There’s a whole generation of people in Ipswich that grew up watching Tracey Spicer reading the news on our TV screens, and her new laugh-out-loud autobiography doesn’t hold anything back. It’s ll there, warts and all. Welcome to the story of ‘The Good Girl Stripped Bare’
Growing up in Redcliffe, and a self-proclaimed ‘Bevan’, Tracey Spicer had a lightbulb moment when she saw Jana Wendt on 60 Minutes, back in the days when it was a ratings juggernaut that ruled the roost of TV ratings week in week out.
The young girl with frizzy hair decided there and then she wanted to be a journalist, and nothing stood in her way as she travelled all over South East Queensland, and later the world, and led her to film documentaries in third world nations, which often left her with what she calls ‘The Sharts’ (you’ll have to figure that one out for yourselves).
Over the years Tracey went from a wide eyed student at the Queensland University of Technology to the bright lights of Foxtel in Sydney. She got married, had two children, and famously took on her former employer when after just having her second child was told that ‘We are moving in a new direction’.
After almost 14 years, where she never asked for a pay rise and was what she called a ‘Good Girl’, she made a stand which inspired not only thousands of women across the country, but put the spotlight on sexual harassment in the workplace, and in particular, maternity discrimination. She sued the station claiming she was fired due to her age and her decision to take maternity leave, which breached the Federal Sex Discrimination Act and the Trade Practices Act.
She was once told “I want two inches off your hair and two inches off yer arse!”
Welcome to the world of radio and television.
“This is the memoir I never wanted to write,” Tracey said.
“I’ve always been a person who looks forward, never back, and it all came about after I did a standup comedy gig in Marrickville with my friend Wendy Harmer. There was a publisher in the audience who loved what I did and approached me.
“Growing up in South East Queensland gave me a great sense of humour, and I’m lucky that I still have lots of friends who helped me fill in the gaps, plus I was fortunate to have a tremendous researcher working with me who helped go back through lots of archives including places such as regional Victoria, so that I could make sure all the names and dates were accurate.”
Redcliffe and Ipswich share a similar history.
In the 1980s’ both cities were run down with a bad reputation, but those who grew up there made the most of it.
The young frizzy-haired Tracey would spend many a night at the local skating rink, and had her bedroom plastered with posters of Leif Garrett, Adam Ant and Rick Springfield.
Along with Glenn Taylor she became a fixture for Ten’s Brisbane news.
Tracey laughs when she looks back at the hairstyles and fashion of that time.
“The late 1980’s and the early 1990’s have a lot to answer for fashion-wise. My goodness that electrified hair, the one that looks like you’ve stuck a knife in a power socket, I hope that never comes back.
“If my daughter ever came to me and said she wanted that look I’m putting my foot down” Tracey said. “Shoulder pads too…you could have someone’s eye out with those! How did we even fit them on the screen?”
Tracey is often around the Ipswich area, with family just over Mount Crosby.
“To be honest I get to Ipswich more now than when I did growing up, as my sister lives in Kenmore and its quicker to get to Ipswich than it is to get to Redcliffe.”
Despite the fashion faux-pas, swearing on TV when she thought her microphone was off, and fainting on air twice in two nights while doing the weather, the young Miss Spicer built a career, often fighting sexism in all its abhorrent glory.
“There’s a lot of artifice in society at the moment and also in television,” she said. “With this book I wanted to lift the veil on what TV is really like, and especially what it’s like for women.
“Today, things have improved dramatically, the opportunities for women are far greater. You can age for longer in the industry, women are given more serious stories now, but one thing that hasn’t changed is the number of women at the leadership and management level.
“I think of the 30 CEO’s in major media organisations in Australia only 2 are women. That’s a sad indictment that shows we’ve come a long way but still have a long way to go.”
Tracey finds inspiration wherever she travels, meeting people who heard her story.
“While I’ve been touring for the book, I’ve heard the most amazing stories. One comes to mind about three months ago when I was at Mount Coot-tha when I was making a corporate speech. One woman stood up, close to tears…she told me she learned about feminism because of the stand I took at Channel Ten. She told me she didn’t understand what feminism was. She thought women didn’t have any battles to fight any more.
“I’ve been showered with love, and so humbled. I’ve had lots of women tell me stories from the workplace of being harassed, pregnancy, panic attacks…and its been lovely to respond to those people, give them some strategies and tell them they are not alone,” Tracey said “Sexual harassment still happens today, but we still have a long way to go.”
Like changing many attitudes, it begins at home, with education.
“You need to talk to your kids about it, be open with them. We let our kids watch news and current affairs…we don’t want to frighten them but they need to see the world we live in.”
Tracey is also aware of the changing trends in how people get their news, and it is a dangerous line some people walk when they accept everything presented to them as fact.
“I think the scales need to fall from the audience’s eyes, and they need to realise that a lot of stuff they see on social media is fake news, it’s just not true, it’s not verified and they need to start buying or subscribing to newspapers again.
“I have some very intelligent people who follow me online and I’ll share a story from say the Sydney Morning Herald and people think its fake news. There seems to be a mistrust of media companies in this country, and while I understand that, the question is maybe they’ve taken audiences for granted, but people need to be a bit more sceptical about the news that they consume.”
Tracey and her husband Jase are seeing their two children growing fast, and are getting ready for the next stage of life when (hopefully) the children leave home and its just ‘the two of us’.
“My hubby and I are very fortunate as we live in a beachside area in Sydney. We went to New York last year and we saw all these people in their 70s and 80s going out for dinner or a show, they were just full of life,” Tracey said. “We want to be like that, so we might get an inner city apartment.”
The Good Girl Stripped Bare is out now through Harper Collins