Get to know the inspirational Tracey Holmes
We speak to Tracey Holmes, an ocean-lover, mother of four, ABC senior journalist and podcast host of The Ticket.
Tracey Holmes’ story begins with the ocean. It’s a connection that has been a steady undercurrent flowing throughout her years, a place of refuge when she needs somewhere calm and quiet.
For Holmes, her childhood laid the foundations for what was to come: a love of the ocean, adventure and travel. Her parents were avid surfers and Holmes spent her early years chasing waves before eventually signing up for surf competitions.
“It’s where I always go in my mind when I think about being in the perfect place. I feel like the ocean is never far away from me, even when I’m nowhere near it,” she confides.
When Holmes was three, her parents heard rumours that the best waves were in South Africa, so that’s where they went. It was a holiday that ended up being four years long. Her early memories are filled with images of apartheid in South Africa and unique glimpses into how other people live. Later, her family moved to Hawaii, where they lived with a local family and went to school.
“[I had] some really interesting and fascinating experiences. And I think having them as a child helped me carry that into my adult life,” Holmes reminisces.
The power of the Fourth Estate
Surfing may not be every young person’s start to a career in journalism, but it’s where Holmes first started honing the skills she would employ throughout her working life.
“I wasn’t much of a surfer to be honest, but I used to enjoy chatting to everyone I was competing against. I’d ask questions, finding out really interesting things about them. As I went into a career of talking to people, nothing’s really changed,” she says.
Today, Holmes is a senior journalist and the host of ABC News’ podcast, The Ticket. In her career, she’s covered sport and current affairs, was the media spokesperson for the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games, has co-hosted the FIFA World Cup and worked as a sports broadcaster in China.
While The Ticket is a sports podcast, her interest isn’t just about the games she covers. Instead, Holmes loves the fact that sport can put a microscope on human nature; it can include politics, drama, conflict and compromise. “What I liked about sport is that I felt comfortable in that environment. It was competitive, which means people are instinctively driven to achieve. And when they don’t achieve, they go back, they reanalyse and they try again. I find it a very positive environment to be in.”
Since news became available 24 hours a day, there have been critiques about its impact: that the endless need for content has helped create stories where there are none or repetitive content that turns people off. But Holmes believes that it comes down to each journalist to take advantage of the constant need for new stories.
“There are other very big issues in the world that we never hear about, because we don’t cover them — at our own expense I think, because we don’t have a full picture of the world,” Holmes says. “And so whenever I do a program or an interview, I try and find somebody that is an outlier. I try and find somebody that can progress the story somewhere else, that can help us see a story in a different way.”
Holmes believes her job is to illuminate the stories that wouldn’t otherwise be told, to tease out the nuances and help others see a different side of the story.
“Nothing is black and white; there’s huge amounts of shades of grey in between,” she explains. “And that’s what I like looking at; I like working in those shades of grey.”
As a mentor to budding journalism students, Holmes has hope that the next generation of storytellers will have a different approach to complex events and people. She points out that the world is changing and children growing up today are even more exposed to different people and cultures.
“I’m a big believer that things don’t go in straight lines, they go around in circles,” she says. “You hope that they’re ever expanding, not ever diminishing.”
Holmes, who has lived in six countries and worked in 35, makes it a priority to immerse herself in the local culture.
In China, where she lived with her husband Stan Grant and their three young boys, they chose to live away from expats and in a place that was as local as possible.
“[It’s] our job to understand the place and you couldn’t do that if you just lived in an expat community. Our youngest son, Jesse, when he was three — they start school in mainland China at three — went to a local Chinese school where no one spoke English; none of the teachers spoke English. He had a Chinese name, and I’m fairly certain for those years, Jesse actually thought he was Chinese, because that’s what he was surrounded by.”
When they lived in Beijing, Holmes worked as a presenter for China Central Television. It meant being side by side with colleagues who had never left China. These colleagues gave her a unique insight into their world and what they thought about the way the rest of the world reported on them. It had a profound impact on Holmes.
“Suddenly, you see things from a different perspective. And that is an awakening. I try to see things from as many perspectives as possible, because how else can you really understand? In the end, we can only understand according to how broad we want to make our mind or how inquisitive we want to be. There’s always going to be a level of bias or there’ll be some barriers somewhere. But I try very hard. I really feel like I want to walk a mile in everybody’s shoes.”
Strength and flexibility
But Holmes’ life hasn’t been a glorious mix of beachside escapes and global travel. In 2000, Holmes’ name was wrenched from a byline to a headline by the tabloid media. Her relationship with fellow journalist Stan Grant — married at the time — had become public and the press had a field day.
Of the scrutiny and pressure, Holmes says, “I always thought I was quite strong, but I think it made me much stronger, even to the point of hardening certain parts of me.”
Reflecting on being the focus of so many unpleasant and untrue stories, Holmes still doesn’t believe those writers should be shut down.
“One of the things we need to be very careful of as we raise the next generation is that we teach them that if something is awful, or derogatory or negative in any sense, [we need to] teach them to understand where that’s coming from. And to develop resilience to be able to counter that. I think that’s the biggest strength.”
Holmes comes across as strong and resolute but open and broad-minded. “I operate on two levels. On one level, I know what I want. I know what I like, and I know how I want to get there. But other than that, I’m very open. I can be pulled in different directions. Even when I’m pulled in those different directions, I’m very happy. But within that I’m quite firm. I know what I like and what I don’t like and what I think is right and what I think is wrong. I don’t compromise on those things.”
Living on stolen land
After living overseas for many years, Holmes and her family returned to Australia at the end of 2013. While she says she would be happy living anywhere, as a Wiradjuri man, Grant’s connection to country drew them home.
Her relationship with Stan and raising three Indigenous boys has shown Holmes another side of Australia. She has noticed that her children are treated differently; she has learned the history of Grant’s family and the injustices they faced and continue to face in their own country.
“From the minute they hop out of bed in the morning they brace themselves for what experience they’re going to have that day. And we constantly ask them to relive that trauma. When do we stop asking them to relive that for our benefit?” Holmes asks.
“We need, as a nation, to take serious steps towards addressing this injustice. Giving 10 per cent of the land and the huge wealth that mining generates back to Indigenous communities would be a great first step,” she argues. “Something has to give because it’s not right. And I think until that very basic theft is addressed, it’s not going to be sorted.”
Coping with life’s ups and downs
Holmes has held positions of great responsibility — from presenting global sports events to raising three boys. She’s faced intense media scrutiny and watched the people she loves experience racism every day. She’s lived and thrived in foreign countries and cultures. Throughout it all, however, Holmes has maintained an even keel.
“I think if you spoke to my mother, she would tell you that she’s always had concerns there’s something wrong with me because I’m such a flatliner. There can be these extreme highs and extreme lows happening around me and I just remain in the middle. I do remember when I was little, I used to really like quiet and would sometimes not talk. That way, I could really listen to what was happening around me and there wasn’t a need to try and insert myself. I was very much an observer,” she reminisces.
But even someone as calm and collected as Holmes needs to ground themselves in times of upheaval. When it does get too much, she takes herself back to the beginning.
“People often say to me, where do you feel most at home? And I say at the beach because, like I said before, it’s the water that draws me … and that’s what’s interesting. The ocean connects the entire world; there’s no divisions in the ocean. Water that laps up here on Australian shores also laps on Chinese shores or around the gulf of Africa or wherever,” she remarks. “It’s all one ocean.”