Standing up for Canberra

ABC Helicopter Crash 2011

Last Thursday night, my husband Chris and I were sitting at home when he got a phone call at about 10.30 from the executive producerof 7.30. It was to advise him of the sad loss of three of the ABC's most dedicated, professional and longest serving servants of the news. It is a significant loss for the ABC. I have witnessed much over the last week, and I will outline some of that tonight. I cannot believe how these three men touched nearly everyone in the ABC—if not everyone in the ABC—and made a very lasting impression on them which was all decent and good. These were three very good and decent men and it is a great loss, not just to the ABC but to journalism and Australia.

The deaths of journalist Paul Lockyer, cameraman John Bean and pilot Gary Ticehurst has hit the ABC and its staff very hard. The managing director of the ABC, Mark Scott, referred to 'a team of three of our finest. It's going to one of our saddest days ever.' Tributes for these three veterans of the news have come thick and fast.

Journalist Paul Lockyer had a career in journalism spanning four decades. As a result of the depth and breadth of that career at the local, national and international level he touched nearly everyone—if not everyone—at the ABC. He served in a variety of roles and in many locations around the world. In the footage that we have seen in the last few days you see him in all sorts of exotic and less exotic locations.

Paul has often been described as a journo's journo. His peers looked up to him, he was admired and he was respected. Well-known names of ABC news have also heaped praise on the professionalism of Paul. I was interested to read the tribute by Kerry O'Brien, who declared that he so admired Paul that he wanted to be him. He said:

I remember Paul in the early 80s in Bangkok and I remember thinking, 'Gee, I would like to be like to be like him' … I am sure there are lots of ABC reporters who have thought and felt the same. ABC news director Kate Torney said:

Paul Lockyer was a journalist's journalist. He had done it all—war correspondent, Olympics, floods—and he never burnt a source.

I think Paul will be remembered for his recent reporting of the tragic floods in Queensland, where he not only reported on the hard facts of the developing tragedy, particularly at Grantham, but also managed to capture the real human tragedy of that disaster.

One of the lasting impressions I will have is of the series Paul did on Lake Eyre which were majestic— that is the only word you can use to describe them. They were just extraordinary tributes to our beautiful country and our beautiful landscape from someone who was so in love with it and had such an attachment to it. Obviously the cameraman and the pilot had that great love too. It is just obvious from those beautiful works of art that they produced. In Paul's reporting you also get a great sense of the people behind the story. That is no small skill, and it will be significantly missed.

Paul is survived by his wife, Maria, and their two sons. I understand his memorial service is at Riverview this Friday. There are going to be a lot of tears shed that day too. The who's who of the ABC and of journalism will all be there, and I do not think there is going to be a dry eye in the place. I imagine it will be oozing out at the edges with the numbers of people who want to turn up for the event. I understand he is a Riverview boy, so there will be old boys there as well. It is going to be, I hope, a celebration of his life and a tribute to him, but it is also going to be a very sad day.

While Paul may have been the face of the story, we should not forget the incredible work of those men and women behind the camera. John Bean was every bit to cameraman what Paul Lockyer was to journalism. John had an incredible eye for photography and could capture in pictures what many journalists could not capture in words. As Mark Scott said, he was a cameraman that the reporters always clamoured to work with, a beautiful craftsman. You can see that with those fantastic works from Lake Eyre. He was wonderful behind the lens. In the tribute show that was on last Friday night on 7.30., Leigh Sales was saying that John—'Beanie' I think they called him or 'Beano'; I cannot recall his nickname—was always the man that journalists really wanted to work with, and you can see why.

John also served in many places around the country and around the world. He brought his great talent to a variety of sources. My heart goes out to his wife, Pip, and his family and friends. From all accounts, they had a very close relationship. Someone said it was not the model marriage but one of those marriages where there was absolute respect and warmth and genuine love and depth. I understand Pip is doing it very hard. My husband Chris's producer at 7.30, Michelle Ainsworth, and her husband, Ben, were very, very close to John; he was actually the best man at their wedding and Ben's best mate. So they are doing it really tough at the moment. They flew up to join Pip on the weekend to basically console her and support her during this incredibly difficult time. Speaking to Michelle on the weekend was pretty tough going; she was absolutely devastated.

