Sunrise reporter tells of her wake-up call
Stories about teenage runaways and young single mothers rarely end so well.
Viewers of Channel 7's Sunrise program will be familiar with its unflappable Queensland journalist Bianca Stone reporting live from scenes of crime and trauma, seemingly never fluffing a word or fussing too much about stray hair.
As it turns out, the respected journalist was no stranger to trauma well before she ever dreamt of fronting a camera. Keeping her head in the midst of it is something she grew up doing.
Bianca fled a life of violence at the age of 15.
"It had been happening from when I could remember,” she says. "It was regular and so cruel and, in those days, you couldn't tell anybody about it. It was a different time.”
She's not long finished work, which starts with a 3.30am alarm, still wearing her on-camera make-up and speaks in the same steady tone she uses to deliver her reports. To Bianca, her own story is just more factual information.
"I'm not embarrassed by it,” she says. "It's just what happened and it's made me the person I am today.”
She details some of the incidents that stay with her, troubling stories she hasn't forgotten but doesn't dwell on.
"I don't want to get too caught up in the past,” she says. "What happened has shaped who I am but it doesn't define me.”
It's what happened after Bianca fled the violence that defines her.
"When I was 11 and 12, I was doing the grocery shopping and cooking dinner. By 15, I was starting to rebel. I just didn't want to live like that anymore.”
Bianca saw her chance to escape when she heard of jobs going at a health food store on the Gold Coast.
She ran away from home and lived in what she calls a halfway house with others like her fleeing messy lives, except she had her job.
"I had no real plan,” she says. "But I knew I wasn't going back.”
Bianca eventually rented her own place and started applying for other jobs to boost her income. It was when prospective employers questioned why she wasn't at school, she decided to resume her education.
"I'd always got good marks at school,” she says. "I'd missed quite a bit though and when I started looking into re-enrolling, they told me I could go straight to Year 12, but I wanted a good OP so I went into Year 11 to do it properly.”
She continued working outside of school hours to support herself, only learning later there was a government allowance to help kids like her continue their education.
"In Year 11, I plugged along,” Bianca says. "The school was very supportive of my situation. It was coming into Year 12, on a leadership camp, that I got a wake-up call.”
Word came through that Bianca's older half-brother had died of a drug overdose.
"He was 25 and we were pretty close,” Bianca says. "It really made me sit up and change some things.”
Bianca was school captain of Merrimac High School in her final year. She was a high-achieving student and graduated with a Rotary scholarship to help with costs to study law and accounting at university.
Six months in, things were progressing well. She was the president of Griffith University's law student association and was hosting a function at a Surfers Paradise night spot when she met an English backpacker.
He stayed with her for a few months and they made plans for Bianca to defer her studies to travel the world with him. He had to leave when his visa expired and after he'd gone, Bianca learned she was pregnant.
"That wasn't in the plan,” she says simply.
At first, her baby's father decided they should get married but she thought that was "a bit silly” and, at the end of the day, their intermittent contact died out and Bianca went it alone as a single mum to her son Rainsford, now 18.
"It was then I swapped to studying journalism,” Bianca says. "I'd always had a passion for television journalism and, being practical, there were less contact hours at university.
"It would have been better for me financially to be on a single mother's pension but that was never an option so I worked as well to pay for childcare.”
Bianca graduated with outstanding grades and, through university internships, was offered paid work with SEA-FM's newsroom and federal MP Steve Ciobo who'd scouted her when she was Premier of Queensland's Youth Parliament.
She worked for both then heard of job opportunities in regional television newsrooms up north.
"I hadn't considered leaving the Gold Coast but I decided to apply,” she says.
"It was really the news editor of Seven's Mackay newsroom Ross Dagan who took a risk in offering a job to a single mother. There were a lot of other young journalists coming out of universities.”
In characteristic fashion, Bianca found her feet quickly and was soon promoted to producing nightly bulletins. Rainsford took to life in Mackay and things were going well for the tight-knit team of two.
Then Bianca met Mark, a good man, in the not entirely romantic setting of a drug raid - "not my place, let me just say,” Bianca laughs.
Mark was a police constable fresh out of the academy at his first posting in Mackay and Bianca was covering the raid for a news story.
"We had a drink at the pub afterwards and that was it,” she says.
They ended up staying in Mackay for four years for Mark's work then returned to the Gold Coast where Bianca joined Channel 7's Gold Coast bureau in 2008. She and Mark married that year.
On the personal front, as so often happens, after the unexpected ease of falling pregnant with Rainsford, Bianca and Mark had been trying to conceive for some years and turned to IVF.
They were thrilled to welcome a daughter, Bronte, now 5, and, nine months later, Bianca was pregnant again naturally with Matilda, 3 1/2.
She proudly runs through pictures of her kids on her phone, sharing stories of their quirks and achievements.
"Sometimes I think it was a lot easier being a single mother,” Bianca laughs. "There wasn't another parent to worry about. It was just me and Rainsford and we did pretty well.”
It was with a child going into in Year 12 and two preschool-aged girls when the Sunrise Queensland gig came up. The departing journalist earmarked Bianca for the job and she was interviewed by the head honchos via video chat.
Breakfast television requires fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants live reporting and they wanted to know why Bianca thought she was cut out for the role.
"I said because I'm doing this in my bikini in Bali,” she laughs. She got the job.
"I don't love mornings,” Bianca confesses. "Yes, it's hard to get up but you get used to it. Every minute of sleep is precious so I set the alarm for as late as I can. I can do hair, make-up and coffee in 17 minutes then I'm on the road.
There is no office for a breakfast television journalist. Bianca and her cameraman work from wherever the stories are happening. It might be Brisbane but it could just as well be anywhere in Queensland, which means Bianca doesn't always make her after-school and daycare pick-ups.
"It's always a juggle but I love the travel with Sunrise,” Bianca says. "And I love the mix of hard news and more feature-style stories.”
It's been fortunate Mark landed a promotion at much the same time, swapping his shiftwork for more regular Monday to Friday hours.
"I don't know how we would have done it otherwise,” she says.
She's already steeling herself for her next dose of daylight savings when her morning alarm goes off an hour earlier at 2.30am.
"I won't lie, it's horrible,” she laughs. "There's a joke that morning TV is for suburban housewives who're a bit tired and I always think - that's me.”