Curiosity: Stories of those who report during wartime

Curiosity: Stories of those who report during wartime cover

This commemorative publication is a part of the series; a Century of Service. It contains stories of journalists, artists and photographers who reported on various wartime conflicts. Their stories tell of the challenges they faced and the risks they took. 

ISBN: 978-0-9876151-7-6
Series: Century of Service
Access a designed version to download or print

In the Hall of Memory at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra there are 15 stained-glass windows. Each shows a figure dressed in military uniform, and under each figure is a word which describes a quality displayed by Australians during wartime. One window features an infantryman wearing a trench mortar uniform. He represents all service men and women who have gained knowledge from enquiry, symbolised by an eye in the Egyptian style from which stream rays of light.

This window bears the word Curiosity.

Note to reader: These stories relate to war and conflict. You may feel sad after reading some of them. Teachers may wish to be sensitive to students who have family members serving overseas in war zones.


While those who report on war need skill, courage, energy and insight, it is curiosity that drives them. The task of war correspondents – whether journalists, photographers, artists, camera operators or film makers – is to ask and answer questions, both big and small: What just occurred? What were the experiences of those involved? Why did this occur? Why do wars occur? What can we learn from them?

Australia has a proud tradition of war correspondents. Perhaps the best known of them is Charles Bean, official war correspondent to the Australian Imperial Force and founder of the Australian War Memorial. Many others have followed Bean, bringing different skills, insights and approaches to the task. For more than a century, they have produced iconic canvasses, haunting photographs, gripping film footage and insightful articles and broadcasts. This book highlights just fourteen men and women who have helped Australians to better make sense of war and conflict.

Reporting on war has always been dangerous work, and many correspondents have been injured or killed. Yet generations of curious men and women have continued to risk their lives to tell others about conflicts, battles and wars.

In 2015 a War Correspondents Memorial was dedicated in the grounds of the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. An important design element of the memorial is a raised and highly polished granite centre. It represents a camera lens or a human eye, and suggests the act of observing or bearing witness to an event. Around this centre, the following words are inscribed:

Amid dangers known and unknown war correspondents report what they see and hear. Those words and images live beyond the moment and become part of the history of Australia.
A large outdoor sculpture made of granite and featuring a highly polished round piece of dark granite in the centre.

Johnson Pilton Walker Architects, War Correspondents Memorial [2015, AWM ART96849]

An Anzac story: Phillip Schuler

Most Australians today are familiar with the Anzac story – the courage and mateship displayed by the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps at Gallipoli in 1915. As a correspondent for The Age newspaper, Phillip Schuler witnessed the landing at Gallipoli and several of the battles that followed. His writing and photographs from this time still shape our understanding of these events.

A beach with a very steep, rocky cliff behind it. Hundreds of soldiers and lots of equipment, including a boat, can be seen on the crowded beach. There is a wooden path stretching across and up the cliff face with more soldiers climbing along it.

Although Schuler was a correspondent rather than a photographer, he always carried a camera with him. His images taken during the Gallipoli campaign have become important historical records. This image by Schuler shows the beach at Anzac Cove on 26 August 1915. AWM PS1475

How might the landscape shown in this image have caused difficulties for the Australian troops?

Although Schuler accompanied the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) as it headed to war, he was not an official war correspondent appointed by the government. This meant he did not always have access to the Australian forces. Yet his curiosity saw him go to great lengths to capture their stories. At times he had to find his own information sources, transport and observation points to watch events unfold. During the landings at Gallipoli, he based himself on a nearby island and later wrote:

The battle opened at 4.17 a.m. … the men jumped from the boats into the icy Aegean, up to their armpits sometimes, their rifles held above their heads, and slowly facing the stream of lead, waded to the shore. Eager to be free [for] action, they at once dropped their packs and charged.[fn]Phillip Schuler, Australia in arms, T. Fisher Unwin Ltd., London, 1916, p. 104[/fn]

In the days after the landing, Schuler gained access to the hospital ships. His reports described the conditions faced by the wounded as ‘absolutely inadequate’, but also captured the spirit of the Anzacs:

There were men still with their first field dressings on their wounds after four or five days, whom the doctors had been unable to treat. No man minded. It was always, ‘He’s worse than I; take him first’. Such unselfishness often cost a man his arm or hand, but it meant the saving of his mate’s life.[fn]The Age, 16 October 1915, p. 6[/fn]
A man lying back on rocky ground with a notebook and a pair of binoculars in his hand.

