2019 RPCV Journalism and Photography Annual Awards 


What are the awards?

The Rural Press Club of Victoria 2019 Rural and Regional Journalism and Photography Awards showcase and recognise the best journalism and photography across the State, and highlight media outlets that have inspired change in their communities.

Journalists and photographers enter their best work and also compete for the prestigious Journalist and Photographer of the Year titles. Each newspaper, radio station and TV station also compete for the Media Outlet of the Year award, which is hotly contested.

This year’s gala awards night will be held on Friday, 23 August to recognise the best work published from July 1, 2018, to June 30, 2019. It is open to all journalists, photographers and media outlets in Victoria and Tasmania. Journalists and photographers can enter the awards from June 24 - July 19.


2018 Winners

Best On-farm Story

Sponsored by Coles


Commended: Company values, Kate Dowler, The Weekly Times 

Judge's comments: An informative article about one of the biggest changes in the sheep industry for many years, highlighting a well-known individual but looking into their operations and recent wholesale changes to increase productivity and profitability.

Highly Commended: The emu effect, Tim Lee, Peter Healy and James Fisher, ABC Landline

Judge's comments: A comprehensive reflection on the historical rise, fall and now possible renewal of the emu industry. The commitment of the few remaining farmers to continue to look for and develop new markets evident in this piece…also illustrated an obvious soft spot for the industry from the reporter.

Winner: Bed heads, James Wagstaff, The Weekly Times

Judge's comments: A big, bold and well-structured article about a couple having an effect. The author illustrates his extensive understanding of the topic and the challenges facing new and younger farmers with this in-depth analysis and backgrounding of their story. An obvious winner, with the couple going on to win the Farmer of the Year 2018.


Best Agribusiness Story

Sponsored by Coretext


Commended: Turmoil at VDL questions FIRB role, Andrew Miller, Stock and Land

Judge's comments: A detailed investigation of the role of the Foreign Investment Review Board in the agricultural landscape, with a focus on a specific example.

Highly Commended: Salad success, Tim Lee, Patrick Stone and Stuart Thorne, ABC Landline

Judge's comments: What goes on in the paddock has to be backed up with an increasingly sophisticated marketing strategy. Tim Lee’s piece steps viewers through one success story.

Winner: Who owns Australia's farms, James Wagstaff, The Weekly Times

Judge's comments: Wagstaff’s deep analysis of land ownership in Australia provided factual data to inform an often passionate debate with far-reaching implications for everyone involved in agriculture in Australia and abroad.


Best Feature Story

Sponsored by Regional Development Victoria


Commended: Trouble on the Hill, Caleb Cluff, Ballarat Courier

Judge's comments: The package of stories revealing allegations of misconduct at such an iconic tourist attraction led to change at Sovereign Hill and certainly evoked emotion in the reader through the power of personal accounts.

Highly Commended: Cooper hatches free range dream, Meagan Rooth, ABC Rural

Judge's comments: If you find a character just let them shine. Rooth clearly recognised young Cooper was the star of the show and what followed was an entertaining, funny and feel good feature story that was most enjoyable.

Winner: Standing Tall, Tim Lee, ABC Landline

Judge's comments:  A superbly told story of a rural family's harrowing struggle with mental illness, enormous loss and grief. Lee's experience as a quality journalist shines through as Doug, Cheryl and Kristy Lang bravely tell their story. There is an enormous responsibility on any journalist when a family bares their soul in this manner and Lee should be proud of the respectful manner in which this story is delivered while never shying away from the effect of mental health on the individual and the loved ones trying to support them. Perhaps the greatest accolade for Lee is that the power of the story in reducing the stigma around mental health will show others the way and probably save lives.


Best Feature Series

Sponsored by Telstra


Highly Commended: United in grief, Allan Murphy, Sunraysia Daily

Judge's comments: A feature series about three Sunraysia women scarred by domestic violence. Obviously the topic was gripping but Murphy’s writing brought the stories to life in a careful, respectful way that demonstrated unimaginable effect. 

Winner: Hazelwood closure one year on, Jarrod Whittaker, Bryce Eishold, Heidi Kraak, Paul Grant, The Latrobe Valley Express

Judge's comments:  A team effort to tell a story of the community for the community. This feature series is a true example of the importance of regional newspapers. Its breadth and optimism captured the diversity and strength of Latrobe Valley locals.


Most Innovative Journalism

Sponsored by Lely


Winner: Greg Dundas, Geelong Advertiser

Judge's comments: This was an innovative and extensive package mixing text, video, podcast, photos, online and print reporting in a range of styles. While the written styles used were conventional to print news reporting, the innovation was in the breadth of styles and media used - the package even included historical footage from a police interview room - which took the Geelong Advertiser well beyond a traditional print publication.


