‘You just start crying:’ Axed 10 newsreader breaks silence
A familiar face in lounge rooms across Queensland, Georgina Lewis was at the peak of her 25-year television career when, instead of reading the news, she became the news.
On August 11, Network 10 announced it was dumping Brisbane's dedicated 10 News First bulletin in favour of a centralised program out of Sydney.
Lewis, 46, was shattered.
"I'll be honest with you, it was an awful shock, and you go through a process of grieving; I'd worked so hard to get to the top of my game," she says over lunch at Mr Percival's, by the Brisbane River at Howard Smith Wharves.
"After the initial shock, you just start crying. I was given the opportunity to go home if I couldn't read the bulletin (that night) but I wanted to be there for the team; it was tough."
However, her toughest challenge was yet to come. The final goodbye, yesterday, her last bulletin since taking over from Marie-Louise Theile as 10's face of news in 2007.
Putting a brave and positive spin on a very public farewell, Lewis was determined to "get through it", deeming it "a good challenge, personally and professionally".
"I like to think of myself as resilient, someone who can bounce back," she says.
It is a sunny spring day when Qweekend catches up with Lewis in her first interview since the big shake-up announcement, and she is looking genuinely relaxed and content.
There is no hint of a woman who is anything but self-assured. Nor should there be.
Lewis's exit is not because she did anything wrong. Network 10 made it clear in its communications on the changes to its bulletins, also happening in Adelaide and Perth, that they were a result of economic rationalisation, and not the quality of its people.
Director of news content Ross Dagan described Lewis and other departing network colleagues - including 66-year-old Kerri-Anne Kennerley from Studio 10 - as "exceptionally gifted". While it didn't lessen the blow at the time, it did jolt Lewis into a new reality.
"I realised I needed to work out how I was going to turn this around into something positive. Maybe it was the kick up the butt I needed," she says candidly.
"You can get a bit stale, and it's like Groundhog Day, driving up the mountain (Mt Coot-tha, home of free-to-air TV) for all those years."
For all her on-air poise and elegant persona, Lewis is no princess.
She knows she's not been the only one canvassing for work, looking to pivot and adjusting to a new normal, as the COVID catchcries go.
"Lots of Australians are unemployed right now, and every night I've been talking about them (on the news) so I do not feel alone in getting a redundancy, and I'm certainly no different to hundreds of thousands of others affected by the pandemic," she says.
"There are all these great people behind the scenes at Channel 10, many who've been there longer than I have, and their lives are in chaos. I may be the front person, but 16 others in our Brisbane team are affected too."
When news broke on that August afternoon that Lewis and many of her colleagues around Australia were out of a job, media identities rushed to Twitter to lament the shock loss.
Radio presenter Virginia Trioli described it as "devastating" while veteran reporter Hugh Riminton said "life giveth, and 2020 taketh away".
Lewis stayed silent.
There was also none of the sass shown by Kerri-Anne Kennerley, who farewelled Studio 10 viewers the next day in an extravagant military style jacket and said, "If you're being run out of town … make it look like a parade".
Lewis kept calm and carried on.
"You have to be mindful you're working for a company and they've got official statements they need to release, and when the time is right you can have your say and, for me, that's now," she says.
"While it came completely out of the blue, TV is one of those industries that you just never know when it's going to happen, and I'm lucky to have survived as long as I have. Let's face it, I'd almost become part of the furniture at 10."
Over the past four weeks Lewis has felt "incredibly loved".
"I have been absolutely inundated with the most beautiful messages of support and kindness, and my parents (Peter and Jackie) and my two sisters (Sophie Ivory and Kate Lowe), and my gorgeous girlfriends have been there for me in every way," she says.
"There is life outside of Channel 10 and there is life after redundancy - and you just have to adapt. I don't want to sit on the couch and mope about. I'm still really young."
Lewis, happily single after splitting from her aviation entrepreneur husband Paul O'Brien almost three years ago, has been taking great care of herself.
