LIBBY Price? The Libby Price from Country Hour?
That simple but incredulous Facebook comment sums it up — yes, that Libby Price has left the warm embrace of Auntie for the world of cold, hard print.
After nearly 30 years at the ABC, and 10 on the Victorian Country Hour, Libby has just taken up the reins as editor at The Benalla Ensign.
“It would have been 30 years next March with the ABC,” Libby says.
“And it just felt like when footballers say their heart’s not in it, I had a sense of that.
“And I felt it was much better to leave while things were still going really well.”
There will be plenty of paddocks that will feel emptier for the absence of her voice from the airwaves, but Libby says she has been contemplating a move from the ABC for some time.
“You can’t stand still,” she says.
“The concept of leaving in the end wasn’t a difficult decision, but it was heartbreaking in a way because it’s been Auntie and it has been for more than half my life.”
In a way, Libby has come full circle.
Her father and grandfather ran the family printing company Vardon & Sons, before it was bought out by the Advertiser Group and grew to become the largest book printer in Australia.
Producing books and magazines and taking on much of Kerry Packer, one way or another printing and newspapers have always been in the family.
So too that drive to tell a gripping tale.
Libby describes her father, Bryan, as a “real renaissance” man and together they made their own documentaries.
“He was a world champion yachtsman, he flew a Tiger Moth biplane and went to an auction and bought a camera and editing suite,” she says.
“He taught himself how to use it and we made two documentaries together — it was a wonderful experience to have.”
The first documentary was on Bryan’s cousin, Ronald William Farren-Price, who was the Dean of Music at Melbourne University and one of Australia’s best known pianists.
“We sold that to the ABC, for less than it cost to make of course,” Libby says.
“And we made what I thought was a far better shot documentary on artist David Dryden.
“But we didn’t sell that one and it’s just gathering dust.”
But for such a well-known voice — even buying a latte can elicit “are you Libby Price?” — it wasn’t the ideal start in the media.
Born in Stirling in South Australia, Libby applied to study journalism at university.
“I didn’t get in and I was heartbroken,” she says.
“But the other great passion of mine is horses and animals and really I should have been born a farmer I think.
“So I went to ag college in Orange and started farming for a couple of years.”
Libby then took up a traineeship with the ABC rural department where she worked for three years, then went on to radio current affairs in Melbourne where she became bureau chief.
She worked on AM, PM and The World Today and there was even a stint on television.
“I was a senior reporter for The 7.30 Report and even read the news a couple of times,” Libby says.
“Didn’t I think I was gorgeous?
“Doing the weekend news you think you’ve made it; it’s all in the way you raise your eyebrows.
“On a Saturday night I thought I’d nailed it, I went back to make-up and there’s no one there.
“I’d kind of expected balloons and cheering, but there was not a soul.
“And the first feedback was, she’s such a pretty girl it’s a shame we have to cake the make-up on.
“Another was, don’t ever wear those earrings again — and there go your dreams of credibility.”
While it seems a long way from the bright lights of television, Libby says she has always been drawn to the country.
“I did date someone from Benalla last year and while love didn’t flourish with him, it did with Benalla,” Libby says.
“I’ve always wanted to be in the country, the North East is just the most wonderful place.
“And of course it’s horse heaven.”
Brought up in the Adelaide Hills Libby’s father bought her sister a pony one Christmas.
“He hadn’t a clue what he was doing,” she says.
“I just got her off-casts but I was far more horsey than she ever was and I was obsessed with horses from the age of six or seven.
“I did the whole pony club thing and went to England and did the British Horse Society Assistant Instructor’s Certificate in Kent.”
Libby also worked for the late Bertie Hill who rode the Queen’s horses.
“I was only 19 and believe it or not a little on the shy side,” she says.
“I remember being told off for talking to the farrier because it was inappropriate.
“Then one of Princess Anne’s friends, some sort of landed gentry, came down and I got told off for talking to him too.
“You’re above the farrier but you’re below him, you really had to know your position in society and I think it was during that time I became so much more passionate about being Australian.”
If among the public Libby has a reputation for opinion, among her friends she has a reputation for falling off horses.
They call her Autumn Leaves (which always fall) and the first horse she bought pulled a finger off.
“I sold that one,” Libby says.
“Eighteen months ago I broke my leg in another stupid accident — I’ve always been very accident prone — that horse I also gave away.”
Libby isn’t one to give up and is still an avid eventer. She’s also never left her love of writing and has the first chapters of a new book written.
“Of course it will never be printed but it’s fun,” Libby says.
“That’s how much I like to write. It’s on dating for the over 50s and it’s called Dumped.
“It’s basically about online dating which is just such wonderful fodder for comedic writing — I even went out with a bloke called Hatchlove, how fantastic is that?
“At dinner he said, you’re so gorgeous you’re the sort of person anyone could fall in love with.
“I never heard from him again.”
Libby says she was often reminded at the ABC that she didn’t need a microphone and she’s finally agreed, joining the world of print.
"I think I’ve divided audiences a bit ... but I like to think I’m tough but fair and tenacious and some people probably found that a bit hard going."Libby Price
And one of the perks at the Ensign, Libby says, is getting her own office.
It’s already filled with reminders of family; paintings, heirlooms and, of course, pictures of horses.
But it’s also filled with laughter and a tremendous sense of spirit and energy which nothing can sap.
Not even a different way of producing the news.
“I’m struggling,” Libby says.
“It’s day three and I was the master of being succinct and slashing and burning other people’s scripts at the ABC.
“So the first article I wrote was half as long as it should have been.”
The second article, on more familiar territory with the coming grape season, seems to be going better.
“It’s much easier for me to get carried away with the farming stuff,” Libby says.
“Half the readers probably won’t understand what I’m going on about but I’m having a good time.”
But of course reporting isn’t always about the good times.
Libby says the times that stay with you are some of the tragic events.
“Forever I can’t talk about Martin Bryant at Port Arthur without getting very distressed,” she says.
“I was reporting and logging all the tapes as they came in.
“And of course Black Saturday was probably my proudest time.
“My executive producer and I hit the road which is the best way — you don’t sit in the office wondering.
“We broadcast for a week and after the first Country Hour the metros took our show which they hadn’t done for years and gave us an extra hour — I’m very proud of what we did there.”
Libby’s kids, Henry and Isabella, have flown the coop with a nudge and it was time for change.
“I’m one of those journalists old enough to bemoan the drop in standards,” she says.
“On radio and in the rural department experience was very highly valued and after doing Country Hour for a decade one of the most enjoyable parts of that job, and what I hope to continue here, is mentoring young reporters.
“I call a spade a spade and actually give feedback, which I think is lacking.
“Especially with everything being so disposable and so fast now the feedback gets lost in the process.”
But Libby has never been one to shy away from voicing opinion.
“I think I’ve divided audiences a bit,” she says.
“But I like to think I’m tough but fair and tenacious and some people probably found that hard going.”
Libby will bring her experience with online media to the country and and her own sense of flair and style to the newspaper.
“Absolutely, they wouldn’t have employed me if they didn’t want me to put my stamp on it,” she says.
“But it’s going to be difficult to resist doing articles on farming and I’ll have to limit myself to one a week, not to mention stories on horses.”
But it’s that spirit, that vivacity and tenacity, that no amount of money can buy.
Priceless, you might say.