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From National Broadcaster to the Himalayas

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Journalists and broadcasters rightly view a career at the ABC as a professional pinnacle, from which the idea of life after Aunty can seem an unlikely possibility.

After 30 years in journalism, Kirsty Nancarrow became a teacher, businesswoman and author.

That transition took her from an ABC newsroom in tropical north Queensland to the Himalayas with the help of a former child slave who was determined to better his community. Richard Dinnen chronicles Kirsty’s post-ABC  journey

In her 15 years with the ABC, Kirsty Nancarrow was on its regional news and current affairs frontline, covering vast swathes of remote country from newsrooms in Alice Springs, Darwin, and Cairns.

The focus is proudly local, but on days when the big news is in faraway lands, the job is to find a local connection to that distant place, someone who can help us understand what’s happening.

In April 2015, Kirsty met Som Tamang, a Nepalese man living in Cairns, as he organised an international aid mission for his homeland, just hit by a deadly earthquake. It killed 9,000 people and injured 22,000 and was the worst natural disaster to strike Nepal in 80 years.

“Som would leave within days to return to his village, Batase, a treacherous four-wheel-drive trip from Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, through an utterly broken landscape,” Kirsty said.

“In Cairns, he had started Friends of Himalayan Children as a humanitarian organisation supporting education of children in Batase.

“Som was now leading a rescue and aid effort with Cairns volunteers and supporters and was able to make multiple trips to the earthquake zone.”

A second quake struck in May. Kirsty stayed in touch, reporting on Som’s continuing efforts to ensure aid reached beyond Nepal’s capital and tourist areas, to villages devastated by the double disaster.

Eighteen months later, Kirsty was on a flight to Nepal, bound for Batase village, where she would volunteer for a month in the open to the elements local school, with a dirt floor.

“I’d told Som I can cook, I can clean, I can build, I’ll do whatever you need,” Kirsty recalls.

“He said what he really needed was for me to inspire the kids and teach them journalism.

“Most of these kids had never seen a newspaper, but it was a vehicle for teaching English, and I was up for the challenge.”

It takes Westerners two days to cover the 30 kilometres from Kathmandu to Batase on foot, an uphill journey through national parks and isolated mountain villages.

There were challenges, but Kirsty soon found she was thriving in her new community.

“I was in a pretty bad way with my mental health at that point.

“I had developed depression and post-traumatic stress disorder after years covering some particularly horrific stories, murders, domestic violence, personal tragedies.

“I thought maybe volunteering in Batase is a way I can feel like I’ve got something to contribute, and I can find a way back to myself as well.

“I found peace, focus, and nothing but smiles from people who had lost everything in the earthquake. They were happy, and in turn, that made me happy.”



The joy of teaching journalism in Batase inspired Kirsty towards her post-ABC career teaching video editing and media skills across Australia.

During her stay in the village, Kirsty saw how Som Tamang’s years of humanitarian work had made a difference, enabling children, particularly girls, to complete their education and create better futures for themselves.

There’s a new solar-powered school building, a hostel for disadvantaged children, and a 21st century library. 

The changes have helped eliminate the scourge of child trafficking, once common in Batase and surrounds, where families were persuaded their daughters could find a brighter future in Dubai or India.

Thanks to education and raised awareness, it’s been eight years since a girl was taken from Batase village.

Over the years, Kirsty’s commitment to Himalayan children has inspired her friends and colleagues to get involved, many of them making the trek to spend time in Batase.

Som Tamang has achieved a great deal in his almost 40 years, and after telling his story on radio and TV, Kirsty knew it was time to write a book about this remarkable man.

Himalayan Dreams – The Story of Som Tamang is the inspiring tale of the first person from Batase village to earn a degree, a man driven to better himself so that he could help the community from which he came.

It can be a challenge to escape the discipline of radio and TV reportage, where 200 words is a lot, to fill a book with a word count of 60,000.

But Kirsty found herself inspired by the courage and tenacity of her subject.

“Som was really driven to get an education and he was very enterprising from a young age.

“But he followed a village uncle to Kathmandu on the promise of an education and ended up enslaved to rich families for two years before he escaped.

 “He didn’t want that to happen to any of his younger siblings or anyone in his village. He started with his sister, and paid for her to go to school and then it grew to other family members.

“But he realised the need was much greater. He entered the trekking industry, made his way to Australia, where he finally completed his own education, and continued supporting his village on a much bigger scale.” 

Som Tamang is a humble, unassuming man of few words, which sometimes meant he left out some remarkable elements of his story.

“He’s a very quiet character, doesn’t give much away,” Kirsty said.

“But talking to friends and family, they said ‘ask him about the time he did Thai kickboxing to earn money’.

“And he said, ‘oh yeah that happened’.

“There was an incident where he narrowly escaped being eaten by a tiger, and he didn’t think to mention it to me.

“This is an incredible story of somebody who has taken the opportunity Australia has given him and used it to full advantage to help other people.”

Himalayan Dreams: The Story of Som Tamang is available through online bookstores and via


Richard Dinnen joined the ABC in 1989, serving as a journalist, broadcaster, and foreign correspondent. These days, he covers bushfires and cyclones for ABC Emergency.

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