Destiny’s descendant - the self-deprecating Mr Walden by Liz Rogers

Words flow freely with the 71-year-old Mal Walden. His “self-defecating” (yes, you’ve got to “rubbish yourself”) wit merges with a wealth of experience to create an enthralling discourse that bypasses his public persona and makes you feel at ease.

Many of us grew up with him. Many of us loved watching Mal’s Melbourne (Eyewitness News’ human interest story segment). Either way, he’s a British-born Frankston lad who somehow wandered into our living rooms most nights via the gogglebox. Since retiring from Channel 10 in 2013 – he prefers the term ‘stepping down’ – Mal’s life hasn’t slowed. His memoir The News Man – 60 Years of Television was published by Brolga last year and he’s already writing his next book.

Retiring my ass! This ‘ginger’ son of English immigrants who landed in Coogee Ave, Frankston, in 1952 keeps his ears and eyes wide open, watching and waiting.  Fifty-three years is a long time to be in an industry that can make or break you, but this journalist, writer and newsreader has survived “by being open to opportunity and in the right place at the right time. I believe life is pre-destined”.

The young Mal Walden won a ‘secret sound’ radio competition when he was 15. Heading into the station to collect his prize, he was hit with a “bombshell”.

“I’d been tinkering with crystal and valve set radios for years. I picked up the wrong signal, entered this competition and won. I knew then and there what I wanted to do. Radio, then television. I’ve been hired, fired, promoted and demoted. It’s been a roller-coaster.

“My parents were the original boat people,” he continues. “Dad was the chief salesman for Polaroid and was on In Melbourne Tonight (Graham Kennedy) and the Happy Hammond children’s television show. Contacts. He inquired about how I might get into radio.” We agree on how important it is to develop a firm network and the absence of discussion re what migrants leave behind. “I can’t imagine not seeing my family,” he says.  He and his wife, Pauline, have just welcomed their first grandson and Mal has already privately published a couple of kids’ books for him.

“When we first arrived in Frankston my parents thought it was a one-horse town. They were the original pioneers. I have fond memories of being a Scout in the ‘50s and lining up at Davey St (Frankston) Primary School swearing allegiance to the flag; drinking a curdled half-pint of milk. We used to have bonfire nights in the square that used to be where the cinemas are now.” His younger sister still lives in Frankston.

Mal penned The News Man from his 53 diaries compiled over his life in media. “Sometimes I wouldn’t listen to the stories when reading the news if they were too distressing. Turn the headset off.” It was hard when his friend Brian Naylor and wife died in the Black Saturday fires, and when Greg Shackleton (Balibo Five) was murdered.

“We pre-recorded the bulletin reporting on the Seven helicopter crash in 1982. Many journalists self-medicated back then. It’s only now we are seeing post-traumatic stress disorder. Some of the journos who were first on the scene were exposed to brutal situations.” He also covered Cyclone Tracy in 1974 (pictured).

This longest-serving newsman on Australian television takes nothing for granted. Yes, he’s been stalked. Yes, he’s been spat on, and yes, there have been messages left under his front door.
“Stories get told before we know if they are true or not now,” he muses. I agree. News can sometimes seem more like a surreal social media ‘hoedown’ these days.

But not in Mr Walden’s time. He was and still is the real down to earth ‘Frankston boy’ deal.
Destiny aside.