2019 Carey Medallist
When Michael Gordon died suddenly in 2018, his journalist colleagues, politicians of all persuasions – including prime ministers – and many more celebrated his decency, integrity, fairness and balance.
Michael began in journalism at the age of 17, following in his father, journalist and editor Harry Gordon’s footsteps. In the words of his colleague Tony Wright, Michael ‘was a rare species in modern journalism: a reporter who was universally admired by colleagues, opponents, sources, readers and all sides of politics.’ He was an important contributor to the Australian journalistic landscape for over 44 years. Over these years he covered every beat, from sports to crime, industrial relations and then politics. In his highly influential and significant work in political reporting, he provided insightful and meticulously researched articles and publications at both The Age and The Australian. He eventually rose to the position of National Political Editor, first at The Australian, then at The Age. Michael succeeded in giving all Australians the capacity to form opinions on difficult and complex issues from an unbiased author’s perspective.
However, as the 2019 Carey Medal recipient, it is Michael’s humanitarian work that we highlight and celebrate. He became a champion for the forgotten and the voiceless, which he demonstrated through his writing and passionate commitment to exposing the conditions and situations of marginalised communities, specifically Indigenous Australians and asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru.
Through his inimitable style and dedication to research, Michael was able to tell stories with insight and integrity that challenged his Australian community of readers. He was able to expand their perception and understanding, always in the hope of effecting lasting social change. Part of this process was his ability to cause discomfort for political leaders for the purpose of helping marginalised individuals and groups. Michael regularly used evocative language to share the stories of these people, addressing tough current issues while still maintaining a balanced reportage style. Articles from The Age such as ‘Indigenous Australia’s “line in sand” on recognition: substantial change or nothing’, ‘Indigenous recognition: Sam Backo and the long road to a level playing field’ and the commentary piece ‘Calculated cruelty on Manus is a reflection on all of us’, all seek to have a positive impact in political discourse, encourage justice for marginalised peoples, and offer a broader perspective to readers.
He became very active in obtaining information for his stories. In 2000, Michael journeyed through Australia to meet Indigenous Australians and discover their reactions and opinions to the first reconciliation initiatives. This desire to get first-hand insights from First Nations People was based on a realisation that his upbringing in Kew and journalistic career to date gave little understanding of people who lived in such a different environment. A series of articles related to the issue of reconciliation, which was discussed in the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation final report, was the outcome of this journey.
Like many journalists, Michael was blocked from visiting refugees in detention centres in Manus Island and Nauru for a number of years. Through Skype, letters and phone calls with detainees, Michael once again persisted in crafting the whole story, giving a voice to the voiceless, while persistently and respectfully seeking the official approval from foreign governments and their ministers for personal interviews with these people at the detention centres. A desire to tell the story with absolute integrity and to find the truth in all its complexities necessitated enormous persistence over a four-year period. His dedication to humanity and the inclusion of underprivileged people outside of the requirements of his work is a telling indication of Michael’s passion and sense of responsibility as a journalist. He was the first journalist to travel to Nauru and interview refugees who were detained there. He counselled detainees in their distressed states, sought job opportunities for some when they finally settled in Australia, welcomed these former asylum seekers into his family and introduced them to the Australian lifestyle. One former detainee from Nauru described Michael as ‘a brother, who did not see me as a victim, but a human’.
Although his profession put him in a position of potential influence, it was his manner and sense of justice that drove his approach. His persistence and thorough research enabled him to highlight matters of conscience and societal importance and keep them constantly under scrutiny and in the Australian public’s thoughts, all for the purpose of helping others.
Michael was inducted into the Australian Media Hall of Fame in 2018, having previously received the 2005 Graeme Perkin Award for Australia’s most outstanding journalist, the Walkley Award for the Most Outstanding Contribution to Journalism in 2017, and a United Nations award for his Outstanding Contribution to Humanitarian Journalism in 2018. He also became a mentor to young journalists, a voice for families in Manus Island or Nauru detention centres, and an advocate for misunderstood and marginalised First Nations People.
The Carey Medal Committee is thrilled to be presenting this award to Michael, in recognition of the significant impact he had throughout his life.