She has a laser focus on her health - she works out six days a week, including doing pilates, yoga, and walking on the beach to "find calm" (she has a unit in Burleigh Heads as well as in Brisbane) - and says exercise is "really good for your mental health".
She is also continuing ambassador roles she enjoys with Audi Centre Brisbane, the Princess Alexandra Hospital's PA Research Foundation, and Cancer Council Queensland.
And, not surprisingly even in these difficult times, she's had a few job opportunities come her way, "some in and some outside the media game, including completely different tangents".
Part of Queensland's television landscape since 1995, Lewis has either covered or presented some of the most horrific, and heartening, stories of our recent past.
From the despicable murders of Hannah Clarke and her three children in February this year to the heroic efforts of the Mud Army during the 2010-2011 floods, Lewis has ridden the rollercoaster of emotions.
Keeping those emotions in check hasn't always been easy.
"As journalists, it is our job to tell people's stories, and to make a difference in some way, and you get to see the best and the worst in people but you have to keep it together.
"I don't think people realise when you're delivering story after story that is horrendous and devastating, it does affect you personally; people almost expect you to be emotionless, but then you also get wonderful stories of little kids leaving hospital after years of cancer treatment, and Queensland's Mud Army during the floods."
On the night of February 19, after the morning of one of the most horrific domestic and family violence crimes imaginable, Lewis struggled on air.
She struggles again, during our interview.
"Hannah Clarke and her children … I'm almost crying again now," she says.
"It broke me as a newsreader, just so devastating for that family."
Lewis was also deeply moved by the fatal shooting of Senior Constable Brett Forte, a
father of three, gunned down in Toowoomba in May 2017.
"I have friends in the police force and it brought home the reality of officers working on the frontline and the sacrifices they make on a daily basis," she says.
"Seeing the funeral, his kids, his wife, it was a lot.
"When delivering these stories, you want to do the people who are suffering proud."
Of course, there have been lighter moments, like the time Lewis was a young reporter in far north Queensland and covered a drug bust in Kuranda.
She accidentally locked the keys in the car, and inside were the tapes she and the crew needed to drive back to the Cairns bureau in time for the evening news.
"It was 1997 or '98 and I had to go to the police, who'd just made the arrest, and they got a coat hanger from the drug dealers' den to latch up the lock and break into the car. I never locked the keys in the car again," she laughs.
As Lewis reflects on a colourful career in the spotlight, she is never far from that little girl, the tomboy, who grew up in Buderim, in the then unspoilt Sunshine Coast hinterland.
"I'd spend my days at the beach, cruising around on my BMX bike Tiger, or chasing waterfalls, so to speak, in Buderim Forest Park.
"I loved experiencing nature and was a real tomboy; I had that sort of lifestyle kids don't get to have as much these days - a life spent outdoors with my besties, playing until dark and coming home in time for dinner."
If, as they say, nature is a great teacher and enhances creative thinking, then Lewis's childhood has prepared her well for the rough and tumble of life.
"I'm an inquisitive person, one of those people who always goes by her gut, I like to think I'm very intuitive."
Her decision to become a journalist was influenced by her schoolteacher mother.
"I always loved writing and was passionate about the humanities, not the maths and sciences, and I'd get As in English, and mum guided me in the direction of where to go after school (Immanuel Lutheran College).
Lewis did an arts degree at Lismore's University of New England (now Southern Cross University) and spent a year at the University of Nebraska's journalism school.
"It was amazing, America was so far ahead of where we were in broadcast at the time, and it put a fire in my belly," she says.
Jobs in Mount Isa, in the state's northwest, and in Cairns and Townsville followed before the big move to Brisbane 21 years ago.
"It's really been an honour and a privilege to have been invited into people's homes over the last two decades as a TV reporter or a newsreader, and I've had a great time," she says.
"I've loved the rush and the immediacy and urgency of TV news, but now it's time for another adventure, on different airwaves as of Monday.
"With every ending comes a new beginning; this is a turning point in my life, and I'm really excited by the future."
Originally published as 'You just start crying:' Axed 10 newsreader Lewis breaks silence