Three Minute Squiz With… Emma Macdonald

Emma Macdonald is someone we’ve always admired. And the two Walkley Awards she’s won and her fabulous sense of style are just the tip of the iceberg… It’s her commitment to her family, friends and the things she’s passionate about that we think make her a showstopper. Emma is also a driving force behind Send Hope Not Flowers, which aims to help mothers survive childbirth in the developing world. And with Mother’s Day coming up, what better time to hear about the incredible things they do. Please welcome Emma to this week’s Three Minute Squiz. 

How and where do you Squiz?
Shortly after prising my eyes open between 7am and the 8am late-for-school-again crisis that results from having two children. It is the first thing I read as I drink a bucket of French Earl Grey tea lovingly prepared by my husband and try to get to grips with the day. ‘Friday Lites’ are my fave and often the precursor to the kids being late for school.

You’re fiercely Canberra-loyal. What’s the best thing about our nation’s capital?
The people. Kim Beazley once said Canberra was “a quiet city of the mind”. I love that Canberra citizens are generally engaged, tolerant and intelligent. It keeps me on my toes as a journalist. I would add to Kim’s observation that Canberra is now a cool city of the mind. So much is happening here in food, wine and the creative arts. I guess I knew if I stuck around long enough Canberra would turn the corner to true cosmopolitan living.

After many years at the Canberra Times where you were recognised as one of the best journos in the country, you moved onto HerCanberra which is breaking new ground there. For the unfamiliar, can you tell us a bit about it?
A bit like the Squiz, HerCanberra is a new media venture connecting Canberra women, and men, with their city. We have a website where we publish local content, we profile interesting people, we break news on what’s happening around town, with an emphasis on life in the city. With more than 300,000 clicks a month we are a really embedded and trusted source of news and views across the city. We also publish THE most beautiful magazine. It’s got everything–arts, fashion, food, homes, people. All my life I wanted to write for a magazine like this. I just always assumed I would have to leave Canberra to do it.

How did you get involved in a charity dedicated to childbirth in the developing world?
Shortly after my second child was born (Imogen is now 9yo), my obstetrician Professor Steve Robson was chatting to me about maternal mortality. He asked me to use my journalism skills to help raise money and awareness around maternal mortality. As a journalist, you sit on the sidelines and report on tragedy all the time. This time, sleep deprived though I was, I decided I would try to make a difference. Steve said one of the things he felt frustrated at was how much money was spent on flowers in the labour ward, given most of them are thrown out within the week. It came to me in the middle of a late-night feed with Immy – Send Hope Not Flowers. You jump online at and make a donation when someone has a baby. They get a personalised card saying, in their honour, money will go towards helping save the life of another mother somewhere in the developing world.

Give us the stats…
One woman will die every two minutes from complications in childbirth and of these, 98% of those deaths take place in the developing world. Nine out of 10 deaths can be prevented with the most basic healthcare interventions. One of the highest rates of maternal mortality is in Papua New Guinea. In some areas, one in 20 women having a baby will lose her life as a result.

Tell us how people celebrate Mother’s Day with Send Hope Not Flowers…
Instead of spending money on flowers or chocolates, make a donation to us! We fund safe birth programs in eight countries now—PNG, Laos, Timor Leste, Indonesia, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Ethiopia and Uganda. Most of our funding goes to provide midwife and birth attendant training, but we also fund emergency obstetric equipment, hospital and health centre equipment and baby bundles used as an incentive to encourage women to travel to a health centre for a supervised birth. Mums will get a beautiful card with a personalised message once a donation is made.

I tell you what, I love getting a Send Hope Mother’s Day card more than any other gift. Because flowers die. And women giving birth should not.

Your efforts saw you honoured as ACT Telstra Businesswoman of the Year a couple of years back. In all those years as a journo, we bet that was something you weren’t expecting…
It was a real shock, but wonderful all the same! I think it is fair to say we were pretty clueless when we came up with the idea to tackle one of the most intractable problems facing women across the world out of our living rooms in Canberra. There are just three of us and we do all the work outside normal business hours. We take NOT ONE CENT of donations – we even cover the costs of stamps ourselves – and none of us gets paid. I guess like with any business, the first years were the hardest but now we have found our groove. It is, without a doubt, one of the most rewarding things I have ever done.

Name four people—living or dead—you’d kill to sit down to dinner with.
Can I tell you how long I have waited for someone to ask me that question?

• Ricky Gervais would make a fairly colourful dinner companion. I love that he goes where others fear to tread.

• David Bowie, because he was a musical genius who viewed the world differently and I just wasn’t expecting he would be gone so soon and nothing feels quite the same without him.

• I would love, in the current ‘me too’ era, to sit down with suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst. I think she would be amazed and possibly dismayed when I fill her in on where we are at in terms of gender relations almost 100 years after her death.

• My mum, of course, but I’d have to sit her as far away from Ricky as possible. Language.

You are a cook of some renown. Give us a recipe of something that’s on the menu.
Ok, my hands-down most requested dish on Instagram – and from the kids – is a tray of baked chorizo, halloumi and spicy chickpeas which we wrap in tortillas with guacamole and mango salsa. Sounds crazy but works in magical ways. Also can get it on the table in 20 minutes, so bonus points for me!

We remember a beautiful piece you wrote years ago about running at night. Is that something you still do?
Umm. I would be lying if I said I spent much time running these days. But we installed a pool in the backyard, so I can attest to many a late-night swim. I have been a night owl all my life. If I told you I was writing out these answers at 1.52am…

Your favourite book/writer?
It’s worse than having to choose one child over another. My tastes are diverse. Can I give you my three favourite books of all time? Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera, and Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life. I know, that’s four. I just had to slip Yanagihara in there before I was overcome by a fresh wave of tears.

First album?
Tears For Fears’ Songs from the Big Chair—cementing a life-long love of 80s New Wave/New Romantic tunes as well as an appreciation for a good styling product.

What skill or talent do you not have but wish you did?

The best piece of advice your mother gave you?
Every single word she ever said to me. Not a day goes by that her love and wisdom doesn’t ring through my head. Because it is nearly Mother’s Day, I always get messages about this piece I wrote about her.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Diplomacy. Some people cannot bring themselves to tell it like it is – to simply get the words out. I find that frustrating. If everyone was more honest, open, and direct I think the world would be a better place. Also, I quite like arguing, sorry, debating issues I am passionate about (just ask my husband). A robust exchange of views is a good thing- certainly preferable in my mind to agreeing with someone or holding back just to avoid any hint of a conflict. Did anyone mention I lack tact?

What’s your worst and best habit?
Cleaning. Best when the house is sparkling and you could eat off my floors. Worst when it is 3am, I have just finished writing and feel compelled to mop said floors. I love my Dyson with a passion. Cleaning is my stress management and meditation.

What would you say is the most currently overlooked news story Australians should know about but don’t?
Well, therein lies the rub. We probably don’t know about a myriad of vital news stories because they simply haven’t been investigated. The media landscape is under-resourced, under-appreciated and under attack. When you have newsrooms increasingly filled by inexperienced reporters expected to produce unrealistic word counts each day, it really doesn’t serve democracy well. I sometimes shudder to think about what is going on behind closed doors.

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