Best Sports Story

Sponsored by VicHealth


Commended: Niall's full stop, Ryan Reynolds, Geelong Advertiser

Judge's comments: Reynolds handled a sensitive subject, in attempted suicide, with great skill. His report captured a dark side of a sport that is too often portrayed as entirely glamorous. He was dextrous enough to reveal the interviewee’s playfulness as well as sorrow, creating a rounded portrait.


Highly Commended: The dust bowls of the Upper Loddon, Adam Holmes, Bendigo Advertiser

Judge's comments: Simple journalistic curiosity generated a fascinating story of a distant era as revealed in modern times. Adam saw the photos from the first week of the final and was struck by the dusty ground. His report before the second week of the final showed the enduring nature of isolated cricket clubs that do not enjoy the benefits of a football partner and its attendant water rights.

Winner: Cricket Revolution, Kate Withers, Latrobe Valley Express

Judge's comments: The issue of which competition particular clubs play in is among the most emotional in country sport. Administrators can lose large chunks of their lives trying to sort out a place to call home. Withers showed old-fashioned patience and grit in keeping at this story for several unheralded months. Her final report was balanced and instructive, leaving readers with a clear view of a difficult terrain.


Best News Story - Print

Sponsored by the Rural Press Club of Victoria


Commended: Refinery safety shock, Shane Fowles, Geelong Advertiser

Judge's comments:  Through persistence and determination, this story exposes dangerous work practices putting lives at risk.Another fine example of a journalist who has done his research, tracked down the key players and exposed a situation which could have resulted in lost lives.

Highly Commended: Justice after 23 years, Greg Dundas, Geelong Advertiser

Judge's comments: If any young reporter wants to see how a court story can be turned into a “ripping yarn”, this is it. Greg Dundas has made an intriguing news story from what could have been a straight court report. He takes us back to the murder of Ricky Balcombe with all the subsequent twists and turns. Finally, after 23 years, justice is served.

Winner: Pacific worker program, Emma Field, The Weekly Times and Vanessa Marsh, The Courier Mail

Judge's comments: The ‘Pacific worker program’ news story is a deserved winner for its impact, the writing, for the faces and for holding someone accountable for this “seasonal shame”.


Best News Story - Radio

Sponsored by the Victorian Farmers Federation


Commended: Cricket Australia drops ball on indigenous cricket, Jessica Black, ABC Western Victoria

Judge's comments: Black’s intriguing tale of the 150th anniversary of Australia’s first overseas touring cricket team – made up of Indigenous players – also touched on the experience of the Indigenous Australian side that toured in 1988 to much less acclaim. It was a strong topic with varied talent.

Highly Commended: Growling grass frog, Simon Galletta, ABC Mildura Swan Hill

Judge's comments:  This story shows the creativity that can be applied to make an interesting and informative news feature that adds colour to a current affairs program. Galletta was researching changes to local flora and fauna from Murray River flooding when he came across landholders Peter and Colleen Barnes, who had discovered rare and endangered growling grass frogs on Neds Corner Station. Galletta took the story further by investigating whether this would affect the level of Murray River water allocation received by the Station. His use of natural sound made for interesting listening and highlighted a topic that many Australians are passionate about.

Winner: Esso considers a buy up of farmland, Kellie Lazzaro, ABC Gippsland  

Judge's comments:  This comprehensive investigation of Exon Mobil’s negotiations to buy up farmland surrounding its Longford gas plant to limit PFAS contamination is a credit to senior journalist, Kellie Lazzaro. Lazzaro broke the story on ABC’s AM program in a concise, informative and well-researched news feature. Careful questioning of the Longford plant’s manager confirmed what Lazzaro had been told off the record: that dams with higher than normal levels of PFAS were being fenced off and the company was talking to private landholders. Prior to the interview – which was interrupted at times by Exxon Mobil’s public affairs manager – Lazzaro had had her photo taken by undercover Esso security teams operating from unmarked cars, after she put questions to the company at a public meeting. Her persistence and professionalism are the hallmarks of a good journalist.


Best News Story - TV

Sponsored by Marcus Oldham


Commended: Pursuit arrest, Alexandria Tzatzimakis, 9 News Gippsland

Judge's comments: Tzatzimakis produces a near perfect crime story. It has all the ingredients: a cracking sense of pace, high energy, an engaging presentation of facts, strong talent and a collection of amazing pictures. It was all pulled together with a tight script and edit.

