Women and the Walkleys

This collection showcases the women within the Walkley Archive pilot who have won journalism’s top honour. Women have been winning Walkley Awards since the prize began, with the first ever Walkley going to Eva Sommer in 1956 and the first Gold Walkley to Catherine Martin in 1978. The Gold Walkley has since been awarded to 24 women. 

Although women have long been visible in newsrooms they have often had to battle cultural stereotypes about where and how they should work and write. When Eva Sommer tried to get a job as a journalist after school she was told The Herald only accepted women on the "social pages" and The Telegraph and The Sun, under union rules, only took three female cadets a year. The Sun did take her on and it is hard to imagine there were many applicants, male or female, who could match Eva’s excellent school results or, like her, were fluent in three languages.  

But getting in the door of the newsroom was often only the first hurdle facing women wanting to be journalists. Australia’s first Gold Walkley winner, Catherine Martin, began work at The West Australian newspaper in 1957. Twenty years later the woman who exposed the dangers of asbestos for miners, went on a one-woman strike until she got a long overdue promotion to an A-grade journalist with a pay-rise to match. Thirty years on 2015 MEAA’s survey of 1000 women working in the Australian media found a 23.2 per cent gender pay gap, with 41 per cent of women reported experiencing harassment, bullying and trolling on social media.

Post #MeToo, the world’s first mass movement against sexual harassment, the campaign for women to be treated with the same respect as men, whether in or outside of the newsroom, continues through the work of groups such as Women in Media and NOW Australia. Gold Walkley winner Monica Attard is an advisory board member of Media Diversity Australia, a not-for-profit organisation that is working to make our news media more reflective of all Australians. 

This collection celebrates the journalism of the women who are represented in this Walkley Pilot Archive: Eva Sommer, Catherine Martin, Janet Hawley, Monica Attard, Sue Spencer, Sharon Davis and Kate Geraghty.

Eva Maria Sommer

Eva Maria Sommer

The first ever Walkley award was won by a woman, Eva Maria Sommer, a 21-year-old cadet with the Sydney newspaper, The Sun. More than sixty years ago Eva Sommer uncovered the extraordinary case of a “boat person” — a seemingly stateless man locked in his cabin on an Italian cruise liner after he was refused entry by Australian immigration because he lacked ID and a functional memory.

Driven by a strong sense of compassion Eva employed her excellent reporting skills to discover the man’s identity and secure his residency in Australia.

Eva Sommer passed away peacefully on February 15, 2019, at the age of 84.

Read more about Eva and her story here.

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Catherine Martin

Catherine Martin

In another first, the 1978 inaugural Gold Walkley award for excellence in journalism, an honour that is acknowledged as the pinnacle of journalistic achievement in Australia, was won by Catherine Martin.

Her front-page story for The West Australian newspaper was on the deadly impact of blue asbestos in the remote mining town of Wittenoom. Her follow up stories kept the pressure on CSR, the company operating the mine, who established a compensation foundation.

Catherine Martin died 30 years later, in 2009 at the age of 90, in the same week that the James Hardie company, who had bought CSR, was found guilty of misleading conduct and failing to meet its obligations over its handling of the asbestos compensation.

When presented with her Gold Walkley Martin said she had been deeply moved by those who worked at The Australian Blue Asbestos Mine at Wittenoom Gorge: “So many people were involved, many of them still young with their lives ahead of them. I wanted to reach people’s hearts with the story”.

Read more about Catherine’s Gold Walkley winning story here.

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Janet Hawley

Janet Hawley

Janet Hawley, whose journalism career spans more than 30 years and began as a cadet at The Daily Telegraph, is one of Australia’s seminal profile writers, renowned for transporting readers into intimate narratives that reveal the creative and complex lives of her subjects.

The winner of three Walkley Awards, including the Gold Walkley for her compassionate and revealing dual profile of the artists William Dobell and Joshua Smith, she was instrumental in developing what became known as the “page three profiles”.

Her story on William Dobell’s 1943 Archibald prize-winning portrait of Joshua Smith reminded Australians of a time when the country was consumed with a court case about the very nature of art. Her interview with Joshua Smith was the first time he had ever spoken about the way in which he was publicly ridiculed for his looks and the impact the portrait had on his life.

Janet’s wide-ranging experience as a feature writer and columnist on The Australian, The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald saw her writing on a vast range of topics both here and overseas, from politics and people, the environment, the arts, to medicine and sport. She is also the author of three books.

Read Janet Hawley’s Gold Walkley winning story here.

