Yalda Hakim ... describes herself as a "Sydney girl".
Having spent almost her whole life on the city's north shore - in her family home, as a Macquarie University student and now at her desk in the SBS offices - it's hardly surprising that Yalda Hakim describes herself as a "Sydney girl".
But the 27-year-old Dateline presenter and video journalist would never allow herself to be limited by geography. She happily admits that "I treat the world as my oyster" - and it's the time she has spent outside Australia, often in the world's most troubled countries, that tends to get people excited.
In the three years since she began reporting for Dateline, Hakim's work has taken her around the globe; when we meet, she is about to add Libya to a list of destinations that already includes Tunisia, Afghanistan, Italy and the US.
But she wouldn't be a Sydney girl at all if it weren't for a much earlier journey. When she was six months old, her architect father and midwife mother, both from Kabul, smuggled the family out of Afghanistan to escape the war between the Soviet Union and the Afghan mujahideen resistance. The family crossed the border into Pakistan and migrated to Australia a couple of years later, in 1983.
"[My father] was about to be conscripted into the army and he thought, 'I don't want to do this,' " Hakim explains. "My mother was 27, my father was 31, and they had a six-month-old, a seven-year-old and a nine-year-old. And for a young family to get up in the dark of night and walk across the border, from Kabul down to Pakistan on horseback - you don't realise what that is when you're a child. But as an adult, when you think about various risks in life and the risks that you might take, you realise how big a deal that is."
There is a detachment in the way she describes all this. Perhaps it's because storytelling is what she does for a living; there's a hint of presenterly poise in her warm demeanour as we sit drinking coffee in the small office she shares with Dateline co-presenter Mark Davis. She is used to telling other people's stories and, unsurprisingly, she has no memory of her infant adventure, although she does remind herself from time to time that it happened "not to my grandfather, or a generation ago; that was me".
As a child, she had "a normal kid-who-grew-up-in-Sydney lifestyle", but her family's experiences shaped her politics.
"My understanding and my appreciation have developed from that. And, yeah, I grew up in a household where politics and world affairs were hotly debated," she recalls in clipped, TV-professional tones. She decided that she wanted to be a journalist when she was "about seven" - she mentions former CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour as a source of inspiration - and says she has "always been a Dateline viewer".
Her personal drive comes from the same source: "Your work ethic has to be high, and all those things, because you know things could have been very different." With six languages under her belt - Dari, Pashto, Hindi, Farsi and Urdu as well as English - and a United Nations Media Peace Prize for her work, Hakim evidently knows how to make the most of her opportunities. If her electric-blue eyeshadow and black spotted tights jar a little with her slick image, they are also a reminder of her relative youth.
Hakim's first video report for Dateline, in 2008, took her to Kabul, 25 years after her family's escape. But while the film was sold to viewers as her "return home", and Hakim talked on tape about her "homeland", it's clear she didn't feel particularly at ease. "I sort of had an interesting relationship with Kabul," she says thoughtfully. "I was naive to think I would feel no connection."
Much of her film concerned heroin's hold over Afghanistan; it's in plentiful supply at a fraction of the price of alcohol and millions are addicted, some as young as six or seven. "I had always been told these stories by my parents of proud Afghan warriors who would fight for the freedom of their country, so it was interesting to go and find people who were tired."
She seems a little unsure what bond she felt with the country. During the trip, she also met "cousins and aunts and grandparents and uncles for the first time", some of whom work for the BBC's Farsi language service. However, when I ask if journalism runs in the family, her first reaction is to say no.
"A friend here [in Australia] had said, 'Oh, when I went back to Italy, I realised why I had my sense of humour.' And so I was constantly looking for that, and I didn't find it."
What she did connect with, however, were the stories of the young Afghan women she met.
"The intrigue I had in them - and the story I wanted to tell - they equally wanted to gain a kind of insight into the world I'd come from," she says. "In some of these situations, where there's such a divide between men and women, I feel women generally open up to me; there's a level of connection there with another woman."
Hakim's industry may still be somewhat male-dominated, but, as she points out, it's no longer unusual in Australia for women to achieve the highest levels of success. "To walk into a country like Afghanistan, I was very frustrated because I saw what women who could have been in my position were going through, and they just do all the housework and there's no prospect for a position in government or in the media; they're looked down upon."
The treatment of women is far from the only theme she's interested in exploring, but it's a recurring one.
"The role of women in any society is really important - only women can get themselves out of this bind that is created for them."
Women's lives will also be the focus of her next report, from Libya. "What happens when their men go on the front line and fight? Who provides for them? What happens to them when the husband, brother, father, uncle dies? What are they left with? How are they treated?"
The accusations of rape made against some of Colonel Gaddafi's troops tell just part of the story. Reports of the crimes being committed are grim enough, but for women to speak out publicly while they were living under the brutally repressive Libyan regime - a move likely to be punished by death - gives an insight into people's desperation.
"When I went to the Tunisian-Libyan border," Hakim says, "people coming out of Libya into Tunisia would not talk to me about how they really felt about the regime and the bombings, and the various weapons of war. People just don't talk about it. 'Gaddafi's good', that was all I was being told. 'No, no, he's fine.' 'We're leaving because we're on a holiday.' That in itself is scary."
