Growing up in little old Braidwood, a town of just 1000 people located west of Batemans Bay in NSW, Inga Neilsen was laughed at when she said she dreamed of one day being a TV journalist. Despite facing so much adversity, she has beaten all odds to become exactly that. She is now working as the Police Reporter for Nine News in Adelaide. Here is our 2023 Alumnus of the Year, Inga Neilsen.
Congratulations on your CEF Alumni Award. How does it feel to be recognised as a CEF Alumni Award winner?
I was very surprised when I received the phone call from Zanna (CEF Alumni & Programs Specialist) because I didn’t even realise I was nominated. Braidwood & District Education Foundation nominated me as a surprise. I was very honoured and especially when you think about the amount of country kids to receive this award each year, it was very special.
Can you tell us a little about your life growing up? Your family, what your parents did for a living?
I grew up in Braidwood, NSW. My dad was the Deputy Principal of my school. My mum was unfortunately diagnosed with a neurodegenerative disorder when I was only 5 years old. When I was 11 she went into full time care in a nursing home. She is one of my biggest inspirations in striving to achieve every day as if it’s your last, because you just don’t know what’s around the corner. From when I was five to when I was about 20, my dad and I would spend three days per week travelling 45 minutes from Braidwood to Batemans Bay to visit her in a nursing home where she couldn’t walk, talk or feed herself, and most of those car trips were spent doing my homework and assignments. I think I was very studious because of my situation with Mum. It really honed in that determination.
What have been some of your greatest/proudest achievements to date?
I’m the Police Reporter for Channel 9 in Adelaide, which means I cover all of the major crimes and police issues across the state. That would have to be my greatest career achievement to date given I’ve only been with Nine News Adelaide for 12 months and received the promotion when I’d only been there for five months. It’s been a steep learning curve and a steep career progression since being there and with that has been a lot of weight and a lot of expectation, but it’s something that I’m proud that I have been doing a good job in.
What do you remember most about receiving your grants from CEF? What did it mean to you? How did it help you?
Moving from Braidwood, a town of 1000 people, to Sydney, was really overwhelming. I took a gap year to save the money to relocate and pay rent while living on campus at UTS. I remember my first year that I received the grant from Braidwood & District Education Foundation (BDEF), that went straight to buying my laptop, which was a huge asset to me because you can’t go to university without a laptop. It’s bread and butter. The whole process of going through the BDEF grant in terms of writing a CV and doing an interview; it sets you up for the real world. As a country kid you might not have exposure to that and that’s something else I’m grateful for.
What do you like to do in your spare time? What are you passionate about?
Growing up I was an avid horse rider and would spend weekends travelling across regional NSW at eventing competitions. I unfortunately had to give that up to pursue tertiary education in Sydney, but now I’m a bit of a gym junkie. I am doing functional fitness 6 days per week. I wake up at 5am, train in the morning and then go to work. Not only is it great for your body but it’s also a great stress reliever in a high-pressure job.
How important is the work that CEF does in your opinion?
The work of CEF is vital in small country communities, especially one the size of Braidwood. In my cohort there were 22 kids that graduated year 12, and the majority of them applied for and received a grant to go to university, TAFE or further education. The money aside, the fact that as a young person you know you have an organisation backing you and supporting your goals is really important, especially if you’re a kid whose parents have never gone that step further beyond high school. The majority of parents of kids in my year stopped at year 12 or dropped out at year 10, so if you’re someone who wants to go beyond that, having an organisation like CEF that supports you in doing that is a really big motivator, and inspires people to think about their options after school.
What advice would you give to young students in the rural and regional areas who are unsure or worried about study after school?
It sounds cliché but if you put your mind to what you want to achieve you will get there. I feel like I’ve achieved so much in a short period of time, and I have so many goals and so much more I want to achieve. If 26 year old me could turn around to 18 year old me, who had just received that first BDEF grant, and say “you have done this”, it would have blown me away. It was always something that I wanted to achieve but didn’t think I could, so I guess my advice is, if you put your head down and work hard, you can achieve no matter where you come from.
What benefits do you think staying connected or reconnecting with the CEF Alumni Network can provide?
A lot of other people who received BDEF grants were my high school friends, so I think it’s important because you see where each other are going and the achievements they’ve made since receiving their grants, and that can inspire you as well.
What is next for you?
I have a lot of goals. I see myself as one day being a foreign correspondent or being a news reader on the desk. That is my ultimate goal, to present the news. That’s very much a long-term goal. In the short term, Channel Nine has the rights to the Olympics next year, so I’d love to go to Paris and help Channel Nine with their coverage of the Olympics, and maybe find some regional kids who are there competing. In my job I always have a soft spot for regional stories, and I try to grasp onto them when I can.