Know Your Neighbor
This is the first part of my interview with Robert Penfold, my neighbor, who is a multi-talented journalist and who has literally covered every big story in the world, hotspots included.
Patte Barham: Could you tell us about some of your favorite articles?
Robert Penfold: There’s an article I wrote about a day after the Chilean miners were rescued because the Australian news wanted a first person piece about the rescue.
PB: Yes, and wasn’t another story about when you were there the day before the Berlin Wall fell?
RP: Yes. (It fell) in the middle of the night, and that was also as good as when I was in Soweto when Nelson Mandela was released. Those are three good news stories.
PB: How did you ever get involved in the news business?
RP: I got started because my dad always had the newspaper delivered every day, and he always knew everything that was going on. I think it’s got a lot to do with your parents and the guidance you get. We are from a newspaper family. I started on the equivalent of the Larchmont Chronicle, the weekly hometown newspaper outside of Sydney.
I got a cadetship, which is a traineeship, and I just worked my way through.
PB: What was the name of the paper?
RP: It was the MacArthur Advertiser, and they did two newspapers, that one and another called the Campbelltown News.
PB: What was your best story?
RP: My best story was when the Berlin Wall came crashing down. It was such an uplifting piece. Everyone in the world was really excited by it. So often when you’re a foreign correspondent, you cover so many bad news stories; I also covered Hurricane Katrina, both shuttle disasters, as well as Cyclone Tracy that tore apart Darwin in Australia.
PB: What was your favorite story of all time?
RP: Definitely the Berlin Wall. And the celebration went on for days. And I took little pieces of the Berlin Wall to give to my family and my friends. But people were still incredibly excited about it, even two months later.
PB: Did you have to smuggle them?
RP: No, I just picked them up off the ground, because I was standing on top of the wall.
PB: Have you ever been afraid to do a story?
RP: Yes, I’ve been in some very dangerous situations. Probably the most dangerous situations were when I was in both Iraq and Bosnia. When you’re in Bosnia, you could drive around a corner, on a lonely street, and find a roadblock, with a bunch of guys there with masks on and machine guns, aimed right at you, and you’d never know if you were going to get away from that alive. And you knew that they could shoot you, there was no one around to witness it. They could drag your body off, throw it [to] the ground, drag your body away, and people would never know what happened.
PB: I have a feeling no one would even care.
RP: No, of course not. You were just some person who got in their way. And then the other situation was the start of the first Gulf War. It was when George Bush, Sr. decided to move the tanks and the troops to reclaim Kuwait City. That night, we followed behind the tanks, and we worked out our way into Kuwait City. When we got to Kuwait City, we found out that the troops had not gone into the city. There were a lot of crazy, excited Kuwaitis who were driving around firing guns into the air. The situation was just out of control.
PB: Are you allowed to carry weapons?
RP: No, we never carry weapons. We have bullet-proof jackets and helmets.
PB: Do they work?
RP: We hope so. Thankfully, I’ve never had to test it out.
Part two of the interview will come soon.
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