Sandra Odorisio: From Boarding to Broadcasting

Sandra (R) and Senator Jacqui Lambie (L)

You may not realise it, but chances are you’ve seen a Sandra Odorisio (1977) production. With her involvement in projects like A Current Affair and 60 Minutes, Sandra’s journey has been truly remarkable. However, her life hasn’t always been this way. Raised on her family farm, Sandra’s childhood offered a stark juxtaposition to the fast-paced world of television she now thrives in.

In this blog, Sandra graciously shares her cherished boarding memories, extensive media career, and valuable advice for aspiring students. 

High School Memories 

Take us on a trip down memory lane. When did you graduate from Santa Maria College, and what standout memories do you hold closest from your time there?

I graduated in 1977 having been a country boarder at Santa Maria for my final two years of high school. I do remember being very homesick that first year. The military rigidness of boarding life was so different to the freedom of life on the farm. But it didn’t take long for me to feel right at home with my tribe. It was a sisterhood. Schooldays started early and finished late. The teachers were excellent, the sports carnivals were exciting, and it opened my eyes to a much wider world of people and possibilities, but the weekend is where my most fond memories remain.

Dancing wildly to Countdown in the boarding common room, hats and gloves for Sunday mass, catching the bus into the city afterwards for shopping and ice-creams and hot chocolates, as well as the many schemes planned and executed under the veil of secrecy and to which I am forever bound to never discuss!

Life after High School

Tell us a bit about your life after Santa Maria. What paths did you explore after graduating, and how did those experiences shape your journey?

After finishing at Santa Maria, I intended to embark on a gap year, working locally to accumulate some savings before commencing studies at the West Australian Institute of Technology (WAIT, now Curtin University). Initially, I found myself immersed in a mundane task, spending six months encoding numbers on the baseline of cheques at Westpac. However, this experience unexpectedly propelled me to kick-start my university journey a semester earlier. Thus, in the second semester of 1978, I eagerly began my Bachelor of Arts with a major in Journalism at WAIT.

The course was incredibly hands-on, providing ample opportunities for practical experience. We were tasked with producing a local newspaper every week, allowing me to pen memorable pieces such as one featuring Tim Finn and Split Enz, who graciously posed for photos and granted an interview at Kings Park, as well as an article on Dame Edna Everage. I found myself drawn to the vibrant atmosphere of the 6NR radio station on campus, where I became involved in a stimulating student-run current affairs program. Among my most cherished memories was the opportunity to interview the late horror movie icon of the 1930s, Vincent Price, who was visiting Perth at the time. Inviting him to lunch at my shared home, we recorded a delightful segment for the show, revealing him to be not only a talented actor but also a charming conversationalist.

Graduating with my Bachelor of Arts in 1980, I was fueled by a fervent desire to pursue a career in radio. With nothing but determination and a suitcase in hand, I boarded a bus bound for Sydney, initially intending to take a brief holiday… and perhaps find a job along the way. Stepping boldly into the North Sydney studios of Radio 2SM, I sought out a meeting with the News Director, Chris Stewart. Despite the lack of an immediate job opening, Chris graciously entertained my impromptu request, assuring me that if an opportunity arose, he would be in touch.

Upon my return to Perth, fate soon intervened. Just six weeks later, I received the eagerly anticipated call, marking the commencement of my journalism journey.

 Your career has been a rollercoaster of inspiring and captivating roles. Could you paint us a picture of your journey, and share with us some highlights and anecdotes?

I began my journey as a radio reporter at 2SM, a team boasting luminaries like Laurie Oakes, Sandy Aloisi, and John Stanley as my guides. Their mentorship was invaluable. However, my initiation into the bustling streets of Sydney in the 2SM news car, with no prior local knowledge, presented a daunting challenge as we raced to cover stories. Just nine months into my cadetship, the station encountered financial turmoil, resulting in the dissolution of the newsroom and our collective dismissal.

