Born in Rabaul to missionary parents, Rosemary Ellie Botong, never thought a career in radio would become what she now describes as her “calling”.
In 1998, after finishing Year 12, Rosemary could have gone overseas to train as a pilot. But things didn’t work out.
“My parents were missionaries. Funds were not available.”
For a girl full of hopes and dreams, it was a disappointing turn of events.
“It was, I guess, out of rebellion that I got into radio. My dad was NOT impressed.”
The 1990s were an important period for radio in Papua New Guinea. New licenses were issued and market competition was stiff, and the demand for new talent was at its peak.
At home, Rosemary’s new addiction was 96 Nau FM. Fresh and youthful, it appealed to the young audience. It was a far cry from the serious NBC radio stations that older Papua New Guineans were loyal to.
“Nau FM was the hottest radio station and I listened to it every day. I would call the station whenever there was a competition. …And my mom would later ask: What’s this number for?…. and I would never own up.”
Then there was a call for auditions. NauFM’s Nicky Linge, whose voice, already dominant on the airwaves, was tasked with seeking out new talent. Rosemary went for the audition but didn’t expect to be selected for the job. A few days after the interview, she was called to take up the job.
“Honestly… I screamed!”
When the excitement settled. The hard work began. With internal changes happening at Nau FM, the new talents were made to earn their pay. Straight out of year 12 and into her first job, she was in the middle of it all.
“I got in when changes were happening and I got thrown in the deep end. It was nerve wrecking most of the time.”
But it wasn’t all smooth sailing. The high energy youthful environment became an ingredient for her fall. Rosemary’s employment was terminated.
“If you ask me: what’s the best thing that happened to me? I would say being fired. I was being a bit of a bighead and I felt I could do anything. When I went into that meeting, I didn’t think they would fire me.”
“I didn’t cry in the meeting. When I came out I cried. After that, it was like… it’s the end of the world for me. It was my first job!”
A return to radio wasn’t going to happen anytime soon. With a lot of time on her hands, Rosemary went to Sonoma Adventist Teachers College in Kokopo, East New Britain and trained to be a teacher, graduated and went to the Western Province and settled into classroom life.
Six years after her sacking, another opportunity presented itself. By then, Rosemary says, she had come to appreciate the importance of her role not just as a radio personality but as a voice for the voiceless.
“As I mature, I am appreciating how radio works more and more. It is a powerful medium. You are talking to a friend. You have to respect how they feel. And for those who cannot speak for themselves, you are their voice.
“And besides… I get paid to talk!”
Rosemary is better known as “Shaz” on radio. She says it’s a name that was given to her and she won’t say anymore about it.
With the arrival of social media and Facebook, Shaz is seeing an extension of her work happening on Facebook. She is interacting with an audience that is not only listens to radio. As an influencer, she has stirred up important debate over social issues like gender based violence.
In 2015, when a female student from her old high school, Mt. Diamond was gang raped, she began a Facebook campaign that forced authorities to investigate the incident and finally arrest the rapists.
Despite all her successes, she says much of her strength comes from her mother, Loretta.
“With my dad, I could get away with murder,” she laughs. “But nothing got passed my mom, the Musau woman… For me I can remember a wooden spoon. If it wasn’t a wooden spoon, it was a rubber hose.
“I remember why I was hit, and it was because I did wrong. The correction stayed with me.
As Papua New Guinea grows and more and more kids drop out of year 12, Rosemary says girls have to be bold enough to go out into the world and get what they want.
“My advice is: Get uncomfortable! Be bold. Do it. Get out of your comfort zone.”