Walkley-winning journalist Helen Pitt shares the impact the Journalists Benevolent Fund has had in her life and beyond.
Two days after my husband William died, the Journalists Benevolent Fund (JBF) of NSW got in touch to see if I needed assistance. I was living on the other side of the world in San Francisco, California, where we had gone to live for Will’s treatment for a brain tumour.
I was moved to tears by this gesture. Even though I didn’t take up the offer until I returned to Australia to live and recommence life as a journalist, it was practical help in my hour of need, and I will never forget it.
When I returned to Sydney to care for my elderly parents, I could only work part-time and my journalist’s salary barely covered my astronomical Sydney rent. The money the fund gave me helped set me up again in the city of my birth, and pay for optional extras for my then primary school-aged son Liam’s education: music classes, excursions and after-school care.
Many NSW journalists don’t know about the fund and how it can help get them through difficult circumstances.
We offer a $3000 funeral benefit for all current and former members of the NSW Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance. The fund provides assistance to any journalist, artist or photographer, or their families, in distressed circumstances, whether they are MEAA members or not. For those with children under 18, scholarships are available for school and university. We offer loans and grants for causes deemed worthy – especially when bad things happen to good people, which inevitably they do.
We have helped deaf journalists hear again, contributed to life-saving operations and long-term treatment, and helped those in rental stress or any form of distress.
The JBF was set up by the AJA, thanks to a bequest from Jules Francois Archibald, the founding editor of The Bulletin. The terms of his will divided his estate of £89,000 into shares for his family and a fund to provide “relief for distressed Australasian journalists”. He also left money for the Archibald Prize, which has become the nation’s best-known portrait prize, and for the Archibald Fountain in Hyde Park.
I once worked for The Bulletin, the magazine he founded, and am honoured now to be part of his lovely legacy as a volunteer rustee of his fund. I work along with my former colleague, Bulletin cartoonist Lindsay Foyle, and other names you may know: ABC 702 Drive presenter Richard Glover, ABC senior business correspondent
Peter Ryan, former Australian Financial Review and Sun-Herald journalist Catriona Wilson and NSW MEAA media organiser Tyron Butson. We are ably assisted by our admin supremo, Kerrie Rogers, whose compassionate telephone calls are usually our first point of contact with those we help.
Kerrie cries a lot in her job, as the people we help are usually overwhelmed with gratitude and tears when we offer financial assistance.
My son Liam is now backpacking around Europe supporting himself by busking, thanks to the money we received for his guitar lessons. While the neighbours may not have been so grateful for the drum lessons the fund helped pay for, we are eternally indebted to it for his musical education.
Being a trustee is one of the most rewarding elements of my work life. Many of us went into journalism to help others, which is indeed what we do at the JBF. We are always willing to help in the strictest confidence. Please contact any of us, or email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can find out more, or apply to the fund, at www.nswjbf.org. Or call 1300 65 65 13 (toll free).