Highly Commended: Victorian MP Russell Northe quits National Party over gambling, debt and depression, Kellie Lazzaro, ABC Gippsland

Judge's comments: Lazzaro uses local contacts and old fashioned 'shoe leather' to break a significant political story that had state parliamentary reporters scrambling to catch up.  In an exclusive interview with Russell Northe, she manages to solicit revealing and seemingly heartfelt reflections on his mental health and debt problems. Lazzaro rightly presents the MP's issues in their wider context; relations within the National Party and as part of the shifting political landscape ahead of a hotly contested state election.

Winner: Victoria Police cop criticism over investigation of alleged assaults by Ballarat officers, Charlotte King, ABC Ballarat  

Judge's comments: King presents an engaging, clinically researched piece boasting both genuine and significant revelations. Persuading victims to tell their stories on camera and securing access to previously private documents detailing police violence gives the piece a solid base.  From there, King seamlessly links specific instances of abuse with broader policy accountability- there are issues of statewide significance. This story is engaging, important and impossible to ignore.


Best News Story - Online

Sponsored by Porter Novelli


Highly Commended: The man behind the mirror, Terry Sim, SheepCentral

Judge's comments: The significance of this story was in documenting and therefore forcing a change to the poor governance at Australian Wool Innovation. The importance of this story to the sheep industry and the difficulty in writing about such an issue needs to be acknowledged.

Winner: Council admits flood money missing, Bridget Rollason, ABC Ballarat  

Judge's comments: This exclusive is exactly the kind of story that regional journalists need to be on the ground to find, and then show the skills and grit to pursue, not just for this town but as a warning to other regional councils who might try to do the same thing. Rollason and the ABC should be commended for their work which has resulted in a change to the way recovery money is overseen and used.


Best Photography- News 

Sponsored by Fonterra


Commended: Police raid, Glenn Daniels, Bendigo Advertiser

Judge's comments: A fine example of being in ‘the right place at the right time’. This shot is dramatic and leaves no doubt as to what is happening.

Highly Commended: Train times blow out, Mark Jesser, Border Mail

Judge's comments: The judges felt this shot was a weirdly effective blend of two modes of transport. It is also a pleasing result and reward for the initiative shown by the photographer who went to see why the boom gates were closed for so long.

Winner: Under arrest, Darren Howe, Bendigo Advertiser 

Judge's comments: This picture says it all and would make you want to read the story that accompanied it. A great news picture. Please note, the face has been blurred due to court proceedings, so this appears differently to the way in which it was initially published.


Best General Interest Photography

Sponsored by Regional Development Victoria


Commended: Hot work, Glenn Daniels, Bendigo Advertiser

Judge's comments: This images shows fun and movement on an obviously hot day. Although a fair bit of work has gone into the lighting, the photo has a nice informal feel to it.

Highly commended: A sudden rush of mud, Alison Wynd, Geelong Advertiser 

Judge's comments: We just liked the happiness and the movement in this photo. Young Digby is obviously having a ball in the rain and Wynd’s picture clearly shows this.

Winner: Animals in aged care, Glenn Daniels, Bendigo Advertiser

Judge's comment: The judges felt that this picture had an immediate impact on the viewer. The message of companionship to an otherwise alone and isolated patient in a clinical environment was very clear. We also liked the way that, her extended arm seems to acknowledge the presence of the dogs.


Best Sports Photography

Sponsored by Australian Wool Innovation


Commended: Polocrosse, Mike Moores, Meander Valley Gazette 

Judge's comments: While a number of pictures in this section ‘froze the moment’ we felt the definition and suggestion of concealed power, poise and balance of the pony helped this shot stand out.

 Highly commended: Road to victory, Rob Gunstone, Warrnambool Standard

Judge's comments: A great shot of the leader of the pack. This image conveys the joy of a hard-fought win very clearly. The atmospheric use of a telephoto lens to highlight the leader who stands (or rides) well in front of the rest is well demonstrated here.

Winner: The moment, Rob Gunstone, Warrnambool Standard

Judge's comments:  A picture that clearly conveys excitement, joy and disappointment without the viewer needing to know when, where or who. Well played Rob Gunstone.


Photographer of the Year

Sponsored by  RACV


Commended: Laura Ferguson, Stock and Land

Judge's comments: A fine collection of some of the faces of our rural communities. Ferguson shows she has the knack of connecting subjects directly to readers. 

Highly Commended: Darren Howe, Bendigo Advertiser

Judge's comments: Howe has shown he can turn his talent to many things and come back with a good image, a valuable asset for any picture editor to have. Given the third photo in his submission, some might say he is very ‘handy'.

Winner: Glenn Daniels, Bendigo Advertiser  

Judge's comments: From evoking an emotional response to capturing the action at a rodeo to being there at a dramatic moment, Daniels has demonstrated an ability to perform at a consistently high level across many facets of press photography.



