LOST IN LARRIMAH: Kylie Stevenson and Caroline Graham with five-month-old baby Eddie at the Larrimah Hotel.
LOST IN LARRIMAH: Kylie Stevenson and Caroline Graham with five-month-old baby Eddie at the Larrimah Hotel. Contributed

Mango kick-started cadet's career

FORMER Whitsunday Coast Guardian journalist Kylie Stevenson remembers a time when a mango that looked like Winston Churchill was dropped on her desk in Proserpine.

Now, she's up for one of the most prestigious journalism awards in Australia, announced as a finalist in the 2018 Walkey Awards last month.

Ms Stevenson began her journalism career as a cadet at the Whitsunday Coast Guardian in 2001, and initially worked in Proserpine for two years.

She returned to the publication between 2004-05 as a graded journalist.

The stint at The Guardian was one she said prepared her significantly for the rest of her career.

"It was such a small operation back then. We were the reporters, the sub-editors, we did all the photography and occasionally we would be sent out to sell an ad or two,” she said.

"The old premises in Proserpine had the printer out the back and on a Wednesday it would print around the middle of the day. We'd be inserting all the pamphlets and collating all the papers.

"Sometimes we'd work until 1am and be back at 7am the next morning, but it was fun. I loved it. I learned so much and met so many great people.” Ms Stevenson moved on to the Daily Mercury in Mackay where she met Caroline Graham, who would later become her co-producer and fellow 2018 Walkley Award nominee.

She then moved to Darwin in 2007 and spent almost nine years at the Northern Territory News until 2016.

But in 2016, Ms Stevenson participated in a writers retreat in Larrimah, a hamlet approximately 428km southeast of Darwin with a population of 11 - and that's where it all began.

Former Guardian journalist Kylie Stevenson.
Former Guardian journalist Kylie Stevenson. FLEET BRAD

"An outback town, a missing man and 11 people who mostly hate each other...”

When Paddy Moriarty went missing from Larrimah in suspicious circumstances in December 2016, locals were desperate for answers.

Having background knowledge of the settlement from the writers retreat, Ms Stevenson enlisted the help of Ms Graham to produce a six-episode podcast titled Lost in Larrimah, examining the details around his disappearance, and the resulting decline of the town.

"It's not quite true crime. It's a portrait of a town where a crime has occurred and it's quite a unique town in that only 11 people live there,” she said.

"We learned so much about the town and it being on the edge of extinction. But it hadn't always been this way. The town had about 12 residents before Paddy's disappearance, but a lot of them don't speak to each other. They had a lot of infighting in the community.”

Ms Stevenson said the podcast was done with The Australian, which left "a very tight window” in which the story could be published.

Aside from the challenges of a near impossible deadline, Ms Stevenson was nursing her five-month-old baby and battling the searing heat of Larrimah.

But she said the biggest challenge came from executing the story in the appropriate tone.

"A lot of funny things have happened in that town. It has quite a colourful history and now there's person missing and possibly dead,” she said.

"It's quite easy to fall into that trap of making them a caricature. We had to try and touch on that, but still address a very serious issue and not make light of it.”

Ms Stevenson and Ms Graham went to Larrimah about four months after Paddy's disappearance.

She said the residents were desperate for information and wanted word to spread in an attempt to locate him.

"People just let us into their homes and were so open with us and so kind. They welcomed us in and would offer us a cup of tea. That felt pretty special,” she said.

"In terms of the end product we were both pretty happy with how it turned out. People down there were happy with what we did.

"It was really important to us that they were all happy with it, because we didn't want to disrespect Paddy. So that felt pretty rewarding in the end.”

Ms Stevenson and Ms Graham, now friends of about 14 years, have been announced as finalists for Lost in Larrimah in the Radio/Audio Feature Category of the 2018 Walkley Awards celebrating excellence in journalism.

But through all her roles and successes, Ms Stevenson said Proserpine will always hold a special place in her heart.

She recalled a number of quirky stories that came her way including an intoxicated rollerblader and the Winston Churchill mango which resulted in a pile of fruit being brought into the office by readers.

But Ms Stevenson also covered her fair share of disasters, both natural and otherwise such as cyclones, fires, floods and a murder at Dingo Beach.

"You work harder at a newspaper no matter what. It was certainly The Guardian that got me ready for my career,” she said.

Ms Stevenson is working as a freelance journalist in Darwin and is due to recommence her Doctorate in Creative Arts next year.

The 2018 Walkley Award winners will be announced at a formal ceremony in Brisbane on November 22.

Lost in Larrimah has also been nominated for the 2018 Northern Territory Media Awards for Best News Coverage and Best TV/Radio Current Affairs.

The award winners will be announced on Saturday, November 17.

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