When it comes to hard-hitting news, it doesn’t get much bigger for Ballarat than 2016.
But whether in times of triumphs, or times of tragedy, The Courier’s journalists were there.
Here are The Courier’s pick of top 20 news stories for 2016
Are our schools failing to protect kids from bullies? It was the big issue our reporter Fiona Henderson tackled back in August.
Leading up to her investigation the newsroom had received dozens of calls from parents of bullied children at local schools, claiming the system has failed to protect them.
Delving into the issue, Fiona set her sights on investigating whether anti-bullying policies in schools were working.
But what invoked the most emotion was the look at the tragic cost when anti-bullying policies didn’t work.
It was a multi-million dollar scam which involved a fake invoice for works carried out at BHS.
It was not an easy task to uncover, but our reporter Caleb Cluff was determined, breaking the news in July.
In September, reporter Jessica Black sat down with Ewen “Cameron” Ching – the last of the Linton spray hands.
He told her of the time he made and sprayed batches of toxic chemicals.
His story repeated that of others who spoke with The Courier when it first broke the “toxic legacy” of the former Lands Department workers exposure to potent chemicals in 2014.
Mr Ching told Jessica he was yet to hear from the state government since making his submission to the inquiry into the toxic chemicals, and is worried he might die before a resolution is found.
The Scotsburn fires marked a very dark day in the region’s history.
Local resident Roger Skimming never denied it was a spark from his slasher which went on to burn more than 4600 hectares and destroy 12 homes on that hot December day.
But it was not a story widely spoken about in the community. That was until our reporter Brendan Wrigley caught up with Skimming who told us the full story, including the emotional toll it took on him.
There is no doubt a big question on the community’s mind this year was what needs to be done to help young offenders.
Every time a car was stolen and lit on fire the community erupted into a debate.
Reporter Olivia Shying covered each theft, but in September she decided it was time to answer the question the community longed to have answered.
She sat down with two young men who had turned to a life of crime, only to turn their lives back around after becoming involved in the YMCA Bridge Project.
There was almost seven months between The Courier first revealing a number of Ballarat hospitality businesses were allegedly underpaying their employees or paying them “off the books”, and then speaking with one of the victims.
But when the victim decided she was ready to tell her story, reporter Fiona Henderson was there
We heard of a young woman who had dreamed of being a chef since she was a little girl, but now can no longer work in the industry she still loves after standing up for her basic employee rights.
Over the year the community continued to question why police were focusing their forces on a number of cannabis grow houses around the region.
Each time another grow house was located by police, the community asked the same question – why grow houses?
So reporter Olivia Shying sought to have their question answered.
What she found out was that young, cash strapped Melbourne students were being recruited to drive Ballarat’s $8 million commercial cannabis supply market by out of town criminals who use the proceeds to fund both international and domestic crime.
In May the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission came to town.
A media frenzy awaited them at the Ballarat Law Courts where it was revealed complaints against Ballarat police officers were three times higher than similar sized stations across the state.
Over the next few days a number of people gave evidence at the hearing, including a woman claiming she was allegedly kicked and left to lie in a cold cell with no blanket or pants on in January of last year.
Our reporter Alicia Thomas brought updates from the court room.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse generated countless stories over the past year.
And when it was announced Cardinal George Pell would evidence to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Rome, a group of clergy sexual abuse victims travelled 16,000 kilometres to bear witness.
But so did our reporter Melissa Cunningham.
In a bid to try and set the record straight in his hometown, Australia's most senior cleric spoke directly with Melissa in Rome.
On a very big weekend of sport in September, Bacchus Marsh defeated the Sunbury Lions by 55 points – 13.21 (99) to 5.14 (44)
Not only was this exciting news for local football fans, it was the biggest news in Bacchus Marsh history. The club had just secured its first BFL premiership.
Our reporter David Brehaut was at the game.
Five days out from Christmas, reporter Tim O’Connor broke one of the biggest sports stories of the year.
