(Tribute to Neil Davis - Australian War Correspondent – 1934-1985)
Just One Crowded Hour
Neil Davis, a Tasmanian, brought to the world graphic film footage of the Vietnam War, Pol Pot’s ‘Killing Fields’ and rare scenes from other troubled hot spots throughout SE Asia. One of the more memorable images that he provided, was of the North Vietnamese tank crashing through the steel gates of the Presidential Palace in Saigon, on the last day of the war. He was one of the very few westerners to remain behind, amongst the chaos and dangers in the city. This act captured that moment for history.
Neil Davis was killed on a Bangkok street, whilst filming the 1985 attempted military ‘coup d’état’. His camera kept rolling as he lay dying and so, in effect, he filmed his own death.
Inspiration for this poem originated, not only from Davis’s exploits but from Tim Bowden’s book One Crowded Hour.
“Sound, sound the clarion, fill the pipe, throughout the sensual world proclaim:
One crowded hour of glorious life, is worth an age without a name!”
- Thomas Osbert Mordaunt (1730-1809).
“Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own it!” - Joseph Liebling, 1960.
“One hour of life, crowded to the full with glorious action,
and filled with noble risks is worth whole years of those
mean observances of paltry decorum.” - Sir Walter Scott, English poet, 1830.
♪♪My My, Hey Hey …. It’s better to burn out, than to fade away! ♪♪ Neil Young.
“Cambodian soldiers believe death comes in the form of a laughing beautiful lady!”
- Neil Davis in Tim Bowden’s One Crowded Hour.
Just One Crowded Hour
Would you be prepared to sacrifice,
Pay the supreme toll, heavy price,
Surrender fiscal wealth and fleeting power?
Give up also one’s precious treasures,
Those ephemeral so-called pleasures,
All for one packed, fully crowded hour?
Any existence lasting long,
Lived without fine food, wine and song,
’Tis it better to have reached such an age?
Or perhaps avoid times sadly wasted,
And fruits left hanging, barely tasted;
Live life compressed to just one single page?
Are today’s images shown, really clear?
Heavily censored, ’tis what I fear!
Just who decides what we will see as news?
Protected up there in ivory towers,
An elite few only hold special powers;
Monopolies, that some clearly just abuse.
’Twas termed by many, a media war,
Run by the ‘Television and Press Club Corps’,
From the top floor of the classy Caravelle.
Stories created, inflated, or re-told,
Reporters’ souls there hocked or sold,
Over a beer at this central Saigon city hotel.
Facts distorted daily through a kind of maze,
In a smoky, sleazy alcoholic haze;
‘Hostesses’ flirting and distracting there galore.
Night skylines served as panoramas,
‘Arty’ and rockets starred in frequent dramas,
Viewed from this bar, where some wrote up their war.
Many took that cowardly cheap approach,
Swapping ‘warries’, they’d often poach,
‘Truth can take a back-seat’, a motto then for some.
At home, an editor’s scheduled deadlines,
Demanding controversial front page headlines;
‘Sensation’ was their guide, their ‘rule of thumb’.
Yet, there remained apart, at least a few,
Correspondents and cameramen too,
Who searched beyond the safety of city ‘fronts’;
Experienced the carnage way out there,
Tragic and unstaged real warfare,
And walked amongst the mines with those ‘grunts’.
And through such searching prying eyes,
A lens revealing many facts and lies;
Truths that some endeavoured to avoid.
When most had fled and long since gone,
Filming those palace gates crashing, in Saigon,
One man recorded that event, on celluloid.
Public executions and mortal combat,
Also civil revolts and all of that;
Unique footage for our lounge room TV screens;
Like Amerasian, confronting disclosures,
Frontline’s graphic genocide exposures,
With the ‘Killing Fields’ horrific chilling scenes.
Around Anchor Wat and in Phnom Penh,
Deeds of Pol Pot’s so-called ‘enlightened men’,
And a host of corrupted police-state, cruel regimes;
Like Indonesia’s President Achmad Sukarno’s,
Overthrown later by General Suharto’s,
And Marcos’s martial law in the Philippines.
Yet, for everyone there’s little doubt,
Luck eventually fades, runs finally out;
‘Death as a Lady!’, Davis knew one day he’d meet;
Shot during a military coup d’ état,
(Now fancy him dying in a way like that!)
Filming his own death, on a Bangkok street.
And so, if just one year is ever wasted,
Even one day should it be never tasted,
All fruits of one’s own life may seem quite sour!
Should we maintain a conservative line,
Like an ostrich pretending there’s ample time?
Or live life as if in ... just one crowded hour?