Quill Awards 2009

Coverage of the Black Saturday bushfires dominated the 2009 Melbourne Press Club/Monash University Quill awards and the Graham Perkin Australian Journalist of the Year Award.

Bushfire reports won nine Quills for Excellence in Victorian Journalism – three to the ABC, two each to the Herald Sun and Seven Network and one each to The Age and The Australian. Gary Hughes of The Australian won the $20,000 national Perkin award for his first-person piece on surviving the bushfire. Hughes became only the third journalist to win the Perkin award and the national Gold Walkley Award in the same year.

And Drew Ambrose of the ABC was named Young Journalist of the Year for a series of online video features about the bushfires. Drew was also in the abc.net.au team which won the Quill for Best Use of the On-line medium for the site’s bushfire coverage.

The Age won the new Quill for Best Coverage of an Issue or Event with its print and online coverage of the bushfires. The Herald Sun and Sunday Herald Sun won both photographic Quills for pictures taken by Craig Borrow and Alex Coppel during the bushfires.

The top Quill award, the $5000 Monash University Gold Quill, was won by Cameron Stewart of The Australian for his exclusive on Australia’s second-largest counter- terrorism investigation, Operation Neath, written and published under great pressure from authorities. The report also won Cameron the Grant Hattam Quill for Investigative Journalism.



The 2009 Quills and Perkin award were presented at a dinner attended by more than 500 journalists, editors and guests at the Crown Palladium.

This was the first year broadcast and online journalists were eligible for the Perkin award. Jane Cowan of the ABC and Tracy Grimshaw of Channel Nine were shortlisted, along with Karen Kissane of The Age and John Garnaut of the Sydney Morning Herald.

But the Perkin judges – Les Carlyon, Jana Wendt and Paul Kelly - were unanimous in their choice of Gary Hughes. They said “Gary’s story of how he and his wife survived the Black Saturday bushfires is proof that journalism, in its better moments, can be a great calling. Gary watched his house burn down. Just about everything he owned was lost. Yet that same night Gary wrote a 1600-word piece for The Australian, much of it in the present tense, that put smoke in the nostrils of readers and weight in their hearts. The piece had shape and style. The writing was affecting but always cool and spare. There was not a sentence that needed to be read twice. The story ran in The Times, London, and other papers around the world. Here was a journalist calling on everything he had learned during 35 years in the craft. The piece was truly memorable, the writing polished. These are the defining characteristics of this award.”

Bruce Petty of The Age was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by the committee of the Melbourne Press Club. Peter Nicholson of The Australian won his ninth Quill for Best Cartoon in the 15 years since the Quills began, for a cartoon depicting radical Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir recruiting terrorists in schools.


Neil Mitchell of 3AW won his sixth radio current affairs Quill in the 10 years since it was introduced, this time for his story on how Terri Bracks persuaded a depression sufferer to abandon a suicide attempt.

The 2009 RACV Transport Quill was won by Fiona Hudson of the Herald Sun for her report on the extent and nature of the parking fines system in Melbourne. Winners of the Quills receive $500 and a statuette. They are sponsored by Monash University. The Hattam Quill winner receives $1000 from the Herald & Weekly Times. The Transport Quill winner received $2000 from the RACV. The Age provides the $20,000 prize money for the Perkin Award. The Young Journalist of the Year’s main prize is a return trip and accommodation plus $1000 to attend the 2010 Investigative Reporters and Editors conference in Las Vegas, provided by the Wilnic Family Trust in memory of the former head of The Age Insight team, David Wilson. American Airlines provides internal travel in the US.

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