There are so many interesting people involved at Radio Blue Mountains both behind the mic and behind the scenes, that we thought we’d share their stories here on the RBM website.

Peter Walker of New York, London, Melbourne, Cologne, Sydney and Wentworth Falls.

Thank you Peter, for taking the time to talk to us. From what we do know of you, you have led a fascinating life, so far. Let’s start at the very beginning, if we may.

Q: Where were you born and where did you grow up?

A: Perth WA but grew up in Merbein (Victoria), New York, London, Melbourne, Esher (UK) Sydney, Cologne (Germany) and again London

Q: What was life like in Merbein for the young Peter Walker back in the late 1950’s?

A: With all that travelling and moving about, Merbein I suppose was my hometown, my anchor at any rate, where I spent quite a few holidays helping at my grandmother’s fruit farm, picking, using the tractor, milking, digging holes for the toilet waste and animal caring.

The abundance of fresh fruit, real eggs, fresh bread and all that farm life entails was fantastic for a youngster. After all, for much of that time food rationing was still in force in the UK.

Q: Very different times to today. Do you get back to Merbein much these days?

A: I still have several cousins who live in Merbein or nearby Mildura and until a few years ago a couple of maiden aunts who I looked out for.  So I went back several times a year. I haven’t made it back there since Covid though.

Q: Let’s jump ahead now to when you finished High School. Were you encouraged to go on to Year 12, or was it a case of leaving school at 15 and getting a trade?

A: My father’s attitude was that no son of his would be other than in the top 10 of the “A” class so going on to finish secondary education was never in question. I attended, I think, around 12 primary or secondary schools here and there as we moved about. This put a lot of pressure on me but somehow I managed and stayed in my father’s good graces.

Q: Moving from school to school can’t have been easy. Is it right to say that after school you went on to University, and then on to a career in journalism?

A: Actually it was the other way around. When I was 15 my parents sent me back to Sydney alone by sea from the UK to boarding school in Sydney for two years so I could matriculate to an Australian university. Our universities did not recognise the GCE system in the UK. Had I stayed I may well have gone on to Cambridge and had to fend for myself because my parents returned to Canberra 18 months later.  We couldn’t afford that unfortunately.

Once I matriculated I was entitled to rejoin my family who by then were attached to the Australian Embassy in Bonn. So off I went yet again this time first class by an Italian liner to Genoa when I was 17. From there I went by train changing at Milan to Cologne where my parents lived. Once I turned 18 I headed to London ready to teach Fleet Street how to run newspapers.

My newspaper experience at this time was limited to running my own newspaper from about aged 9 to 11 called the Melbourne Star. I produced three pencil written copies of the four exercise book pages several times a year, one for my father who was a journalist, one for a friend next door and one for the files. When I got to London I found they already knew how to run newspapers and had no interest in employing an 18 year-old kid.

I was lucky to land a job with “The City Press” which was much like the Australian Financial Review in its coverage. It was great experience though because they threw me in at the deep end and I enjoyed the experience of working in the City of London. While there I also provided stories for the Evening Standard, The Evening News, the Daily Express and once for the Observer.

I returned to Sydney when I was 20 and joined the Sydney Morning Herald. It was because of the experience I had had in London that I was quickly promoted and after covering State politics became Medical Education and Science correspondent, probably because I  could spell science.

Q: What was it like working in newspapers back then? What was an Australian newspaper press room like? How intense was the pressure like to get the story, get it right, and get it to print?

Also, was there 3 or 4 editions of the daily paper back then?

A: The SMH in those days – the sixties – was a broadsheet and journalism was all about providing news rather than opinion. There were no glamour reporters who were household names. The SMH prided itself with being the newspaper of record and its reporters as the best in Australia. We checked and rechecked everything. If we misquoted, or made a mistake, your job was really at risk.

I remember I once wrote in a story that something was an “all-time record”. The chief sub-editor was quick to call me over and ask “Mr Walker can you guarantee  this record will never be broken” ? When I said no he replied “Then it cannot be referred to as an all-time record. That is all”.

