This was established in honour of the late writer and journalist Sandra Harvey, author and collaborator on a range of important investigative works. The award recognises the importance of the short story form in Australian crime writing, Entries can be submitted by published and unpublished writers. These can be in the form of fiction or non fiction.
REMEMBERING SANDRA HARVEY
Sandra Harvey was a respected journalist who was fearless in her pursuit of the truth.
Her integrity and sense of fairness was integral to her relationships with contacts on both sides of the fence. A former journalist with The Sydney Morning Herald, Sandra spent her last five years working as a producer and researcher for the ABCs’ Four Corners. Some of her outstanding programs included Homies about past child abuse in Salvation Army homes, and A Deathly Silence about a teenage suicide and taboos around discussing such deaths. She was highly commended for her Four Corner program in 2005 by the Human Rights & Equal Opportunity Commission television award for Out of Mind and shortlisted in the 2003 Walkley Awards for the program In our Shoes.
Multi-award winning Gold Walkley award journalist, Chris Masters, remembers recommending her for the job
‘What astounded me was how accomplished she was from the start,’ he said. ‘She was a great human being. I think she taught me a lot – about the importance about being decent in your working relationship.’
Sandra worked for Australian Associated Press from 1984 to 1989 before joining The Sydney Morning Herald as a police and investigative reporter for the next six years. In 1996 she worked as senior adviser to then NSW Police Minister, Paul Whelan.
‘She knew more bloody secrets than anybody,’ he recalled. ‘I used to call her privately the 21st cabinet minister. She would often sit in on the inner cabinet meeting because she was so trusted and valued by the government.’
Beneath that well-groomed Lois Lane exterior Sandra had a penchant for dangerous assignments. She led the Herald’s coverage of many crime stories, including the arrest of backpacker murderer Ivan Milat. Sandra and I met in September 1984 covering the Father’s Day Milperra bikie massacre between the Comancheros and Bandidos. She was at AAP and I was at The Sydney Morning Herald. We decided the incredible tale of the two warring gangs was worth far more than a few pages in a newspaper, so over dinner in a French restaurant in Penrith, we hatched a plan to write a book. Therein began an enduring friendship. Sandra was my best friend: she was best woman at my wedding, was there for the delivery of my twins and was always there in a crisis. Between 1989 and 1994, Sandra and I co-authored three crime books, Brothers in Arms, My Husband My Killer and The Killer Next Door. She went on to write two further books The Ghost of Ludwig Gertsch (2000) which led to a second coronial inquiry into the death of the flamboyant Sydney character. Her last book, Done Like a Dinner, a collection of stories about crimes hatched in restaurants, was co-authored with Herald journalist, Jennifer Cooke published in 2007.
Sandra always had a sense of humour. In 1986, while researching Brothers in Arms, she followed a Harley Davidson to the Bandido clubhouse in the western suburbs of Sydney. Matching them drink for drink, while I pregnant and sober frantically searched for an escape exit in case things turned nasty, Sandra commented: ‘Pig’s got lovely eyes.’
That same year, Sandra hosted ‘a hat party’ in her then flat at Rose Bay and invited several bikies –– who threatened at one point to break the legs of some of her friends if they tried to enter the party without a hat. She bought her own motorbike and took to swooping up and down the coast on weekends in between writing the book.
While researching our second crime book, My Husband My Killer, she hosted a hitman in her lounge room, after taking up his offer of a lift home. Once, she met Roger Rogerson on the beach in his Speedos to check the facts for a story. We dressed up as a bikie molls in 1985 to visit the Bandidos at Parklea Jail to conduct a final interview with the gang’s leader, Anthony (Snodgrass) Spencer.
Last August, in what was to be her last major public appearance, we received the 2007 Ned Kelly Lifetime Achievement Award, at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival. She died on January 21, 2008 aged 49 after a nine-month battle with cancer.
I interviewed her in her Coogee apartment the week before she died. She spoke about the importance of that award as acknowledgement of her writing as well as her impending death; her wish to just ‘go shopping’ and to visit parts of Australia which she had never seen.
‘I’ve had a great life. I wish it could be longer,’ she said.
At 47 she became a Bronze lifesaver and was President of the Amateur Coogee Swimming Club taking part in many ocean races including the Cole Classic. The ocean was always a great inspiration to her. Every day she swam in the sea.
Her break into journalism in 1979 followed her graduation as a secondary school teacher, at the family run Pictorial News in the Sutherland Shire. Ian Badham, her first editor, remembers:
‘She had both an ability to express in writing what was happening and a compassion. She was a natural. Her ability showed right from the start. We’ve lost a wonderful person.’ Sandra was S D Harvey on her first solo effort, The Ghost of Ludwig Gertsch. She said it was more alluring and, I believe, marked a new beginning for her in her writing. She strongly believed in the power of creative nonfiction to tell a story, but was always the facts M’am and nothing but the facts. She was one of the most accurate journalists I have ever met. She had uncanny ability to delve into the murky criminal past and come up with a great yarn often mostly because of the incredible trust and regard her contacts had for her.
She thought of her books as her best achievements so The Ned Kelly SD Harvey award is one of the best ways to ensure she is remembered. One of her closest schoolfriends, Linden Harper, approached the Peter Lawrance to see if an award could be offered in Sandra’s memory. This is the result.