Welcome to the NRMA Kennedy Awards, celebrating the past and present greats of the Australian media.
As we head towards our 7th annual gala presentation the Kennedy Awards are going from strength to strength, offering the richest prize in Australian journalism and Spirax trophies across 34 categories.
Our awards encourage competitors to enter their work in multiple categories for consideration by an expert panel of judges, distinguished as among Australia’s most respected journalists.
The awards are produced by the Kennedy Foundation, raising funds and awareness for colleagues in hardship, with compassion in confidence, while promoting excellence in journalism.
What began in 2012 as the first awards of its kind in New South Wales has quickly evolved into a national event, attracting the cream of Australian media talent.
The 7th Annual NRMA Kennedy Awards have attracted a record number of entrants. Finalists will be announced at 7pm on Wednesday, July 25th ahead of the August 10 gala ceremony at Royal Randwick.
Although the NRMA Kennedy Awards celebrates the past and places a high value on the heritage of Australian journalism the Kennedy Foundation is focused sharply on the future in times of dramatic transition for the media.
The prestige of the Gold Spirax for Journalist of the Year has been determined by the quality of winners since 2012.
In the inaugural year of the Kennedy Awards, Kate McClymont of The Sydney Morning Herald won for her coverage of the Independent Commission Against Corruption. In 2013 Joanne McCarthy of The Newcastle Herald was voted the winner for exposing child abuse that led to the creation of a Royal Commission.
Adele Ferguson, of the Melbourne Age won the 2014 Gold Spirax for a series of investigative stories that triggered a Senate investigation into unethical banking practices, affecting more than half a million Australians. The 2015 title was awarded to Caro Meldrum-Hanna of the ABC’s Four Corners program, which exposed entrenched animal cruelty within the greyhound racing industry. Fairfax’s Adele Ferguson won her second Gold Spirax in 2016.
The 2017 Journalist of the Year, the Nine Network’s Chris O’Keefe, won the Gold Spirax after collecting the awards for Outstanding TV News Reporting, Scoop of the Year and Political Reporting.
Nine’s Chris O’Keefe 2017 Coca-Cola Journalist of the Year
Friday, 11 August 2017
Nine News reporter Chris O’Keefe has been crowned the 2017 Coca-Cola Journalist of the Year at the 6th Annual NRMA Kennedy Awards for Excellence in Journalism.
O’Keefe’s body of work that clinched the coveted Gold Spirax trophy included the Scoop of the Year. His exclusive revealed gross negligence at Bankstown Hospital led to the death of a newborn baby and left another infant suffering severe brain damage after a nitrous oxide gas mix-up.
He also exposed secret discussions at Macquarie Street to reverse the controversial ban on greyhound racing and another exclusive that cabinet had signed off on privatising inner-west bus services, putting hundreds of jobs in limbo.
O’Keefe, who also took out the Harry Potter Award for Outstanding Television News Reporting, Scoop of the Year and Outstanding Political Journalism awards, is the first commercial television journalist to win the $25,000 Coca-Cola Journalist of the Year Award, the richest in Australian media.
His catalogue of work was judged ahead of previous Kennedy journalists of the year – two-time winner Adele Ferguson of Fairfax and the ABC’s Caro Meldrum-Hanna.
Adding to O’Keefe’s swag for Nine, cinematographer Adam Bovino took out the Gary Ticehurst Award for Outstanding TV News Camera Coverage and Emily McPherson of nine.com.au won the Kennedy Award for Outstanding Online News Breaking.
Seven’s Michael Usher, the MC for tonight’s glittering gala, took out the prestigious award for Outstanding TV Current Affairs, while 7 News Sydney’s Shaun Besgrove was awarded the Cliff Neville Award for Outstanding Team Player.
Lucy Langtry of Prime7 Local News and cameraman Rod Smith won the Paul Lockyer Award for Outstanding Regional Broadcast Journalism with their excellent coverage of the devastating Northern Rivers floods.
Ita Buttrose was presented with the 2017 Kennedy Award for Outstanding Lifetime Achievement.
