Moving from weather presenter to the Channel Nine news desk earlier this year was yet another stage in a journey that Brenton Ragless sometimes likens to an episode of Mr Squiggle. Rise talks to him about his career, his life, his faith and what the future may hold.
Article by Wendy Rush.
Weather – or not?
When Brenton Ragless finished year twelve at Blackwood High School he had no clear career path in mind and television was not ‘on his radar’. Twenty years later, while he loves what he does, he concedes that he has no idea where the next twenty years will take him. Paraphrasing John Lennon, he says “life is what happens when you’re wondering what to do!”
Brenton initially pursued a career in tourism, studying at TAFE and even becoming a bus driver and tour guide. Growing up, his father was a volunteer firefighter with the Eden Hills Country Fire Service (CFS), and the local brigade was like a second home to him. It was here, watching his Dad attend to bushfires – including Ash Wednesday – and other natural disasters over the years, that Brenton’s appreciation for the weather began to grow.
“Dad was a radar technician at Adelaide Airport and I often spent time with him at work watching planes take off from the runway, which only added to my fascination for the skies.”
Brenton’s family were keen competition swimmers with the Marion Swimming Club. When a hip injury at fourteen kept him out of the water for several months he joined his mother pool-side to announce the competitors behind the blocks. That announcing opportunity led to an interest in volunteering with radio station Life FM in 1994. The station was in its first year of full-time broadcasting and operating under the name of Alta Mira FM.
“I volunteered for different shifts across the week for several years before I was offered my first full-time role – not announcing, but voicing the ‘Dial-it Weather Information Service’ which Telstra had contracted Life FM to produce. So began my early path towards becoming a weather presenter.”
After volunteering as an announcer for four years Brenton was awarded his first full-time radio shift presenting the afternoon show, followed by two years co-hosting ‘breakfast’ with Len Firth – ‘The Brekky Show with Raggy & Len’. He was on air with Life FM for just under eight years.
“I can honestly say they were some of the best days of my life – working in a team of wonderful people, all for the common purpose of making a difference in our city. It was the happiest and most uplifting place I have ever worked.
“I was young, independent and impressionable and the faithful leadership, companionship and camaraderie kept me in good stead during those fundamental years of my late teens and early twenties. It really helped define who I am today.
“We are all products of our environment. Take a drive down any seaside esplanade and it’s easy to see how the salty air affects vehicles and buildings. And the same can be said for us. Whoever we spend our time with, where and how we spend that time, has a profound effect on our character. Proverbs 27 says ‘As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.’
“One of those men is Len Firth – one of my best mates who would later become a groomsman in my wedding. We shared two years in ‘breakfast’ together, and they remain two of the best years of my life. There was no secret formula – we just enjoyed being ourselves and sharing life’s moments with our audience.”
Those moments were not always fun. The events of 11 September 2001 proved quite a challenge. Brenton had seen the attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York unfold late Monday night local time and he realised many who were already asleep would wake to hear the news on the Life FM breakfast program. He went straight to the studio and spent a sleepless night preparing the structure and audio elements of the show. It was a day like no other they had ever experienced.
“But that’s what the ‘gig’ was about” says Brenton. “Sharing ‘life’ and walking it out together on-air, no matter the nature of events. And it’s what I still do today, albeit from a different platform.”
A new Season
The same year he began volunteering with Alta Mira FM Brenton was finally old enough to follow in his father’s footsteps and he joined the ranks of the Eden Hills CFS Brigade. Eight years later CFS Headquarters offered him a casual position as media liaison officer. For a while he managed to juggle Life FM and the CFS, but when the CFS offered him a full-time position he felt that God was moving him on from radio to begin a new season.
“It saddened me to leave Life FM, and especially the ‘brekky show’, but looking back there’s no doubt in my mind it was part of God’s plan for me.”
As media spokesperson for the CFS, Brenton worked very closely with the team at Channel Nine and various media outlets, providing commentary on fires and other natural and man-made disasters including the fatal Black Tuesday bushfires on the Eyre Peninsula. He returned to study and, after five years full-time with the CFS, having graduated with a Masters Degree in Media and Communication, he spent a year on contract with the Department of Defence at Edinburgh and then in Canberra.