Schuler, with binoculars and maps, watches the movement of ships in the harbour of Mudros, on the island of Lemnos. AWM PS1954

A man lying back on rocky ground with a notebook and a pair of binoculars in his hand.

Schuler was a 26-year-old journalist when he sailed to Egypt with the first AIF convoy in October 1914. This image was taken on board ship by the official war correspondent, Charles Bean. AWM G01560

Did you know?

While some First World War correspondents had access to cable, others, like Schuler, had to send their reports by mail. Articles often appeared in newspapers many weeks or months after they were written. While ships were slow and risked attack, censorship by the British government also affected the delivery of mail.

How has technology changed the job of war correspondents since the First World War?

A few months later, Schuler was able to join the AIF troops on the Gallipoli peninsula and witness firsthand the August offensive. His reports about the battles at Lone Pine and The Nek were widely read and established Schuler as a respected war correspondent. When the AIF withdrew from Gallipoli in December 1915, Schuler returned to Australia and wrote the books Battlefields of Anzac and Australia in Arms, both of which described the Anzac campaign at Gallipoli.

Informal black and white portrait image of Schuler wearing a military uniform. He is standing on lawn with garden plants behind him.

Schuler in uniform, probably in the garden of his family home in Melbourne, after enlisting in the AIF in April 1916. AWM P07692.001

How might Schuler's experience as a correspondent have influenced his feelings about joining the AIF?

Despite his success as a war correspondent, Schuler then surprised many by enlisting in the AIF in April 1916. He explained his decision in a letter to the British General Ian Hamilton: ‘Once the story of Anzac had been told there seemed no reason for my remaining while others died fighting’.[fn]Mark Baker, Phillip Schuler, Allen & Unwin, 2016, p. 191[/fn]

After basic training in England, Schuler sailed to France in November 1916 and served on the Western Front, before being promoted to the rank of lieutenant. On 23 June 1917, Schuler was fatally wounded in Belgium. On hearing of his death, Australia’s official war correspondent, Charles Bean, wrote:

... he worked harder than almost any other war correspondent I ever knew. He wrote only what he saw. His letters were true, and only those who knew what oceans of false stuff have been poured on to the world in this war can appreciate what that means.[fn]Bendigonian, 13 September 1916, p. 10[/fn]
An exhausted looking man sitting down at the opening of a trench.

Schuler’s image of a soldier resting in the trenches at Gallipoli, August 1915. AWM PS1517

Male soldiers in uniform gathered in a trench.

Australian and Turkish dead lie on the parapet of a trench at Lone Pine after the battle. Private Jim Bryant (standing, facing camera) survived the Gallipoli campaign and received a Military Medal for his bravery on the Western Front. He re-enlisted in 1941 and later survived three years as a prisoner of the Japanese at Changi. AWM A02025

Fast facts: Anzac Day

Phillip Schuler captured the significance of the Anzac landing at Gallipoli when he wrote ‘The 25th April, 1915, will ever be recorded as the day on which [Australia] became a nation’.[fn]Phillip Schuler, Battlefields of Anzac, p. 2[/fn] Since 1916, Anzac Day has been recognised as a day of national importance. During the war years, the day was marked by ceremonies and marches in London and Australia. By 1927, it had become a public holiday across the country. Today, Anzac Day is a time to commemorate all those who have served Australia since the First World War.

A painting depicting a battle scene during the first world war.

Charles Wheeler, The battle of Messines (1923, oil on canvas, 137 x 229 cm, AWM ART03557

Australian troops on the front line observe the explosions on the horizon, and begin their attack after the detonation of underground mines at Messines Ridge.

An eye for detail: George Lambert

George Lambert’s paintings have brought moments in the First World War to life for generations of Australians. For Lambert, who was an official war artist, it was all about capturing the details – even when painting battles he did not witness.

At the time the First World War broke out, Lambert was working as a successful artist in London. Unable to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) from overseas, he joined a British training unit until December 1917, when he was appointed as an Australian official war artist.