The first edition deadline was 9.30 pm and two other editions followed with the last being for city distribution. Most reporters started at 2.30 pm and ended at 10.30. Remember, television news was quite raw and new in those days and radio did not have the influence in news it did later.

Q: Tell us, if you will, about some of the big stories you worked on?

A: None that I think anyone would remember. I had quite a few front page stories but they were either when a team of us were working on a story or it was the weather – floods, heat, rain and so on.

Q: In your role as a journalist, did you ever hear stories and tales of the main characters from the seedy side of Sydney? I’m thinking of the dark days of Roger Rogerson, Abe Saffron and The Cross, that sort of thing?

A: Of course. We met all sorts from film and TV stars to politicians and big time CEO’s. I did however have drinks with Abe Saffron (Mr Sin) as well as Lennie Macpherson (Mr Big). I also met The Beatles one time.

Q: Could you tell us about your experience in 1965 reporting on the Freedom Ride? People reading this may not know what the Freedom Ride was, so if you could expand on that please.

A: The Freedom Ride was led by University of Sydney aboriginal activist Charles Perkins during a turbulent time in 1965.

He organised a two week bus trip with Sydney University students around regional towns in NSW  highlighting the plight of aboriginal people such as refusing or restricting entry to the front bar of pubs and to public swimming pools. Some of the white population in those centres did not take kindly to these actions and scuffles, small riots and arrests ensued.  I interviewed Charlie and several students during that time and later went privately to a country town to observe first hand how aborigines were treated when they tried to enter the front bar of a hotel. 

Q: Finally, Peter, when did you hang up your typewriter?

A: I left the SMH and became press secretary to the Deputy Premier and Minister for Education for several years in the 1970’s and later went into public relations consultancy eventually running my own business for 25 years before retiring 20 odd years ago.

Q: Moving on from journalism, how did you get into community radio?

A: Evelyn Calaunan had a spiritual program on RBM 15 years ago and asked me on to her program to discuss a meeting my wife and I had with the Dalai Lama in India following fund raising work we had done for Tibetan refugee schools in India. I thought tackling radio would be fun so I joined RBM and became a presenter.

Q: When did you first come to the Mountains and also when did you first tune in to RBM?

A: My wife and I moved to Wentworth Falls from Chatswood in 2004. I was not aware of RBM for a couple of years after that.

Q: When did you start at RBM and how many shows have you presented in the intervening years?

A: I had my first program – a classical music affair – some 15 years ago. Since then I have presented an eclectic range of music programs before turning to politics where I presented news and editorial comments from far and wide about the news of the day in a program called “Mountain Insights”.

Before starting “All over the Place” I presented a p program, “Kaleidoscope”, with colleague Ginny Neighbour, which covered events leading up to the last Federal and State elections.

Q: . Tell us about your current show “All Over The Place”, please

A: It’s a lot of fun. It’s jam packed with comedy and thrillers from the golden days of radio with everything from the Goons to Basil Rathbone thrillers. I even rebroadcast the original Orson Welles radio version of The War of the Worlds which frightened so many US people when it was broadcasted some 80 years ago.  It’s a program that’s really fun to present and, I hope, to listen to. It’s really all over the place as the name implies with something different each week.

Great stuff, Peter. Now, like all of our interviews, we’ll finish with some short, sharp questions. Ready?

A: Yes.

Favourite Music? Eclectic but mainly classical

Favourite composer? Sibelius

WSW or Sydney FC? Swans

Socceroos or Matildas? Matildas

Howard or Dutton? Neither

Keating or Albanese? Keating

Warnie or Warwick Capper? Warnie

Favourite night out 30 years ago? Indian curry

Favourite night out today?  Drinks with friends

Favourite film? The Big Country (1958) directed by William Wyler, starring Gregory Peck, Jean Simmons, Carroll Baker, Charlton Heston and Burl Ives.

Favourite food (by country)? Indian

Favourite dish from that country? Beef Vindaloo

Favourite Drink? Red wine

Favourite holiday destination? Italy

And finally Peter, complete this sentence: “If I won a million bucks tomorrow I would . . . . do as much as I could for family and friends.

RL.