2019 winner of the Walkley Award for Television/Video: Camerawork, “Sydney Stabbing,” Seven News Sydney
With most news events, the cameraman goes to the story. But this story came to Paul Walker, in the most dramatic way. Walker and crime reporter Andrew Denney were stuck in city traffic, returning from another story, when a man ran past, bloodied and waving a knife.
Walker grabbed his Sony PXW-X400 camera and joined the chase, filming as he went, to capture this extraordinary footage. He followed the pursuit for six minutes until the attacker was subdued by city workers and firefighters. Then he used a GoPro camera to film the attacker inside a NSW Police caged truck. We spoke with Paul about the Walkley-winning footage, highlights from his 36-year career, from war zones to Schapelle Corby, and how winning a Walkley represents “something that is a higher watermark in our industry”.
We usually ask, to kind of kick things off, how did you find this story, but this particular Walkley-winning story came to you in the middle of a traffic jam. What was at the forefront of your mind as you grabbed your camera and got out to follow the man who was running through the streets with a bloodied knife?
Well, it’s a strange circumstance. In my 36 years of chasing news, it’s probably the first time that the news story actually ran up to me or passed me. All I can say is that we were stuck in a traffic jam and I could see a whole bunch of the pedestrians… it looked a bit like an ‘80s Hollywood disaster movie, where they were walking down the street and then suddenly they stopped.
“It looked a bit like an ‘80s Hollywood disaster movie, where they were walking down the street and then suddenly they stopped… and I’m thinking to myself, that’s a story”
They all looked in unison in one direction down the road, and then suddenly they all did a 180 and they all started running in the opposite direction. And that was enough to get my attention and think, what’s going on? And then a split second later, there’s a guy brandishing a knife and you could see it was a bloody knife, and you could see the blood on his jumper.
At this stage he also had a ski mask on his head and I’m thinking to myself, that’s a story. It seemed so unreal that you thought maybe it wasn’t, but even someone doing some sort of comedy or some sort of a prank – in these days you would not do a prank. It’s like joking about bombs at an airport, you just wouldn’t do it. You just wouldn’t run down the street with a real knife, fake knife, or anything else, trying to pretend. So, I was thinking that this is a story, regardless, either this is a guy that’s an idiot for doing it, or this is something worse, and then obviously it became something worse.
In situations like that, that are unpredictable and potentially dangerous, do you find that you’re focused on the technical details of trying to shoot the best footage you can, or does that sort of become automatic as you’re trying to keep stock of the situation around you while also shooting?
Yeah, I think the technical side of it is muscle memory to me now. The turning on the camera, being able to focus, starting off with a wide shot, those things were taught to me by mentors many, many years ago, and understanding that then my job was to keep really only half an eye on the viewfinder, to make sure that the subject was shot. And probably 60%, 70% of my attention was looking around and just feeling around. what was around me, what were people’s reactions? I could see people standing on the footpath, they were watching. I could see other people running away. As I said, I could see the intersection becoming very empty very quickly, and realised that at this stage, it was just one person.
And that’s important in our job, when you are going into a situation, you must be situational aware. And as a cameraman, when I’ve got a camera on my shoulder, my whole right-hand side vision disappears. I need to be able to be aware of a feeling and be looking around, and using my experience to know what’s going to happen next, or how I’m going to react to that.
You’ve covered stories all over the world from conflict in the Middle East, through to Royal weddings; what stands out to you as some of the most impactful or memorable footage that you’ve shot?
War zones are always very dramatic, and war zones are where you win awards, and then they can also be amazing stories. Going to Jordan to refugee camps, and just suddenly seeing a whole new world of people that are living this life that is so different to yours, and you know that these people aren’t there for a day or two, or they’re just being displaced, you know these people are moving to different worlds and different lives.
And going to the border with Syria and Iraq, and seeing these people cross the no man’s land, and they are just normal people. They’ve got sort of normal Western clothes on, they’re pulling suitcases behind, like suitcases that anybody would have at the airport with wheels on them. And these bags are dusty and dirty, and ripped because they’ve been pulling these airport bags across the sand and the rock of the desert of this no man’s land, which is a couple of kilometres that they have to cross. And you’re just thinking, how on earth can the world be the way it is? Being in Afghanistan as well, and just being with the Australian Army in Afghanistan, in the absolute middle of nowhere, being able to follow the Australian troops – they were amazing pictures.
But I also have the emotional [memories]; I’ve travelled to Gallipoli 12 times for ANZAC Day and found it’s become a very big passion of mine. I’ve been to France to the Western Front twice for ANZAC Day, and I’ve been to Papua New Guinea, and a few other places, and I find the Australian culture [there] – especially in places like Gallipoli, where you get a large amount of Australians all coming together in the most foreign of places, but they’re still Australians and they’re still there.
And you understand the Australian spirit, and it reminds you about what your job is: to record information, and details, and history for Australians. And how Australians think of things, and how we react to things, so we can use our pictures to try to personify a situation and help people to understand what is happening in places that a lot of people will never ever get to.
“You understand the Australian spirit, and it reminds you about what your job is: to record information, and details, and history for Australians”
Over your long career of shooting for news programs, what are some of the key lessons that you’ve learnt? What are some of the things that you would tell yourself, if you could speak to yourself when you were starting out?
