2017 Gold Walkley Award For Excellence in Journalism
Winner: Michael Bachelard and Kate Geraghty, The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, Fairfax Media, “Surviving IS: Stories of Mosul”
News coverage of a war is, so often, anonymous, kinetic action: explosions, soldiers, faceless dead. What does it take to put a face, a voice, to the victims of war? To take readers to a devastated city like Mosul, Iraq, and find common humanity with people in an unthinkable situation?
Great journalism can do that. It can transport us from our comfortable breakfast table or living room couch to a family home that reeks of a chemical bomb weeks after an attack; to a mass grave or a rubble-strewn street, airstrikes ringing out in the dusty heat.
It’s this kind of journalism that has won Fairfax investigations editor Michael Bachelard and photographer Kate Geraghty this year’s Gold Walkley. They travelled to Iraq in July to cover the final days of the battle for Mosul, focusing on the personal and the particular to bring this foreign war home to Australians. They spent time in military bases and blasted streets, cafes and homes, hospitals and camps. They spoke with soldiers, doctors, “human shields”, teachers, traumatised children, the injured, the grieving.
In turn, the stories they shared became an atmospheric, visceral, immersive insight into a city and its people devastated by war. While foreign war can feel and be reported as something “other”, Bachelard’s words and Geraghty’s visuals made Mosul’s loss into one we should all grieve. They explored how a family had been scarred and displaced when a missile of mustard gas crashed through their ceiling. How a school teacher was trying to reassert normality among traumatised children. They met the people who had been injured and heard their stories.
Bachelard and Geraghty also gave us a longer story of Mosul, before and after IS. A picture of a beautiful, cosmopolitan city full of people of many faiths before it was reduced to rubble, and the wary, wearied residents’ hopes for rebuilding the future, albeit tempered with exhaustion.
Geraghty wrote: “As a result of months of planning and research, I travelled twice to cover the battle of Mosul in Iraq. Under extreme conditions, I photographed airstrikes over the Old City, people fleeing, including the injured like Tabarek, who lay on the ground holding her wound concealed under her dress. I wanted to put a human face to the survivors and victims of three years under ISIS. I was honoured to talk with 18-year-old Abdulrahman who was being treated for 60 per cent burns and sadly succumbed to his wounds four days later. Through images of Iraqi soldiers patrolling ruined streets and guarding oil wells set on fire by IS fighters, I wanted to capture the carnage that is left in the wake of conflict.”