Illawarra Mercury photographer Sylvia Liber has won her fifth Walkley Award after today being announced the winner of the 2020 Nikon-Walkley Community/Regional Prize.
Sylvia won the award for a body of work entitled Strength and Resilience, a portfolio of images from across the last 12 months featuring images from the South Coast bushfires, an image of a crew member leaving the stranded Ruby Princess in Port Kembla on a bus and a shot of rising Illawarra surfing star Oceanna Rogers.
However, the feature image of the portfolio was one entitled Fierce, an image of Vickie Roach which featured on a Mercury front page in March announcing the Road to Recovery campaign in conjunction with the Illawarra Women's Health Centre.
The campaign called for government support to help design an Australian first domestic violence trauma recovery centre for the Illawarra.
"Vickie Roach is a proud Aboriginal woman who has not cut her hair in decades - in defiance of the strict foster mother who used to chop it off as punishment, and the men who later used her long mane to inflict pain on her, to hold her down and drag her around by it," Sylvia said in her Walkley Award submission.
"Born to a Stolen Generations mother, and then taken herself and sent to live with a strict, religious family in Sydney's western suburbs, Vickie became a runaway at nine, a heroin user by 14 and eventually turned to prostitution to stay alive on the streets of Kings Cross.
"She's spent much of her 60 years in and out of prison - and violent relationships. Between 1976 and 2003, she had 125 convictions or findings of guilt made against her, but when released for the last time in 2008 felt she'd finally managed to break free of the system.
"But it was while she was imprisoned in Victoria that she gained a master's degree, and in 2007 national notoriety for her role in a ground-breaking legal challenge to the High Court, which returned the right to vote to prisoners serving less than three years."
The accompanying story by Mercury deputy editor Lisa Wachsmuth and the award-winning image led to Shellhabour MP Anna Watson securing a $50,000 grant to progress to the planning stage of the trauma centre.
To call for public support for the next stage of the centre the Illawarra Women's Health Centre and the Illawarra Mercury will be partnering on a special exhibition to be launched in Wollongong next month featuring Liber's images of victims of domestic violence.
The exhibition will tour to other parts of the Illawarra later in the year.
Illawarra Mercury editor Julian O'Brien congratulated Sylvia on the award win, saying it further cements her standing as one of the best newsroom photographers in the country.
"Sylvia is an incredible photographer and in her human portraits always manages to bring out something magical thanks to her own incredible personality and empathy for her subjects," he said.
"We are truly blessed with our photographic team at the Mercury and as Shellharbour's own we should be very proud of Sylvia and the work she does to represent the region."
In awarding the prize the Nikon-Walkley judges said of Sylvia's portfolio: "A well-rounded entry that covered a diverse range of topics in an interesting way. This complete body of work showcased Sylvia's range and ability to capture drama."
Details of the exhibition will be announced in November.
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