Liz Jackson: Award-winning Australian journalist who ditched a law career to set benchmarks at ABC

She won Australia’s prestigious Walkey awards for reports on a range of topics including the death of an Aboriginal civil rights activist, match-fixing in cricket, and East Timor

Christine Manby
Wednesday 04 July 2018 17:03 BST
The much-loved reporter was called to the bar in London where she studied law before being inspired by her housemates to enter journalism
The much-loved reporter was called to the bar in London where she studied law before being inspired by her housemates to enter journalism (Four Corners/ABC)

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Australian journalist and barrister Liz Jackson, who has died aged 67, dedicated her career to uncovering difficult truths.

Jackson was raised in Parkville, Melbourne. Her parents were both philosophy professors. She herself graduated from the University of Melbourne with first-class honours in literature and philosophy before moving to London to study law. She was called to the bar in the UK, and practised at Gray’s Inn. Upon returning to Australia, she worked in a community legal centre and for the New South Wales Premier’s Department, specialising in law protecting women from violence.

While she was working at the NSW Premier’s Department Jackson shared a house with several journalists. She once said: “My life as a public servant seemed a lot less interesting than theirs as journalists. No one seemed to want to know what I did that day.”

Spurred on by her housemates’ tales, she joined the Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC) in 1986.

Liz Jackson with partner Martin Butler
Liz Jackson with partner Martin Butler (ABC News/Tom Hancock)

Jackson’s first role at ABC was as a reporter and producer for Radio National. She remained with Radio National for seven years, attending the 1992 Rio Earth Summit in her capacity as RN’s reporter. Upon leaving RN in 1993, she joined current affairs programme Four Corners.

That same year, her report on the famine and fighting between rival militias in Somalia, entitled “Somalia, Dying for Relief”, led to a first Walkley award (one of Australia’s most prestigious awards for journalism) for best international report.

Jackson would go on to win nine Walkley awards for her investigations into subjects as diverse as the suicide of Aboriginal activist Rob Riley, cricket match fixing, the Northern Territory’s mandatory sentencing laws, and malpractice in the New South Wales Government Department of Community Services.

“Fixing Cricket” also gained Jackson a Logie award. She would win three Logies in the course of her career. She was also the recipient of two Law Society Golden Gavel awards, a Eureka award for excellence in environmental journalism and the Victorian Premier’s Prize for Literature.

In 2005, alongside her work for Four Corners, Jackson hosted a programme called Media Watch. In 2006, she won another Walkley for “Who Killed Mr Ward?” an investigation into the death of an indigenous man who died after being detained for three hours in the back of an overheated prison security van. That same year, she took home Australia’s most prestigious journalism award, the Gold Walkley, for “Stoking the Fires”, her report on the politics of post-independence East Timor. Jackson’s investigation is believed to have contributed to the resignation of the country’s then prime minister, Mari Alkatiri.

Jackson retired from Four Corners in 2013 due to ill health. A year later, she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which manifested itself as pain, depression and panic attacks. However in 2016 Jackson found the strength and courage to collaborate with her filmmaker husband Martin Butler and his colleague Bentley Dean on one more film, a documentary on the condition and her own struggles with the symptoms, called A Sense of Self. Some close friends tried to discourage her, but Jackson told ABC News: “In the end, a big part of the decision to make the film was that I was up for a challenge, one not unrelated to what I’ve been doing for nearly 30 years – making long-form radio and television documentaries that shine a light in dark places.”

A Sense of Self was broadcast under the Four Corners strand, garnering Jackson a final Walkey award.

Jackson died in her sleep while on holiday in Greece. She is survived by her husband Martin Butler, their two children, Rose and Joe, and two grandchildren.

Liz Jackson, Australian journalist, born 25 July 1951, died 27 June 2018

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