ACCLAIMED foreign correspondent Sean Dorney remains firmly in the limelight, picking up two major awards recently despite his daily struggle with motor neurone disease.
Diagnosed with the debilitating disease last year and with specialists predicting two years to live, Mr Dorney now finds himself growing weaker, with even simple movements requiring energy-sapping effort.
He returned to his old school Brisbane’s St Joseph’s Nudgee College on November 27 to receive a Signum Fidei award – the highest honour that can be conferred on a college old boy.
“It doesn’t matter if you weren’t the best at school, find what you’re good at and when you do, never give up,” Mr Dorney told students and college guests during a heartfelt luncheon acceptance speech.
A few days earlier, Mr Dorney stood on stage in front of Australia’s media elite at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre to receive a gong at the prestigious annual Walkley Awards for journalism.
He was recognised for his Outstanding Contribution to Journalism during a 40-year career as a Papua New Guinea correspondent and then Pacific correspondent for the ABC in which he was “feted, honoured, detained, shot at and deported”.
“Dorney’s personal history is as interwoven with Papua New Guinea as his professional career,” the Walkley Foundation said.
“For many listeners in remote areas, Dorney was the voice, the very embodiment, of Australia.
“And he ‘planted the seed’ for a generation of journalists, not just in PNG but across the region.”
Although restricted in his movements, Mr Dorney, was eager to return to Nudgee College accompanied by his wife Pauline, to reconnect with the school where he was a senior in 1968, and that his three brothers also attended.
“It came out of the blue. And I was quite chuffed,” Mr Dorney said of the Signum Fidei award.
“One of the things Nudgee taught me was to be humble.
“Because I didn’t have a great deal of success academically or sports-wise at Nudgee.
“In my last year there I was halfback for the Fifth’s.”
He went on to play rugby league during his years in PNG and even captained the national team, the Kumuls.
“What you do at school isn’t everything – after you leave school if you keep going and keep trying,” he said.
“Don’t be upset by any failures you might have because if you keep going and find something you can really do – like I managed to do in journalism – then you can have a great career.”
Mr Dorney still lives by the creed of “keep going”.
He has volunteered for research into motor neurone disease, and regularly attends Brisbane’s Wesley Hospital for infusions of Privigen, a drug aimed at boosting antibodies and reducing the rate of deterioration of the nervous system.
“I am feeling weaker and weaker… but one of the things my neurologist is pleased about is that there hasn’t been any deterioration of my voice,” Mr Dorney said.
A second Signum Fidei was awarded to Oblate Father John Sherman, an old boy from 1954, who is based in Melbourne and will receive his award at the annual St Joseph’s Day Mass next March.