The 50th Walkley Awards at Luna Park
last night was arguably the biggest and best gathering of Australian
media heavyweights to have ever assembled under the one roof. It’s
easiest to simply say who wasn’t among the 1,000 guests: Murdochs,
Packers, Alan Jones, John Laws, Kerry O’Brien, John Hartigan, Piers
Akerman, Peter Blunden, Terry McCrann, Michael Gill, Richard Carleton.

Despite
Rupert Murdoch’s sledging of The Walkleys for being too “politically
correct” there was no News Ltd boycott as Hartigan’s wife Gerry Sutton
was in attendance, as were numerous other heavies including Mark Day, Dave
Pemberthy, Walkley’s Advisory Board chair Malcolm Farr, The Australian’s editor Michael Stutchbury and even Brett McCarthy, editor of Rupert’s Sunday Times in Perth who was over to see his chief reporter John Flint collect the first gong of the evening.

In
fact, News Ltd had a strong night, coming second overall with eight
Walkleys against just five for Fairfax. But no-one got near Aunty which
picked up 11 regular gongs, plus Tim Palmer’s Gold and Deb Fleming’s
much-deserved “journalistic leadership” Walkley for ten great years
running Australian Story.

The ABC heavies were also out in force with chairman Donald McDonald
holding court on the top Aunty table, sitting next to the highest paid
public sector journalist in the country, Sydney newsreader Juanita
Phillips. Managing director Russell Balding was looking ever the
accountant and newscaff boss John Cameron was seated next to ABC
radio’s Lyndal Curtis, an elevation which is perhaps explained by
Amanda Meade’s story about radio feeling left out in The Diary yesterday.

Even
ABC Melbourne’s breakfast host Red Symons managed to interrupt his
holidays to take Jon Faine’s place. Ironically, Faine’s entry was all
about euthanasia and someone’s right to die, while the ABC Victoria
Morning host couldn’t make it last night because he’s in Singapore for
this morning’s execution of Van Nguyen.

Red didn’t get to make speech but at least
got to hear his Living in the 70s played and he managed a
couple of chats with fellow rocker Peter Garrett, an MEAA member who
had to put up with sitting opposite Crikey for the evening.

The MEAA kindly seated me next to Stephen Gan, the Crikey of Malaysia who has 5,000 subscribers to his malaysiakini.com
paying about $80 a year. The Malaysian Government even confiscated 19
of his computers a couple of years ago, but he’s now built it up to
having ten paid journalists competing with the staid and constricted
mainstream press.

Alan Jones and John Laws didn’t show up, which is probably explained by Media Watch
winning the Gold Walkley in 1999 for its cash for comment exclusive, so
they missed Mike Carlton’s booming call to arms for all those attending
to gather forth and march on Kirribilli House to rip that slimy
rodent from his bed. It was a demonstration of what will constitute
sedition, of course, and a point well made.

The nostalgia reels looking back over the past 50 years were excellent.
Mark Day clearly enjoyed his November 11, 1975 splash in The Daily Mirror, Kerrs Sacks Gough,
getting a run as did the man sitting next to him, Max Uechtritz, as we
enjoyed the footage of Max muttering, “it’s a hard way to earn a
living” as he made his way onto Crikey’s attacked hacks list while trying to cover the 1987 funeral of crime boss Robert Trimbole.

Tony
Squires probably had the best gags for the evening so it was a bit
rough that he and Vega’s Drive co-host Rebecca Wilson were seated way
back on table 81. George Negus struggled a bit with his attempted gags
and when his famous “Maggie you’re pig-headed” interview ran on the
history reel, George declared “I am rather glad that I am still around
and Maggie’s not.” She’s not dead, George.

The drunkest man I encountered for the evening was The Australian‘s
Melbourne editor Chris Dore, but it was all harmless stuff.
ABC Sydney Drive host Richard Glover might be a bit slow to fire up
this morning too. Virginia Trioli seems to be settling in to Sydney
life and she sat on a Fairfax table with new SMH editor Alan
Oakley. Virginia’s partner is Russell Skelton, a Fairfax feature writer
who was a finalist in the Indigenous Affairs category.

There were still about 300 people chatting in the Crystal Palace when
the grog was turned off at 1am and there weren’t any fights up until
that point so it presumably remained an incident free Walkleys,
although I bailed at 1.05am and forgot to steal the guest list.

Unlike previous years, there was no bile for Crikey. There was even a wave from Tim Blair, who is obviously doing OK at The Bulletin as he was seated next to editor Gary Linnell. Even The Chaser boys failed to produce the usual Crikey sledge in their comedy routine, which was OK given what a tough audience they faced.

All we’ve got to do now to complete the mainstreaming of our venture is
to actually win a Walkley for Crikey. Sadly, they dropped the internet
category with the dotcom boom in 2002 when we were finalists for
Christian Kerr’s Democrats scoops. With a new internet boom emerging,
surely it’s time we got our category back. Hereby starts the campaign.
After all, the News Awards have an internet category, but we can’t
enter that one.