Returning to Adelaide in 2008 Brenton learned that the weather role at Channel Nine was vacant following the retirement of Keith Martyn. After a series of meetings and auditions, and thanks to the strong connections he’d formed with Channel Nine during his time at the CFS, Brenton feels blessed to have been offered the role.
2008 was made even more special when he married his wife, Hayley.
“I have Life FM to thank for that connection. Diamonds Camera and Video have always been generous supporters of Life FM and when I moved to the CFS I chose Diamonds for all our film processing. Hayley worked in the processing lab, so over many months of dropping by and picking up the CFS prints, our relationship ‘developed’.”
In addition to career and relationship transformations, Brenton also went through a physical transformation, dropping 30kg. What motivated him and, importantly, how did he manage to achieve such a dramatic result?
“Basically my conviction became my motivation. More specifically, to be a healthy father for my kids. Hayley and I don’t have any children yet but I want to be the healthiest I can be when they arrive, and to ensure I’m around for them as long as possible.
“When I was 34 I landed myself in hospital with an infection that took several months to get over. This experience – together with a family history of other health concerns combined with my desire to be a fit and healthy Dad – was enough to shift gears mentally. Losing weight starts with the mind, not the stomach.”
Brenton commenced with a portion controlled weekly meal program which helped re-educate him on making better meal choices and forming better habits. The program’s convenience also meant he wasn’t being tempted by visits to the shops.
He still enjoys treats but aims for at least five ‘good’ days in the week so he can relax on the weekend. His advice to others? “Don’t plan to ‘diet’ for three or six months. It has to become a permanent lifestyle choice, so just try reversing one poor habit a month. It’s taken me three years to lose it, but it will take the rest of my life to keep it off, so I accept that it’s always going to be a challenge for me.
“The satisfaction of losing the weight has been liberating and has helped change my whole outlook – I wish I’d done it sooner!”
Clearly Brenton is happiest in roles that bring him into direct contact with the public. “The best thing about my job is the connection to community. The studio time is only a small component – it’s the daily interaction you have outside the studio with people in the street, at the shops, in the cafes, attending events. The personal connection you experience with people from all walks of life that truly makes the job special.
“A real thrill is when I meet people for the first time who have followed my progress since I started announcing at Alta Mira FM in 1994 – I still have people who I meet for the first time that have literally listened, read and watched my progress over the last twenty years and though I’ve never actually met them before there’s a special connection, almost a sense of ‘family’, when I speak to them.
“Presenting the news is simply about sharing life together. I am just as affected by the news as everybody else, and though I might be the one presenting the facts, I’m watching and absorbing it just like our viewers at home. Sharing the events of life helps to connect us.”
An episode of Mr Squiggle
Brenton’s life and career have presented plenty of surprises and detours. It hasn’t all been a journey of ‘onward and upwards’.
“There’s no such thing as a continued rise to success. I’ve had plenty of ‘ups and downs’ along the way. It’s more about how you recover from them and what you learn to launch you to the next phase of your life.”
Not many people would realize that Brenton was re-trenched from work after buying his first house, has been on unemployment benefits, was based in Canberra on contract with the Defence Department for a period and very nearly had a career as the host of the dolphin show at Sea World – none of which was planned.
“Just as there is the certainty of change in seasonal weather, so too there is the certainty of change in our own lives. Not long after I started at Nine it finally dawned on me that I’d been keeping the wrong attitude about finding God’s purpose for my life. My initial plea was: ‘Lord, show me the plan you have for me – I’m here, I’m ready, willing and waiting – just tell me what you want me to do.’
“But God has a simple answer for that: ‘hang on, that’s no fun – you want me to tell you what I have planned and purposed for you!? Where’s the faith? Where’s the trust? Where’s the element of surprise?! How do I – as your loving Father – get to delight in you, if you know everything I have in store for you!?’
