Minutes before sunrise, Karina Holden was pushing through 2 million people all heading for the Ganges. Why? It was the holiest of days in India when naga babas – men who spend their life meditating in caves – were making a once-in-16-year pilgrimage to swim in the holy river. And Karina was determined to film them.
The current commissioning editor of science and nature documentaries at the ABC, Karina has, for the last 16 years, been living her dream of making films about wildlife and cultures. But despite her enviable job, Karina’s journey there has been a round about tale featuring old-fashioned hard work, enthusiasm and a bit of luck.
Starting with a Bachelor of Science at the University of Sydney, Karina’s passion was ignited in third year after specialising in zoology and history & philosophy of science (HPS), which she says helped shape her as a journalist. Inspired by HPS to influence the way science was discussed in society, Karina started writing for Nature Australia magazine and doing science radio on 2SER during her undergraduate studies.
After graduating, Karina pursued her love of snakes, forged during 3rd year field trips, all the way to Queensland where she enrolled in a post-graduate degree on the reproductive ecology of snakes. It was there that a producer from the ABC Natural History Unit (NHU) contacted Karina about doing a story on her study organism. “After almost an hour talking, I said to that producer ‘hey, I like your job’,” she recalls.
The producer told Karina about a researcher position vacancy at the NHU – and that set her on a new path. Although she didn’t win the job, Karina decided to volunteer at the unit for a summer, and after 6 weeks, she was asked to stay on as a paid employee. Her job: to unearth stories by speaking to scientists across multiple disciplines. “There was no method in winning this job,” she says. “It was convincing people I was enthusiastic and willing to start at the bottom.”
After some time at the ABC, followed by several years spent as a freelance producer in Asia, where she enjoyed the company of experienced producers as well as her fair share of laborious jobs (“you're never too important to carry the gear, and at the end of the day you’ll be washing the dishes”), Karina is working back at the ABC again.
Today, having made over 30 award-winning films for National Geographic, Discovery Channel and Animal Planet, Karina says that her degree was her bedrock, but her enthusiasm and humility was the spring board for her career.
“If you want to work in science journalism or film, then you have to create opportunities. Be positive, seize every chance you can, put yourself in the right places and get yourself known for the right reasons!”