Sally Baxter

Once I was a girl reporter, blogging as Sally Baxter. Now I'm writing under my name at www.mariaspackman.com covering the past, present and future of journalism and whatever else takes my fancy. All views my own.
Sally Baxter has written 148 posts for Sally Baxter

Sally doesn’t live here anymore

Thanks for dropping by, but Your Girl Reporter has a new home – I’ve started 2018 with a new website under my own name, Maria Spackman. All new content is being posted there, and I do hope you’ll join me. 


A day out with the Spackmans – bring your camera

Cameras were our constant companions. One of my favourite set of photographs was taken on Christmas Day 1967, our first celebration of the season in Hong Kong. I was five and my sister Alin had just turned two a few days earlier. The Spackman family headed down to Statue Square in Hong Kong’s Central district. And we took our cameras. Continue reading

Maria Spackman Exposed: I am Your Girl Reporter

Sally Baxter, Girl Reporter is a fictional character whose persona I adopted when I had the bright idea five years ago of starting a blog. My name is Maria Spackman and it’s time to come out from behind the curtain and say g’day.

Your humble Girl Reporter created the blog with no greater intention than to have a go. I wondered how far I could take it on a budget of no money and minimal time [Answer: Quite far, actually].

The online persona was all the rage in 2012 and the question of my identity irrelevant. So off I went, setting up a free blog and associated Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts.

Content was the key, of course, and a need to come up with some was the reason I turned down Memory Lane a few months into my blogging journey and unearthed a funny little story about my dad, Jack Spackman. Continue reading

Death stalks the garden in a penguin tee

The first kill is the hardest. It gets easier after that. Since my last filing from the Baxter backyard the itchy cow tree has been terminated with extreme prejudice.

When we raised our flag at Castle Baxter and surveyed the traditional quarter-acre block, we counted a heck of a lot of trees – 57, including the various self-sprouted saplings.

My favourite grew in a corner of the lawn and attracted gaudy jewel bugs, so that before it flowered we knew it was some kind of hibiscus. The flowers when they came, in their hundreds, were pretty pink pinwheels, exquisite in their delicacy and I was utterly smitten.

Then began the nightmare.

Those flowers turned into huge pods, each one filled with thousands of tiny glass-like fibres which laid a cunning carpet of agony across the lawn, over the deck and – on the lightest of breezes – into the house.

It had to go.  Continue reading

My Extraordinary Aunt: London and a promise kept

The continuing adventures of my honorary aunt Joan ‘The Bone’ Byrne, my father’s cousin, who left Australia with us in 1967. The plan was to travel across Asia and Europe and on to England but Dad’s ill health forced us to leave the trip and head to Hong Kong, where we stayed put for the next 20 years. Joan kept going. We last caught up with her in Switzerland, weeping by the banks of Lake Geneva for a world still divided after the horrors of World War II.

Joan had travelled across Asia and Europe through India, Hong Kong, Japan, Siberia, Poland, East and West Germany, Switzerland and France savouring all the food, culture, art, language, history and experience she could cram in.

But there were miles to go and promises to keep. Continue reading

A Movember motion: Get yourselves checked lads

Moustaches are sprouting everywhere and it’s all about Men’s Health. The Movember movement began, as many good ideas do, with a bunch of blokes in a pub back in 2002. Today, it’s a leading fundraiser for research into prostate cancer and other men’s health issues in a growing number of countries.

My father Jack Spackman died in 2005 after a long battle with prostate cancer. Among his papers was a rough draft and some notes for an article he was working on to raise awareness of the importance of getting checked.

I don’t know if he ever finished it but the message is important. So, for the first time in a long time, I’ve taken my editing pen to one of his rough drafts. It’s not a pretty subject. It’s very toilet-based. And we’re going in.   Continue reading

Dodging rats in the dark for photographic magic

The kitchen at our flat in Macdonnell Road in Hong Kong backed on to a dank, rat-infested space, a convenient landing spot for rubbish hurled from the windows above. 

Mr Chan, the building manager, was a regular visitor and would organise workers to come and clean up the waste, set traps and write letters to the residents reminding them to use the bins.

On one of his visits, he called it a courtyard, which made it sound like something you could visit or stroll through, but we only ever called it ‘Out the Back’. I only ever went through it at a run and would have avoided the place altogether except for one very tantalising attraction. That’s where my father Jack Spackman had set up his darkroom. Continue reading

My Extraordinary Aunt: Visions of Moscow 1969

The Bolshoi theatre serving whole meals in the foyer at interval… the Arts Theatre, home of Stanislavski, where I saw a play in Russian… the woman sitting next to me trying to translate it for me… the mechanical perfection of the circus… crowds lined up at Lenin’s tomb in Red Square… convoys of tanks moving at midnight to Red Square from different directions, rehearsing for the October revolution celebrations… the greyness and uniformity of the residential  buildings outside the central area… dancing with Georgian dancers in a nightclub after a show… catching up with Australian travellers in kangaroo skin coats and being glad to hear that accent again… the telephone ringing in the hotel bedroom… and nobody there… a reminder that it was probably bugged….

These are my Aunty Joan Byrne’s impressions of Moscow in November 1969 when she arrived after seven days on the Trans-Siberian railway. She’d had plenty of time on the journey to ponder the realities of life on the other side of the Iron Curtain.

Continue reading

A prior engagement for Hong Kong’s last governor

Hong Kong 1993: Jack Spackman on his return for the 25th anniversary of the Hong Kong Journalists Association. It was a chance to pick up on his old habit of Governor Watching.

When the Royal Navy lowered its flag for the last time on Hong Kong island in 1993, commander-in-chief Governor Chris Patten was elsewhere.

In a carefully calculated political move, he was dining with the men and women of the press, at the Hong Kong Journalists Association’s 25th anniversary ball.

Sitting next to him was my father Jack Spackman, a Governor Watcher since 1967. Continue reading

My Extraordinary Aunt: The Adventure continues…

A couple of years’ back Your Girl Reporter was at a family reunion – we hold them often, but not often enough. We’re a good bunch, by and large, and I missed them growing up. I feel like I am a missing piece of the puzzle, slotting comfortably into place, whenever I attend.

The occasion was my uncle Mick Fogarty’s 80th birthday. Mick is my grandmother’s youngest brother and we gathered to celebrate, on a dry and dusty afternoon, somewhere in New South Wales.

Mick’s daughter Suzanne had done her work well and we were surrounded by displays of pictures, telling the stories of each of the many branches of the Fogarty family tree, of which the Spackmans are but a twig, as any Fogarty will tell you.

I was looking at a picture of my dad and his cousins, sitting around a table made of packing cases in the backyard of their place in Grenfell. I didn’t notice the small, older woman at my shoulder until she spoke. “That was my birthday,” she said. “We had raspberry cordial.” And with that she walked away. “Who was that?” I asked my cousin. “That’s Joan Byrne.”

The last time I had seen my extraordinary aunt was in 1969 at Hong Kong’s Ocean Terminal. She sailed for Japan that day in the Russian ship Baikal on the next stage of her long journey to London. Continue reading


Your Girl Reporter is now filing as Maria Spackman at www.mariaspackman.com Same great content, whole new website. I’m leaving Sally Baxter up, as I can’t quite bring myself to let her go completely, but it’s time to honour my family name – and use it. Hope you’ll join me for the Further Adventures of a Girl Reporter. It’ll be fun.