News Corp journalists and photographers took out 10 prestigious awards including Racing Writer of the Year, Outstanding Turf Reporting, Outstanding News Photo, Outstanding Portrait, Outstanding Sports Photo, Outstanding Online Video, Outstanding Travel Writing, People’s Choice Award for Outstanding photography, Outstanding Columnist and Outstanding Court Reporting.
Fairfax was again a major winner, collecting seven individual awards – the $5,000 Powerade Young Journalist of the Year (Jack Morphet of The Daily Advertiser), Outstanding Regional Newspaper Reporting, Outstanding Radio Current Affairs and Audio Blog, Outstanding Sport Reporting, Outstanding Finance Reporting, Outstanding Illustration and Outstanding Feature Writing.
The ABC collected five individual awards – Outstanding Indigenous Affairs Reporting, Outstanding Nightly TV Current Affairs, Outstanding Consumer Affairs Reporting, Outstanding Reporting on the Environment and Outstanding Investigative Reporting.
NITV and BuzzFeed News were breakthrough winners in the Outstanding Crime Reporting category while prolific Kennedy Awards’ winner Natalie Peters of 2GB took out the Sean Flannery Award for Outstanding Radio Reporting.
The finalists tonight, more than 100, included media professionals from all major metropolitan newspapers and television and radio networks, international entrants and journalists, photographers and artists from regional newspapers and radio networks throughout the state, including the Hunter, western NSW and Northern Rivers and Riverina regions.
Kennedy Foundation chairman Simon Dulhunty congratulated all nominees for setting exceptionally high standards with their raft of entries.
“In a huge news year the standard of submissions is really exceptional through the pictorial and print categories to the digital, radio and broadcast awards,” Mr Dulhunty said.
“From investigative journalism to news breaking, classic feature writing and incredible pictorial entries, class entries emerged to contest the coveted Spirax Trophies produced by Acco Brands tonight.”
Mr Dulhunty said the NRMA Kennedy Awards was now a special event, firmly established as a prestigious awards night celebrating quality Australian Journalism and recognizing the past greats of a demanding and highly competitive industry.
“These awards have grown beyond a tribute to a very special journalist and colleague and friend to be recognized as a unique night, celebrating the best of our professionals and the best of journalism.”
Tonight’s winners came from more than 100 nominees from a field of more than 500 entries throughout Australia for all 32 competitive categories. The winners and finalists were chosen after weeks of scrutiny by teams of vastly experienced judges.
This year’s Kennedy’s “winter ball” featured the superb talents of the non-stop musical powerhouse Mitch Anderson and his soul and funk band followed by celebrations at the after party at the ATC’s The Stables.
Mr Dulhunty said the Kennedy Foundation would like to thank all its wonderful sponsors NRMA, Coca-Cola Amatil, Coca-Cola South Pacific, Acco Brands, Nine Network Australia, Nine News, A Current Affair, The Australian Turf Club, ANZ Stadium, NRMA Insurance, the Seven Network, Racing NSW, The Sydney Morning Herald, City of Parramatta, Racing NSW, Vodafone, Clubs NSW, Paradigm Resources, One Big Switch, Hillbrick Bicycles & Clothing, Hunter Burton Capital, Biscoe Hotels Group, Ed Digital and Salty Dingo.
