A commitment to Western Australian rural media sees journalist defer retirement

Mark Bennett
Mark Bennett

Caption: Mark Bennett and his son James at the Tour De France, 2011

Mark Bennett has been a journalist for 40 years and having passed what many would consider retirement age, he’s often asked when he’s going to hand back his media pass and take things easy. 

His reply is simple and succinct: “It’s taken me four decades to get here; why would I stop now?”

And it’s a good thing that this multi-award winning journo hasn’t retired yet as last year Mark collected the award for Most Outstanding Commitment to WA Rural Media. He also collected the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance’s prestigious Clarion Award for his contribution to WA journalism.

“I never planned on being a journalist, it’s something that just sort of evolved,” Mark says. “I first picked up a camera in the late 1970s to record some footage for an aid agency I was volunteering with and things just grew from there.”

Finding that he had a bit of a knack with reporting Mark soon found himself doing freelance reporting as a ‘stringer’ for the ABC in Albany. 

“Back then it was all black and white film and the sound was recorded separately. By the early 80s I saw the writing on the wall for this format and as this industry is all about ‘adapt or perish’, I borrowed $13,000 – which was a heck of a lot of money back then – and bought a colour film camera with inbuilt sound recording capabilities. It proved to be a great decision.”

Since then Mark has done stints as an ABC 7.30 reporter, been a key journo with Landline and held senior positions with several TV news outlets. But his career-making highlight actually happened far away from Australian shores.

As a keen cyclist, Mark had always been a big fan of the Tour de France. So, in 2011 he and son James travelled to France to catch a few days of the race before heading off on a European cycling holiday. 

Mark Bennett and his son James at the Tour De France, 2011
Mark Bennett and his son James at the Tour De France, 2011

“We’d packed our bikes and I took a small amount of work gear so I could do an occasional report during the few days we planned to follow the race. I’ve never seen so many journos; there were 1,200 of them from all over the world, so when fellow-Aussie Cadel Evans heard our familiar accents amongst the media pack he honed in on us. We got pretty friendly and my son ended up becoming his ‘go to’ person for media comments with me shooting the footage.” 

Things ramped up to a whole new level when, five days into the race, Cadel pedalled into second place.

“My phone went crazy. News outlets back home knew I was at the race and everyone wanted footage and interviews. Cadel was suddenly hot property and my son and I were right there in the thick of it, so we ripped up our travel plans and followed Cadel all the way to the podium at the Champs Elysees. We were catching a wave that we never saw coming and, without a doubt, it was a turning point for both of our careers. Best of all, I was doing it with my son.”

Cadel Evans went on to win the tour that year and became the first and only Australian to do so. It was a win for Mark and his son too, as the ABC asked them to officially cover the race for the next two years. 

Nowadays though Mark sticks closer to home, preferring to give a voice to regional people, their stories and their concerns.