Hakim is adamant that the Dateline mix of studio time and reporting - six weeks in the studio, six weeks on the road - is "perfect", but the conversation swings around again and again to her "real passion for telling stories and giving a voice to people who are voiceless". (Even here, of course, she is carefully professional: when asked to name a story she'd love to cover, she tells me about a trip to Sudan that has already been confirmed for a future program.)
But the death in Libya last year of British filmmaker and photojournalist Tim Hetherington and the sexual assault of American reporter Lara Logan in Egypt must surely be sharp reminders of exactly how dangerous exercising that passion can be.
"That does give you a wake-up call," she agrees. But Hakim also believes the balance between pushing for the best stories and pushing your luck, safety-wise, is very fine. "Some of the images [Hetherington] took over the years, I feel nobody else has been able to capture, photograph and tell the stories the way he did. And time and time again he risked his life."
Accompanying intermittent physical danger is the stress of working in politically unstable places. But journalists today are lucky, Hakim feels, because that pressure is recognised: "We can talk about these things, where once it was considered weak for a journalist to feel that they were traumatised."
One of her own hardest moments came in a village in southern India, reporting on female infanticide.
She recalls interviewing one villager, whom Hakim had been told was mad. "She was scratching her face and telling me how she'd killed two of her children and thrown them down a well, because her husband's family had pressured her to."
Telling this story, she comes as close to flustered as she allows herself during our conversation. "The stigma fell on her; she had killed her children. But it was the pressures of society, and the pressure that she felt because she was giving birth to girl children." It was an episode she had to "step away from", she says. "There's a lot of baggage that you can take with you when you come back, and you don't realise it's affected you. But it can manifest in other ways."
Fortunately, her family and her partner understand her desire to take these difficult trips. Moreover, they seem to share that drive; her partner is in the air force, and while her parents' career choices might appear more conventional, Hakim's mother was anything but. "She would assist in the treatment of pregnant women in the most remote villages [in Afghanistan]. And she would travel alone. And I wondered if something had - through the genes ..." Her sentence disintegrates into laughter.
Hakim is also a persuasive advocate for video journalism. "I definitely feel that the art of video journalism is quite unique. We're not cameramen and we don't claim to be; that's a different craft."
Journalists with handycams might not produce the best-looking films, but for Hakim, the lack of a crew removes barriers between reporter and subject. "They almost forget that the camera is there, and I love that; I love that we can tell these stories."
But then, of course, she would say that. With more information and entertainment than ever available online, these are tough times for television, and the traditional media in general. Dateline's core audience - male and middle-aged - can't sustain it forever.
Its young female presenter is clearly part of SBS's attempt to broaden the program's appeal, along with its YouTube channel featuring behind-the-scenes clips. "It's already a fragmenting market," Hakim admits, "and young people get their information in different ways. They don't necessarily sit in front of the TV for an hour on a Sunday night at 8.30 to watch Dateline. But they might go and watch it online, or find other ways to connect with it."
But on the bigger issue of political engagement, she is optimistic. "Gen Y are underestimated. I speak to a lot of people who are very interested in news, public affairs, current affairs. Perhaps that hunger coming from young people isn't being fed in the right way."
However engaged Generation Y might be, Hakim is nevertheless a long way from the norm. But who wants to be the norm, anyway? Hakim seems to be having a better time, in a wider world, than most.
"I just think to be in this role, it's so incredible," she says, "because you can look at different stories and develop the stories, and depending on where there is somewhere interesting, I'll go that way."
Hakim joins a long line of fearless female reporters ...
Appointed literary critic of the New York Tribune in 1844, and later a foreign correspondent, Margaret Fuller travelled to England, France and Italy, where she became involved with the revolution of 1848. She was also a respected author. "We would have every path laid open to women as freely as to men," she wrote in her book Women in the Nineteenth Century.
Leading Nazi Hermann Goering called war correspondent Sigrid Schultz "that dragon from Chicago". But well before that, from 1925, the other European correspondents at the Chicago Tribune had simply called her Boss.
Missouri-born Martha Gellhorn started her career in Paris in 1930, and over the next 60 years, she reported on major conflicts from the Spanish Civil War and World War II to Vietnam and the US invasion of Panama - when she was 81. She wrote 13 novels, described the political class as "bores and liars and fakes", and reportedly considered the women's movement "bunk".
After her assassination in Moscow in October 2006, Russian president Vladimir Putin described Anna Politkovskaya as a journalist of "minimal influence". But her reports from the Chechen war that began in 1999 opened Russian eyes to atrocities committed by both sides. Three books revealed more of the region's corruption and violence. Her bravery and weighty polemical writing earned her international recognition.
Colonel Gaddafi, deposed Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have all been interviewed by British-Iranian reporter Christiane Amanpour. The former chief international correspondent for CNN, she has reported from - among other hot spots - Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and the Balkans, winning a slew of awards. "I've said, 'Please God ... let me get through this, I'll never do this again,' " she told one interviewer. "And then I do it again."
From: Sunday Life