Ray Frawley Young Journalist of the Year

Sponsored by  the Rural Press Club of Victoria


Commended: Isabella Pittaway, ABC Gippsland

Judge's comments: Pittaway’s reporting across radio, television and online shows an ability to really take hold of a story, and tease out the details. Whether it be combing PFAS contamination reports, holding a water authority to account over a sewerage or broadcasting the Victorian Country Hour from a dry East Gippsland dairy farm, Pittaway has left a lasting impression on her audience.

Highly Commended: Jemma Ryan, Geelong Advertiser

Judge's comments: Ryan’s front page story on the baby born after her 16-year-old father Ricky Balcombe was murdered in the 1990s was an exclusive. This was a painful personal story that had remained hidden by the girl’s mother for 23 years. Ryan treated it accurately but sympathetically, avoiding sensationalism and crafting her words to create a sense of loss and renewal for the reader. Her weekend feature about a Tamil asylum seeker’s decade-long voyage to Geelong and his penpal relationship showed the same maturity and balance, without resorting to trite phrases and stereotypes. Ryan shows a mature ability to win the respect and trust of interviewees and to write expressively to deliver more than just a collection of facts.

Winner: Bridget Rollason, ABC Ballarat 

Judge's comments:Rollason creates news by chasing leads and drawing on her extensive network of contacts to file stories across multiple platforms. Her entries covered the arrest in Europe of a shareholder in the $16 million Mortlake Saleyards, an investigation into flood compensation in the Central Goldfields, and Rollason was the only journalist to secure an interview with Ararat’s fly in, fly out mayor, Glenda McLean as pressure mounted on her to resign. Rollason’s coverage, delivered in news and feature reports on radio and online, as well as in interviews with ABC stations nationally, was well balanced, factual and interesting. Some of the coverage directly influenced the outcomes of the stories.


Journalist of the Year 

Sponsored by RACV


Commended: Tim Lee, ABC Landline 

Judge's comments:  Lee is a veteran of rural reporting in Victoria and Australia. His experience as a journalist shows through in his succinct analysis of agricultural enterprise, and his ability to craft long form television that stands out. Lee’s heart-wrenching story of farmer Doug Lang and his lifelong struggle with depression is one that stays with you and has the potential to save lives. 

Highly commended: James Wagstaff, The Weekly Times

Judge's comments: Wagstaff’s reporting was detailed while staying readable. The judges were particularly impressed by his investigation into ‘who owns Australian agriculture’. He demonstrated a painstaking commitment to detail and research in preparing this special publication across print and online. The digital coverage included the details of some 170 landholders and their 900 properties. Wagstaff’s reports gives context to daily news coverage of foreign and corporate land ownership, and there’s no greater complement than having your journalism stuck on the wall of your peer’s desks. 

Winner: Greg Dundas, Geelong Advertiser       

Judge's comments: Dundas’ reporting was clear, detailed, comprehensive, engaging and multi-faceted. The effect of his journalism was demonstrated by a significant increase in paid online subscriptions from readers directly seeking the stories relating to the notorious cold case, the Market Square Murder Trial. Dundas spent hours in the courtroom covering this trial, and his reporting across the paper’s traditional print platform, drew in readers. He pushed the boundaries of his outlet’s storytelling capacity, with the addition of a podcast and mini documentary. Dundas’ coverage included more than 75 stories. He made himself known to the families of the victim and the accused, read over years’ worth of old police transcripts, and visited locations crucial to the trial.   


Media Outlet of the Year 

Sponsored by CFA



Finalist: Hamilton Spectator

Judge's comments: The Spectator demonstrated solid local reporting. The paper knows its readership and community and appeals to its people without pretension. 

Finalist: Bendigo Advertiser


Judge's comments: The Bendigo Advertiser is clearly a master of regional journalism. The paper showed a relentless dedication and commitment to its community with campaigns and social reporting on several topics that were highly praise worthy.

Finalist: Warrnambool Standard

Judge's comments: The Standard’s coverage of the crisis the community faced from the St Patricks Day fires would have required a huge commitment and a dedication of resources. Their use of imagery in a photo essay really brought the reality of this disaster into sharp focus. 


Winner: Geelong Advertiser  

Judge's comments: The Geelong Advertiser is always a strong contender; it knows its stuff and does it well. The outlet has the resources to match experienced journalism with experienced photographers and it shows. In reaching the final decision, it’s right to recognise that Geelong is the second most populous city in Victoria and has more news opportunity, but that also means staying on the ball to break news, raise awareness of issues and follow them through. Geelong has been a news centre in the past year and the Advertiser has broken many of the stories of state and national significance.