“And of course He’s right. What loving parent would wrap their kid’s Christmas or birthday present in glad wrap! No – any good parent spends time to wrap and detail a present for their kid, so they can delight in their child as they pull back the wrapping paper with eager expectation and burst into joy when they discover what it is.
“So my approach has changed – ‘Lord, I can see that you have a plan and purpose for my life, and as much as I want to know what that is, I trust that what I live out day by day fulfills your purpose.’
“To use a TV analogy, life for me feels like an episode of Mr Squiggle, the character from space who’d use his pencil for a nose to draw a picture from abstract lines, dots, circles and squiggles. We all thought, ‘nah – there’s no way he can draw something from that!’ But sure enough, at his own leisurely pace he’d draw the big picture!
“Years of growing up around the fire station, tour guiding, attending church, voicing Telstra’s weather service, announcing at Life FM, working for the CFS, among so many other life experiences, all seemed to me to be like abstract lines, dots, circles and squiggles. God, the Architect of Life, hand illustrates the bigger picture. Meanwhile I’m just like Blackboard – ‘HURRY UP!!!’
“Nothing we do is ever wasted, and God’s timing is not our own! “
A product of his environment
Another major influence as a child was Brenton’s local church in Eden Hills and he was particularly interested in the epic weather stories of the Bible, like Noah’s Ark and the Great Flood, Moses parting the Red Sea and Jesus calming the storm.
“Over the years growing up in Kid’s Church and Youth Group, my faith developed from a simple understanding of some of these ‘Color-Illustrated Best Loved Bible Stories of All Time’ to a more in-depth personal revelation of Jesus Christ.
“We are all products of our environment, and I truly consider myself very blessed that I have been surrounded by good people, in particular mentors that encouraged and inspired me in my late teens and twenties. This was especially true during my time at Life FM when I enjoyed contact with other Christians outside of church.
“Looking back and seeing God’s hand on my life has only made my faith stronger and brought me closer to Him. That’s not to say I don’t have my daily woes, but my relationship with Jesus gives me the strength and confidence to embrace each day. I feel like I have a perspective and outlook on life that without God would be clouded and burdened – the very opposite of the Life that Jesus brings.
“I can honestly say that I would be nowhere without God. My faith in Him is fundamental to who I am, and everything I live for.”
Passionate about his faith, Brenton is also passionate about news events – the daily incidents and activities that affect our lives. “Not in a voyeuristic way, but with compassion, empathy and conviction in times of challenge; and with pride, joy and enthusiasm for the moments that encourage and inspire us” he says.
“I am passionate about Creation, which under-pins my interest in the weather, and I share particular concern for when the weather turns wild, especially when Australians band together during times of natural disasters. The worst of our weather brings out the best in our people.”
A parochial South Australian, it is perhaps the tour guide in him that wants to show off his home state and make everyone feel welcome. He also expresses a deep love for Australians – from the indigenous, through generations of ‘battlers’ to the new arrivals that now call this country home.
“We all have our own unique story to share and I love hearing about them.”
Inspired by passionate people
One place where unique stories are shared is the South Australian Prayer Breakfast. Brenton has acted as MC for six years, seeing attendance grow in number from a few hundred to almost 2,000. It is now the largest event of its kind in Australia and he speaks about his commitment to the breakfast and its significance.
“My inspiration is drawn from everybody’s enthusiasm for the event. To see the Adelaide Convention Centre packed end to end with passionate people for God and our city. When I MC from the stage, I’m thrilled to see so many familiar faces and equally excited to see so many new ones – it’s one of the events I feel most relaxed at because we’re all there for the same reason – though standing alone on stage singing the National Anthem is very intimidating!
“I love the fact that it really is growing in importance on the state’s calendar. I regularly have people ask about it across the year, with a genuine interest to attend the next one – and not just Christians either, its impact is felt far and wide.
“It’s a very professional event. Staging is as good, if not better, than other corporate events. It’s a great reflection of the width and breadth of SA’s Christian community and a shake-up to those that think Christians only meet in ‘old stone churches’ on a Sunday.”
