Sean Dorney

Most Outstanding Contribution to Journalism

Sean Dorney is a legend of the Pacific. He has been feted, honoured, detained, shot at and deported in the course of a 40-year career as a PNG correspondent and then Pacific correspondent for the ABC; four decades of reporting based on truth, rigour, integrity, and fairness.

Dorney retired from the ABC four years ago and is now facing the challenge of living with Motor Neurone Disease, but that hasn’t stopped him from continuing to work as a non-resident fellow for the Lowy Institute and publishing another book, The Embarrassed Colonialist.

Dorney’s personal history is as interwoven with Papua New Guinea as his professional career. He arrived in PNG in 1974, a year before the country gained independence, to work for the newly-established Local Broadcasting Commission. He was 23-years-old, and had been seconded from the ABC in Townsville. In this first three-year stint in the country he met local broadcaster Pauline Nare, who would become his wife. Their family grew to include two children. Dorney represented PNG in rugby league in 1975, and the following year he captained the side in his last game for the Kumuls.

“Unparalleled impact” is acclaim that might seem hard to prove, but consider this: Dorney is the only foreign correspondent to have been both deported and awarded honours by the PNG government. He enjoys virtually ambassadorial recognition among Pacific leaders, who trust his judgement and analysis as well as the fearlessness and fairness of his reporting.

But that impact extends far beyond the upper echelons of power. For many listeners in remote areas, Dorney was the voice, the very embodiment, of Australia. And he “planted the seed” for a generation of journalists, not just in PNG but across the region.

“He will help out a local journalist with facts and skill, he will share their hassles and lives and he will make sure they know that he—the big white Australian—cares and respects them,” says New Zealand author and journalist Michael Field.

“Sean genuinely believes in the local journalist. This is not to say that Sean was a soft touch; if Sean had a scoop, you can be sure he would report it first. Only after he had won the applause for a great scoop would he share the details with his rivals.”

The ABC and the people of Australia and the region have been enriched by his insight, intelligence, passion and wit. As Michael Field says: “Sean Dorney is the representative of Australia across the Pacific in a way few people in Australia know.”