One of the highest accolades in journalism has been awarded to a journalist at The Courier for her outstanding work on the Royal Commission into Institutionalised Sexual Abuse.
Reporter Melissa Cunningham has won the coveted Melbourne Press Club Quill award for best regional journalism for her coverage of the royal commission in Ballarat.
Her stories about the courage of survivors who had come forward to tell their stories played an instrumental part in galvanising community support for the victims. Ms Cunningham dedicated the award to the survivors.
"Without brave people standing up for what is right how would anything in this world ever change?," Ms Cunningham said.
"The Ballarat survivors have taught me more about humility and bravery in the time that I've known them than my three decades on earth.”
Her stories highlighted how in Ballarat these survivors, many of whom had kept the crimes committed against them secret for decades, were no longer alone. A series of stories on the Loud Fence campaign was a visible and demonstrable sign of this sympathy and support.
"I hope they never doubt the impact they're having by coming forward and sharing their pain. They are changing the world. More than ever we need communities founded on compassion and empathy where we seek to understand others.”
"We need to start looking at the root causes of the social issues we are seeing in society and it can often be linked back to trauma or abuse. Nobody should ever feel alone in this world or that they have nowhere to turn or that suicide or premature death is the only way out."
The growing tide of support not only funded the victims trip to Rome to bear witness to Ballarat cardinal George Pell’s evidence but brought world wide attention to their plight.
Ms Cunningham accompanied the survivors on the trip to Rome which culminated in a private audience with the Cardinal and his reaffirmed support for the suffering in his home town where he had served as a priest during the troubled decades
“This award belongs to the survivors, “ Ms Cunningham said.
“I meet a lot of different people in my job. But every now and again I’ll meet somebody and for whatever reason it may be they’ll inspire me. They’ll leave a handprint on my heart and remind me again why I do what I do.”