Barossa Herald journalist guest speaker at Barossa Districts Combined Probus Club

An interactive insight into country journalism and the Barossa and Light Herald was shared with about 80 members of the Barossa and Districts Combined Probus Club at their meeting on May 7.

Senior journalist Michelle O'Rielly presented a morning talk at the Clubhouse, Tanunda, about her journey as a writer in the Barossa, with a visual overview of the newspaper's print version and online presence also shared.

Her introduction was slightly changed when she noticed that a handful of the members had taught her at Nuriootpa High School during the 1990s.

"I decided to further shock them with news that my son is currently in year 12 at the school," she shared.

Ms O'Rielly believes her interest in writing was sparked as a child, having lived an "awesome childhood" in Williamstown.

She referred to her late father Dennis Wilksch as a character who loved to tell stories and feels this perhaps set her on a path to becoming a newspaper journalist.

It was while studying in her first year of university that Ms O'Rielly discovered an advertisement for a cadet journalist at The Leader newspaper in Angaston.

Successful in her application, she began in January 1997 and finished in 1999.

Ms O'Rielly explained that, while she loved writing and connected well with her community, she felt she couldn't write the stories for their worth.

"There just seemed to be a block between getting that true and engaging story out."

With a short stint away from journalism and the birth of her first child, she was approached by the Barossa and Light Herald editor at the time Grant Edwards, who asked her to return to journalism at the Tanunda office.

In depth training was provided and Ms O'Rielly also took up the offer of a three-year university course, having gained an overall high distinction and much respect for her lecturer based in Victoria.

"It did take me a long time to tell people I was a journalist because of my shaky start," she shared.

She soon found her feet and settled into writing hard news and community news, with her favourite pieces centreing on the characters of the region.

In 2010, Ms O'Rielly was awarded 'Journalist of the Year' through Country Press for her research and own investigations into a woman claiming to have cancer and seeking funds from her community.

Ms O'Rielly told the Probus members how she had interviewed the woman but felt some of the information provided did not make sense.

After discussing these concerns with the editor of the time, Graham Fischer and fellow journalist Nathan Gogoll, she decided to make her own inquiries surrounding the woman's health claim.

During this time two opposition papers and a city newspaper had run stories in support of the woman's plea.

After five weeks of interviewing doctors, specialists, community support groups and those who living with breast cancer, Ms O'Rielly's diary of information was shared with Nuriootpa Police.

As a result, Nuriootpa Police senior sergeant at the time Martin Kennedy revealed that the woman's bank accounts had been frozen, and what followed was a series of court hearings.

"It came down to conflicting information, so the case was dropped."

However, Ms O'Rielly's investigations led her to gain the respect of the community and the police.

"We have a saying, if in doubt find out, not if in doubt leave out," she said.

Probus members were also shown the Barossa Herald's weekly page layout, with Ms O'Rielly pointing out adverts, stories, photos and the importance of stories in different spots of the paper.

She further shared the Herald's online and social media presence, now an important tool for the company, with the sharing of stories each hour, rather than waiting for the weekly print edition.

The audience was also given a brief rundown of the history of the paper, which involved the amalgamation of the Barossa News, established in 1908, and Kapunda Herald News, established in 1864, with both merging in May 1951.

Probus members also learned the background of the paper's owners being Rural Press, Fairfax Media, NINE and the recent announcement of Australian Community Media, which includes the Herald, to be officially sold in June this year.

While she uses the pen name of O'Rielly in print and online, she much prefers to be referred to her maiden name of Michelle Wilksch.

After thanking the members for their time and interest, her parting words of advice to the audience was, "Everyone has a story to share; my skills are to help shape it into a piece to be enjoyed for generations".

The Barossa and Districts Combined Probus Club meets on the first Tuesday of the month, 10am, at the Clubhouse Tanunda, MacDonnell Street, in the upstairs room.

Probus is a nationally recognised group, originating in the UK in 1965.

The club provides active, retired or semi-retired community members with regular opportunities to keep their minds active, to expand their interests and to enjoy the fellowship of new friends.

They invite Probus members to present talks of their life history and invite guest speakers, plus attend outings and join over meals.