Newcastle Herald journalist Joanne McCarthy feels as though she has watched her life play out rather than living it since a campaign that she spearheaded led to a NSW inquiry and an Australian Royal Commission into child sexual abuse.
“I’ve had so many extraordinary experiences campaigning for a Royal Commission,” Ms McCarthy said.
“I’ve experienced the suicide of a man who had a profound impact on me. I’ve received shocking responses . . . from people that you would not have expected. I’ve had to give evidence at the royal commission. I’m dealing with the people I never thought I’d be dealing with, not to mention the Julia Gillard letter.”
Ms Gillard wrote to Ms McCarthy as one of her final acts as Australian prime minister, signed on the night she lost the leadership vote. “Joanne,” she wrote, “you are a truly remarkable person. Thousands of Australians share your passion for justice. I am one of them.”
“Thanks in very large measure to your persistence and courage,” she wrote. “The NSW Special Commission of Inquiry and the Federal Royal Commission will bring truth and healing to the victims of horrendous abuse and betrayal.”
Those experiences culminated in Ms McCarthy winning the top award at the 2013 Walkley Awards, The Gold Walkley, in Brisbane last week. The Newcastle Herald team of McCarthy, editor Chad Watson and reporters Ian Kirkwood and Jason Gordon also won the Walkley award for coverage of community and regional affairs for the “Shine the Light” series on child sex abuse.
During the campaign, accolades were far from Ms McCarthy’s mind.
“I can’t stand celebrity journalism in any way. So being thrust into the limelight over and over again is why I feel like I’m observing my life, rather than experiencing it. I sit at home and I say ‘is this actually all happening to me?’
“I’m currently looking over the Pacific Ocean somewhere off the Sunshine Coast waiting to give a talk. Then I have to fly back and rush to give another talk. My whole family is going, what the hell is happening to you?” she said.
In the last seven years, Ms McCarthy has written more than 350 articles about the sexual abuse of children, primarily by Catholic clergy in Newcastle and the Hunter Valley.
When Ms McCarthy heard there was going to be a royal commission she didn’t even hear what Prime Minister Gillard said.
“I just started crying, well it was more sobbing really, and my boss Chad Watson was in the room with me; so was Jason Gordon who was news editor at the time, who I’ve known for 30 years. He was already blubbering then we just fell into each other’s arms.
“Every single person in the office was crying and laughing, it was pretty cool,” she said.
When asked about how she felt about all of her achievements Ms McCarthy explained that she didn’t feel pride like most people would think,
“People say I must feel pride – it’s not the feeling that I feel. I feel satisfaction – even that’s not the right word. It is more that there has been a point to the exercise of my being a journalist. That’s how I feel, there has been a point to the exercise of me sitting down in front of the computer and writing stuff.”