Caroline Jones’ sparkling eyes and melodious voice belied the grief and loss behind what she called “a gift” that made her an attentive listener who connected deeply with people in difficulty. It’s a gift she has generously shared with Australian audiences for over 50 years as a journalist, broadcaster, storyteller and mentor.
Jones, who died aged 84 last week after a fall at her Sydney home, blazed a trail for women in media. Her own groundbreaking work in the industry has encouraged others to follow with confidence, and her role as a strong advocate for young regional female journalists has nurtured lifelong careers and friendships. “There is a special place in heaven for women who help other women” was her motto and the roadmap by which she lived her life.
Jones became the first female reporter for ABC TV’s current affairs program This Day Tonight in 1968, working in a male-dominated newsroom alongside stalwarts such as Mike Carlton and Bill Peach. She won a Logie Award for a hard-hitting series about Sydney slumber landlords and their tenants, but learned a tough lesson in the process.
“I imagined that [my reporting] would change things for the better… Some of the tenants were evicted [as a result]. I felt it was a big failure on our part and a tough lesson,” Jones said in a 2013 interview.
Jones’ mother committed suicide in 1969, an event that marked the young journalist deeply. It sent her on a lifelong quest to find meaning in the world and revealed her life’s purpose.
“My newly awakened compassion, born out of suffering, was still in its infancy but it was a gift because it allowed me to listen to people and sometimes it allowed me to be close to another person in difficulty,” she wrote in her memoir. An Authentic Life.
In 1972, Jones became history when it was announced that she would be the first woman to host Four Corners. Unprepared for the resulting furor, she allowed herself to be photographed wearing a miniskirt and applying lipstick. The photo appeared on the front page of a Melbourne newspaper under the headline ‘Brains Now, Beauty Next’. Ironically, this front page is now a reminder of the barriers Jones helped dismantle.
Jones took great pleasure in her work with Women in Media. She joined the organization as co-patron in 2017, and a year later the Caroline Jones Women in Media Young Journalist’s Award was launched. The annual award aims to provide regional and rural female journalists with the opportunity to experience Canberra’s media and political landscape first-hand in a supportive mentoring environment. Jones invested herself in supporting young journalists and nurturing them as if they were part of the family. A pregnant Queenslander traveling to Canberra in the winter received a parcel of thermal underwear in the post, another received cash to help with childcare.
Jones was born in Sydney on January 1, 1938, the only child of Nancy and Brian James. After his father left home to serve in World War II, Jones and his mother moved to the town of Murrurundi, New South Wales, to live with a grandmother and aunt until he returned. . Jones’ grandfather, Ashley Pountney, had been editor of some of the earliest newspapers in North West New South Wales and Jones always felt she had “ink in her blood”, but it wasn’t until her mid-twenties that she got a job at the ABC. in Canberra.
Jones worked as a presenter on National Radio’s Search for Meaning, interviewing a diverse range of people across the country. The program led to Australian Story, which she hosted until her retirement in 2016, although she continued to tweet about it with viewers on Monday nights. Jones wrote a series of books based on the radio program and explored the emotions around her father’s death in her latest book, Through a Glass Darkly.
Jones has become a cherished and respected mentor and friend to many young female journalists in regional and rural communities. Recipients of the award on her behalf have expressed nothing but admiration for the way she nurtured and supported them, and often their children as well.
Elly Bradfield, Queensland Regional Reporter and recipient of the 2020 award, said: “One of the saddest things Caroline ever said to me was that in her day you had no choice; you either had a family or a career, but you couldn’t have both.
“I’ve always felt like I wanted to stay in the regions, but there’s not a lot of incentive to do so. Caroline’s support helped me realize the importance of what we do. She was almost a sideline cheerleader and had a soft spot for regional reporters. She lifted us up and always made time for us.
Others also benefited from Jones’ generosity. She taught primary school children in western Sydney to read and became personally involved in Mahboba’s Promise, a charity that helps Afghan women and children. In 1988 Jones was made an Officer of the Order of Australia for her contribution to radio and television journalism.
Jones married and divorced in her early 20s and had no children, but her legacy is indelibly marked on a generation of young women in media.
Part of the Women in Media award is the opportunity to ask the first question at the National Press Club, and a highlight for the winners was seeing Jones beaming from the front row, watching with pride as the question was asked. As the 2022 winner, Brooke Littlewood from Western Australia, was announced at the Press Club this week, a bouquet of flowers was placed on Jones’ empty chair.