When Lilly McKenzie signed onto the Griffith University Student Media Centre at the GC2018 Commonwealth Games and discovered a group of Indigenous protesters had set up camp near Surfers Paradise, she immediately asked to cover the issue.
“I asked whether we could join the protesters, so got in touch with the organisers and told them we’d love to stay if we could,’’ the final-year journalism student recalls.
“They wanted media coverage and because we were student journalists they knew we didn’t have a particular agenda.”
As it turned out, Lilly and fellow student Dylan Crawford, were the only journalists on the ground reporting from the actual protest site. Their resulting story and photographs, published in the Sydney Morning Herald and Brisbane Times, have earned them a Walkley Young Journalist of the Year nomination in the Student Journalist category.
“The police cordoned off the area when the protests started during the Queen’s baton relay and we had access as we were already there,’’ Lilly says.
“Initially I was very nervous as I didn’t have any experience with Indigenous issues and didn’t want to appear ignorant but everyone was really lovely and welcoming.”
Dylan, who is in the final year of a Bachelor of Photography degree, took photographs of the protestors.
“When the opportunity to work in the Griffith Student Media Centre at the Commonwealth Games came up I jumped on it as I knew it was my best chance to showcase my work,’’ he says.
“Being nominated for a Walkley is fantastic, it feels like I’ve already won.”
“It’s a huge honour,” says Lilly. “A national nomination and I’m still a student. It’s great to add to my CV and hopefully will help my dream of becoming a political reporter and foreign correspondent.”
It’s not the first time Lilly and Dylan have worked on the same project. They also travelled to Cambodia with other Griffith students in January to work on a variety of journalism projects including charity organisations, a drag bar in Phnom Penh and an elephant sanctuary.
“I chose journalism because I’ve always wanted to tell other people’s stories,’’ says Lilly, who spent most of her childhood in South East Asia.
With the restlessness of a wandering spirit she wants to travel the world as a foreign correspondent when she graduates.
“I want to cover issues important to people. There’s lots of misinformation about different cultures and as I’ve lived in many different cultures I want others to know about them.
“When you can see people as individuals rather than a group, that’s when you can find understanding.”
For Dylan, who initially wanted to be a travel photographer, university has opened his eyes to human rights and environmental issues and he hopes his photography will leave a lasting mark.
“I want to travel the world, documenting people and places that mean something and hopefully make a difference with my photography. If I can do that I’ll be happy.”
The 2018 Walkley Mid-Year Awards will be held in Sydney on July 18.