Family heritage and future forecasts
Brenton has achieved an amazing amount in his life already, so what lies ahead?
“I don’t necessarily see myself in media forever. I’m grateful to be in the industry for as long as God wants me in it, but I don’t feel bound to it and still hope to explore my other passions in community engagement.”
He recently completed a trade certificate in boiler operations. Growing up next to a railway line he has always wanted to learn how to drive steam trains.
“I also figured it would be a cool hobby to share one day with my own children. No kids as yet, but the train will be all steamed-up, waiting at the platform when we do! I’m only entry level at this stage, driving the small ride-on locos at the National Railway Museum and the Coastal Railway at Semaphore, but my long-term goal is to fire and drive the steam engines hauling the Cockle Train at Victor Harbor and the Pichi Richi Railway at Quorn.”
Brenton’s connection to the CFS remains strong and he still volunteers with an Air Operations Brigade which provides ground support for the water-bombing aircraft during the bushfire season. He would like to expand this further one day and maybe even become a Fire-Attack Supervisor from the air or even pilot the aircraft.
“In the meantime, I’m happy helping Dad to maintain his own collection of firefighting memorabilia including a 1961 Open-cab International Fire Engine.”
In recent years Brenton has taken a deeper interest in his family heritage and has discovered that, at the age of twenty, his great, great grandfather John Ragless established a new life in South Australia, arriving here from London in 1838 after five months at sea. He camped out on the banks of the River Torrens and made his start as a woodcutter, supplying Adelaide with its growing need for timber.
“Four generations later I too found myself on the banks of the Torrens in my newly appointed role as a newsreader, presenting the bulletin live from the plaza of the new Adelaide Oval during the 2013 Ashes Test. It truly moved me to reflect on what had taken place over those 175 years, and how it is that I find myself living in this time and place. To paraphrase investor and philanthropist Warren Buffet – ‘I now enjoy the shade from a tree that John Ragless planted a long time ago.’”
Had he sought a television career interstate, Brenton doubts that it would ever have happened. But by investing time and energy into South Australia and its people, God has opened doors and created opportunities that he could never have imagined possible.
Brenton quotes from Acts 17: 26 – ‘From one man He made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the earth, and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.’
“What I do at Channel Nine, and all that goes with it, has confirmed the sense in me that, in as much as Adelaide is stepping up, we as residents need to keep in step with it with a renewed sense of pride, ownership and responsibility. We live in a defining period for our state, and for you and I – this is our chosen time and place in history.
“But it’s more than just here and now, it’s about looking beyond ourselves and understanding that, while what we do day by day may seem insignificant, we’re actually investing in God’s bigger picture – his people, his places – now and into the future. God is the Conductor, and we are His instruments – are we sitting in the audience watching, or are we part of the Orchestra?”
Brenton’s ‘back to basics’ weight loss tips
Here are some rules that Brenton follows:
– Drinking mostly water with soft drinks, fruit juices and alcohol in low moderation
– Regular breakfasts and healthy snacking across the day – much smaller portions, but more often to keep the metabolism ticking over
– Factoring in half an hour every day to walk the dog, ride the bike or swim laps in the pool. “Gyms don’t interest me – and getting outdoors has helped me find ‘breathing space’ for the soul!”
– Weighing himself every day to understand how his body fluctuates with what he eats. “It’s helped me stay accountable”
-Minimising the ‘free food’ or ‘unexpected calories’ that find their way into our diet – the free lollies, chips, chocolates and cake that are offered up at office birthdays and parties. These ‘empty’ calories are a ‘quick-fix’. “Leave them for the weekend when you can really treat yourself with the people you’ll enjoy them with the most – you’ll come to appreciate the treats a whole lot more!”
More on Brenton at 9news.com.au/meet-the-team/adelaide/brenton-ragless
More on Life FM 107.9 at lifefm.net.
The South Australian Prayer Breakfast is organised by CBMC International SA Inc in conjunction with the SA Parliamentary Christian Fellowship. See more here: cbmcint.com.au