Parsons Unknown: The Lady’s Gaga For More Than Just Radio

By Michel de Abreu

The term multi-hyphenate is used too liberally nowadays amongst media personalities, but it seems apt where Jacinta Parsons is concerned. Not only is she an ABC broadcast icon, but she’s also the author of two books, a chronic illness advocate, a public speaker and a mother. She cuts a distinctive figure with her signature red lipstick and trendy cropped blonde hair. But her warm laughter and carefree demeanour belie her younger years spent living with an undiagnosed chronic illness.

“There’s always that … wondering about ourselves as eight-year-olds and whether we know who we are before we realise that ourselves as adults,” she muses, recalling her formative years, more specifically the gift that may have ignited her nascent broadcasting aspirations (a ghetto blaster with built-in microphone).

Fast forward to her young adulthood, where, whilst working at a rooftop café in Fitzroy, at a particularly low point in her (now-diagnosed) Crohn’s disease journey, she was given the opportunity to learn the panels at Triple R and do some emergency graveyards.

She smiles broadly when asked whether she believes in serendipity.

“I do actually believe in it in some way – it feels like I’ve had such a strange journey to find myself where I always wanted to be. It took the entire annihilation of my life as it was at the time … but my illness made it impossible to continue (studying and working). And so it gave me this beautiful opportunity to reflect on what I really wanted to do.”

Parsons speaks with obvious enthusiasm about the career she has built (she currently hosts ABC Radio Melbourne’s Afternoons show, as well as co-hosting the Friday Revue with Brian Nankervis). “My audience on the radio, I just love them. There is such a genuine, strange and wonderful intimacy that’s shared in radio.”

But she remains mindful of the many impediments to access to the broadcasting landscape for minority groups (whether by virtue of cultural background or disability).

“For such a long time an audience was so familiar with the … authority of a male voice, that when I started it was something we really had to challenge. I think its changing a lot (but) the diversity of our community that’s involved in broadcast is not nearly representative.”

On what she loves most about her job, Jacinta says that local radio is “a unique offering, in that it is built upon talkback. There is nothing more thrilling than the risk and the reward of what that can be.”

The immediacy and fluidity of the process resonates with her in particular.

“It’s almost like theatre in a way, where you’re actually in the moment. And what’s actually really beautiful about it, as an art and as a practice, is that it really relies on you to get out of your own way and to be vulnerable … but you must be available to hold a space.”

Not content with having reached the pinnacle of her broadcasting career, she has also released two books; the first, a memoir, and the second, a searing sociological study.

Unseen, released in 2020, is a powerful and candid account of her aforementioned battle with Crohn’s disease, one which she has happily managed to keep in check.

She speaks with a surprising lack of rancour reflecting on those dark days as part of the writing process.

“I’d already processed a lot of grief around what illness was, so writing about it was almost a joyful experience, to actually find language for it. So it didn’t help me articulate the grief and find a direction with it, it just helped me emancipate it. It feels like I wrote a love letter to an experience of my life.”

The book has provided Parsons with a platform to be an advocate for chronic illness.

As an author Jacinta Parsons takes on tough subjects. Photo: Michel de Abreu

“(My illness) was such a profoundly changing event in my life,” she said. “But in some ways it was so challenging, but the best thing that ever happened to me, because it asked me to reframe my life in a way that has been such a huge benefit since.”

Her second tome, A Question Of Age, is an unflinching reflection on the ageing process from a female perspective. The Sydney Morning Herald calls it “distinctive and resonant”.

“I wanted to articulate (in a similar way I wrote Unseen), a truthful exposition of the vulnerabilities of it, and why there seemed to be a recurring theme of rage for women. That was probably more a catharsis and a process of uncovering how I felt than that first book was.”

As we part ways, Jacinta reveals a moment of particular hilarity when Kylie Minogue called in during a show to commemorate her birthday, which revolved around listeners’ encounters with the star. It all started out with a well-intentioned Tweet from the songstress directed at Jacinta, except that an accidental misplaced vowel in the middle of her name meant “Jacinta” became an unprintable expletive.

“It was exactly the surrealness of doing live radio … the most beautiful and ridiculous things happen, including Kylie Minogue calling our show on her birthday,” she says, chuckling at the memory. In her own irreverent way, Jacinta chose to immortalise the moment by having a set of earrings made with the same misspelling.

Featured image: ABC Radio Melbourne’s Afternoons show host Jacinta Parsons. Photo: Michel de Abreu

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