Off Topic: Leigh McClusky

Off Topic and on the record as South Australian identities talk about whatever they want… as long as it’s not their day job. Former journalist and Today Tonight host Leigh McClusky is the Principal of the public relations and communications company McClusky & Co. Growing up in Victoria she left home at 16 to couch surf with no plans in mind.

“At the time I thought I had been seriously wronged by my parents. In reality it was just that I was headstrong, my father had a very strong personality, and I took great delight in baiting him and clashing with him,” McClusky begins. “He barracked for Collingwood, I went to the other extreme and I barracked for Footscray. He was Labor, I argued Liberal. It was during that tumultuous hormonal red flag to a bull stage. “Leaving home when you’re 16 does present itself with some challenges. I reenrolled at school (looking back, at least I had the sense to know I needed more education). To stay in school I worked two jobs. One was a checkout chick at Safeway during the week and then a couple of mornings I would be out knocking doors selling Avon in Moorabbin. “I didn’t have any great plan of attack, so I was couch surfing there for a while, which had its issues. The last time I couch surfed I was paying a small amount, literally, to use the couch at night. This meant you couldn’t go to bed until everybody else in the share house had decided they had had enough of the lounge room but I remember very clearly waking up to find one of the housemates sitting naked and cross-legged at the end of the couch, strumming a guitar and calling me his Siddhartha. At that point I decided it was probably time to try a bit harder to actually rent a bedroom rather than couch surf.” The former 7.30 Report host was living in country Victoria when she decided to leave home. “I looked around and thought that I didn’t want to live my parents’ life. I thought if I didn’t get out of there that’s what I’d end up doing. I would end up married to the local dairy farmer with a nice herd and a new ute. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It just didn’t feel right and I knew that there had to be more out there and I just had to have a go. I just had to get out. And that’s not to be unfair to my parents. In hindsight, and with four children of my own, I look at things a little differently. A mandate that has stayed with me my whole life is that I’ll never die wondering. Whenever there’s been an opportunity to take a job, to move interstate, I did it. I moved interstate five or six times because my theory is always, ‘Bugger it, why not? What’s the worse thing that can happen?’ “The one thing I can say for my parents is that they both had a really strong work ethic, because I didn’t come from a privileged background, we were working class. There was never an expectation that life was going to be easy. It was always made very clear that if you wanted it, you had to work hard to get it but if you worked hard there was no reason you couldn’t get it. You were equally in the game as everyone else having a go.” While at school, and working two jobs, McClusky met with a careers teacher who asked her what she wanted to do with her life. “I remember distinctively saying to her, ‘I’m tired and I need money. I need a job that pays money now.’ She said, ‘Oh, you can do a bachelor of arts or you can do language and literature at…’ I said, ‘No, no, no, you’re not hearing me – I need a job. Now! She sent me along for a day’s work experience at the Herald and Weekly Times and there was an old bloke there Bill, he was the editor of Who’s Who, so I went along for a day’s work experience and the copy editor at the time was a woman called Caroline Wilson, now a preeminent football writer. I met Caro. And by lunchtime dear old Bill had taken us to the Hotel Australia for champagne cocktails. I remember thinking, ‘Journalism, this is it. You beaut. I’m in.’ That’s where it all began.”

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