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Campus News : July 2011
www.uow.edu.au University of Wollongong Campus News July 2011 9 STEPHEN FITZPATRICK Bachelor of Arts (Hons) (History and Politics) 1996 The old Hollywood image of a colonial-era foreign correspondent filing stories while propping up the bar in some exotic hotel is a long way from 21st century reality. Just ask Stephen Fitzpatrick, a UOW Arts graduate and Walkley Award-winning journalist at The Australian. Stephen recently returned to a "desk job" at the newspaper after five extraordinary years as its Jakarta correspondent covering some of the biggest stories of our times. Stephen, who earned a First Class Honours degree at UOW for his thesis on Indonesian identity, was The Australian's Foreign News Editor when he was sent to Aceh in late December 2004 to report on the devastation left by the Indian Ocean tsunami. "That had a profound effect on me and was a foreign correspondent's trial by fire," Stephen said. "When we arrived in Banda Aceh, the capital, there were bodies littered everywhere, mass graves being dug by heavy machinery, piles of bodies dumped in hospital grounds whose staff were mostly dead, and more. "It was a matter of just getting on with the job. Hitching rides on fishing boats and helicopters and other aircraft - both military and private - was part of getting the story told. There were absolutely no facilities or infrastructure. Everything had to be improvised." In mid-2005, he was sent to Bali to report on the developing trials of the so-called Bali Nine drug traffickers, as well as the convicted drug trafficker Schapelle Corby's appeal. Stephen was still there when the second Bali bombing occured in October 2005, and was on the scene of devastation in Kuta Square within minutes, before going to Jimbaran Bay where suicide bombers had attacked families dining at cafes on the sand. "All of this was a huge start to being a foreign correspondent, and my posting was still several months from even beginning!"he said. Stephen was Jakarta correspondent from April 2006 to August 2010. His tour of duty included covering stories about asylum seekers and people smuggling, notably the Oceanic Viking stand-off of October 2009 when a group of Sri Lankan asylum-seekers refused to leave the Australian Government vessel in West Java for several weeks. He won the 2010 Walkley Award for his coverage of the unfolding drama. Other big stories included civil unrest in Timor Leste, the Yogyakarta earthquake and the trials and eventual executions of the Bali bombers, including being at the graveside at a village in East Java when Amrozi bin Nurhasyim and Ali Ghufron were buried. He was 50m from the graveside -- as close as their supporters would allow. "These fanatics wanted the publicity that having foreign reporters there gave them, but they also took every chance they could to direct their bigotry and hatred towards us. It was an unnerving experience," Stephen said. One of his toughest assignments was the Garuda air crash in 2007 in which five Australians died. Stephen's close friends, Australian Financial Review correspondent Morgan Mellish and Australian Embassy press officer Liz O'Neill were among the victims. "It was a terrible morning and one of the most challenging days, in a professional sense, that I've ever had. I had to write news as well as a long piece for page 1 about Morgan. I had to put my emotions entirely to one side to do it in time for that edition's deadline, so I sat in a corner of the hospital where everything around me was chaos, and wrote." Stephen returned to Australia in August last year, and is now deputy editor on Review, The Australian's weekend arts section. He says it is a long way from the Jakarta posting, but "after six years chasing some of the biggest ambulances, I needed a new focus for a while." Part of that focus is spending more time with his two teenage sons, but he sees himself back on the road again one day, quite likely in Indonesia. Stephen grew up in the Wollongong suburb of Primbee, attending Edmund Rice College. After high school he spent two years as a cadet at the Illawarra Mercury newspaper before starting a Creative Arts degree at UOW in 1988. "I was absolutely not ready for university at that point and dropped out, eventually going backpacking in Southeast Asia and Europe," he said. "By the time I returned to UOW to begin a BA in 1992 I was hungry for it. I was desperate to fill in gaps in my knowledge and world view. They were huge gaps!" "The most significant thing about university for me was the opportunity it gave to learn how to properly research and construct considered arguments; how to think critically." He said he was inspired by UOW's then Indonesian specialist Professor Adrian Vickers (now at the University of Sydney) who encouraged him to start a PhD in Indonesian politics when he finished his undergraduate degree. A job offer at The Australian put the PhD on hold, but he hasn't abandoned the idea of completing it. Years of Living Dangerously FAMILY CONNECTIONS Stephen Fitzpatick is part of a family of nine from Figtree, eight of whom have been associated with UOW at some stage over the last three decades. His mother Janice graduated with a Diploma in Teaching (Primary) from Wollongong Institute of Education in 1980 and a Graduate Certificate in TESOL in 2006 and has been a casual tutor at UOW College since 2008; School teacher father Bernard has been a thesis proof-reader, occasional post-graduate tutor and casual UOW College teacher; sister Bernadette graduated with a BA in 1996 and a DipEd in 1998; sister Juanita graduated with a Master of Creative Arts in 2000; brother Julian graduated with a BA in 2001 and is now enrolled in a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering degree; brother Adrian graduated with a Bachelor of Computer Science in 2004; and sister Dolores is currently studying for a Bachelor of Education (Early Years). Above: Stephen Fitzpatrick with photographer Renee Nowytarger in the mountains outside Banda Aceh in January 2005, where they were the first outsiders to make contact with armed GAM (Free Aceh Movement) rebels after the tsunami, and heard how it had devastated their numbers just as it had the Indonesian military against whom they were fighting. A historic peace agreement ending the 30-year conflict came soon after. (This picture was taken by one of the rebel soldiers using Renee's camera). Right: Talking to East Timor President Jose Ramos Horta in his office in Dili in 2010. But maybe first he should write a book about his experiences. And who knows, Hollywood might come knocking. After all, it needs to update its foreign correspondents genre and Stephen's story has all the elements of a blockbuster. In fact his years in Jakarta make The Year of Living Dangerously, C.J Koch's novel and the 1982 movie starring Mel Gibson about an Australian reporter in Indonesia in the 1960s, look tame by comparison. NH