Winners: 2017 NRMA Kennedy Awards for Excellence in Journalism
Announced at the Grand Ballroom, Royal Randwick, Friday August 11
2017 Coca-Cola KennedycJournalist of the Year: Chris O’Keefe (Nine News)
Les Kennedy Award for Outstanding Crime Reporting: Allan Clarke (NITV and BuzzFeed News)
Paul Lockyer Award for Outstanding Regional Broadcast Reporting: Lucy Langtry, Rod Smith (Prime 7 North Coast)
Chris Watson Award for Outstanding Regional Newspaper Reporting: Jack Morphet (The Daily Advertiser)
Rod Allen Award Racing Writer of the Year: Ray Thomas (The Daily Telegraph)
Outstanding Turf Reporting: Greg Bearup (The Australian)
Sean Flannery Award for Outstanding Radio Reporting: Natalie Peters (2GB)
Outstanding Radio Current Affairs and Audio Blog: “Phoebe’s Fall” (Fairfax Media)
Cliff Neville Award – Team Player: Shaun Besgrove (7 News Sydney)
Peter Frilingos Award – Outstanding Sport Reporting: Chris Barrett, Adam Collins (The Sydney Morning Herald)
2017 Young Journalist of the Year: Jack Morphet (The Daily Advertiser)
2017 Participation Award: Crinkling News
Outstanding Travel Writing: Catherine Marshall (The Weekend Australian)
Lifetime Achievement Award: Ita Buttrose
John Newfong Award – Outstanding Indigenous Affairs Reporting: Caro Meldrum-Hanna, Mary Fallon, Elise Worthington (Four Corners)
Gary Ticehurst Award – Outstanding Television News Camera Coverage: Adam Bovino (Nine News)
Harry Potter Award – Outstanding Television News Reporting: Chris O’Keefe (Nine News)
Outstanding TV Current Affairs: Michael Usher (7 News)
Outstanding Nightly TV Current Affairs: James Thomas, Lesley Robinson (ABC 7.30)
Peter Ruehl Award – Outstanding Columnist: Rick Morton (The Weekend Australian)
Outstanding Finance Reporting: Michael Smith, Angus Grigg, Lisa Murray (The Australian Financial Review)
Outstanding Consumer Affairs Reporting: Sophie Scott, Meredith Griffiths (ABC 7.30)
Outstanding Online News Breaking: Emily McPherson (nine.com.au)
Outstanding Court Reporting: Emma Partridge (The Daily Telegraph)
Outstanding Reporting on the Environment: Caro Meldrum-Hanna, Jaya Balendra, Alex McDonald (Four Corners)
The Rebecca Wilson Award – Scoop of the Year: Chris O’Keefe (Nine News)
The Vince O’Farrell Award – Outstanding Illustration: Cathy Wilcox (The Sydney Morning Herald)
Outstanding Investigative Reporting: Caro Meldrum-Hanna, Mary Fallon, Elise Worthington (Four Corners)
Jim Oram Award – Outstanding Features Writing: Stephanie Wood (The Good Weekend)
Outstanding Political Journalist: Chris O’Keefe (Nine News)
Coca-Cola Journalist of the Year: Chris O’Keefe (Nine News)
Outstanding News Photo: Toby Zerna (The Daily Telegraph)
Outstanding Portrait: Phil Hillyard (The Daily Telegraph)
Outstanding Sports Photo: Phil Hillyard (The Daily Telegraph)
Outstanding Online Video: Nathan Edwards, Sarah Blake, Toby Zerna (The Daily Telegraph)
People’s Choice Award: Dylan Robinson (The Daily Telegraph)
The 7th Annual NRMA Kennedy Awards – the media’s black tie night of nights – will be staged in the magnificent grand ballroom of Royal Randwick from 7pm on August 10.
This is a night not to be missed, as the who’s who of Australian news celebrate the talents of our finest journalists. Be quick to secure August 10 gala tickets & tables for our seven-hour event now by CLICKING HERE
This year’s event will be hosted by Michael Usher of the Seven Network and Nine’s Weekend Today Show host Allison Langdon, and will feature the talents of guest performers The Mitchell Anderson Band and Laura Louise.
Australia’s media charity, The Kennedy Foundation, is proud to announce Vodafone has become the major sponsor of the coveted Paul Lockyer Award for Outstanding Regional Broadcast Reporting.
The award – to be presented at the 6th Annual Kennedy Awards on August 11, 2017 – recognises the legacy of the late, legendary ABC and Nine network journalist who became nationally known for his passionate and expert coverage of rural issues throughout Australia.
The new Vodafone Paul Lockyer Award will continue to acknowledge superb regional broadcast reporting by media professionals who tirelessly keep the bush and regional centres tuned-in to the latest events impacting on their lives and shaping their futures.
Kennedy Foundation chairman Mr Simon Dulhunty said that since the inaugural awards in 2012 the Paul Lockyer Award had a special place in the heart of the foundation.
“We were seeking a partner for this award with strong links to regional communities and we are delighted to have the Vodafone brand, and its fantastic people, on board with us for next year,” Mr Dulhunty said.
“As reporting and broadcasting on regional issues continues to be a major focus of media coverage around Australia every year, the Kennedy Foundation is proud to have Vodafone at its side as the ideal sponsor of the Paul Lockyer Award.
