Vanessa Hayden knew her true passion lay in writing when she was still in high school.
Region’s newest contributor is based in the tiny Riverina town of Jindera, 16 kilometres from Albury, and loves “telling people’s stories”.
“I like the craft of talking to people and then writing about what they want to convey or promote to readers,” Vanessa says.
“I like discovering hidden gems in the region, people’s secret talents and new businesses that are starting out and need some promotion.”
Born in Victoria, Vanessa grew up in the Yarra Valley and says it’s where she developed her love of wine and horticulture.
With her sights set on a career in the media, she spent the last two years of high school doing placements at the Herald Sun, Sunday Observer and The Truth newspapers.
Vanessa completed her cadetship at The Truth where she predominantly worked as a court reporter and covered the Prahran Magistrates Court in Melbourne.
She later worked for Hoofs and Horns Magazine (the original RM Williams publication) as a features writer and covered all things equine across Victoria before joining the Leader Community Newspaper Group and working for one of their community papers in the Yarra Valley.
As a young journalist she ventured across the country to the Kimberley in Western Australia in the early 90s and ended up spending two decades in Australia’s remote northwest.
“There was a small newspaper in Kununurra with no jobs, so I moved into tourism and started a career in tourism marketing,” she says.
“It involved writing, meeting people and marketing … the two went hand in hand for me – writing and promoting. It was a good fit.
“At that point, my career turned more toward tourism marketing and business development and in the end I had my own consultancy company, which also allowed me to do some freelance travel writing.”
The writer lived between Kununurra and Broome until 2012, where she saw “fabulous places, did fantastic things, and met some amazing people.”
She flew over the Bungle Bungle Range by helicopter, cruised around the Kimberley Coast on a charter boat, drove the Gibb River Road and spent plenty of time on the water at Lake Argyle and the Ord River.
Her role with aviation company Slingair Heliwork WA saw her win a medal at the West Australian Tourism Awards for her outstanding contribution to the industry.
Vanessa was nearly 40 when she had her daughter Lily. And before she was due to begin school, the family decided to move to the Riverina to be closer to family.
The former court reporter worked as a writer for The Border Mail and other regional newspapers in South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria during the past 10 years.
One of Vanessa’s proudest accomplishments was her role in producing The Border Mail’s travel and tourism magazine Out and About.
“I got to write some wonderful stories about great people in the area and what they’re doing … that combined my love of writing and my love of tourism all over again,” she says.
“It was a real highlight.”
In more recent years, Vanessa travelled north again to live in Kakadu National Park where her husband held a role in park management.
“This was an unexpected move but it was a place that I had never been to before, so I was keen to get to know it and write about it.
“I spent a lot of time at Cooinda, home of the Yellow Waters Cruise and one of the most beautiful places in the Northern Territory, full of birdlife and wild animals,” she says.
“During the two years we were there I also wrote a blog about what life was like living in Jabiru, a very remote part of Australia.
“It was fun talking about my life, my experiences and what we were getting up to … it was very far removed from Jindera and polar opposite to our lives down here. The blog was for family and friends, and everyone seemed to read along and enjoy it.”
After writing for 30 years, Vanessa knows the importance of community-based stories.
“It’s important for people to know what’s happening in the community and see what others are doing and achieving in their towns or regions,” she says.
“There are so many good people doing good things and it’s wonderful we’re able to share their stories, to let people know what’s happening around them and to encourage them to be a part of it.”
A dedicated enthusiast of tea and wine, Vanessa says her kitchen is the ultimate destination for tea, while Olive Hills Estate in Rutherglen is the go-to choice for exquisite wine.
Vanessa joins the Region Riverina team of editor Chris Roe, account executive Ketura Weston, and journalists Shri Gayathirie Rajen, Jarryd Rowley (based in Wagga Wagga) and Oliver Jacques (based in Griffith). They’re in Baylis St, upstairs in the old Twin Cinemas building – call in and say hello, or share a Riverina yarn with the team.
If you have a story or news tip for Vanessa, email [email protected]