It was 1996 when a young Catriona Rowntree joined Getaway.
After starting as a researcher, then reporter, for Simon Townsend on Wonder World, hosting Triple J and What’s Up Doc? she was given a role on the travel show that some thought would never last.
“I remember when the show started, Mr. Packer said, ‘How can this show last? You’ll run out of places!'” she recalls.
“Not only is it still on air, but it ended up being one of his favourite shows. That is the bizarre thing: you can go to Tuscany alone, and still never go to all the villages in one lifetime. It’s endless.”
Rowntree has now been with the show for some 25 years as its longest running presenter, alongside David Reyne and Charli Robinson.
“When I started, I hate to say it, but we were still using (street directory) Melways. Soon after we started, The Great Outdoors followed suit on Channel Seven, which sadly is no more,” she tells TV Tonight.
“They had a lot of trouble trying to find a young girl who could handle the lifestyle”
“When I initially started they had a lot of trouble trying to find a young girl who could handle the lifestyle. Moving to Sydney, for a lot of young people, is a pretty terrifying prospect, let alone moving and living out of a suitcase and then spending your life on the road.
“I lived with my family 15 minutes from Channel Nine. Little did I know it was the perfect situation. Mum would help me with laundry, I’d give my pay packet to my nan -I was never home to spend it.”
Rowntree has racked up more mileage points than she cares to remember and worn out numerous passports. But while life looks glamorous on screen, the life of a travel presenter is also the life of a gypsy. There are travel nightmares, illness, endless queues and cultural shocks -all to get the footage in the can.
“A lot of people look at the life of a travel reporter and think ‘That’s the dream job'”
“A lot of people look at the life of a travel reporter and think ‘That’s the dream job’ but it’s not for everyone, (evidenced by) the fact that we’ve had so many guest reporters over the years,” she explains.
“We work with a tiny crew. I do all my own hair, make-up, wardrobe and I write my own stuff -you’ve got to be pretty multi-skilled. You have to be a people person with the patience of a saint. And regardless of what’s happening off-camera, you have to deliver to the best of your ability, then forget about it and move on. You are not going to be back next week to reshoot.”
“I thought that would kill my career”
Rowntree has learned to embrace change in order to remain working in an industry known for high turnover.
“When I accidentally fell in love with a farmer from Victoria, I thought that would kill my career. My beautiful boss, John Walsh just said to me, ‘Catriona as long as you can get to an airport, I don’t care where you live.’ So Jason Dundas from America, taught me how to do all the voice-overs from home. I used to spend half a day driving into GTV, now I can do everything in a matter of minutes. It’s remarkable what technology has done. I suppose the the joy of working on this show is that you really can live anywhere.”
Getaway has also been forced to adapt to survive. After years owning the Thursday night slot, it moved to weekends, becoming funded by travel companies.
“The shift came when reality TV took over”
“The shift came when reality TV took over. We’ve gone through realms of cooking shows. So certainly I’ve seen all the cycles -but from my heart I am so grateful that the show is still on air and that people still enjoy watching it,” she continues.
“You’ve got to be able to survive, certainly in commercial TV, and for us that followed the tune of the major sponsor.
“It’s not entirely branded-content, but it certainly is an example of how many shows are run, where it all comes down to financing. Our major sponsor for many years now has been Scenic Tours. In the past, we’ve had airlines. When it shifted to Scenic, yes, that shift did mean, we were predominantly doing their chosen locations. But we still have enough funding where we can definitely do the independent stories.”
2020 has also meant limited stories have been filmed -even a trip to Antarctica was canned in March. Summer sees the show return to Thursdays as Great Getaways, a compilation of Getaway’s great escapes.
“The first show we’ve got is totally focused on adventure trips around Australia”
“In a way it’s incredibly exciting that people are discovering parts of their own country that were maybe on their bucket list… finally, they’re getting the chance to explore. The first show we’ve got is totally focused on adventure trips around Australia,” says Rowntree.
If restrictions allow there are still destinations on her bucket list, swimming with whale sharks at Ningaloo in WA and, remarkably, she has never been to Japan.
“I would love to go. But it was it’s just one of those trips, that the moment it’s come up, people have grabbed it,” she laughs.
“I remember when I first started hearing a presenter complaining about where they were going. I thought, ‘I never want to be that person.’ I am so grateful, everywhere I go I know I’m going to meet somebody amazing.
“Now I can genuinely say after 25 years doing the show, ‘I’ll get there eventually. It’s okay.'”
Great Getaway airs 7:30pm Thursdays on Nine.