Philip Williams has announced his retirement. Williams’s distinguished journalism career has spanned 46 years – 40 of them spent at the ABC, the past five as our Chief Foreign Correspondent, a role created especially for him.
He has decided it’s time to unpack his bags for a bit and spend some more time with his family and on his farm.
Gaven Morris, ABC Director News, says: “Philip Williams is one of Australia’s most accomplished foreign correspondents, one of the best storytellers in the ABC’s history and one of the most experienced and skilled field reporters of his generation.
“In the echelons of Australian journalists, and in the ABC pantheon, he sits at the very top.
“He is genuinely loved by ABC audiences. He’s always considered their needs and committed himself to thoughtfully explaining complex issues and disturbing events with care, clarity and compassion.
“He is loved and admired by his colleagues and peers for the quality of his character, his professionalism, his humility and the personal integrity he brings to every story and role.”
Williams started work at the ABC in Canberra in 1975 as a stagehand before moving into News. He went on to roam the world and tell countless stories, bringing the world’s biggest events into the living rooms of Australians, including as the ABC’s Bureau Chief in Tokyo and London.
Some of the many stories he has covered include: The dismissal of Gough Whitlam in 1975. September 11 in the US and the ensuing Iraq War. The Arab Spring. The Beslan school siege. London’s Grenfell Tower fire – where he filmed a whole 7.30 story on his mobile phone. Brexit. The rise of Donald Trump. Terrorist attacks all over the world – Norway, Russia, France, Spain and the UK. Natural disasters all over the world – the Pacific, Asia, North America and Europe.
One of Australia’s most respected journalism leaders, he has been a mentor and a friend to dozens of journalists and operational staff.
In the words of two friends and colleagues who have worked closely with him over many years:
ABC Editorial Director Craig McMurtrie: “Phil makes it look effortless. It isn’t. He has led ABC reporting from impossibly difficult and dangerous locations so many times. And through it all he has remained the most warm and generous of colleagues. He is an exemplary broadcaster.”
Senior journalist and News Breakfast presenter Lisa Millar: “Phil brings an emotional intelligence to his work rarely seen in other reporters. Above and beyond what he does for the ABC and its audience he is constantly working to improve how the media treat people who have faced trauma and violence.”
Says Williams: “I have been incredibly lucky to have been given extraordinary opportunities to report around the world over a 46-year career. I feel so privileged to have been allowed to tell so many peoples’ stories of disaster, heartbreak and, occasionally, pure joy.
“I have always tried to keep front of mind my tribe – the Australian people – who have enabled my career through the ABC.
“Everything I’ve done, from the steps of Parliament during the dismissal in 1975 to the extraordinary defeat of Donald Trump in last year’s US election, has been a collaboration with wonderful colleagues.
“I’m proud of what the camera people, the editors, the producers, the executive producers, management – and everyone else I’ve had the good fortune to work with over four and a half decades – have achieved. My work is their work and I’ve learned from the best.
“For all its foibles, the ABC remains the most important media institution in the nation. It is a vital part of our democracy and must be protected and preserved.
“For all the natural disasters, the fires, floods, droughts, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, the revolutions, insurrections, wars, the economic upheavals, the social and technological changes I have reported on, it’s the people I remember the most.
“It is the father digging for the bodies of his children killed in a flash flood; the mother sitting by her young daughter on life support after being shot in the head; the wail of the grandmother searching for her grandson after a terrorist attack on a school.
“These images, these stories, live with me. It’s an enormous responsibility telling these stories, honouring those who have allowed me to intrude on their lives on their worst ever day.”