It was four o’clock on a dark Kimberley morning when new Channel Nine reporter Michael Thomson made his first live cross to Sydney with his big story on Kimberley killer Joseph Schwab.
The German tourist murdered five people in the top end of the Northern Territory and WA in June 1987 and the hunt was on to catch him.
Now, as he looks back on 40 years as a news reporter and presenter, Thomson says his live cross to big television names George Negus and Liz Hayes on the Today show, was fraught with nerves and he hadn’t slept much that night.
“It was my first big network story and my first live cross,” he recalls.
“We were outside the Telecom building in Kununurra because in those days we would plug into the telephone lines with the help of a technician.
“My heart was beating so loudly I thought they would hear me through the microphone. I was not good at switching off then. Negus and Hayes were big names and this was a massive national story.
“The first thing we did when we landed in Kununurra was to hear there was a vigilante in town. We called a cab and told the driver we were looking for him and he said: “that’s me,’ pulling the vehicle over and displaying a double barrel shotgun, saying, this is how I’m going to get rid of him.
“After the story aired on Channel Nine, the police confiscated the gun, but that was my first big network story.”
These days Thomson leads no less a thrilling life, presenting the Channel Nine news in Perth each weeknight in his clear, precise, reassuring voice (he has received WA Clear Speech Awards on several occasions).
It’s a list of stories good and bad but Thomson finds it as exhilarating and exciting as the first day he joined Channel Nine after seven years in print media with the now defunct Daily News.
“When I was going through school I thought I might become a lawyer, because as people who know me know I like talking. I studied law at the University of WA but probably didn’t study hard enough and my sister suggested journalism and I have always loved sport.
“I ended up with a cadetship on the Daily News after someone dropped out and I did all the cadet things courts, crime and council rounds, moving into sport relatively quickly and then shadowing the police roundsman for a while.”
Thomson says though he enjoyed print he always thought television would be exciting so after covering the America’s Cup he accepted a job with Nine and has never regretted it.
He spent three years as a crime reporter, then got back into sport and presented it for a long period.
He covered the Olympic Games in Atlanta and Sydney, and the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Canada. He has also covered AFL grand finals, the Australian Grand Prix and Sheffield Shield and One Day cricket.
Two years ago, Thomson was offered the top gig of Channel Nine’s 6pm weeknight news presenter.
“I was shocked but thought what a great opportunity. We live in such a different world to when I started which seems a long time ago, but in other ways it doesn’t.
“When I started, there was no mobile phones, no computers, laptops, GoPros, dashcams or social media, security cameras are everywhere. The biggest difference by a long way is access to vision has changed hugely. Rightly or wrongly people have an insatiable appetite to record everything they do, especially the new generation.
“People have dashcams because when driving they want to record everything they are driving to see, that has become a massive news tool… car crashes, bushfires, people driving through intersections at speed, train near misses, people having accidents…
“I’ve been lucky, I have the best job in the world”
“One thing that has always been the same is the joy of being able to tell the story and meet people. I still get messages from people I’ve done stories on many years ago, it’s really quite touching.”
These days, Thomson, the father of three grownup sons Sam 34, James 31 and David 29, says he is reasonably good at switching off.
“You get to see a slice of life that most people don’t, you become a more worldly person and get to meet good people, famous people and some unsavoury ones, but that’s part of the job.”
A keen outdoors person, he and wife Yarni like nothing better than travelling around WA camping and fishing. For their Christmas break, the couple, their sons and partners went to Exmouth for some family time.
Thomson aims for a run and swim at his local beach five days a week before he starts work at Channel Nine studios in Perth, about 300 metres from where he started his working life as a cadet journalist all those years ago.
“Forty years? I don’t think we can take ourselves too seriously so I won’t dwell on it too much. I’ve been lucky, I have the best job in the world, Channel Nine have been fantastic, I always come to work excited and really genuinely don’t know what is going to happen next.
“I’m really enjoying reading the news and I want to keep on doing it.”