Lisa Walton ain’t no pushover. The publisher of Mornington Peninsula Magazine, Mt Eliza Village Magazine and Eat.Drink is tough, opinionated and sometimes thinks so fast that she forgets to remember that not everyone else in the room travels at the speed of light.
Publishing is in her blood and the indelible pages run deep. As a maths and science freak growing up in Rye, she thought she’d be a scientist. She began high school at 10 after winning a scholarship to Padua and her fascination with genealogy has stuck, but the teenage life beckoned and that included sneaking out at night to see Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, working at the Rosebud TAB from age 14 and eventually getting married to a surfer with whom she had two children. She explains.
“Look, the hormones just kicked in early. At 11 I was a 5’ 7”, blue-eyed blonde and had a 34-24-34 figure. After having two beautiful daughters, I left the Peninsula to travel around Australia with my husband, Chris, and the kids, but it only lasted six months. We ran into cyclones and it just didn’t work. I guess I was bored. We came back and I got a job selling ads with Peter Isaacson Publications. PI had 68 publications across Australia. Peter, along with Shane and Glenn from The Melbourne Times, had a six-week-old publication called The Emerald Hill and Sandridge Times, which was circulated around Port Melbourne and South Melbourne. It was 1980. We moved to Albert Park and Chris became a stay-at-home dad with our two girls while I was out learning from the ground up on the EH & ST. The publication was eight pages when I began and became a regular 36-48 pages in no time. I didn’t know what I was doing at first but I learnt fast.”
Lisa has always learnt fast and on her feet. She remembers asking how to do the layouts early on at The Melbourne Times. These were the days when staff had coffee stains dribbling down their shirts and cigarette ash floated over page proofs like grey puffy clouds ready to burst. She continues. “This was when we were still cutting and pasting bromides, and here I was, this young single mum — Chris and I had separated by then — asking how to do the layouts. The answer was: ‘If you’re so smart, then you work it out!’”
Lisa began Melissa Walton Advertising within her first two years in the industry. She had contracts to run three weekly newspapers and a monthly and employed 15 staff from her Bay St Port Melbourne premises. She was not one to rest on her laurels. “I became one of the only female publishers in Australia; at 27 years of age I was certainly one of the youngest. Women were not perceived as being able to hold positions of power in the media industry back then and people thought I had slept my way to the top. Ha! I had already become a bit of a punk, spike-cut and brightly coloured hair and I wore an extreme wardrobe. There was a shop in Albert Park in the ‘80s called Wild Rumours that dressed all the ‘in’ people about town. You know, musos, artists. I was wearing lots of leather and fur. I suppose it helped with how I projected myself in a male-dominated world. It gave me an edge.”
Suburban (community) newspapers and magazines are at the heart of Lisa Walton’s mantra. After 13 years, Mornington Peninsula Magazine is the Peninsula’s longest-running and largest-circulating lifestyle magazine, and it has taken every bit of Lisa’s intelligence and forward-thinking initiative to keep it and its sister publications Eat.Drink and Mt Eliza Village Magazine at the top of the Peninsula publishing scene. “I’ve had to be successful. There was no option when I was bringing up my two girls solo and there is still no option. We have a family business. I came back to the Peninsula after publishing in North Queensland with my magazine Barfly in the ‘90s, but before resettling here I got a job at Metro News with my old mate from The Melbourne Times, Glenn Rohan. Back in the 1980s I was the first person to produce a tabloid newspaper on an Apple Mac. I taught myself to do the layouts on the computer. I’ve always tried to produce publications that I would want to read. You know I started Mt Eliza Village Magazine at my kitchen table in 2006, and it was only supposed to be a one-off.”
Lisa’s success is based on her never-say-die, get-the-job-done grit. In her publishing life she’s been chairwoman of Australian Suburban Newspapers in Victoria and on many steering committees for the Australian Suburban Newspaper Association. Over the past 13 years her business plan has taken her clients to the next level — it has included an easy-to-navigate, content-rich website; Facebook and Instagram expansion to assist clients; and now video to complement existing editorial and advertising campaigns. Her two daughters, Bianca and Yandell, are now independently successful women in the arts, and her partner, Archie, and his daughter, Molly, are integral parts of the Mornington Peninsula Magazine business.
The only way is up for this woman who describes herself as “not having thin skin”. Maybe so, but I think her success has more to do with a profound love of living on the Peninsula and telling the stories of a community from within.
By Liz Rogers