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Monica Attard

Monica Attard

Monica Attard has won five Walkley Awards during her remarkable media career,including the 1991 Gold Walkley for her coverage for the ABC of the short-lived coup by Russian hardliners in Moscow against the then leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

Attard went on to win the 2002 Walkley Award for Broadcast Interviewing and the 2005 Walkley Award for Broadcast Interviewing and hosted the ABC program “Media Watch”.

She was also the foundation editor of the website, “The Global Mail” and is the author of the book, “Russia: Which Way Paradise”, on the collapse of Soviet communism.

Attard is the Professor and Head of Journalism at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at UTS and a Member of the Order of Australia for service to journalism. She is also a member of the Advisory Board for the not-for-profit organisation Media Diversity Australia.

Listen to Monica Attard’s Gold Walkley story here.

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Sue Spencer

Sue Spencer

Sue Spencer began her career in television in the mid 1980s with the ABC program, Four Corners as a researcher and went on to become one of Australia’s most respected television producers. She won, along with journalist Philip Chubb, the 1993 Gold Walkley Award, and the 1993 Walkley Award for Best Application of the Television Medium to Journalism for their ground-breaking documentary series, “Labor in Power”.

Spencer has also worked on “Lateline”, “Foreign Correspondent” and “Australian Story”. In 2001 Spencer produced and directed (with Paul Kelly and Deb Masters) the series “100 Years – The Australian Story”. At this time she was awarded an ABC-Reuters fellowship to Oxford University.

Between 2002 and 2007, Spencer worked for the United Nations in Cambodia and Vietnam. Back in Australia she worked for the PNG/East Timor/Pacific office of the World Bank.

In October 2007, Spencer returned to the ABC as Executive Producer of “Four Corners” where the program won four Logies and three Gold Walkley awards. In 2008 she executive produced "The Howard Years" and in 2015 executive produced, "The Killing Season".

Spencer resigned from the ABC in 2015 and since then has been a freelance Executive Producer, working on “The House with Annabel Crabb”, “Hawke – The Larrikin and the Leader” and “Exposed: The Case of Keli Lane”.

You can listen to Sue Spencer and Phillip Chubb's Gold Award winning work 'Labor in Power' here

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Sharon Davis

Sharon Davis

During her impressive career as an investigative journalist Sharon Davis has covered the first democratic election in South Africa for Radio National, and was present in the refugee camps in Macedonia when Kosovars streamed across the border to escape the war. She began her career in community radio before moving to the ABC and in 2003 she won the Walkley for Best Radio Feature, Documentary or Broadcast Special for her story, “Crime and Punishment”, with Nick Franklin about the criminal justice system.

This was her third Walkley Award with the ABC , having won in the Best Investigative categories in 1991 and 1993. She went on to win her fourth Walkley for the ABC in 2007 for Best Radio Feature, Documentary or Broadcast Special.

Listen to Sharon Davis and Nick Franklin’s Walkley Award winning story here.

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Kate Geraghty

Kate Geraghty

When asked why she wanted to become a photojournalist Kate Geraghty gave a simple answer: “I love people and I love history, so I wanted to tell people’s story”.
She went on to say: “I know that’s cliche, but it’s basically what drives me. Photojournalists in Australia, and overseas, are dedicated to telling people’s stories. I take it very seriously, the responsibility of informing people correctly of what’s happening. We are very ethical practitioners, very factual, at The Herald and The Age.” (Source: Gemma Courtney, The Walkley Magazine, Sept 14, 2018).

Kate Geraghty started her photographic career in 1997 at The Border Mail before joining The Sydney Morning Herald in 2001.

She was the 2017 Nikon-Walkley Press Photographer of the Year as well as winning the Gold Walkley that same year with Fairfax Media’s Michael Bachelard for “Surviving IS: Stories of Mosul” about the ancient city of Mosul’s devastation by Islamic State.

She was also named Press Photographer of the Year in 2007 and 2013, and won the photographic essay category in 2006 and 2007.

In an interview for the Walkley Magazine Kate said she is a passionate advocate for supporting Australian journalism:

“Quality journalism and Australian journalists provide a continuity in reporting and documenting our society. I think it’s fundamental to our society to have independent, investigative journalism. Our job is to document our society.” (Gemma Courtney, The Walkley Magazine, Sept 14, 2018)

Read the full interview with Kate Geraghty here: Spotlight on: Kate Geraghty
And read Kate Geraghty and Michael Bachelard’s Gold Walkley winning story here.
 

This profile of Walkley winning women was written by Dr Jennifer Martin, Deakin University Edward Wilson Research Fellow as part of the “Women, Leadership and the Media” project.
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