Chris and I have been through this before in terms of having a dear friend killed—not in a helicopter accident but in a plane accident. My dear friend Liz O'Neill was killed in the Garuda flight when it ran off the runway in 2007. The irony of it was that just this weekend her husband, Wayne, and our goddaughter, Lucinda, were staying with us for the weekend, so all this was playing out while Wayne was there, and I was thinking, 'Gosh, I wonder what's going through his mind—whether it's bringing back all that drama and those horrible days when we first found out and we were waiting to find out about the body and waiting for the identification of the body.' It is pretty rugged. Chris and I at that stage, as soon as we found out that Liz had died in the flight, flew up to Jakarta to be with Wayne. So hearing what Michelle was doing with Ben for Pip Courtney was very reminiscent of those days. So it is tough, and my heart really goes out to Pip, Michelle and Ben at the moment. I think it also takes me back to that flight and the fact that there were journalists who died on that flight in the line of duty as well. Morgan Mellish from the Australian Financial Review died, and Cynthia Banham, whom many of you know from the SMH, was badly injured. Cynthia is a constituent of mine; actually, she lives just down the road from us. She has just moved into a beautiful new house there with her husband, Michael Harvey, who is also a journalist. It makes you reflect not just on the journalists who die in the line of duty but also on the public servants like my dear friend Liz and also Allison Sudrajat, the councillor for AusAID at the Jakarta embassy, and the AFP agents Brice Steele and Mark Scott. So what has been happening in the last few days has brought all that back to us, and I really felt for Wayne at that time. Also, I am sure that Cynthia would have been reliving some of what she went through as well.

Gary Ticehurst was a helicopter pilot who had clocked up more than 16,000 flight hours in his four decades of work as a pilot. He was a former serviceman and then moved into work with the ABC. Like Paul and John, he will be remembered for his strong commitment and his dedication to his career both as a pilot and as a newsman. In fact, journalist Tim Palmer, who is part of that ABC family and was in Jakarta when everything happened with Liz, Cynthia and Morgan, remarked:

Wherever we landed, Gary would always be "in" with the police or mates with the firefighters … or just charm one of the locals until he found out what was happening, one-upping the reporter as often as possible– which I am sure would have generated great joy for him, because it is always good to one-up a journalist. I know, because I am married to one. So he sounds like quite a character. He was more than just a newsman; he also had a strong and committed heart. This is perhaps best remembered for his efforts during the 1998 Sydney to Hobart race, where he set aside his news role and participated in the search and rescue operation for those stricken boats—another tragedy. Gary will be sorely missed by his wife, Therese.

In closing, I think that what has really struck me about the last week is that there is a great feeling amongst the people of Canberra about this loss, but it is the ABC family that has really suffered a significant blow from this. I know that some people may think it was indulgent of the ABC to do the tributes, but obviously these men had such a significant effect on other people. They were so well loved by other people that those people almost do not care that it is construed as indulgent, because they really want to pay their respects and honour these wonderful individuals. I know that Ross Solly, the local ABC 666 presenter, did a tribute to him on Friday. He was at pains to say, 'I am sorry if this is indulgent but I really do want to pay tribute to these wonderful men.' So I do hope there are no repercussions for the ABC and that people do not write and complain about the fact that it is indulgent. As you know, 7.30 did a special on them and there have been lots and lots of reports. I noticed Barrie Cassidy also paid tribute to him on Insiders on the weekend. I understand that Barry and Heather Hewitt were very, very close to Paul and the rest of the crew. It really has reverberated throughout the ABC. It is a loss for all of the ABC and they are really feeling it. There has been this sort of pall over everyone over the last week —speaking to Chris and speaking to other friends in the ABC, it has deeply, deeply cut into their hearts. It is a significant tragedy.

To lose any one of these men would have been a very, very deep blow for the ABC, but to lose all three is a grief that is really unimaginable. My condolences and those of the people of Canberra, because we are great ABC fans, go out to their families and their friends and to their family at the ABC.

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