Dateline Thorpdale, not just spuds

Spud: Thorpdale boy Liam Durkin on the job as a cadet for the Gippsland Times at East Sale RAAF Base. photographs supplied


THORPDALE, the hamlet nestled in the Strzelecki Ranges famous for its potato growing, has become the beating heart of Gippsland journalism.
Three journalists who grew up in Thorpdale, which has a population of 400-plus, are driving the local news received by thousands of Gippslanders from the Latrobe Valley to West Gippsland, and into East and South Gippsland.
Yvette Brand has just become editor of the Warragul and Drouin Gazette, while Liam Durkin
was recently appointed editor of the Gippsland Times and the Latrobe Valley Express.
They join long-established senior journalist and editorial figure at the ABC in Sale, Laura Poole.
Quipped Laura: “Thorpdale is producing more than just great spuds!”
While the Durkin and Poole names were synonymous with potato farming in the town, Yvette’s family moved to Thorpdale in 1981 when her parents bought the local mechanical repairs garage.
Yvette attended Thorpdale Primary School and became involved in the local community, including the football club for which she was the scribe, submitting regular football reports to The Gazette’s then-sister publication the Trafalgar News.
Yvette’s interest in journalism intensified when she worked on the school magazine at Trafalgar High School and was cemented by Year 10 work experience at The Gazette.
“It was a dream come true to finish Year 12 and land a cadetship at The Gazette weeks later,” she said.
Yvette started at The Gazette in 1990 and subsequently completed a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism through Deakin University.
She has loved covering local government, police, court and telling the stories of local people.

Trilogy: Yvette Brand, one of three prominent Gippsland journalists to grow up in Thorpdale.

“Everyone has a story to tell and it’s a privilege that so many people have trusted me to tell their story in The Gazette over the years,” Yvette said.
Reporting on Black Saturday was the most memorable experience.
“Our contacts with local people proved invaluable; they saw us, embraced us and felt comfortable to tell their stories because they knew us and trusted us,” she said.
“In the days that followed our editorial team survived on the adrenaline of breaking news and the privilege of telling our community’s stories.”
Liam, the youngest of the trio at 28, grew up in Thorpdale on his family’s 400-acre (160-hectare) property that grew about 100 acres of potatoes and had about 1000 cross-bred ewes running around.
“Growing up in Thorpdale, you couldn’t ask for a better playground as a youngster,” Liam said.
“The rolling hills provided endless adventures to play, ride and explore, while the air had a certain crisp freshness to it.
“Visitors would often comment on the views showcasing hundreds of hills, valleys and mountain tops. People say they would pay good money just to see something similar overseas.
“Being a kid in Thorpdale meant white shirts and socks were strictly forbidden due to the red dirt – the one thing other than potatoes Thorpy is perhaps most known for.
“That red dirt was like superglue.”
As the eldest of two brothers, he always had to vacate his room for the travelling wool classer.
When home on holidays from boarding school at Assumption College in Kilmore, Liam helped out.
His first proper paying job was picking spuds for his dad – about $2.50 a 50-kilogram bag then. The instruction was ‘tennis-ball size’.
Liam subsequently completed his undergrad in professional writing at Deakin University and then received a cadetship at The Gippsland Times in 2018, moving to the Latrobe Valley Express as a reporter and now editor of both papers.
He still maintains Thorpdale is “the coldest place on earth”.
Laura Poole, 36, went to Thorpdale Primary School and Mirboo North Secondary College.
Her first paid job as a journalist? Writing up the local cricket scores for the LV Express, where she was often writing about her dad, a well-known local cricketer. “He gave me all my best lines,” she said.

Regional: ABC Gippsland journalist Laura Poole is flying the Thorpdale flag on the airwaves.

Laura went on to study journalism at RMIT before starting her first journalism ‘gig’ at the
Wimmera Mail-Times in Horsham where, “because I’m a spud farmer’s daughter, I was assigned to the agricultural round”. Drought, floods …. then Western Victoria rural reporter, presenter of the South Australian Country Hour in Adelaide, of which she also became executive producer.
However, home called, and Laura moved back to Gippsland as the rural reporter in 2015.
“It’s a big privilege to report on the patch you grew up in, and now I’m home, I often spend time with listeners mapping my place in the world,” she said.
Laura took on a leadership role later that year, becoming ABC Gippsland chief of staff.
“The thing that stands out is the work the bureau did in the summer of 2019/20 in keeping
the community informed while fires shut down East Gippsland and caused enormous losses,” she said.
Earlier this year, Laura became deputy regional editor for Vic/Tas, where her reporters in country Victoria, Burnie and Launceston file across radio, television and digital.
A member of the Rural Press Club of Victoria, she was president from 2017 to 2019.
Laura also had twin girls in 2018.
“It’s been a busy few years,” she said.