Danielle Lancaster.
Danielle Lancaster. Sheryn Ellis

Focus on helping others

WHAT does it take to win one of Australia's most prestigious journalism awards?

One person who can give you an answer is photo journalist Danielle Lancaster. Her video titled Healing Cambodia's Wounds highlighting the role of the White-Robed Nuns after the devastation of the Pol Pot regime, was awarded the Nikon-Walkley Queensland Slide Show Award in 2013.

In this short video, she portrays an aspect of healing and rebuilding that took place in Cambodia after the years of genocide (1975-1979) led by Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge government.

During that time, between 1.5 to two million people lost their lives as the government sought to bring about a classless, communist society and in the process eliminated intellectuals, city residents, ethnic Vietnamese, civil servants and religious leaders.

In gentle and moving terms, the essay video documents the work of the Don Chee, the women left without husbands or sons, who shaved their heads, donned white and went to work sweeping temples and doing basic work to show a way out of the despair and into a better future.

Danielle's own Cambodian journey began in 1998 when she was on assignment as a photographer. The country's social and economic wreckage made a huge impression on her and she arrived back in Australia with a vision of setting up schools for children.

Today, after years of fundraising and negotiations, she counts the building of four schools among the things she was able to contribute to the betterment of this ravaged country.

Perhaps it was Danielle's start on a cattle and later wheat station in the Goondiwindi area that gave her the solid grounding she used to make her dreams a reality.

"I think I was in a pack saddle at six days old,” Danielle laughs. (These days trucks or helicopters are used to muster cattle, but more than 50 years ago, when people had long days in the saddle, they took their supplies in the "pack saddle”).

As with many station children, Danielle went off to boarding school, and although she doesn't have a lot of fond memories of the time, she does appreciate the high standard of education she received there.

Indeed, she went on to train and work as a registered nurse specialising in the care of young children. However, all through her years of studying she continued her hobby which began on the station.

Danielle's mother was a keen amateur photographer and she had a daughter who watched her every move.

"We used to get the "National Geographic” delivered and I couldn't wait to run out and get it every month,” she recalled.

Danielle's passion for photography and nursing aligned when she was employed as a Charge Nurse at Mackay Base Hospital. Management knew of her photographic experience and when she was offered the position of medical photographer, she accepted without hesitation.

It was this experience which later landed her a job as a Courier-Mail photographer. Danielle took to it like a duck to water and covered every category of news, but her first work was as a sports photographer.

"I was the first official female photographer to cover the Bathurst Hardie 1000,” she said.

"I met Dick Johnson there and he took me under his wing and gave me some great opportunities.”

By the time Danielle hit Cambodia, her combined media and nursing experience had supplied her with the skills to help the local people move forward. Ultimately, she come up with funds, connections and support to build the first basic institutions of learning.

"There were no schools left, or teachers, but I knew education was the only way forward for these people,” she said.

So she went to work building the schools which today are self-sufficient. Now, aged 57,the mother of three adult children and soon-to-be grandmother still visits her many Cambodian friends. Back in Australia, Danielle specialises in two areas: social documentation and tourism photo journalism. She also designs and leads tours nationally and overseas.

You can see Danielle's video on YouTube at: https://www.youtube.com/watch? v=uOWbzQE3ijY.

For more on Danielle's tours/photography, go to bleu-dog.com.au or email info@blue-dog.com.au.

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