OPINION: Bully political journo bids farewell
OPINION: All good things must come to an end and sadly that is the case for my time writing for The Morning Bulletin.
Moving to Rocky from Townsville four years ago, I had a sense of trepidation, only knowing the bull statues on the drive through on my way to Brisbane and vague stereotypes of cowboys and bogans.
Upon arriving here I was blown away, not only by the warmth of the people and the comparative lack of crime, but the diverse nature on offer from the parched bush through to the rainforest of Byfield and the white sands of Great Keppel Island.
It was an amazing privilege to step into the newsroom of a proud newspaper steeped in 160 years of history.
As a wet-behind-the-ears rookie, I soaked up the wealth of experience from those around me like a sponge - especially from the legendary former editor Frazer Pearce.
The city was in a different place back in early 2017, still in the doldrums after the end of the mining boom.
Frazer put me to work contacting local businesses telling good news stories, trying to bring hope to the community that the green shoots of a recovery were growing.
Over the years, I've watched those green shoots thrive and the region gradually blossom, one story at a time.
Politics was my passion and I quickly earnt notoriety in the newsroom for my predisposition for writing overlong "war and peace" sized articles and uncanny knack of photobombing our political visitors.
It's a difficult art writing political stories without showing political bias but over the years I've refined the art of giving all sides of a story a fair go.
I have enjoyed fighting for this region, and can proudly say that I'm CQ biased.
There are some issues I've written about over and over, to the point I could almost write them with my eyes closed - like the sagas of Rookwood Weir, Rocky's two stadiums, the South Rockhampton flood levee, developing Great Keppel Island and the Rockhampton Ring Road.
It brings me great hope for the region that some of those projects are finally underway or gaining momentum and I fully expect they will bring with them a new golden era for Central Queensland with strong employment and high property prices.
There were two stories that really got my heart racing in the newsroom.
The first was about someone witnessing what they thought was a plane crash, triggering a massive emergency response and an absolute flood of visitors to the Bully website, the likes of which I've never seen (other than the Gracemere bushfire evacuation).
Fortunately, it was a false alarm, where it is speculated the witness saw a shooting star as part of a dazzling meteor shower.
The other story which had me glued to my seat for 13 drama-filled hours was the Cobraball bushfire emergency in November 2019.
I was there from the beginning, listening with rising alarm as what sounded like just another bushfire began worsening, with repeated requests for waterbombers answered too late due to other competing priorities.
Streets began to evacuate and the fateful words "structure fire" were repeated as the fire tore its way north through the Capricorn Coast.
That evening, there was a moment when my heart was in my mouth, when an Alton Downs Rural Fire crew went to the aid of a homeowner who stayed to defend their property.
They radioed needing urgent assistance, saying they were "surrounded by fire" and "there was no way out".
Thankfully, the wind direction changed and they were able to escape and I breathed a massive sigh of relief.
The fire ended up burning for a week, scorching 12,100 hectares of land including 15 homes, 38 sheds, 8,500 hectares of grazing land and 275 hectares of horticultural production land including tropical fruit (mango, lychee, banana) production.
I was fortunate enough to board a plane to circle the devastation and marvel over the endless close calls.
Inspired by the heroic actions rural fireys and conscious of the heavy financial toll they suffered taking protracted time off work, The Morning Bulletin launched our 'Fair go for our fireys' campaign, rallying politicians and pressuring governments to do the right thing.
It was one of my proudest moments as a journalist when Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a plan to compensate Queensland's rural firefighters.
Journalism can be a tool to create positive change in our world and I'm inspired to continue to keep doing it until my fingers can no longer find the right keys on the keyboard.
I want to pay tribute to all of the amazing staff I've worked with (especially our current Bully editor Melanie Plane), offer my thanks to everyone I've interviewed over the years, and finally express my eternal gratitude to my supportive partner (and occasional sub-editor) Edwina.
And to the people of CQ, I'm glad you have so much to look forward to and you should feel a great sense of pride for what you have already.
I'll watch from afar in my hometown of Townsville, with great interest, at how it all turns out.
Normally I only hear from our readers when something has gone wrong but I'd love to receive an email from you (Leighton.Smith@news.com.au) if I managed to positively impact your life in some way.
Happy 2021 and take care y'all.