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Open Right

Belinda Hawkins

Author, Corporate, Curriculum Specialist, Journalist, Social Commentator, Speaking Out

Belinda Hawkins has reported on national and international events for ABC TV and SBS TV for almost 30 years, filing from countries as diverse as Nigeria, Eritrea, Cuba, Germany and Russia. For the past twelve years she has been a senior journalist with ABC TV’s Australian Story program. Her documentary work has been recognised with a raft of awards, among them a Walkley award, seven Quill awards, four New York Festival Medals and four United Nations Media Peace Awards. She started her working life as high school teacher in country Victoria.

Belinda is the author of Every Parent’s Nightmare, the true story of young Australian Jock Palfreeman and his father’s struggle to free him from a Bulgarian prison.

Where were you born?

I was born in Buenos Aires and spent my first few years in a village in Northern Argentina where my father was a scientist. My mother left a sheltered life in Adelaide to marry him there. Recently I returned for the first time since I left as a child.

What other jobs have you had?

I spent a Gap Year picking grapes in France, bailing hay in Wales and selling sweets with a group of Gypsies who travelled to fairs and concerts around the United Kingdom. I was an appalling waitress during my university years and tried my hand at selling newspapers.

I started my professional life as a high school teacher in rural Victoria. When I got a cadetship with ABC TV News I moved to journalism. Besides ABC, I also spent ten years at SBS working on Dateline and Insight, corresponding from countries as diverse as Cuba, Russia, Nigeria and Germany.

What themes are recurring in your work?

I am most interested in the very human stories behind struggles for justice. Whistleblowers, criminal investigators, and ordinary people who suspect there is something wrong in what they are being told and won’t stop until they find out the truth.

What have been the highlights of your career?

As a journalist I have the best job in the world so there have been many highlights. I found the experience of following Julia Gillard for Australian Story before she became deputy opposition leader fascinating; her interview with me was breathtakingly open and has been quoted widely in her biography. Similarly I found Malcolm Turnbull intriguing when I followed him as opposition leader at the time he came unstuck over the Gordon Grech scandal.

Telling Victoria Police whistleblower, Simon Illingworth’s story was terrifying but deeply satisfying.

I have found inspiring people in difficult parts of the world. None more so than in Bulgaria where the story of Jock Palfreeman is set. Bulgaria and the Palfreeman case have got under my skin like no other story I have done.

What are you passionate about?

I am passionate about getting to the bottom of a story however long that takes. I both love and hate mysteries! I also care about people who are willing to go the extra yard and want to understand what makes them tick.

Haven’t I seen you before?

I was an on camera reporter for many years. Now I appear on television to talk about the news rather than to report it. My full time job is behind the camera, digging through documents, talking to people and sitting for hours alone at a desk.

Testimonials

Belinda’s talk on her career in journalism was both insightful and inspirational. Speaking to our Year 12 students, she predominantly focused on her years researching the Jock Palfreeman case, which has culminated in her non-fiction book, Every Parent’s Nightmare. An engaging presenter, Belinda made connections between Jock Palfreeman’s story and the ideas and concepts being studied as part of the English curriculum, with opportunity provided for students to ask questions. Our Media students were equally as excited to learn about the hard work that goes on behind the scenes of television programs such as Australian Story. At heart a story-teller, Belinda’s relaxed style was well pitched to students, who were thrilled to have the opportunity to gain such an insight into lives so different from their own experience. The fact that they continued to discuss the Jock Palfreeman case in the days and weeks after her visit is testament to the profound affect Belinda’s presentation had on students.

—P. Monger, Gippsland Grammar, March 2014

Belinda Hawkins ran a workshop for the Macquarie University’s Global Leadership Program entitled “Protecting Australians Abroad “Every Parent’s Nightmare” in August 2013 as a specialty topic on the issues around International Law.

Global Leadership Program workshops are run by professionals from relevant organisations who have expertise in an area of global leadership. Each workshop will typically last 3 hours, and we want students to hear thought provoking ideas and participate in discussion and debate on relevant global issues.

This particular workshop run by Belinda was extremely popular with students. We received excellent feedback on the day which was reflected in the insights students gave in the formal feedback process. Belinda was a pleasure to work with, and students made particular mention that she was extremely engaging, passionate and inspiring. She also went above and beyond for the students and was more than willing to stay back after the session to engage in further conversation about the topic.

I would highly recommend Belinda as a speaker for similar events and purposes.

—L. Fitzgerald, Global Leadership Program Officer, Macquarie University, November 2013

Belinda Hawkins spoke with my broadcasting students early in 2013. My students were transfixed. Belinda’s compelling story telling abilities kept them engaged throughout. At one point Belinda said, ‘I’m sorry, is there anything you want to ask me?’ In unison, the students cried ‘No! We want to hear the rest of the story.’ Of course, afterwards they bombarded her with questions which she answered generously.

When Belinda left, my students were on a high; inspired and excited. One followed up with Belinda and did a live interview with her on a community radio program. Belinda is an extraordinary communicator who has the ability to make everyone in the room feel she is talking just to them. You will never regret choosing her as a speaker at your event.

—J. McManus, Edith Cowan University, November 2013

Current and future Legal Studies students were totally captivated as they listened to Belinda.

Belinda Hawkins is a wily story teller who immediately gripped the audience with her telling of the Jock Palfreeman case. Her delivery was not only engaging but also well informed. Using visuals not available elsewhere, the students got a real sense of the injustice of the case as they were forced to question their very black and white view of the law. Belinda’s presentation was objective, so much so that the students desperately wanted to know her personal opinion on the matters being discussed. To her credit, Belinda left that question unanswered. She wanted to let the audience decide. A clever move, as it introduced the concept of just how our legal system works … the students were almost like members of a jury, she let them decide the verdict.

The Legal Studies course covers a range of issues and topic areas, one of those being the study of an Australian involved with the law in another jurisdiction. The real life story of a young Sydney man called Jock Palfreeman, [the subject of Belinda’s books] fit the syllabus criteria perfectly.

The Year 10 students were excited about studying legal studies and did not want to wait till next year to begin the preliminary course. Many who did not attend had heard about of the talk and said they would have loved to have participated even though they were not intending to study Legal Studies. This is high praise from teenagers who are difficult to motivate at the best of times.

I would highly recommend any year 11 student studying Legal Studies to take advantage of any opportunity to hear Belinda speak.

—S. McHardy, Kellyville High School, March 2014

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