Funny old things, award nights. Great for back-biting, back-slapping, back-sliding, and even back flips.

Last night’s Walkley Award ceremony in Sydney was a much pleasanter affair than the previous year which was ugly and badly behaved even before Glenn Milne capped it off by going the biff.

The full list of last night’s award winners is here. There wasn’t much controversy, many worthy winners and no-one I am aware of who could fairly claim they woz robbed.

Some notable features: first, Hedley Thomas of The Australian was never really in any doubt as the winner of the Gold Walkley for his coverage of the Dr Haneef affair. Indeed a shout of assent went up from the audience when his name was announced.

Yet at the same time as The Australian was covered in glory it was notable that the great weight of jokes from the stage were at The Oz’s expense. Dennis Shanahan was described as a “satirist” and those at the tables winced and laughed. There was a brace of jokes about Caroline Overington’s miserable recent history, and of course inevitable references to Milne.

What does it say when one newspaper – The Australian — is home to the best journalism in the country and yet also to reporters who have become the butt of the profession’s jokes?

It is sobering to remember that last year it was Overington who was collecting a Walkley for her Australian Wheat Board coverage. A couple of weeks ago her editor was defending her ghastly e-mails, and she was dismissing it all as a joke. Just one week ago she was accused of slapping or pushing a political candidate. Last night she didn’t show her face. What next?

Last night the attitudes of her colleagues ranged from vindictive to sad. Within the course of a few hours Crikey was urged by some to skewer Overington, accused by others of being sanctimonious for saying her behaviour was wrong, and thanked by others for not being harder on her.

At the same time, Crikey was congratulated for coverage of troubles at The Age by surprisingly senior Age staff members, and informed by others, with evident relish, how radically unpopular we were. (“That woman” is the sobriquet of choice, I am told.)

Hey ho. That’s showbiz.

There were some other interesting turn-arounds. Last year, Crikey’s founder Stephen Mayne was felled by Glenn Milne, who went on to be defended and even congratulated by some of his colleagues for his violence.

This year, though, Crikey’s current owner Eric Beecher got a gong for journalistic leadership, and nobody staggered from the wings to give him a shove. Extraordinary.

Chris Masters rightly got the non-fiction book award for Jonestown, which has stood the test of time and partisan criticism. And once again the ABC dominated the awards for broadcasting.

Yet as we all well remember, the ABC did not have the courage to publish Jonestown, and Masters is a sadder man and the ABC a sadder organisation as a result.

None of the currently most controversial journalists were there – not Milne nor Overington nor Shanahan nor Andrew Jaspan, editor of The Age, whose new masthead proclaiming the newspaper’s independence was given a right round bollocking. All the controversial absent ones were much discussed. (You really should have been there.)

Perhaps it was because it has been a year of tragedy for journalists – with the Garuda disaster early on and Matt Price so recently dead – that the mood was nevertheless subdued. Or perhaps it was the exhaustion of a long election campaign. For whatever reason, for the first time in my memory the assembled hacks actually shut up, listened to the presentations and mostly behaved like adults.

Which led some to say that the mood was flat.

One message, from Hedley Thomas, deserves repetition. He reminded all present that the Australian Federal Police and Commissioner Mick Keelty are still pursuing and trying to punish the Haneef legal team for their role in getting the truth to the public. Crikey readers should know and remember this too. Among other things, the last year has told us that Keelty is one of the slickest PR operatives around.

The Walkleys: one year rooster, the next feather duster. One year a kick in the goolies, the next year a gong.

Meanwhile, Stephen Mayne writes:

We have peace in our time and goodwill for all men. In the early hours of this morning, at Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Studios in Sydney, a News Ltd man handed over $70 in cash to cover the $65 physio bill from the sprained ankle resulting from Glenn Milne’s drunken attack at last year’s Walkleys.

He might not remember it after a long night at the Walkleys and we’ve agreed not to name names but the deed is done.