I would always make sure that you have enough time for yourself. That’s probably one of the things I look back, and people who are like me, who are dedicated to our jobs, we do sadly put so much of our lives on hold or in second place to be able to cover these events. Suddenly, with a phone call, within hours [you’re] boarding a plane and heading to the other side of the world – and I wish that I’d had time to experience more.
But on the other side of it, it’s a job that you need to be passionate about. You need to literally love news, and not just the recording of news, not just the technical filming of it, but the passion of being involved and being able to tell stories.
I mean, I know we figure that television news is only really a sophisticated way of having a couple of yarns around the fire. I mean, in jargon, we still call our stories yarns. And they’re the same things, the tall yarns that you hear in the pub, or you’ll hear around a fire, or wherever, but it might be a bit [more] sophisticated in how we do it. At the end of the day, that’s what we’re doing, being able to tell yarns that relate to Australians. So, I think that’s an important thing to always remember, and that’s how I always try to see the stories that we do.
Is there something that your most proud of about the stories that you’ve told over the years?
I’ve been a one-team player. I’ve always worked for Seven – I’ve worked in different areas of Seven, I’ve worked for Sports, Today Tonight, basically all the programs that we’ve had. Probably my proudest thing is not individual stories – I’m proud that I know that my bosses think of me as somebody they know they can trust to send on a story. I know I’m proud of the fact that I’m part of a team, and part of being able to bring coverage – everything from Schapelle Corby, to the Lindt Café, to all these big stories that are basically OBs [Outside Broadcasts].
And the fact that I started off as, as everybody did in my day, as a camera assistant/sound recordist, and learnt from some amazing mentors, and was able to grow to a place where I became the chief cameraman… I’m proud of the fact that, as I said, I’m a one-team player, and being a part of the Seven network.
Going back to the start of your career, how did you first get into being a camera operator and working in news?
I was at school, and I had won a Sydney Morning Herald photography award. I’d always loved photography, and there wasn’t a school photographer in my school, so I actually invented that position and made it work. In the end, the school actually relied on me to take photos.
I’d always had an interest in photography, and in those days video cameras weren’t really around. So for me, it was knowing that I had a bit of an eye for photography, and knowing that I wanted to do something in that realm. I always thought that television was sort of a sexy thing, so I applied to all the TV stations and got nothing. So I thought, ‘well, okay, I’ll move on with my life’.
And then about six months later, I don’t know where I saw it, there was an ad in the paper for Channel Seven, who were hiring staff for a brand new show called Terry Willisee Tonight (TWT) and I thought, ‘well, this sounds like a great idea’, and I applied for that and received an interview, but missed out on that job. Then about two weeks later, I got a call back from the chief cameraman of news saying that the TWT people were quite impressed by me but I just missed out, so I went in basically for an interview in news. Starting off in news, you started off in your training as a camera assistant/sound recordist. You would help the cameraman and the idea is you would learn, you would be with the cameraman every day, and you would learn what they did, and also record the audio, the stories. That’s how I started my career in news.
What’s your message to the Australian public about why quality journalism needs their support?
I think there’s two sides of that. Firstly, these days we see so many TV cops and robbers shows – so much drama in all these different shows – and so people forget what reality is in a lot of instances. With social media and so on, I think that it’s difficult because we are so swamped now with imagery, with messages, with ideas, that it’s hard for people to understand, or [get] an idea of what’s right and what’s not. And I think that credible media, which I think that our main television stations and certainly our newspaper mastheads are, they can give you well-researched, backed-up, double-checked information.
“Credible media, which I think that our main television stations and certainly our newspaper mastheads are, they can give you well-researched, backed-up, double-checked information”
I mean, maybe not always 100% of the time, because we are human, but I think that in the main, if you know that you really want the information, then the mainstream media will always give that to you. I think that’s proven itself during the whole COVID pandemic in our television ratings and also in the newspapers that were sold because when it came to people really wanting information, they knew that mainstream media was the primary source of true information.
Is there anything else that you’d like to add about this particular Walkley-winning story, or what it’s been like to receive the award?
I’ve won a lot of awards, and I try and say that in a modest way, but I have won Australian Cinematographers Society gold awards, I’ve won three Kennedy awards, but this award is something that’s held in [the] highest theme, in some ways, higher than other awards. I don’t discount the other awards, but I do feel that the Walkley Awards is something that is a higher watermark in our industry. And to be able to put your name on one of their awards, is an achievement that’s difficult to outdo.
“I do feel that the Walkley Awards is something that is a higher watermark in our industry. And to be able to put your name on one of their awards, is an achievement that’s difficult to outdo”
I do have one more thing, the fact that Andrew Denney, the journalist I was with, I couldn’t have done it without him. He was my partner there, I could trust him. I knew what he was doing, and we’re able to work well together, and that was a big part of being able to, for me, being able to concentrate on the job that I had to do, because I knew he was doing his job.
Paul Walker is a senior cameraman with Seven News. In his 36-year career, he has chased stories all over the globe, including conflicts in Fiji, Israel, Iraq and Afghanistan, catastrophic weather, royal weddings and even the Backstreet Boys. This is his first Walkley Award.