Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Fighting words: Kerry-Anne Walsh on 'The Stalking of Julia Gillard'

By Sheena McKenzie, for CNN
December 13, 2013 -- Updated 1421 GMT (2221 HKT)
Australian actor Rachel Griffiths (pictured right) is set to play former Prime Minister Julia Gillard in a new drama, based on a book by political journalist Kerry-Anne Walsh.
Australian actor Rachel Griffiths (pictured right) is set to play former Prime Minister Julia Gillard in a new drama, based on a book by political journalist Kerry-Anne Walsh.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Meet Kerry-Anne Walsh, the straight-talking Aussie political journalist
  • Wrote book on former PM Julia Gillard's treatment by the media
  • Now set to be turned into screen drama, starring Rachel Griffiths
  • Walsh worked in Canberra press gallery 25 years, before quitting in 2009

Leading Women connects you to extraordinary women of our time. Each month, we meet two women at the top of their field, exploring their careers, lives and ideas.

(CNN) -- Kerry-Anne Walsh doesn't mince her words. Australian politics is too "blokey," traditional media is "dying," and the press gallery "is a beast that feeds on itself."

"I think it's got me into a lot of trouble," the former political journalist says of her straight-talking style. "But I think it's something that's needed more. There's too much spin in the media. I'm so allergic to spin."

For 25 years Walsh was one of Australia's best known political commentators, working for Sydney newspaper the Sun-Herald, national magazine The Bulletin, and public broadcaster the ABC, among many others.

She saw five prime ministers come and go in half a lifetime "living and breathing" the Canberra press gallery.

World Bank boss' quest to end poverty
Disney boss' influential mentors

Then Julia Gillard, Australia's first female prime minister, came to power and Walsh got so hacked off she left and wrote a book about it.

It wasn't Gillard, as much as her treatment by the media that infuriated Walsh. "She was mercilessly and relentlessly lampooned for her hair, clothes, accent, her arse, even the way she walks and talks," she says in book "The Stalking of Julia Gillard."

Screen star

Now the controversial account -- which became one of the country's top-selling nonfiction books and provoked a backlash from some former colleagues -- is set to hit our screens, with Golden Globe-winning actor and fellow Aussie Rachel Griffiths playing Gillard.

Walsh is pleased with the decision to cast Griffith, perhaps best known internationally for her role in HBO series "Six Feet Under," saying both women possess "the same calm demeanor."

Producer Richard Keddie -- the man behind other Labor bio-dramas "Hawke" and "Curtin" -- will oversee the project, expected to be released in 2015. Though it's still undecided if it will take the form of a TV drama or feature film.

Power play

Gillard came to power in 2010, replacing fellow Labor leader Kevin Rudd. Three years later, the party voted Rudd back in.

"The book is a fairly 'in-your-face' account of Gillard's leadership," says Walsh. "It focuses on how she was undermined by Rudd's forces and the role the media played in it."

Why did she feel compelled to write it?

"Because I got angry. Not just because of what was happening to her, but because I had given a quarter of a century of my life to trying to report as accurately and fairly as I could, and I was bloody appalled by the mind-set about her leadership," says Walsh, who left the press gallery in 2009.

"There were very few people in the media who were prepared to divert from the pack and scrutinize in an objective fashion -- which as journalists is what we've been told to do on a daily basis."

Did the fact Gillard was a woman affect how she was portrayed by the media?

"It had something to do with it," says Walsh, speaking by phone from her home in Canberra, not far from the country's Parliament House.

"I do believe we in Australia have a deeply ingrained... how do I say this? We're just not ready for women in positions of power."

Kevin Rudd's leadership battle with Julia Gillard spurred Walsh's book.
Cole Bennetts/Getty Images/File

Young ambition

Walsh grew up in Sydney, one of six children in an Irish-Catholic home, with a father who was involved in the Democratic Labor Party throughout the 1960s.

Politics had always been a topic around the dinner table. But when Labor Prime Minister Gough Whitlam was dramatically dismissed by the Governor-General in 1975 -- the only time in Australia's history this had ever happened -- it became a passion.

"You'd have to have had your head under a rock not to be interested one way or another," says Walsh, who dreamed of being a journalist for as long as she can remember.