Lambert was sent to the Middle East with the task of producing a number of artworks, including a large painting depicting the charge of the Australian Light Horse at Beersheba. This battle was a significant Allied victory that had occurred months before Lambert arrived. Lambert met up with the Australian Light Horse in the Middle East and began by sketching the men, horses, and landscapes to assist him with completing the large painting when he returned to England. Keen ‘to get into the spirit of things’[fn]Anne Gray, George W Lambert retrospective, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2007, p. 23[/fn], he rode along the routes the Australian horsemen had taken and jumped over trenches where they had mounted attacks.

Lambert also produced many smaller paintings and sketches, but like most war artists, found his working conditions challenging. He faced not only the blinding heat and choking dust of the desert, but also the ‘sense of hurry caused by having to work to military schedule’.[fn]Amy Lambert, Thirty years of an artist’s life, Society of Artists, Sydney, 1938, p. 84[/fn] Lambert had been given the rank of lieutenant and was expected to follow the orders of his superiors. At times this meant packing up his materials halfway through a piece to move on to other areas. Despite the challenges he enjoyed the work, noting days after arriving in Egypt:

I am ridiculously happy. Already I have done three pieces of work and everywhere I look there are glorious pictures, magnificent men and real top-hole Australian horses.[fn]Amy Lambert, Thirty years of an artist’s life, Society of Artists, Sydney, 1938, p. 78[/fn]

Lambert received a second commission after the war ended, which resulted in his most famous work. His painting of the Anzac landing at Gallipoli in 1915 hangs prominently in the Australian War Memorial.

An aged black and white image of a man in uniform sitting outdoors and sketching. The ground is bare and there are sheds in the background.

Lambert, seen here sketching in Palestine in 1918, was appointed to work as an artist with the Egyptian Expeditionary Force. [AWM A04272]

What are some of the challenges faced by artists working on the war front?

A sketch in pencil of a soldier sitting on a horse carrying a rifle with the barrel pointed upwards. The soldier is wearing a slouch hat, uniform with lanyard, calf-length leggings, riding boots and spurs.

George Lambert, Jack Dempsey [1918, pencil on paper, 23.4 x 17.8 cm, AWM ART02716]

Lambert had become a skilled horseman during the years he spent on sheep stations in western New South Wales. This helped him build relationships with members of the Australian Light Horse.

What were the advantages of Lambert being friendly with the troops he sketched and painted?

Did you know?

Between 1914 and 1916 nearly 30,000 Australian horses were shipped to the Middle East to be used by soldiers. The horses did not return to Australia after the war because of the possibility that they could be carrying exotic diseases.

A painting of a campsite in the desert with tents standing and a dog in the foreground.

George Lambert, Headquarters, Desert Corps (1918, oil on wood panel, 15.6 x 21.9 cm, AWM ART02680) Lambert stayed in this AIF camp during May 1918.

Lambert saw himself as an ‘Artist Historian’ and was acutely aware that creating an artwork to record the sacrifice of so many Australians was a huge responsibility. He travelled to Gallipoli in early 1919, determined to learn all that he could about the men’s experience so that he could convey it to the Australian public. Charles Bean, who led the visit to Gallipoli, watched Lambert as he worked to gather evidence and noted that he was ‘more sensitive than the rest of us to the tragedy – or at any rate the horror – of Anzac’.[fn]CEW Bean, Gallipoli mission, Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1948, p. 108.[/fn] This sensitivity has been captured in the painting which has since been viewed by millions of Australians.

Lambert returned to Australia with his wife and children in 1921, and completed several artworks commemorating Australians who had served in the war. He continued to enjoy success as an artist until his sudden death in 1930.

George Lambert is still recognised as one of Australia’s greatest war artists a century after the First World War.

A landscape painting with soldiers moving up a mountain range with dead bodies scattered throughout the slope.

George Lambert, Anzac, the landing 1915 (1920–1922, oil on canvas, size 199.8 x 370.2 cm, AWM ART02873)

Lambert spent six weeks at Gallipoli learning about the campaign and doing sketches to prepare for this painting.

What can you learn about the Anzac landing from this painting? 

Fast facts: Australian war artists

The official war art scheme was initiated during the First World War, when the Australian government appointed fifteen artists to depict the experiences of Australians during the war. The war art scheme has been used in most subsequent wars and conflicts, including on recent peacekeeping missions. The artwork produced by official war artists becomes part of the Australian War Memorial’s collection. The works produced under the scheme vary greatly, reflecting the various styles and approaches of the artists selected.