“Regional journalism is the heart and soul of Australian media. Anyone that backs it is backing all people from the bush and giving a voice to the smaller towns. Regional reporting provides a vital link to regional communities just as Vodafone continues to do and we are extremely grateful to have the support of Vodafone in 2017, the sixth year of the Kennedy Awards.”
General Manager of External Affairs at Vodafone Australia, Mr Anthony Flannery, said the company was honoured to sponsor the Paul Lockyer Award for Outstanding Regional Broadcast Reporting.
“This award not only recognises the legacy Paul has left behind as an outstanding journalist, but the time he took to raise awareness of the issues faced by people living in Australia’s regional and remote communities,” Mr Flannery said.
“We are proud that his legacy lives on in this award which acknowledges the contribution of other media professionals who share the same commitment to regional issues as Paul.”
Background to the Paul Lockyer Award
The Paul Lockyer Award recognises the skills of a veteran journalist who carved a name for himself as an outstanding commentator and reporter on many issues but his greatest passion was his coverage of rural stories.
Paul was killed in a helicopter crash on Lake Eyre in South Australia on August 18, 2011, along with fellow ABC employees, pilot Gary Ticehurst and cameraman John Bean.
In 2013 he was awarded the Centenary Medal for his coverage of rural issues, particularly the extensive and punishing drought, and was twice awarded the NSW Farmers’ Association Mackellar Media Prize for coverage of rural stories.
The Outstanding Regional Reporting Award was first introduced at the inaugural awards in 2012 with The Daily Advertiser, Wagga Wagga, taking out the category for its coverage of devastating floods that swept through the region.
In 2013 Seven News’ Hugh Whitfield won for his coverage of devastating bushfires in the NSW Central West.
In 2014 Amy Phillips of Prime News Lismore won the Lockyer for coverage of CSG gas exploration in the NSW Northern Rivers region.
In 2015 the ABC’s 7.30 Report was recognised for its trail-blazing coverage of the ICE drug crisis consuming small communities.
The 2016 Lockyer was awarded to Joanna Woodburn of ABC Regional TV for her stories on lethal asbestos deposits near Orange.
Since 2012, when the first awards were hatched in a pub in Sydney to honour the life of the late legendary Sydney crime reporter Les Kennedy, the Kennedy Foundation has been seeking a new partner with strong links to regional communities to support the Paul Lockyer Award for Outstanding Regional Broadcast Reporting.
The Kennedy Foundation, with Vodafone as its latest partner, will continue to recognise the very best of Australia’s regional broadcast reporters at the annual awards – now the most prestigious event on the national media calendar.
The foundation is proud to point out that what began five years ago as the first awards of its kind in New South Wales has quickly evolved into a national event, attracting the cream of Australian media talent.
The Coca-Cola Journalist of the Year carries a $25,000 prize, the richest prize in Australian journalism and its presentation winds-up a night where the skills and talent of our finest media professionals are recognised with the awarding of 34 Spirax Trophies.
The Kennedy Foundation is a registered charity, formed in early 2014, to support media professionals facing hardship, particularly those in regional areas where the tyranny of distance can radically compound a family or personal crisis.
The 2017 NRMA Kennedy Awards for Excellence in Journalism will again be staged at the Australian Turf Club’s Grand Ballroom, Royal Randwick, on Friday, August 11.
