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Toni took on everyone who thought they were smarter, stronger

Toni McRae at work in the Chronicle office.
Toni McRae at work in the Chronicle office. Valerie Horton

FEW journalists were as good or as passionate about the media industry as Toni McRae.

Ms McRae was an international print journalist, who worked in Israel, Europe, Iran and New Zealand.

She filed exclusive national and international stories and won three United Nations Association Media Peace awards.

Sadly, Toni McRae passed away peacefully during her sleep overnight on Wednesday, aged 67.

Born in New Zealand, Toni had a life many journalists aspired to - full of scandals, stars and scoops.

In 1964, as a teenager, Toni sat in an armchair with her notebook out, interviewing the "very ordinary" Beatles.

She recalled falling in love with Paul McCartney that day - ironing his shirt during the interview so he could wear it at the gig that night.

Eleven years later, a story written by Toni in Fairfax's Sun newspaper about Junie Morosi's relationship with Deputy Prime Minister Jim Cairns, sent the Gough Whitlam government "into freefall".

She was nominated as Australian Journalist of the Year by her editors at the Australian, for risking her life covering conflict in the Middle East.

In Iran she had a gun held to her head and after infiltrating a few gangs in New Zealand she got caught in a few hairy situations.

It was all because of her duty and desire to find the truth.

But the Chronicle's admiration of Toni's work goes well beyond the first-class international journalism.

From 2005 to 2011 Toni was serving the region as a journalist for the Fraser Coast Chronicle.

She was renowned as a respected and brilliant investigative reporter.

And despite moving back from the big smoke to the laid back lifestyle of the Fraser Coast, Toni's awards kept rolling in.

Toni, along with former editor Nancy Bates, began a crusade to recognise our region's indigenous heritage.

Spearheaded by Toni, the Chronicle began a weekly "Let's Learn Butchulla: Hands in Time, Journeying Together" series, aimed at promoting our Butchulla heritage.

In one of the Chronicle's proudest moments, in 2008 that campaign won the United Nations Association Media Peace award for Promotion of Aboriginal Reconciliation.

Accepting the award from the ABC's Kerry O'Brien, Ms Bates heaped praise on her chief reporter.

"She should be the one up here receiving this award," she said.

Later in life, Toni remained a straight shooter with a sharp sense of humour.

She was grateful doctors in Hervey Bay found breast cancer in her body in April last year.

She had chemotherapy and in typical Toni fashion, she fought to recover for six long months.

While the cancer was pushed out of her body, there was no getting rid of the political bug.

After her retirement as a journalist, Toni joined the political office of Member for Hervey Bay Ted Sorensen and later became media advisor to Maryborough MP Anne Maddern.

"She came into our office like a whirlwind, full of life, enthusiasm and wit and now she is gone, leaving a dull and empty space," Mrs Maddern said.

"We will miss her dreadfully."

While many come to this beautiful region to slow down, Toni was the opposite.

She chronicled the story of one of this region's most famous faces, Con Souvlis.

In a letter, Mr Souvlis was heartbroken about his "beautiful friend".

"My heart is broken today with the sad news of my beautiful friend passing away," he said.

"She was a true lady and a ray of sunshine who came into my life a few years ago.

"We would share a merlot while she was interviewing me for my book.

"I am now so much richer for knowing her - she would light up a room just with her presence."

Federal Member for Wide Bay and Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss said Toni was loved as a local, respected as a journalist and admired for her enthusiasm for our region.

"For the many years that I knew Toni, she was always working on projects close to our community and close to her heart," he said.

"Toni had a special interest in learning about and telling the stories of local veterans, working closely with the RSL and the Maryborough Military and Colonial Museum.

"Toni's warm, disarming and engaging charm will be sadly missed by all her knew her."

But probably the only person who knew the real Toni McRae was her dearest friend of 30 years, Les Wilson.

The quietly spoken gentleman was in shock on Thursday but managed to pay tribute to the "special lady".

"The real Toni McRae is an unbelievable journalist, maximum style," he said.

"This bird did everything.

"She was the ultimate journalist, never took a backward step.

"She took on everybody who thought they were smarter and bigger and stronger."

Topics:  butchulla con souvlis hervey bay journalist nancy bates toni mcrae warren truss



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