A painting depicting a battle scene during the first world war.

George Lambert, The Charge of the Australian Light Horse at Beersheba, 1917 (1920, oil on canvas, 139.5 x 261.7 x 10 cm, AWM ART02811)

Lambert was commissioned to paint this battle scene. It depicts a tangled mass of horses and soldiers against a barren landscape.

Do you think it matters that Lambert portrayed battles that he did not witness?

A pencil sketch of a male soldier.

These pencil drawings made by Lambert in 1920 all have the same title: [Study for ‘Anzac, the landing, 1915’]. They demonstrate the effort he made to ensure that the details of the painting would be accurate. AWM ART11391.020, AWM ART11391.021, AWM ART11391.042, AWM ART11391.014

A personal response: Hilda Rix Nicholas

Artist Hilda Rix Nicholas explored her personal experiences of the First World War in her artworks – from her grief as a widow to her national pride. In doing so, she also challenged existing ideas about women and art.

Hilda Rix had travelled from Australia to France in 1909 to work as an artist, but she moved to the relative safety of London after the outbreak of war in 1914. In October 1916, she married Major ‘Matson’ Nicholas, whom she had met the previous month while he was on leave from the Western Front. Her joy in finding love is seen in a letter she wrote to him just weeks later:

Dear, I love you so … You are in danger and I am far away. Oh this ghastly war. Dear husband be brave and splendid and always your best, but don’t be reckless. I need you and love you utterly.[fn]John Pigot, Hilda Rix Nicholas: her life and art, Melbourne University Press, 2000, p. 29[/fn]

Tragically, Major Nicholas was killed before the letter could be delivered to him.

The experience of loss shaped Rix Nicholas’s art, and the paintings she created in 1917 expressed the depths of her despair. While driven by her personal experience, these paintings represented the suffering of all war widows. At the time, much art focused on war heroes and sacrifice and it was unusual to find strong statements about the impact of death.

From late 1917, Rix Nicholas began a series of portraits that celebrated the qualities and commitment of the Anzacs. She began by portraying her late husband and his brothers, but the series grew into a large project once she returned to Australia. She received a very positive response to these works, particularly from returned soldiers who appreciated her recognition of their service and sacrifice.

A studio portrait of a woman dressed in a dress and hat.

Rix Nicholas was not an official war artist, but for many years her art was shaped by her experiences during the First World War. This portrait was taken in France before the war.
Photo courtesy of Bronwyn Rix.

A drawing depicting the side view a man in uniform seated on a chair. His arms appear to be resting on a table in front of him.

Hilda Rix Nicholas, Major George Matson Nicholas [1916, charcoal and pastel over pencil on paper, 56 x 38 cm, AWM ART96807]

Rix Nicholas drew this portrait of her new husband on 9 October 1916, two days after their wedding. The couple met when Major Nicholas tracked her down in London to give her some paintings he found in her abandoned studio in France.

How does this portrait differ from ones she painted later?

A drawing depicting a man in military uniform from behind. He is standing with outstretched arms and is leaning back and looking up to the sky.

Hilda Rix Nicholas, not titled [Study for Pro Humanitate], [c. 1917, black charcoal on paper, 55.8 x 38.2 cm, AWM ART96815]

This is a study for one of three major oil paintings Rix Nicholas completed following the death of her husband. A fire at her rural property in 1930 destroyed the painting.

Why do you think Rix Nicholas chose this pose for her subject? What does it convey?

A painting depicting an old woman wearing a long black dress and a white bonnet. She is seated in a kitchen with her hands folded in her lap, and there is a row of blue plates on a whitewashed shelf in the background.

Hilda Rix Nicholas, A mother of France [1914, oil on canvas, 72.6 x 60.2 cm, AWM ART03281]

This is a portrait of Rix Nicholas's neighbour from France, whose son had been killed in one of the first battles of the First World War. In portraying the woman's grief, Rix Nicholas presents her as a symbol of the suffering of all mothers who had lost their sons at war.

How has the artist captured the woman's grief in this painting?

Did you know?

When the artworks of Hilda Rix Nicholas were first offered to the Australian War Memorial in the 1920s, the Director rejected most of her paintings and drawings on the basis that they were too personal.

