“When I was little…” with Grace and Juanita Phillips

My daughter Grace and I talk a lot about outdoors vs. indoors. We wonder whether anyone can ever truly get the balance right and also if the experiences of childhood do determine one’s future connection to nature (for me it’s a no-brainer, but Grace is still curious). So, we’ve devised a social experiment to try and discover what other people feel about outdoors and whether they liked spending time there as kids. We’ve devised an interview format and will pose a series of questions to a number of Australia’s highest profile people over the coming year. We kick off the series with Juanita Phillips. Juanita is the presenter of the ABC’s 7pm news in Sydney and the 8pm national bulletin on ABC News 24. She’s a respected journalist and also one of the loveliest people we’ve met. And as we discovered, pretty handy when it comes to chopping wood…

When you were little, what did you love to do best of all?

My favourite thing was climbing trees. I had a big liquidambar outside my bedroom, and I could climb all the way up and in through my window. It was dangerous but exciting. I had another tree where I liked to hang upside down from a branch and think. Unfortunately one day the branch snapped unexpectedly while I was in the middle of a very interesting thought, and I fell straight down like a pencil, onto my head. (I rubbed it for a while and then ran off to do something else. We didn’t make a big fuss about that sort of thing in my day). But one of my favourite trees was in a neighbour’s paddock. It was huge, and the kids had tied an old shirt up there like a hammock. I liked to sit up there in the hammock among the leaves, knowing that nobody could see me and nobody knew where I was.

Now you are a grown up, do you think you spend enough time outside?

No! Definitely not. I like to take my dog Gidget for long walks, and she REALLY enjoys being outdoors. One time I had just had her shampooed at the doggie beauty salon, then we went for a walk and she celebrated by rolling in a dead magpie. That made her so happy (and very smelly). I also like to sit on my front step in the sun, drinking tea. But apart from that I spend most of my time inside the house or at work. When you are a grown-up, you often have to plan outdoor things very carefully, in advance. For example, I like holidays where you get to spend time outside, like ski-ing or hiking. My favourite outdoor holiday was doing a six-day walk at Cradle Mountain in Tasmania. Even though it was December, it snowed for two days!

Do you have kids?  Do they spend lots of time outside? Do they like it?

I have two children. Marcus is 9, and Mischa is 7. They like to spend time outside on the trampoline and in their tree house, and we also try to walk to school every day with the dog to get some fresh air. When we lived near the beach, their favourite thing was to paddle in the rock pools looking for crabs and interesting rocks. But I think they also spend too much time watching TV and playing on their iPods. It’s hard for children these days to squeeze in all of the things they like to do, especially when Mum and Dad both work. It would be good if the government reduced the working week and the school week to three days, so there was more time for parents to spend with their children outdoors! My daughter wrote a letter to the Prime Minister suggesting exactly that, but she wrote back and unfortunately said no.

What is your favourite thing to eat?

Hot chips with salt. There really is nothing better than this in the whole world. Especially on a cold day when you’ve been outside and you’re starving.

What is your favourite colour?

Aqua – a mix of blue and green, like the ocean on a sunny day.

What is your favourite animal?

A unicorn (in my dreams). In the real world, dogs are my favourite. They are loving, loyal and really nice to snuggle up to in bed.

What do you love best about Australia?

I have been to a lot of other countries, and I feel very lucky to live in Australia. The most important thing is that we are a free and democratic society, with no war. Most children here have the opportunity to grow up playing and having fun, and they can spend a lot of time outside because the weather is the best in the world.

Do you like One Direction?

That’s an excellent question, Grace, and the answer is – yes, I DO like One Direction. My daughter Mischa is entirely responsible for that. She insisted that I buy their CD, then she played it in the car every time we went out. I particularly like the song where they sing: “You don’t know you’re beautiful, that’s why you’re so beautiful.” I like to sing along to that part, really loudly. (And in fact, I think I am rather good at it). I have listened to the One Direction CD approximately 238 times. That’s a lot – but not as much as I’ve heard the Justin Bieber CD.


With huge thanks to Juanita! Our next interview will be with John Borghetti who is CEO of one of Australia’s leading airlines, Virgin Australia. If you can think of people you’d like to see interviewed here, let us know. And the series isn’t just restricted to Australia or people with a public profile. If you’d like to be interviewed by Grace, just sing out. We’d love to collect as many stories as we can. And finally, here’s proof that Juanita is a farm girl at heart!

Chopping wood for the fire!



  1. Eleanor Jodway says

    I think You pick Wonderful things to write about. I think Your Children are so fortunate to have a Mum who is so Wonderfully Earthy! And I think they will grow to be thoughtful, kind, well rounded Earthy adults! The kind of adults that others will admire….as I admire You! :)

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