Tributes flow for 'ferocious' Age investigative journalist
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Tributes flow for 'ferocious' Age investigative journalist

Tributes have flowed for the late investigative reporter Ben Hills, praised by colleagues for breaking some of Australia’s biggest stories.

Hills, who was a leader of The Age’s legendary Insight team of the 1970s, died from cancer in Sydney on Sunday.

His team exposed crooked land deals under the Hamer/Thompson Victorian Liberal government, which forced the resignation of two ministers and was significant in the government’s downfall.

Ferocious and persistent: Award winning investigative journalist Ben Hills (pictured in 2010) has died of cancer.

Ferocious and persistent: Award winning investigative journalist Ben Hills (pictured in 2010) has died of cancer.

Photo: John Woudstra

Insight broke stories that evolved into the Loans Affair that brought down the Whitlam Labor government.

Hills reported from 60 countries as an Age foreign correspondent. Later at Melbourne’s Herald newspaper, Hills’ probes into worker asbestos deaths led to his book Blue Murder, about victims of the asbestos mine at Wittenoom, WA.

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Hills was a producer for TV program 60 Minutes.  While at the Sydney Morning Herald, Hills won a Walkley Award in 1991. In 2014 he was inducted into the Melbourne Press Club hall of fame.

His friend, veteran journalist Tony Walker, said Hills was "one of the pioneers of investigative journalism in this country".

Walker said Hills’ strengths were that "he was always an outsider looking in", and "incredibly persistent and dogged".

Young lion: Journalist Ben Hills in a staff photo for The Age in 1978.

Young lion: Journalist Ben Hills in a staff photo for The Age in 1978.

Photo: The Age library

Friend and former Age editor Mike Smith said Hills helped revitalise investigative journalism.

‘‘He wrote some terrific stories and broke new ground in investigative reporting through the establishment of principles like conflict of interest, which really hadn’t been heard of before he exposed it in the Victorian public service.

‘‘He was a feisty reporter, with a compelling telephone interviewing style.

''He was good at seducing people into talking over the phone, winning their confidence, and then he’d whack em with the killer question.’’

Hills had been married three times and recently became a great-grandfather. A funeral will be held in Sydney at a later date.