While many appreciated her art, which was exhibited in Sydney and Melbourne, Rix Nicholas also attracted criticism. In the post-war years she began painting landscapes, a subject that had been mainly painted by men. Some felt her work was too ‘masculine’ and others claimed that the ten years she spent overseas meant she could not paint realistic Australian landscapes. Rix Nicholas responded to this criticism in a lecture she gave in 1922:

Why, one might as well say that the Australian men who went abroad to fight and who made the glory of Australia recognised in other lands and our fame ring over the world, are less Australian than if they had remained, with bayonets pointed, on a little bit of Australian soil.[fn]Art in Australia: a quarterly magazine, Sydney, 1 Sept 1922, p. 69[/fn]

Despite her critics, Rix Nicholas achieved her ambition of taking Australian artworks to Europe. In 1925, she became the first Australian female artist to have a solo exhibition in Paris. After she returned to Australia she remarried and painted from a studio on her rural property in southern New South Wales. Rix Nicholas continued to paint and exhibit until the 1950s, when her eyesight declined. She died at the age of 77, in 1961.

In 2015, the Australian War Memorial added to its collection by purchasing nine portraits by Rix Nicholas. This was in recognition of their national significance in conveying the personal experiences of Australians in the First World War.

A painting of a male soldier in uniform.

Hilda Rix Nicholas, A man (1921, oil on canvas, 92 x 75 cm, AWM ART19613)

This painting is part of a series of portraits by Rix Nicholas that depicted Anzacs. Although she used a model for A man, it was inspired by her husband, who had been killed in action.

Fast facts: War memorials

Before the end of the First World War, communities across Australia began to create memorials in recognition of those who had served. The memorials took many forms, including artworks, flagpoles, parks, buildings and honour boards. Many of the war memorials included the names of local men who had enlisted during the war. The names of those who died were often marked with a cross.

This drawing depicts two men in uniform on a battlefield. One man is seated, and he looks to the front while supporting another man with a bandage around his head.

Hilda Rix Nicholas, In France [c. 1920, charcoal and pastel on paper, 76.8 x 58.5 cm, AWM ART90243]

Rix Nicholas made many drawings of soldiers who had returned from the war. This project became a memorial to their service.

What characteristics of Australian soldiers are portrayed in this drawing?

A grand room with male soldiers sittin in chairs behind a table with a gramaphone on it.

Australian soldiers relax at the War Chest Club in 1917. This club was one of many that were run by voluntary organisations to be a ‘home away from home’ for Australian soldiers on leave in London. AWM H00186

Captivating images: Frank Hurley

Frank Hurley was already well-known for his adventure-filled photos before taking on the role of frontline photographer during the First World War. Hurley was mindful of what would best engage his audience, a skill that saw him capture both horror and beauty in war.

Hurley began his career working for a postcard company in Sydney, and went on to work as a photographer and filmmaker in exotic locations around the world. Prior to the First World War, his images of the Antarctic, the Australian outback and Java had already amazed large audiences. In recognition of his technical and artistic skills, Hurley was appointed official war photographer in August 1917.

Hurley was first sent to the Western Front, where he captured many haunting images. Although shocked by the ‘hell one sees out here … strewn with ghastliness’, he did not protect his audience from the death and destruction that he found.[fn]Frank Hurley, diary, 12 October 1917[/fn]

Referred to as ‘the mad photographer’ by the troops, Hurley often risked his own safety to get shots. On 26 September 1917, for example, he wrote in his diary:

… a terrific angry rocket like shriek warned us to duck. This we did by throwing ourselves flat in a shell hole half filled with mud. A fortunate precaution for immediately a terrific roar … and up went timber, stones, shells and everything else in the vicinity.[fn]Frank Hurley, diary, 26 September 1917[/fn]

Although determined to present the reality of war, he sometimes enhanced the photographs he took. Using a composite technique, Hurley at times merged negatives together to create one photograph from several images. While some people, including the official war correspondent Charles Bean, believed such images were ‘fake’, Hurley argued the technique allowed the features of war to be better captured. As he explained:

To include the event on a single negative, I have tried and tried, but the results are hopeless. Everything is on such a vast scale. Figures are scattered – the atmosphere is dense with haze and smoke – shells will not burst where required – yet the whole elements of a picture are there could they but be brought together and condensed.[fn]Julian Thomas, Showman: The photography of Frank Hurley, National Library of Australia 1990, p. 12[/fn]
A studio portrait of a male soldier in uniform.

