Ah, journalism’s night of nights at a glittering auditorium strongly resembling a muggy Bangkok transit lounge circa 1986, featuring Australia’s best backstabbers all together in close proximity.

The event, watched by a woeful audience of 83,000 on SBS, was of course the Walkley Awards but also the 100th anniversary of the Australian Journalists’ Association, as Quentin Dempster announced to a foyer full of chatterers who barely looked up from their daiquiris.

Kerry O’Brien and the Gold Walkley-winning Laurie Oakes may have drawn standing ovations — and the major gongs — but as the beef medallions slipped by the assembled egos became restless, waiting for something to tweet as the smoke machine haze descended.

“Be nice to the waiters,” said host Virginia Trioli, because “many of them are former Fairfax employees” — one of several jocular sledges directed the publisher’s way by the soon-to-be-ABC1 breakfast star, who at one point tried to speed up proceedings by shouting that if everyone didn’t get their shit together there would soon be another Good Weekend revamp.

The one speech worth listening to was gifted by Balibo widow Shirley Shackleton, who took out the award for best book and delivered a brutal indictment of the government’s lack of action over Balibo. But before laying down the truth, Shackleton drolly noted that the assembled hacks seemed “hand-picked for good looks and intelligence”.

The evening was pockmarked with several other highlights. Kerry, fresh from his final throw to John Clarke and Brian Dawe, transfixed every table. “Tonight was my last show for 7.30, as you know, and I was determined to play a straight bat and I managed to, and now you’ve got me, you bastards,” the former ALP press secretary confessed in a lovely off-the-cuff moment.

The Australian Financial Review‘s Pamela ‘dark and stormy night’ Williams walked away with a well-deserved feature gong for her timely Mark Arbib-assisted ‘Kill Kevin’ piece. But even before that announcement, the mood on the Fairfax table was bouyant in the wake of Monday’s CEO ructions.

One senior Age editor was extremely happy that temporary chief Greg Hywood’s “plain speaking staff bulletins” had replaced the “mealy-mouthed shit” put out by Brian McCarthy, and was willing the global search for a new CEO to end close to home.

An ebullient Hywood, seated much closer to the stage than Crikey, backed that assessment, giving this bullish quote to his newspapers: ”Of course Fairfax swept the Walkleys. We have the best journalists.” It was becoming clear that his bitter enemies at News were in for a trouncing (Fairfax got 11, with the ABC on seven and News six).

But some former staff members weren’t celebrating. “Luckily the knives on the Fairfax table are plastic,” said former Fairfax chief snapper and Insiders‘ star Mike Bowers, which was apparently revenge for his departure from The Sydney Morning Herald in 2008.

Over at the Herald Sun table, senior journos were seen crying into their beers, not necessarily because News had been towelled up, but more over the editorial direction of the paper, with one hack bemoaning the ‘Sunday-ification’ of the daily edition.

The award for the Herald Sun‘s Oakes lightened the mood somewhat, even though it was for his work at Nine. The veteran political heavyweight was tied up all evening, copping a beating at one point from excellent Julia Gillard impersonator Amanda Bishop on the big screen, who remarked that the “last time Laurie was leaked on so spectacularly was when he needed extra money as a student”.

Oakes, to his credit, acknowledged that the campaign must have been a terrible one if his leaks had dominated discussion. That sentiment was shared by several seasoned observers elsewhere in the room, who queried why a series of text messages sent by Lachlan Harris had been accorded to so much prominence.

The looseness got more willing as the lights came up and 16th and 17th cocktails were consumed. Over at the alleged after party at JJ’s bar, where three glasses of champagne cost $685, a security guard, Scott, denied a senior member of the Crikey editorial team entry for spurious reasons we can only surmise.

And when those lights came up at 3am, illuminating a thinning grab bag of commercial TV presenters, it was well and truly time to make tracks.

Meanwhile, Crikey clothes fiend Amber Jamieson was eyeing the red carpet…

Sure, sure Kerry O’Brien and Laurie Oakes — plus Shirley Shackleton’s speech — may have stolen the show, but it’s not an awards night without gowns, fake tan and penguin suits.

Host Virginia Trioli was the classiest of the night, in an off-the-shoulder deep blue frock with a diamante shoulder. After the telecast she popped on a great, short printed strapless frock to work the room and definitely won best dressed all round. The Australian‘s Caroline Overington went plain black dress; we expected more dazzle and leather. But she was wearing a near-identical belt to my own, so no qualms there — except hers was Valentino, mine was op-shop.

Presenter and author Anna Krien did a Jean Shrimpton, rocking a tiny black playsuit to present an award. I heard several “is she wearing SHORTS?”, which probably can be blamed on the rainbow belt covering up that it was an all-in-one. Age AFL scribe Sam Lane went short and cute and blue in sequins. Another presenter just after — would it BE so hard for the Walkleys to put a list of presenters on its homepage? — also went sequins, but the Crikey fashion judges think she should have ditched the black tights.

