“Everybody has a story… you’re the middleman”

This year marks Liz Hayes’ 40th Year at Nine.

She joined Nine News in 1981, fronting Today for a decade from 1986. In 1996 she joined 60 Minutes, this year marking 25 years with the show.

Taree-born Hayes started her as a cadet journalist on the local Manning River Times newspaper, before joining Southdown Press (including briefly filing for TV Week and New Idea) prior to joining 10 Eyewitness News.

“It was 10 in North Ryde,” she recalls.

“They had a swimming pool. I was like ‘What the hell is that?'”

Journalism wasn’t in the family when she began, but it was her fascination with people that triggered her interest.

“I didn’t know what I was necessarily getting myself into when I took up the job as a cadet in my local newspaper. As all things in life it was incremental. You start with small steps…” she explains.

“Everybody has a story, and their stories are important to them, particularly. Then you start to realise they’re actually important to others. You come to understand that there’s much to be gained by people communicating. You’re the middleman.”

“I’m up for the public lashings, particularly if it’s appropriate”

But sometimes the middleman finds themselves in the firing line too.

“I’m so used to that now. I take that as part of the deal. It is hard. When you’re looking for someone to vent your anger. I know that we’re always in the front line. Sometimes, we don’t deliver the message properly, and that’s fair enough, you’ll cop a backhander and you’re okay with that. I’m up for the public lashings, particularly if it’s appropriate. But if it’s inappropriate, I just have to accept that mostly people are needing to vent some frustration.”

60 Minutes has allowed her to travel the world, meet fascinating people, break stories and shift the conversation. I ask which have been her favourite and least favourite stories?

“He arrived and asked for a plate of porridge right off the top”

“My least favourite moment probably was my interview with Robert Downey Jr, which went pear-shaped, I guess because he arrived and asked for a plate of porridge right off the top. I knew then he wasn’t in the mood. So that didn’t go well,” she reflects.

“I think great moments are usually with people who touch you in some way. I know I’ve mentioned Clare Oliver’s story, but I just still can’t recover very well from standing by her death bed because she got melanoma from a sun bed at 26.

“Those sorts of things stay with you, and you look at this young girl and you just think ‘God, how did that happen?’

“Or Jeni Hayne, who developed 1000’s of personalities to protect herself as a little girl against the terrible things her father was doing. She took herself to court to take on her father and won, but she had to convince people she wasn’t mad. Those kinds of stories stay with you.

“Having said that, walking through Fukushima after a tsunami and a power plant explosion will stay with you. It’d be like coming through Sydney and everyone is gone. Walking through parts of Afghanistan, you’re standing in the heart of a war. It’s almost surreal.

“I think I’m guilty of empathising a little too much”

“Probably the reason that peoples’ stories stay with you is because … you can imagine, ‘What if this was you or your family?’ I think I’m guilty of empathising a little too much.

“One of the great things I found with 60 Minutes in particular is you travel with a producer, a cameraman and sound man. They are sharing these moments with you.”

Hayes remains intensely private on her personal life, meaning interviews where she is the subject are none too common. But she insists she nonetheless engages with a good chat.

“I’m incredibly private… but I’m keen to still maintain people’s interest”

“I think it depends on who’s doing the interviewing and why you’re doing the interview. If you were saying, ‘I want to come in and sit down in your house and talk to your partner about you’ -probably not. Only because I’m incredibly private, in that regard. But I’m keen to still maintain people’s interest in what I’m doing, rather than me personally,” she assures.

“The manner in which we do television journalism, asks people to trust us and to know us. The more people learn about you, the more they want.. and I understand that.

“I actually quite like sharing conversations. I like other journalists telling me how they feel and think. We’re all in this together in our own strange way.”

I ask about interview tactics and her thoughts on being requested to submit questions ahead of an interview? (None were requested for this interview).

“You’re really stupid if you don’t know why I’m coming to talk to you”

“I think that’s a little bit offensive. When I get asked to do that, I don’t. I’ll tell you the areas that I want to discuss. I’ll happily do that. Because you’re really stupid if you don’t know why I’m coming to talk to you. Some people want to be reassured, I guess.”

Following on from 60 Minutes investigations into the disappearance of MH370 and bushfires, Nine now launches Under Investigation.

The six episodes each centre on a different case, with a table of experts who will seek to solve crimes, and uncover new evidence. Shot at Carriageworks in Sydney, it includes former homicide detective Gary Jubelin.

“We don’t just tell you about it, we show you”

“I certainly do interviews outside of the table, which we then bring into the room for people to listen to. We obviously illustrate a story…. we don’t just tell you about it, we show you,” Hayes explains.

“But most of the energy is around the table. The idea is: we want people to feel comfortable, that the viewers can come and join us pretty much at the table … to see how experts in various fields pick things… how they investigate, how they ask each other questions.

“You’re at a dinner party, basically. But it’s a bit dry. Maybe what we should do next time, if we get the chance, is give them a glass of something!

“That would rate even higher if we did!”

Episode 1 discovers new clues and new lines of inquiry in the case of Victoria’s “High Country Mystery” – the disappearance of elderly lovers Russell Hill and Carol Clay from a remote alpine campsite.

“They were teenage sweethearts, in a relationship that’s been going for about 60 years,” she explains.

“No-one has ever seen them again”

“They’d gone up there to have a quiet camping weekend and they just disappeared off the face of the earth. No-one has ever seen them again. What’s intriguing is this is his backyard. Russell Hill knows this place absolutely intimately. He was a logger….he’d been to the same location many times. His sweetheart has been there before but not much.

“Their campsite was burnt out and it goes from there. So we just try and figure it out. Where are Russell & Carol? What has happened to them. It is quite something.”

Under Investigation airs 9pm Monday on Nine.

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