Hurley was on an expedition to the Antarctic when the First World War began, but was appointed as an official war photographer with the rank of captain after his return. This photo was taken in June 1917, after his appointment. AWM P05785.001

Five men walk along a wooden footbridge in a shell shattered remnant forest.

Australians in Chateau Wood, Hooge, Belgium, October 1917: We succeeded in reaching the infamous Chateau Wood without incident when a fleet of 14 Taubs and Gothas came over us [German bombers]. They dropped their bombs vigorously a few hundred yards away and peppered the roads with machine gun fire. We took refuge beside a big tree stump and escaped the machine gun fire … Our safety was but momentary, however, for a 5.9 shell lobbed only 15 paces off and showered us with mud—a narrow squeak. (Frank Hurley, diary, 28 September 1917, MS883, National Library of Australia. Image: AWM E01220)

A single line of people walk pass trucks and ruined buildings

Australian soldiers pass through Ypres with the ruins of the Cloth Hall in the background, 25 October 1917. This photograph by Frank Hurley has become one of the classic images of Australians at Ypres during the Flanders Offensive. For most Australians it would have been difficult to form any opinion of the town for it was simply a pile of rubble, empty of people. Many who passed through Ypres might have echoed the words of British journalist Alfred Gardiner: It is midday as you pass through its [Ypres] streets but there is no moving thing visible among the ruins. The very spirit of loneliness is about you—not the invigorating loneliness of the mountain tops, but the sad loneliness of the grave. (Alfred Gardiner, quoted in Siegfried Debaeke, Ieper: Before, During and After the Great War, Deklaproos, 2006, p. 107. Image: AWM E04612)

Film used during world war one.

Twelve Verascope film carrier plates

Hurley felt so strongly about using the composite technique that he threatened to resign when he was ordered by Bean to stop. After negotiations, Hurley moved to the Middle East where he could work more freely. During this time, he created some stunning images of the Australian Light Horse in desert landscapes.

How do you think the Australian public reacted to images like this during the war?

After the war, Hurley resumed his private adventures, continuing to make films that won him worldwide recognition and respect. In 1940, just after the Second World War began, he was again appointed as an official photographer. He returned to the Middle East, creating both films and stills as military events unfolded. By this time, however, he was working alongside younger photographers who had new ideas and methods. Hurley’s contribution was somewhat overshadowed by this next generation.

Frank Hurley returned to Australia, and to his family, in 1946 and continued to take and publish photographs. He died in Sydney in 1962, aged 76.

battle scene, which includes several aircraft flying above. On the flat, cleared ground there are two trenched areas. Soldiers carrying rifles can be seen in and above the trenches. There are numerous smoky explosions evident in the sky and on the ground.

The photo on the left, known as 'Over the top' is an example of Hurley's composite images, in which he combined several negatives to make a new image. It was exhibited for several months in London in 1918. The photo on the right, taken in Belgium in September 1917, was used in the composite. [AWM E05988B AWM E05429]

Do you think the composite image is 'fake'? And if so, does it matter? 

Fast facts: Newsreels

During both the First and Second World Wars Australians received much of their news through short films known as newsreels. Visiting the cinema was a popular pastime and newsreels were shown frequently, sometimes running continuously and at other times accompanying a feature film. During the First World War newsreels were silent and text was displayed on screen between scenes to provide information to the audience. By the Second World War the films had sound, including musical effects, but they were still made in black and white.

Troops massed in a sandy desert.

Hurley captured this image of military manoeuvres in late 1917 after he moved to the Middle East. It is a ‘still’ taken from his film With the Australian Light Horse in Sinai–Palestine. AWM B01512

A male soldier carrying camera equipment over his shoulder.

Hurley carrying film equipment in Syria in December 1941, when he was reappointed as an official war photographer during the Second World War. AWM P11123.012

Did you know?

As a photographer, Hurley joined several expeditions to Antarctica, including Shackleton’s 1914 expedition during which the ship was crushed by ice. Although the men were forced to abandon ship and all but essential equipment, Hurley managed to save some of his images captured on heavy photographic plates.