Media contact: Steve Warnock, Kennedy Foundation General Manager
M: 0424 407 717
Les Kennedy Award for Outstanding Crime Reporting – Dan Box (The Australian)
Paul Lockyer Award for Outstanding Regional Broadcast Reporting Joanna Woodburn (ABC TV)
Chris Watson Award for Outstanding Regional Newspaper Reporting – Andrew Pearson (The Illawarra Mercury)
Rod Allen Award for Racing Writer of the Year – Ray Thomas (The Daily Telegraph)
Outstanding Turf Reporting – Andrew Webster (The Sydney Morning Herald)
Sean Flannery Award for Outstanding Radio Reporting – Giselle Wakatama (ABC)
Outstanding Radio Current Affairs Reporting and Audio Blog – Dan Box Eric George (The Australian)
Outstanding News Photo Rohan Kelly (The Sunday Telegraph)
Outstanding Portrait Alex Ellinghausen (The Sydney Morning Herald)
Outstanding Sport Photo – Brett Costello (The Daily Telegraph)
Outstanding Online Video – Bill Code (BBC Online)
People’s Choice Photo – Gordon McComiskie, (The Daily Telegraph)
Cliff Neville Award – Outstanding Team Player – Phil Kwok
Peter Frilingos Award for Outstanding Sports Reporting – Nick Tabakoff (The Daily Telegraph)
Outstanding Travel Writing –Joe Aston (The Australian Financial Review)
2016 Young Journalist of the Year Eryk Bagshaw (The Sydney Morning Herald)
John Newfong Award for Outstanding Indigenous Affairs Reporting –Ben Hills (SBS)
Lifetime Achievement Award – John Smith (The Daily Telegraph)
Gary Ticehurst Award Outstanding TV News Camera Coverage Cameron Wallis (7 News)
Harry Potter Award for Outstanding Television News Reporting – Robert Ovadia and Chris Maher (7 News)
Outstanding Television Current Affairs Reporting (long form, over 30 minutes) – Caro Meldrum-Hanna, Clay Hichens, Mario Christodoulou (Four Corners ABC TV)
Outstanding Television Current Affairs Reporting (short form) Rebecca Le Tourneau, Allison Langdon (60 Minutes)
Outstanding Finance Reporting – Adele Ferguson, Mario Christodoulou, Klaus Toft Fairfax/Four Corners;
Outstanding Court Reporting – Candace Sutton (The Daily Mail)
Outstanding Consumer Affairs Reporting Sarah Dingle, Joel Tozer, Jaya Balendra (Four Corners ABC TV)
Peter Ruehl Award for Outstanding Columnist – Jacqueline Maley (The Sydney Morning Herald)
Outstanding Online News Breaking Ava Benny Morrison, Lisa Visentin, Nick Ralston (The Sydney Morning Herald)
Outstanding Reporting on the Environment – Peter Hannam (The Sydney Morning Herald)
2016 Scoop of the Year Dan Nolan (A Current Affair)
2016 Vince O’Farrell Award: Outstanding Illustration – John Shakespeare (The Sydney Morning Herald)
Outstanding Investigative Reporting – Adele Ferguson, Klaus Toft, Sarah Danckert (Fairfax/ABC TV)
2016 Jim Oram Award: Outstanding Feature Writing – Trent Dalton (The Australian)
Outstanding Political Reporting David Speers (SKY News)
2016 Coca–Cola Journalist of the Year – Adele Ferguson (Fairfax/Four Corners)
LEGENDS AND THEIR LEGACIES
“It is a sad, sad day when we lose one of our own too early. So it is with Les Kennedy … legendary crime reporter Les leaves a legacy of great public service. He told our readers what was really going on.”
Greg Hywood, Fairfax CEO, August 10, 2011
“Les Kennedy’s journalistic legacy is right up there with some of the great names of Sydney crime reporting who worked in bygone eras. He was up there with the best and will be sorely missed.”
John Hartigan, News Ltd CEO, August 10, 2011
THE STORY OF THE KENNEDY AWARDS
On Friday, August 10, 2012, NSW’s finest journalists gathered to celebrate the memories of six industry legends and their legacies.
Les Kennedy, Cliff Neville, Sean Flannery, Paul Lockyer, Peter Ruehl and Gary Ticehurst were all masters of their craft – dedicated, passionate professionals who entertained, enlightened, and informed millions of Australians over the past five decades.
The idea for these awards was hatched in a pub when Les’ close friends combined with his former editors, friends and family in February 2012. They had a plan to preserve Les Kennedy’s memory in something far more profound than the beer-soaked sentiment of bar banter.
They realised that unlike the other states and territories New South Wales did not properly recognise journalists doing battle in one of the world’s most competitive news markets.
The committee aimed to launch the Kennedy Awards on Friday August 10, 2012, the first anniversary of Les Kennedy’s death at the age of 53. It was a tough deadline, not just because of the logistics, sponsors and media support that needed addressing and securing. This was to be a very emotional journey.