From the Crikey office Mick the Sub won the Matt Preston award for best boots, in cream kangaroo fur cowboy boots, while Luke Buckmaster sported a black and white tie that Latika Bourke fawned over. Bourke in fact sent a picture of her dress to the Twitters, so head here for the Logiesque frock. Only a few offensively short and tight dresses, thank god.

First Dog on the Moon did his very best Reservoir Dogs impression and host Anton Enus looked dapper as always — though I saw him change out of the tux when he headed out the door post-show. Colin McKinnon from The Age flaunted a kilt, as always. George Megalogenis does black tie and floppy hair classier than most. Julian Morrow did nerdy-play boy in a velvet jacket and cool glasses. I don’t remember what the rest of the men wore, which indicates they were all safe, classic and inoffensive.

The winners:

  • Best Print, Wire Service Journalism: News Report Paul McGeough, The Sydney Morning Herald, “Prayers, tear gas and terror”
  • Radio News and Current Affairs Reporting: Stephen Long, ABC Radio, PM, “A Super Scandal”
  • Radio Feature, Documentary or Broadcast Special: Kristina Kukolja, SBS, World View, “Echoes of Srebrenica”
  • Magazine Feature Writing: David Marr, Quarterly Essay, “Power Trip: The Political Journey of Kevin Rudd”
  • Best Scoop of the Year: Lenore Taylor, The Sydney Morning Herald, “ETS off the agenda until late next term”
  • Best Cartoon: Mark Knight, The Herald Sun, “Moving forward”
  • Best Artwork: Eric Lobbecke, The Australian, “Rudd’s dangerous climate retreat”
  • Outstanding Continuous Coverage of an Issue or Event: Stephen Fitzpatrick, The Australian, “Sri Lankan asylum seeker stand-off”
  • Newspaper Feature Writing: Pamela Williams, The Australian Financial Review, “Labor’s trial”
  • News Photography: Brett Costello, The Daily Telegraph, “Jessica”
  • Business Journalism: Michael Bachelard, The Sunday Age, “The shadow side of a cardboard king”
  • Social Equity Journalism: John Blades, ABC Radio National, 360 documentaries, “The too hard basket”
  • Photographic Essay: Phil Hillyard, The Daily Telegraph, “Prime Minister Julia Gillard”
  • International Journalism: Mary Ann Jolley and Andrew Geoghegan, ABC TV, Foreign Correspondent, “Fly away children”
  • Television News and Current Affairs Camera: Neale Maude, ABC TV, Four Corners, “A careful war”
  • Television Current Affairs, Feature, Documentary or Special (more than 20 minutes): Sophie McNeill and Geoff Parish, SBS TV, Dateline, “Questions from Oruzgan”
  • Television Current Affairs Reporting (less than 20 minutes): Fouad Hady and Ashley Smith, SBS TV, Dateline, “Iraq’s deadly legacy”
  • Investigative Journalism: Linton Besser, The Sydney Morning Herald, “The wrong stuff”
  • Broadcast and Online Interviewing: Kerry O’Brien, ABC TV, The 7.30 Report, “The Rudd and Abbott interviews”
  • Commentary, Analysis, Opinion and Critique: Andrew Cornell, The Australian Financial Review, “Once bitten: How Australia’s banks dodged the crisis”
  • Nikon-Walkley Press Photographer of the Year: Jason South, The Age
  • Best Online Journalism: Andrew Meares, smh.com.au and nationaltimes.com.au, “[email protected]: looking back at moving forward”
  • The Walkley Book Award: Shirley Shackleton, The Circle of Silence: A personal testimony before, during and after Balibo (Murdoch Books)
  • Journalism leadership: Kerry O’Brien, ABC TV presenter, The 7.30 Report
  • Most Outstanding Contribution to Journalism: Cameron Forbes
  • Gold Walkley / Television News Reporting: Laurie Oakes, Nine Network, “Labor leaks”
  • Daily Life / Feature Photography: Lisa Wiltse, Getty Images, “Potosi”
  • Best Three Headings: Warwick McFadyen, The Age, “Heads and tales”
  • Coverage of Indigenous Affairs: Martin Butler and Bentley Dean, ABC TV, Contact
  • Coverage of Community and Regional Affairs: Nicole Hasham and Laurel-Lee Roderick, The Illawarra Mercury, “Fund collapse ruins families”
  • Best Sports Journalism: Adrian Proszenko, The Sun-Herald, “Melbourne Storm rorts salary cap”
  • Sport Photography: Michael Dodge, heraldsun.com.au, “Seizing the moment”

Peter Fray

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