Over 50 years, acclaimed ABC broadcaster Caroline Jones — who died this week at the age of 84 — paved the way for women journalists.
She was the first female reporter on current affairs show This Day Tonight and the first woman to anchor Four Corners.
Off air, Caroline Jones was a generous mentor to many, including three young women at the start of their journalistic careers who were awarded a scholarship in her name.
The Caroline Jones Scholarship — established in 2019 — offers emerging Indigenous journalists a 12-month cadetship that includes multi-platform training across ABC News and Regional teams.
Those three recipients — Madeline Austin, Bindi Bryce and Bella Tolhurst — were moved to write about the difference Caroline Jones had made to them.
Madeline Austin: The first time I met Caroline Jones, I was more than a year into my extended scholarship.
Although the pandemic disrupted our plans to meet face-to-face, Caroline’s guidance, support and assurance was with me from my very first day working as a cadet journalist.
She was always available with a listening ear, ready to give advice without judgement.
It was part of what made Caroline so incredible.
No matter her success, achievements, or her iconic position as a trailblazing journalist, Caroline was incredibly humble, and so willing to help in any way she could.
Starting at the ABC was a daunting transition, especially as an Indigenous woman from a small town in central western NSW.
Despite all the worrying, doubt and “impostor syndrome” experienced in my first months of working in a newsroom, it was the knowledge that someone of Caroline’s calibre had my back that helped me to believe that I deserved to be there.
When we did finally meet — and took a walk through the gardens at Old Parliament House — several strangers stopped us to say hello to Caroline and to sing their praises of her work as a journalist.
She was adored and respected everywhere she went.
It was over the course of my scholarship that Caroline became not only a mentor and an inspiration, but also a beloved friend.
I’ll always remember the advice she shared with me: to always remember, throughout the ups and down of a career, to take the time to make friends, to foster connections, not only professionally but also personally, and — above all else — to always stay curious.
Perhaps Caroline’s most-straightforward advice to me was the most poignant: to always do what makes you happy.
I will be forever grateful for the role Caroline played in moulding me into the journalist I am today and for the scholarship that changed my life forever.
Bindi Bryce: One of the first things Caroline did for me when I moved to Sydney to take up her scholarship, was helping me find a rental. She was constantly popping in to the ABC in Ultimo to check up on me. She invited me along to her many networking events, and introduced me to some of the leading female journalists in our industry.
One of the most important lessons I learned from Caroline is that you don’t need to be loud, or aggressive, to be a successful and respected journalist. When she did accountability interviews back in the day, she would ask hard-hitting questions with a calm tone that came from a place of concern. In real life she was just as warm and kind as how she appeared on TV.
I was 25 when I was awarded the first-ever Caroline Jones scholarship. Before that, I was working as a Radio Australia reporter. I’d applied for an ABC news cadetship two years in a row and was rejected. If the opportunity to apply for her scholarship hadn’t come along, I wouldn’t have achieved my dream to work as a multi-platform reporter, or it would have taken a lot longer.
Over the past year and a half I’ve felt so privileged to be working in the ABC Newcastle office and covering her home patch in the Hunter region. I got a bit emotional the other day when I searched through some old emails and saw I missed one from her where she recommended I check out her trusted dentist in Maitland that has been a “marvellous” help to her — this was classic Caroline.
She also told me that she’d signed the Uluru Statement from the Heart and responded to an invitation to make a submission to the co-design committee working on what form the Voice to Parliament might take. Caroline was incredibly passionate about Indigenous issues and supporting Aboriginal journalists. She said the ABC scholarship in her name was the best farewell gift she ever received. I will miss her dearly.
Bella Tolhurst: Caroline’s passion for supporting young journalists was evident in the establishment of the Caroline Jones Scholarship. Her guidance and support has always been genuine.
I, unfortunately, never had the honour of meeting Caroline in person, but thanks to zoom and emails, I always felt the presence of her support. All of my interactions with Caroline left me feeling inspired, motivated and empowered. I always got the sense that she genuinely wanted the best for me, and that she had a personal investment in me succeeding.
The first time I ever spoke to Caroline was during my interview for the scholarship. She complimented some of the pieces I’d submitted as a part of my portfolio, and showed genuine interest in my work. She asked me questions about the kind of stories I wanted to tell, what my goals were and even how I thought the ABC could better support young Indigenous journalists, and young women. From the get go, she appeared to value every word I said, even as the most junior of journalists.
Throughout my first few months in the scholarship, Caroline would not only check in on my journalistic progress, but also my wellbeing, making sure that I was getting as much out of the opportunity as I could. She was a cheerleader for even the smallest of successes that I had and would touch base to congratulate me whenever she heard me on the radio, or saw me on the TV.
Beyond my personal interactions with Caroline, the opportunities that she made possible for me are something I will be forever grateful for. The Caroline Jones Scholarship has allowed me to kickstart my journalism career in a way I would have never been able to do. Being able to work full time, in a newsroom, among the action, is the best training ground a burgeoning journalist could ask for. I am so appreciative of her generosity, wisdom and unwavering support, and I owe my future in journalism to her giving me a chance.