There was no looking back after the Premier agreed to present the Kennedy Award for NSW Journalist of the Year. From that point the doors flew open in a remarkably enthusiastic and passionate response from sponsors and hundreds of other colleagues.
On August 10, 2011, more than 250 people gathered at the Kauri Foreshore Hotel in Glebe to farewell the legend who was the inimitable, irrepressible Les Kennedy.
It was to be a last goodbye to Les, but he had died just eight hours earlier. And so it became an extraordinary celebration of a life lived large by one of the true characters in Australian journalism.
At Les’ impromptu wake, chain-smoking tabloid warriors rubbed shoulders with the corduroy of broadsheet aficionados, senior cops clinked glasses with lawyers and barristers representing the underworld and many young journalists — mentored by Les – were there, trying to get a firm grip on batons he had passed-on to each and every one of them, and not one schooner hit the floor! Along with the amber fluid flowed myriad tributes. Les’ farewell was a truly remarkable gathering – and the inspiration for what happened exactly 12 months later.
As word of the awards spread, close friends and colleagues of five other legends lost in the last year suggested they be honoured in this celebration of quality NSW journalism.
Veteran television producer and newspaperman Cliff Neville is remembered in the Most Outstanding Team Player Award named in his honour. It’s finally time to sing the praises of this unsung hero and magnificent team player who was the glue that held Sixty Minutes together
The “most loveable rogue to ever hold a microphone” – Sean Flannery – is honoured in the category of Most Outstanding Radio Report.
Paul Lockyer – a veteran ABC and Channel Nine journalist – a foreign correspondent who came home to his beloved bush to bring us stories about the people who are the heart of Australia. The award of Regional Reporting of the Year is appropriately named after a man who staked a serious claim to the outback as his story.
Peter Ruehl was once described by Fairfax CEO Greg Hywood as a “national institution,” and by a former editor as a columnist who “launched a 24-year love affair with Australian readers.” Peter is remembered for his wit and wisdom in the Most Outstanding Columnist Award.
Gary Ticehurst was a hero to many after he helped save lives in the 1998 Sydney-Hobart tragedy – and a dedicated helicopter pilot who provided a spectacular platform for hundreds of his ABC camera colleagues to shoot memorable aerial pictures. The award for Most Outstanding TV News Camera Coverage is named after Gary.
By July 2, 2012, the organisers of the inaugural Kennedy Awards had attracted more than 400 entries across 30 categories, judged by a distinguished panel led by former News Ltd CEO John Hartigan, long-serving Nine News director Paul Fenn and Ian Heads, OAM.
By August 10 the Kennedy Awards left the dry dock and set sail for the first time as 460 quality journalists, relatives of those we honoured and special guests filled the room in what would become one of the great nights in the history of NSW journalism.
In 2013 we did it all again and the Kennedy Awards was established as a fixture on the NSW events calendar, with the Chris Watson Award introduced to recognise excellence in NSW regional newspaper journalism.
In 2014 the Harry Potter Award for Outstanding Television News Reporting and the Jim Oram Award for Outstanding Feature Writing were added to the distinguished list of legends honoured by the industry every August.
The Kennedy Awards is organised by the Kennedy Foundation, a registered charity helping media professionals in hardship, with compassion – in confidence – and supporting other community organisations.
Click 2016 Sponsorship Packages or contact Kennedy Foundation General Manager STEVE WARNOCK via firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 0424 407717
Tribute to 2016 Lifetime Achievement Winner John Smith
By Mark Day, published in The Australian
There is a view among old newspaper hounds that we had the best of it. We flourished in the golden years — the 1950s through to the end of the 80s — when newspapers and those who filled them with racy yarns were admired, not vilified.
We used to pride ourselves on getting it first and getting it right. We were full of dash and daring and people bought our products for news that told them what they didn’t know.
It’s all changed now, of course. Today’s generation has good reason to ask what yesterday’s men would know about search engine optimisation, data diving or repurposing copy for phones, tablets or Facebook.
So it’s nice to see the news men and women of today pay respect to one of the old-timers .
At Friday night’s Kennedy Awards in Sydney, the old photographer and Daily Telegraph picture editor John Smith received a lifetime achievement award.
