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Keith Willey grew up in Queensland and 'must have read every book Ion Idriess ever wrote. ... [A]dventure was the Torres Strait, the wide, slow rivers of the Gulf of Carpentaria, the mountains and grass plains of Kimberley' (xi). He worked as a journalist on daily newspapers from Cairns to Launceston and from Sydney to Darwin and Adelaide and in Papua New Guinea. Willey attended and covered the historic hanging of convicted murderer Ronald Ryan, the last person to hang in Australia, and the disappearance of Prime Minister Harold Holt. A dramatised documentary about Ryan, The Last Man Hanged (1993) telling the story from the point of view of Willey was written and directed by Willey's nephew Lewis Fitzgerald.
As a foreign correspondent for the Sunday Sun, Willey reported on the wars in Vietnam and the Middle East. He also filed stories from the South Pacific, Papua New Guinea, Cambodia and Malaysia. Willey spent eight years in the Northern Territory and Kimberley region of Western Australia from 1956; part of the time as a professional crocodile hunter. He was editor of The Centralian Advocate (1956-1957) and The Northern Territory News (1958-1964?). Later in life he gained a degree in history from the Australian National University.
Willey was a prolific author who wrote widely in the travel genre, captured a passing era in Australia's northern regions and commented perceptively on Australia's history and culture. He taught at the then Darling Downs Institute of Advanced Education in 1983-84 before his death. The Keith Willey Award, instigated by the Willey family and administered by the Faculty of Arts, University of Southern Queensland, is presented to the journalism student with the highest academic achievement in the first two years of his or her program.
(Source: The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature ed. William H. Wilde et. al.(1994): 816-817; Keith Willey, 'Foreword', Ghosts of the Big Country (1975); xi-xvi)).