Fortuitously, Channel 9 in Sydney was seeking producers at that time, and I secured a position at their Willoughby headquarters, crafting newsbreaks for esteemed figures like Brian Henderson, Ian Ross, Robert Penfold, and Jim Waley. Despite the steep learning curve, my time there was immensely enjoyable. As one of the few women in the newsroom, alongside a young Liz Hayes, I relished the thrill of being amidst breaking news stories. The seasoned professionals around me exhibited remarkable prowess, whether covering wars, floods, or fire crises.

While producing provided a valuable vantage point, my heart yearned for reporting. To pursue this passion, I made the leap to rival Channel 10, where I immersed myself in diverse assignments spanning crime, bushfires, and politics. Among the highlights were my coverage of significant events such as Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1986, the America’s Cup challenge in Fremantle in 1987, and various royal tours, including those of Prince Charles and Princess Diana, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson, and a particularly cherished experience during the Queen and Prince Philip’s visit in 1988, which culminated in an intimate afternoon tea with the royal couple at the Perth Hilton Hotel. Additionally, cruising Sydney Harbour with Mick Jagger in that same year remains a standout memory.

The television industry in Australia was thriving during this period, and in 1990, I returned to Channel 9 to embark on a reporting role with A Current Affair. After a few years of seizing an opportunity, I transitioned to produce for 60 Minutes, further broadening my skills and experiences in the field.

Sandra (First to the right and retired AFL player, John Platten (Third to the right).

A Producer’s Life 

What sparked your journey as a producer, and could you walk us through a day in your life, navigating the bustling world of media production?

In the late 1990s, I took a hiatus from reporting to welcome our third child. It wasn’t until the early 2000s that I re-entered the workforce, this time as a producer. The role of a producer demands meticulous organisation, a skillset honed through the rigours of motherhood.

My days are now filled with orchestrating interviews, scouting locations, and assembling teams of camera operators and video editors to bring film projects to life. It’s a delicate balance of conception, execution, and refinement. Currently, I helm my own bustling production house, Powow Pictures, where chaos is the norm.

Fortunately, I have the privilege of and luxury of being selective about the work I do, and am currently enjoying working on some projects for Channel 7’s Spotlight programme.

Tracy Chapman (L), Sandra (Middle) and Kathleen Folbigg (R)

Powow Pictures 

Powow intrigues us! Can you please share – what is Powow, and what mission does it champion within the dynamic realm of the media industry?

Powow Pictures is my post-raising-my-family personal folly!

However it has grown into something a little bigger than that over the past 10 years.

Iconic Projects 

You have been part of some stellar projects such as 60 minutes, A Current Affair, The Bottom Line. Can you describe to us what these experiences were like, and whether there were any challenges or lessons you learnt from this?

Working for the 60 Minutes program was a privilege and an honour. I worked there during its heyday with Reporters George Negus, Jana Wendt, Jeff McMullen, Ray Martin, Ian Leslie and Mike Munro.

Every story was a learning experience and a master lesson in covering a story differently.

Sandra (Back row, second to the left) with Jeff Fenech (Front row on the left) and Mario Fenech (Front row on the right)

Walkley Awards Finalist

Congratulations on being a 2023 Finalist! This is a monumental achievement. What does this recognition mean personally to you and to your team?

Being recognised for your work is always gratifying, and being named a Walkley finalist was truly exhilarating. The story, delving into Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy and the long-term repercussions of repeated head trauma, is profoundly significant. If the Walkley nomination contributed to raising awareness about this preventable condition, then that would be an even more gratifying outcome.

Student Advice

Could you please provide us with some advice for students who are aspiring to work within the Media Industry?

The Media industry has changed a lot since I started. I think it’s a very tough industry to break into now, but the advice I would give is the same that I would have given back then.

Be determined, seize every opportunity that comes your way, and don’t hide your light under a bushell!  Be ethical, be kind and be true to your own values.

We would love to learn a bit more about you!

a) Where if your favourite place to travel?


b) What is your favourite way to unwind after a busy day?

A swim in the ocean, or a long walk anywhere. 

c) What is one thing you hope to achieve in 2024?  Our eldest son is getting married this year – the first of our children to wed – and my aim is to make it the happiest day of the year for us all. 

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