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By Kristi Cheng

On the Saturday of the Sydney Writers’ Festival, I had the opportunity to talk to Annabel Crabb, host of the ABC’s Kitchen Cabinet, author of The Wife Drought, and avid fan of Helen Garner. As I made my way from our office to the Pier One hotel, I walked past Benjamin Law; it was one of the many author-sightings of this festival.

At a few minutes past one, she walked into the hotel, dressed casually, with her curly brown hair tied up, and greeted me with a friendly smile. We didn’t have a lot of time; she had be at another event by one-thirty, which meant we had only around twenty minutes. But when you’re Annabel Crabb, an author, columnist, political journalist, and a mother of three, there’s a lot you can fit into twenty minutes.

I mentally strike out parts of my list of questions, and we started promptly.


She started off studying a law degree, which she enjoyed very much

Most of all, she enjoyed the human story out of which sprang a legal principle, like the case of the decomposing snail in the ginger beer. For her, “it was really more about “what happened then? What happened to the women?

“It made me think I was really interested in stories and questions but I had no interest in practicing law. So that’s why I found myself at the end of it, casting around for a reason not to be a lawyer.”

The media landscape is changing, and it has been both good and bad
“When I started out at the Advertiser, we didn’t even have the internet in the office,” she recalls, “Over the intervening 17 years, the landscape has changed so hugely ... and everyone is still grappling with that; it’s a very existential crisis on that sort of structural level.

“But on a functional level, we’ve never had it so good in the sense that you can cover stories or tell stories in new ways that attract different people and involve different people, and in my case, I love that you can have a different interaction with politics depending on which medium you’re using.”

On personalisation of news and media silos: they’re exciting but also worrying

“How do you get to change your mind about anything if you're never reading anything that challenges you? I think that there's something quite exciting about news being customised and some algorithm knowing that you would just love this article about Helen Garner or something- I love that part of it.

“But I also think that there is such a value in stumbling across things that you weren't necessarily looking for, or reading things with which you disagree, or that challenges your central assumptions about something that you know. I worry about the knock on effects of that part of increasing personalization.”

Canberra is the place to be for imperfect, awkward, lumpy relationships (I asked her about her relationship with rival reporters)

“[Parliament House is] the only place I think of in Australia where all the major mastheads have offices there. So your direct competition is kind of next door to you and you go to the same barbecues. So it is actually like it's slightly awkward in the sense that you are in deep competition and you don't want to sort of give away what you're working on and stuff like that.

“But then living and working in a building where politicians also work is awkward too because they're kind of your adversaries as well in some way. And I think that what happens in the end in Canberra is you end up at this imperfect, awkward, lumpy relationship that occasionally blows up into a huge fight, and that's just part and parcel of it.”

It was sometime around now, Benjamin Law was the one who walked past us. He and Annabel greeted each other, and we continued.

She became friends with Leigh Sales because she thought the latter was cool

“I was very aware of Leigh, of course, [but] we didn’t really meet properly until I went to work at the ABC in 2009. I was very new at the ABC, and I was trying to work out where I was going to sit. I rang her up because she seemed cool, and I said, “where should I sit?” because I was working for online and didn’t really have a tribe there. And she said, “oh! Come an sit next to me!” I just found her incredibly easy to talk to, we have kind of a similar sense of humour, and she is one of the best read people I know.”

And so their podcast / chill sesh, Chat 10 Looks 3, and their show, When I Get a Minute, was born!

With both of them under the demands of a crazy work schedule and small children, a podcast gave them a perfect excuse to catch up each week. It would count as work, and if it was work, they’d do it! Of course, that was the joke, because it didn’t feel like work at all:

“It’s not demanding! Neither of us has to brush our hair, or look okay. We’ve got really rubbish sound quality, and we get to do what enjoy doing together, which is just talking and being idiots and giving each other ideas of things to read.

“When I Get a Minute was a bit of an experimental, “I wonder if this would work if you made it into something for TV?” And it did work! ... We did it for about 8 weeks … and Leigh is very stoked but I’m pretty sure it nearly killed her! It turns her day into a 7am till 8pm proposition.”

She had to go to her next event now; I closed my laptop and asked her my final final question (as in the one after the first “final question”)

What is a book that she would recommend to aspiring journalists?

“A depressing book I recommend is the Journalist and the Murderer by Janet Malcolm. It is an incredibly hard ass, supercritical book about journalism. But it's a good thing to be aware of the pitfalls of journalism. I would also just advise you read everything by Helen Garner just because of her elegance and style.”

She really needed to run now; she had her next event to attend and needed to pick up her ticket. At the end of pier 1, I asked her if I could take a selfie with her (see above picture, green mouse ears filter and all :D ). In my daze, I forgot her invite for us to walk and talk up to her destination, saying goodbye making my way halfway across the bridge linking two piers before realising, thinking, “oh, drat!”

Ah, well. Maybe one day — hopefully in the near future — I’ll be at my first day at the ABC, not knowing where to sit. I’ll call her up, and she’ll say, “well, sit next to me!”

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