Calm under pressure
For three decades, Sandra Sully has kept a nation informed.
A calming constant in a fast changing world, Sandra Sully remains the one a nation turns to each evening to hear the good and the bad news of the world.
30 March, 2020
In the ever-evolving world of television journalism there are few constants, but the inimitable Sandra Sully is one of them.
For 30 years the Queen of Australian Television has delivered the news, good and bad, to a nation of viewers who hang off her every word – and her instantly recognisable voice.
Whether it was in the mid-90s or just this week, every Australian has heard the news from Sandra Sully. For two decades she hosted Ten’s Late News at 11pm, before moving to Ten's flagship Sydney 5pm bulletin which she has helmed since 2011.
So after three decades behind the news desk it’s hard to believe that when Sully, a young aerobics instructor and gym manager from Brisbane, hung up her lycra and first set her sights on broadcast news she was told there was no long-term career for her.
“I remember when I first started the two Brians (Henderson and Naylor) headlined Sydney and Melbourne and I said I wanted a career in news. And people said ‘really? There’s no long term career in news (for you),’” Sully recalls. “Women were considered a separate species then, they found any reason to pick flaws, and I just thought ‘seriously?’”
Naturally, Sully persevered. Now 55, the Audi ambassador is considered one of the most recognisable journalists in Australian media, in a world where mature women are now accepted on screen “across the board,” she says, “as they should be.
“We’ve had enough of those centuries where we were told how to be and who to be by men, that’s done and dusted thank goodness.”
Sully’s calmness under pressure and wealth of experience delivering breaking news are skills she has become renowned for. Skills that have never been more valued than right now as she guides Australia through the rapidly evolving news developments of the COVID-19 pandemic crisis.
Sully’s calmness under pressure and wealth of experience delivering breaking news are skills she has become renowned for
“I remember the first time I was in front of a camera, my legs shook so uncontrollably my shoe came off"
Sully is well versed in covering major breaking news events such as this one. From leadership spills to the recent bushfires to September 11 in which she was the first Australian journalist to report news of the terror attacks live on air. She presented five hours of rolling coverage that night. She didn’t sleep for four days afterwards.
“I just had to survive it,” she recalls. “I just focused on trying to do the best job I could because the gravity of the situation was so powerful. I knew it was life-changing, game-changing, world-changing and the world has never been the same since. The trauma and the drama of it never leaves you.”
The memory of her first live broadcast as a young journalist is also something that hasn’t left her.
Realising her career teaching aerobics and managing gyms was more of a hobby than a career, she landed a job as a television production assistant at Channel 7, Brisbane, through a friend in her running club.
Soon enough she was off the production desk and out on location.
“I remember the first time I was in front of a camera, my legs shook so uncontrollably my shoe came off and I didn’t even know. It was terrifying, absolutely terrifying.”
Sully quickly found her feet with Ten working at the parliamentary bureau in Canberra where she was able to hone her reporting skills without the fear of “embarrassing herself” on air in front of friends and family in Brisbane.
She was soon approached to step behind the news desk, where her designer shoes have remained ever since.
Looking back on her career with a sense of humour, Sully laughs and says she’s “been a constant for a lot of people and a constant pain for others.
“I accept there’s a lot of people who love what you do and a lot of people who can’t stand you, but I try to be the least annoying to the most number of people and so far so good.”
As well as co-presenting Ten’s afternoon news program, 10 News First, Sully is consulting news editor on Ten’s digital news website 10 daily and fronts a podcast series called Short Black.
Add to that a role as Vice President of Hockey Australia – “I played hockey as a kid and it’s my way of giving back” – a position as a Patron for Spinal Cure Australia for 25 years, another as an Adopt Change ambassador for Deborra-Lee Furness’ Adopt Change charity – “I’m a step-mum to my adopted daughter Mia who’s been a gift in my life of over 10 years” – as well as raising awareness for MS where she can and Sully admits she’s never been busier.
Given a party thrown for her 25 years in the biz feels like it was held “yesterday”, Sully chose to celebrate 30 years a little differently, using the money reserved for champagne and canapes to fund a scholarship for a socio-economically challenged journalism student.
As she looks towards her next milestone, Sully concedes reaching it, or not, won’t be a headline she’s chasing.
“I’m not worried if I am or if I’m not (still on air in years to come),” she says. “I’m very philosophical, I don’t chase (milestones) as an end game. I’ve been lucky enough to do what I love and have opportunities come my way and if it all ends tomorrow, hopefully it’ll be my choice and not theirs.
“That’s the business I’m in and my gosh, right now everyone lives in an eternally changing, tumultuous environment. We’re living in such massive upheaval and for as long as the ride is going, I’ll be on it and smiling all the way.”
“I accept there’s a lot of people who love what you do and a lot of people who can’t stand you, but I try to be the least annoying to the most number of people and so far so good"
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