The book is a fairly 'in-your-face' account of Gillard's leadership
Kerry-Anne Walsh

"I went for a cadetship at what was then the Daily Mirror. And I was told by this bloke who was blowing cigarette smoke all over me that 'We don't take convent girls,' because I had come from a school run by nuns,'" she said.

After that, Walsh says she "just sort of winged my through," working as a copywriter, then for a trade union paper, before landing her first job at the Daily Telegraph, and becoming a familiar face in the Canberra press gallery.

Life's work

"Parliament house is a little city in itself, with around 3,000 people working there," said Walsh.

"It's a wild card on any given day -- you never know how politicians are going to be reacting to certain policies or events. So you have to be basically on-call 24/7. It becomes your life. Even now I can't get out of the habit of staying up until all the current affairs shows are done and making sure you're fully across everything."

Walsh spent 25 years working in the Canberra press gallery.
Torsten Blackwood/Getty Images/File

Today, the mother of a 23-year-old son, who describes her age as "not yet 60," still contributes the odd political commentary, volunteers with aboriginal-support groups, and is "plotting her next book."

It's perhaps fitting that her two dogs are called Les and Darcy -- after 19th century Australian boxer Les Darcy. She laughs when I point out the similarities with her own fighting words.

"I know the book did hit a lot of nerves," she says.

"But I do hope it contributes to discussion about the way politicians and the media are responsible to the public. If it's done that, then well and good. I'll be bloody pleased."

Read: Sandra Bullock takes gender out of the equation

Read: Aussie 'Robogal' designing machines for the future

Read: Helen Clarke -- NZ Prime Minister turned UN boss

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
April 1, 2014 -- Updated 1619 GMT (0019 HKT)
In 2007, Arianna Huffington collapsed at her desk. Suffering from a broken cheekbone, the editor-in-chief decided to change her workaholic ways.
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1216 GMT (2016 HKT)
Their job is capturing the most horrifying images on Earth -- keeping their eyes open, where others must look away. Meet Kate Brooks and Gerda Taro, the war photographers of today and yesterday.
March 25, 2014 -- Updated 1819 GMT (0219 HKT)
Gloria Steinem speaks onstage during Equality Now presents 'Make Equality Reality' at Montage Hotel on November 4, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.
As Gloria Steinem turns 80, Kathleen McCartney highlights the remarkable life of the feminist so far.
March 8, 2014 -- Updated 1632 GMT (0032 HKT)
CNN hosted a Tweetchat on gender equality with special guests including Nobel Peace prize laureate Tawakkol Karman. Here's what you missed.
March 13, 2014 -- Updated 1059 GMT (1859 HKT)
From shaving her head for climate change to opting for a sustainable business model, Vivienne Westwood is simply unstoppable.
April 2, 2014 -- Updated 1502 GMT (2302 HKT)
In what would be a dream come true for her alter ego, Carrie Bradshaw -- Sarah Jessica Parker has turned her love of fashion into a new shoe range with Manolo Blahnik.
March 12, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
The Facebook COO's latest headline-making action is a new "Ban Bossy" campaign, which aims at getting rid of the word "bossy."
March 18, 2014 -- Updated 1417 GMT (2217 HKT)
Meet Gail Kelly, the woman who started as a bank teller -- and now runs the banks.
March 6, 2014 -- Updated 0546 GMT (1346 HKT)
What kind of politician is slashed in the face with a knife, and upon waking up in hospital the first thing they ask about is the election campaign?
February 26, 2014 -- Updated 1650 GMT (0050 HKT)
Former U.S. State Deparment Anne-Marie Slaughter says Brad Pitt is 'posterchild for engaged fatherhood'.
February 25, 2014 -- Updated 1525 GMT (2325 HKT)
Cast your eye across a line-up of world leaders and it might look a little something like this: Man in dark suit, man in dark suit, man in dark suit, Angela Merkel in fire engine red two-piece.
February 18, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
Meet Margarita Louis-Dreyfus, the chairperson of French commodities giant Louis Dreyfus Holdings, with a net worth estimated at an eye-watering $6 billion.
February 17, 2014 -- Updated 1138 GMT (1938 HKT)
YouTube has a new boss and she has a "healthy disregard for the impossible" -- according to Google CEO Larry Page. Here are five things you didn't know about her.
ADVERTISEMENT