One Crowded Hour by Tim Bowden

One Crowded Hour, by Tim Bowden, details over twenty years, from the early 1960s, when Australian photographer and war correspondent, Neil Davis, brought images of the full horror of war directly from the battlefront to the world’s television screens.

Davis is best remembered for the years covering the conflict in Indo-China. He was the only western cameraman to film within the South Vietnamese army and actually managed to cross over battle lines to film with the Viet Cong. He also covered the war in Cambodia and Laos, and in 1975 scooped the world’s press by filming the taking of Saigon’s Presidential Palace.

This is an absolutely fascinating read, once again because it covered a period not mentioned by the Education Department at that time. (One daughter studied Modern History in the late ‘90’s. Ask her about the Korean conflict and she’ll talk for hours.  Not so this one. An aside : she actually met her future husband in a debate about Korea. Funny how things work out, hey…)

Davis must have been an interesting character, coming from a pioneering farming family in Tasmania. He was an athlete and had a quick brain, and from all accounts, had a fondness for the ladies.

This recount of his life is from his diaries, conversations with friends, newspaper cuttings, and some delightful letters to and from his Aunt Lillian from which he comes across as genuine and down to earth, despite some of his derring-do tendencies.

He has an artist’s eye when describing the beauty of Balinese women in the rice fields and the ancient temples and I just loved his commentary about Australian Government Officials before they had any power.

From 1967 in Saigon:
The Australian Minister for the Army, Malcom Fraser, is here at the moment – young and impressive looking but really a dreary bore with little intelligence to look further than he is officially shown. Which is in contrast to another young MP, Andrew Peacock, who recently visited at his own expense.

Fraser. Boring ? Can’t believe that, can you?

Like a lot of men that like to live on the edge, Davis had varied interests. He was a partner in a nightclub on the Mekong River and availed himself of the beautiful “dancing” girls, and had cards printed that said “I think I could fall in love with you. Ring me on xxxxxxxxx. Neil,” which he had on his person at all times. Sounds like a bloke you want to tip a glass of water over or what! But wait, there’s more….

He also set up and supported an orphanage.         Sigh…….

Davis’ personal motto, which he inscribed to the front of each of his diaries was the last two lines of this stanza :

Sound, sound the clarion, fill the fife,
Throughout the sensual world proclaim,
One crowded hour of glorious life
Is worth an age without a name

Thomas Morduant

In September 1985, having survived so much war, Davis was killed while filming an attempted coup in the streets of Bangkok. Incredibly his still-running camera captured his own death.

There is a music version of these events called An Ode To Neil Davis if you are interested. Go to : https://youtu.be/kLZ_K51yZLM.

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