sound like a busy regional coffee shop, where people come in and out and where there's always an expert around -- or at least someone who thinks they are.

There will be some talkback and discussion of national and international as well as regional issues, and a daily discussion panel made up exclusively of women, drawn from around the regions.

"I don't believe the female demographic has been very well looked after," Wooley says.

"The panel hasn't been finalised yet, but the sort of women I'm looking for are a cattle farmer from Western Queensland, a country politician from Victoria and a public relations consultant from country NSW."

One week a month the show will be broadcast from a regional centre away from Hobart.

"We may go to Roma in the central south of Queensland where the best tomatoes in the world are grown outside of Italy," Wooley says.

The big plus for Wooley, 57, is that he will see more of his second wife Alona and their three children -- Rosie, 14, Dave, 12, and Jim, 4 -- and have more time to tend his veggie patch at the back of the Battery Point home they have lived in for the past five years.

The other plus is that Wooley will have more time to pursue his great love of fly fishing.

"People think they might like the lifestyle I've had for the past 13 years, but I think everyone who does it is driven slightly mad by it," Wooley says.

"I have some wonderful memories and what will always stand out for me is the people and the landscapes ... sunsets in the central Pacific, dawn in the high Himalayas, the market place in Marakesh, the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River and an amazing voodoo ceremony in a dusty village in the African country Benin.

"But as the Irish poet Yeats wrote when sitting in a noisy London railway station, 'I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore.'

"Even when sitting in an expensive restaurant in Paris I've often thought about the wonderful, tranquil places in Tasmania I like to go fly fishing."

Wooley was born on Arran, an enchanting island off the west coast of Scotland where legend has it Robert the Bruce was inspired by seeing a spider struggle up its thread and where foreigners generally find the sheep easier to understand than the local dialect.

Not that there is any trace of a Scottish brogue in Wooley's voice for, as soon as the young Charles was considered fit enough to travel, his parents, Charlie and Ella, were among the thousands of immigrants wooed to Tasmania after World War II by the prospect of jobs with the Hydro.

It was during his childhood at Tarraleah that Wooley gained his enduring love of the bush and the sound of lapping lake water.

An honours graduate in history from the University of Tasmania, where he was editor of Togatus, Wooley started his journalism career as a cadet with the Examiner in Launceston.

"Like every other kid at the time, I soon hopped on a plane and left the state," Wooley says.

"That is one of the tragedies of regional Australia, but it's all changing as demographers are predicting up to one million people will downshift or make a seachange or treechange during the next three years."

Wooley owes his seachange to a chance meeting with Tim Hughes, the inventor of Macquarie Regional Radioworks, during a flight between Sydney and Brisbane.

"I had no idea who the guy was but by then end of the trip he had suggested radio could be a great life for me as it would enable me to live in my favourite city," Wooley says.

"I thought it was just a conversation, but within a couple of weeks I was stitched up."

Wooley says he left Channel Nine on good terms and will continue to do the occasional story for the channel when out in the country.

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