The Kennedys, named after the late crime reporter Les Kennedy, are awards for NSWbased journalists, complementing the Quills in Victoria.
This is their fifth year and John Smith follows crime reporters Harry Potter and Phil Cornford and sportswriter Ian Heads as recipients of the lifetime achievement award.
Smithy is 87 now and a great character. He still has his rapier wit, his conversational zingers, his pet sayings such as “the editor will be pleased” and his raffish charm. I am delighted to call him a friend and I call him from time to time to see how he’s doing.
“I’m all right,” he says, “but if I knew I was going to live this long I would have taken better care of myself.” Amen to that.
Smithy was 16 when he commenced as a copy boy at Frank Packer’s Telegraph in 1946. He started work the same day as Phillip Knightley, who went on to head the London Sunday Times investigative team and expose Britain’s Cold War spies.
Smithy was working as the late stop copy boy one night when an escaped convict named Antonio
Martini was involved in a shootout in North Sydney.
“I stole an old Speed Graphic camera from the darkroom and went with the late stop sub to the scene where I photographed a terrified bloke in a phone box with bullet holes in it,” Smithy says. “I had four exposures and two flash bulbs, but neither worked, so my pictures were failures.
“The next day I got a telegram at home saying Mr Packer wanted to see me. I thought that would be the end of me for stealing the camera , but Mr Packer said I had done well. He said ‘Don’t waste your time with the scribblers; I’m going to move you to photographic.’”
That was 1948. Four years later Smithy was in the Korean War frontline, attached to the Australian 3 Battalion, with which his father had served in France during World War I. He documented life in the trenches for Australian newspapers.
Today press photographers can snap a picture and immediately email the shot in a matter of seconds via satphones to anywhere in the world.
“It was different then,” says Smithy. “I took a picture of wounded Aussies coming out of the front line on my Rolleiflex, then sent the film back to field headquarters, where it was then flown to Commonwealth Forces HQ in Tokyo, then on to Australia for processing. It appeared on front pages about a week after I took the shot.”
Smithy spent most of the 50s on the road. He recalls another encounter with Mr Packer after he lavished a bottle of fine champagne on a young lady after the
“I was called to his office and I thought, ‘I’m on toast here’ . Mr Packer said ‘Sit down, son,’ then talked about the Cup and the tennis for a while. Then he said: ‘What’s this taking sheilas out on my money?’ I said I fully intended to pay, of course, and he said: ‘You’re a good liar’ . That was the end of it.”
Another famous Smithy story followed a prolonged drink after covering a royal tour in Canberra with fellow snapper John Jones. The Telegraph’s picturegram truck was spotted allegedly being driven erratically through a Canberra backstreet.
Federal police pulled the truck over and demanded names. “I’m John Jones,” said Jones, to which one copper snarled: “And I suppose you’re John Smith.”
Smithy brought his rapier wit and gift for a quick quip into play. He replied: “Yes, officer.” Jones produced his press pass and one Fed said: “Hey this one is John Jones.”
And when Smithy showed his pass the other incredulous Fed said “And this one is John Smith.” Fortunately all parties were amused and they both escaped with a warning.
Smithy took on a desk job in 1970 when he became the Tele’s picture editor. When Rupert Murdoch bought the masthead in 1972 Frank Packer cried as he watched his staff leave.
“You can stay here, son,” he said to Smithy. “I have a job here for you.” Smithy replied that he felt he had to go with his team but asked if he could buy his company car.
“How much?” Packer asked. When Smithy named his price of $1200 Packer said “You’re a good poker player. I’ll think about it.” Two weeks later Smithy was asked to pay $1 for the transfer fee.
It’s trite but true: Smithy represents an era passed. We will never return to those days and unhappily it won’t be long before the notion of newspapers employing staff photographers is also consigned to the dustbin. That has already happened in many US cities.
Virtually nothing newsworthy happens today without someone, somewhere, capturing the event on a smartphone.
Their pictures or video are grist for the 24/7 television news mill and frequently make the front pages of newspapers.
These shots are not professionally staged or lit, but they carry undeniable impact.
Smithy is the first press photographer to be honoured with a Kennedy lifetime achievement award.
The editor will be pleased, but chances are he’ll be the last.