All Media: Coverage of Community and Regional Affairs 2017

Winner: Carrie Fellner, Newcastle Herald, “The sorrow on Cabbage Tree Road”

The sorrow on Cabbage Tree Road; Profiles: The 50 cancer cases of Cabbage Tree Road; Rare cancer strikes twice in the red zone

The Newcastle Herald has been reporting on the impact of toxic chemicals in firefighting foam that escaped the Williamtown RAAF base and polluted surrounding properties for two years, but Carrie Fellner took great initiative to dig into the health effects of the spill. Hearing murmurs of a cluster of cancer cases, she doorknocked every home in Cabbage Tree Road and tracked down former residents. Fellner also had her own tests done on toxin levels, establishing a pattern of cancers near drains carrying run-off from the base.

This is a story built on six months of slogging, shoe-leather journalism. Fellner relied on her own evidence gathering rather than take assurances on face value, and built a solid case for a potential cancer cluster at WIlliamtown. Her storytelling reveals the tragic human cost, and had a real-time impact on people’s lives.

Fellner started her career in broadcast journalism after graduating from the University of Technology, Sydney with a Bachelor of Communications in 2010. Her first reporting job was with a commercial radio station in Lithgow. Fellner joined the Newcastle Herald in early 2016 and quickly established her credentials as an investigative journalist. She was part of the Newcastle Herald team that won a Walkley in 2016, and was a joint winner at the Walkley Young Australian Journalist of the Year awards this year for her work on the Williamtown RAAF base contamination crisis.

JUDGES’ COMMENTS

A tenacious and powerful investigative piece driven by an energetic reporter who suspected something was wrong, then set about proving it. Carrie Fellner spent six months knocking on every door in a street to amass a file showing a toll of 50 cancer victims near a drain carrying chemical run-off from an RAAF base. She had her own lab tests conducted to dispute official findings, supported by comment from a Harvard professor. An outstanding piece of research leading to a new study and possibly extended class action.