EXCLUSIVE: Narelda Jacobs on finding her voice

The TV personality speaks up about the importance of identity.

At 48, Whadjuk Noongar woman Narelda Jacobs couldn’t be more content. Her move from Perth to Sydney in 2020 led to a host of new career opportunities from anchoring Ten’s daytime news to co-hosting morning chat show, Studio 10, and NITV’s flagship current affairs program, The Point, which has this year sent her all over the country speaking with people about a subject which is close to her heart, the referendum for a First Nations Voice to Parliament.

“I’ve got a very close connection to the Voice and the Uluru Statement from the Heart,” she says, “because my dad was in organisations – NAC [the National Aboriginal Conference] and ATSIC – which were considered voices to parliament, and those organisations helped to close the gap. In 1981, he presented the UN with a plan for a Makarrata/Treaty … I’m here for all the conversations that need to happen this year to help Australians understand what’s at stake.”

This is but one of the ways in which Narelda is speaking up about changing the narrative around Indigenous identity.

Is Narelda Jacobs related to Cassius?

Narelda was hit hard, almost a year ago, by the death of her cousin, Cassius Turvey. The 15-year-old Indigenous boy died in hospital after allegedly being set upon by strangers and attacked with a metal pole on his way home from school in suburban Perth. Four people were arrested and will stand trial for his murder.

Narelda’s honesty and passion were part of a wave that amplified the conversation around the boy’s death and moved hearts and minds across the nation. It was a turning point.

“Australians have had enough of this,” Narelda said on Studio 10, through tears, “and we’re going to be standing in solidarity with Cassius’ family, who are also my family.”

The tears, she explains now, caught her by surprise. “I don’t like to show emotion on camera but I just couldn’t help it. Sometimes the stress and frustration you feel comes out in your eyes. I wanted to shake the country and say, ‘Where are you? Why isn’t everybody caring about this?’”

The following day, she stood with Ernie Dingo beneath a canopy of plane trees at a vigil for Cassius in Sydney’s Town Hall Square, and again she spoke from her heart. Similar events around the country drew thousands.

So began a year in which Narelda has, ever more confidently, spoken her truth. And she has had a new partner, standing beside her all the way.

Who is Narelda Jacobs’ partner?

Narelda and Karina Natt first met years ago. Karina was working as Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young’s chief of staff, and they started up a conversation one night in the ABC green room before an episode of Q+A.

They became friends almost instantly, but it wasn’t until February this year that they went on their first date. Then Narelda travelled to Adelaide for the Fringe Festival to get to know Karina’s hometown. Karina came to Sydney and they lit up World Pride. There may even have been a kiss caught on camera. Finally, Karina left the world of politics and moved north, so the pair could be closer and work on projects together.

“There is so much to do this referendum year and we want to do it together,” Narelda explains. “When we talked through whether she should move to Sydney, I told Karina that while Linda Burney describes 2023 as the year of nation-building, for us it’s also relationship-building.

“We just love each other’s company, we love talking to each other, we love the details of each other’s lives. We see the world the same way. It’s a beautiful thing and I think it’s going to be a really long relationship.” 

Was finding acceptance hard for Narelda?

The freedom with which Narelda can express her identity now is a stark contrast to the attitudes to sexuality with which she was raised in family that was “full of love” but also conservative Christian values. Her father, Cedric, was a minister. Her mother, Margaret, was also deeply involved in the Church.

“We were brought up,” she says, “hearing that gays were brainwashing children, that AIDS was brought by God to punish gay people – all those things.”

In her twenties, Narelda studied broadcasting at the WA Academy of Performing Arts, and went to work at the Native Title Tribunal. It was there, she says, “that I met women who were lesbians and realised, these are not bad people.”

It took two years for Narelda to summon the courage to come out to her mother. Margaret says she will always love her, but she can’t accept her sexuality. “Because that would mean, to her, that I was going to hell.”

Narelda never had the conversation with her father. The closest she came was on the day that the results of the marriage equality vote were released.

“He phoned me to say, ‘So, your mum told me the “yes” vote got up’,” she begins. “I asked him, ‘How do you feel about that?’ And he said, ‘I don’t know.’ I have a cousin who’s gay, and I asked how he’d feel if he married his partner, or if I married the woman who was my partner at the time.’”

Narelda’s father paused for a minute and then he said, “I just want my family to be happy.”

“Isn’t that beautiful?” she says. “That was the one and only conversation I had with my dad about it. It was enough. That was 2017. He died in 2019. I don’t know whether he voted yes or no. I know my mum voted no … I think the test for Mum would come if I was ever to get married. Would she come to the wedding? I don’t think she’d come.” 

Does Narelda Jacobs have kids? 

The only downside of Narelda’s move from Perth to Sydney, to take up hosting roles at Ten and SBS, has been leaving her daughter, Jade, behind. Narelda was just 16 when she met Jade’s father.

“We’d been going out for two years when I fell pregnant,” she explains. “We sat my mum down and told her, and she thought I was joking. Then she got up and started organising the wedding.

“I think it came from a well-meaning place. My mum wanted Jade to be brought into the world knowing that her parents loved each other. So I was married at 18, had Jade when I was 19 …”

Six months later, Narelda and Jade’s father divorced.

In spite of the distance, she and Jade, who is a successful mural artist in Perth, are close.

“When we do see each other,” she says, “we really see each other. We have a bit of a tradition where we will meet overseas and have a holiday, just the two of us. We might eat pastries in Paris or go hunting for street art in Singapore.

“Her art is all over Perth, and she’s created that from nothing. She’s self-made. I’ve had no influence whatsoever. She’s creative, she’s compassionate. I’m very proud of her.”

It has been a long journey for Narelda, from “sitting in boring Sunday services, falling asleep as a kid”, through a teenage infatuation with the music and celebration of Pentecostal churches, to finding a more subtle sense of meaning in the natural world. That too has been a learning in this last year.

“I still believe in a kind of spirituality and being closer to a higher realm,” she says. Part of that nowadays is a feeling of connection with her ancestors, and part is a relationship with the land. A trip  to Uluru brought those connections home.

“I had some time there on my own,” she says. “Standing at the face of Uluru and just being in awe of this huge monument and feeling insignificant in the most beautiful way. I appreciated that you’re nothing without the Country that you live on and look after … That is our birthright. At the core of it, we’re each born with a purpose, and that purpose is to connect to and care for Country.”

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