It came only weeks after the club confirmed to The Courier they will stay on in the Victorian Football League in season 2017.
Tim put a number of questions to Interim chairman Shaune Moloney who told him board replacements would be appointed at the club’s annual general meeting in February.
Reporter Melissa Cunningham was inside the Geelong Magistrates’ Court when a former Ballarat paedophile priest, who unleashed a 22-year reign of terror on 12 children across western Victoria, was jailed for more than 18 years.
Melissa spoke with victims after the sentence was handed down, who told her Robert Claffey’s 18 years and four months sentence - with a minimum of 13 years and four months to be served, was “fair and tantamount to a death penalty”.
Following the release of damning reports into the corrosive culture of bullying and nepotism at Ballarat Health Services, chair of the board of BHS Rowena Coutts sat down with reporters Fiona Henderson and Caleb Cluff to talk about what was next for the organisation.
Two reports into the workplace culture at Ballarat Health Services were analysed and they disclosed a morass of inappropriate behaviour, bullying, favouritism and harassment.
As a result, Ms Coutts vowed to execute comprehensive reforms.
It’s not often the Court of Appeal sits in Ballarat, but Justices Mark Weinberg, Phillip Priest and David Beach made the journey up from Melbourne in April.
They were here for two reasons; The two men convicted of murdering 14-year-old autistic teenager Timmy O’Brien applied to appeal against their convictions (this was later refused), and Maryborough man Jesse Willis – who was jailed for shooting dead Ricky Lee Gangly – sought leave to appeal against his conviction.
Reporter Alicia Thomas sat through both hearings.
Here’s the full coverage of Willis’ matter, which was later refused in July on a 2-1 majority.
Where there was big sports news in 2016, there was our reporter David Brehaut.
This time he was speaking with Ballarat sporting superstar Jared Tallent, who was formally crowned 2012 London Olympic Games 50km racewalking champion in June.
It was a long wait for Ballarat, and a longer wait for Tallent who was elevated to gold medalist after Russian athlete Sergey Kirdyapkin was stripped of gold by the Court of Arbitration for Sport in March for doping.
The Drew Petrie football journey started with the Ballarat Swans.
From that moment on Ballarat was gripped to the edge of their seats every time the ball entered Petrie’s hands.
He soon became one of the city’s most popular football stars and we couldn’t get enough of his talent.
This year he played his 300th game and Ballarat couldn’t have been prouder.
With so much breaking news on a daily basis, sometimes the best stories go under the radar.
One story that captured the hearts of Ballarat was the tale of four-year-old Oscar Kosloff who wanted to find a mysterious war veteran known as Tom, who he met at Ballarat's Anzac Day service.
Following the story the moment Oscar’s family put out a plea for help on the Ballarat Buy, Swap and Sell Facebook page to find Tom, was reporter Michael Pollock.
With the help from Michael, Oscar’s story reached thousands of readers and in the end Oscar found the Tom he was looking for.
There was not a topic in 2016 which hit the headlines more than trains.
And reporter Michael Pollock was there for every one of them, including the announcement of a huge commitment to the Ballarat train line in the state government’s 2016-17 budget.
In a massive boost for local commuters, $518 million was pledged to be put towards an upgrade to the Ballarat rail line that has carried severe performance issues over the past year.
The world lost a lot of great men and women in 2016. Ballarat’s racing community also lost an old favourite.
In May, Tuscan Fire was put down after breaking down in the Galleywood Hurdle at Warrnambool gallops in what was a sad finish to a great career for one of racing's most versatile gallopers.
Reporter David Brehaut collated some of the gallopers’ best careers moments, you can read about them here.
The day the Western Bulldogs won the AFL grand final on that fateful September day was the day Ballarat officially hailed them as our heroes.
Whether you already followed a team in the competition or not at all, every Ballaratian seemed to make the Western Bulldogs their own when the premiership cup came to town.
Now the countdown begins until their first official match at Eureka Statium as premiership winners, and a chance for Ballarat to showcase our city to the rest of the country.
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