Twenty soldiers who are part of a group standing in formation on a ship's deck. The soldiers are all wearing helmets and masks, which cover their entire faces. The masks include round goggles and a breathing tube that extends down from the mouth area

Hurley's image of a respirator drill on board a transport vessel, 1940. [AWM 003583]

Why do you think soldiers needed to use masks like this during the war?

A way with words: Kenneth Slessor

Kenneth Slessor was a well-known Australian journalist and poet when the government appointed him as an official correspondent for the Second World War in 1940. He soon discovered that the job had many challenges.

Even when describing the horrors of war, Slessor often used poetic language in his reports. After the costly defeat of the German army by Allied troops at El Alamein in 1942, he wrote:

The road to ruin runs from Alamein to Gambut and points west. It is ruin, literal and absolute, a corridor of dusty death … this continuous mortuary of burnt metal and buried men.[fn]Clement Semmler (ed.), War despatches of Slessor, University of Queensland Press, 1987, p. 108[/fn]

Slessor was deeply touched by the number of deaths on both sides of the war. His report at the end of the Syria campaign, read:

The earth has received the scattered bones of war and forgotten them. Syria, too, in a few weeks of peace will forget, let us hope, the cloud which passed over its green fields.[fn]Clement Semmler (ed.), War despatches of Slessor, University of Queensland Press, 1987, p. xxxiv[/fn]

He became increasingly critical of military decisions that he felt caused the unnecessary death of Australian soldiers.

Slessor’s concerns about Australian military leaders gained strength when he began to cover the war in New Guinea. In October 1943, the army criticised Slessor when an article describing an event he had witnessed was published. Although Slessor defended the accuracy of the article, he had not gained the necessary clearance from the Army Public Relations branch prior to its publication. The resulting dispute led to his resignation in 1944.

On his return to Australia, Slessor resumed writing poetry and books, and editing journals and newspapers. He died in Sydney in 1971, and was survived by a son.

A black and white image of a middle-aged man in uniform sitting in a lounge chair and reading papers from an open folder.

This portrait of Slessor was taken in 1940 before he sailed to England. He believed that his work was important 'to keep up the morale of the people at home … also to stimulate the enlistment of volunteers for future reinforcements'.[fn value="3"]Clement Semmler (ed.), War diaries of Kenneth Slessor, University of Queensland Press, 1985, p. 578[/fn] [AWM 001830]

Why do you think the government appointed official correspondents during the war?

Did you know?

Slessor was one of Australia’s leading poets. ‘Beach Burial’, written during the Second World War, was a reflection on the death of so many soldiers. It includes the lines:

Whether as enemies they fought, Or fought with us, or neither; the sand joins them together
A black and white image of three men sitting in a jungle setting. One man is holding a small radio and the other two a reading from pieces of paper. There are canvas tarps strung up behind them, and men's clothes hanging on ropes above them.

Slessor (second from the right) at work close to the front line after landing in New Guinea in September 1943. [AWM 057093]

What challenges did war correspondents face in doing their job?

Male military officers gathered around a long table.

A group of correspondents, including Slessor (standing at the right), check their travel rations the night before they leave for Greece in March 1941. AWM 006819

Fast facts: Official war histories

Part of Slessor’s role as an official war correspondent was to keep diaries to be used in writing the official history of the Second World War. Official war histories are commissioned by the Australian government to provide a detailed record of the Australian experience of war.

A mass of male soldiers on a palm tree lined shoreline.

Australian troops serving in the Finschhafen area of New Guinea in November 1943. AWM 060504

An informed voice: Chester Wilmot

Chester Wilmot became a correspondent with the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) early in the Second World War. At the time, many people relied on the radio for news, so his broadcasts from the front were to a large audience.

A black and white image of a man in uniform leaning against the back of a truck and talking into a microphone covered in white fabric.

Wilmot filing an ABC report from the back of a truck in Palestine in 1941. The microphone is covered with white fabric to reduce the sound of the wind. [AWM 008619]

How might the role of a radio correspondent have varied from that of a newspaper correspondent?

During his reports, Wilmot consistently recognised the skills and bravery of the Australian troops. In a broadcast from North Africa in early 1941, he said:

In pitch darkness on Friday morning two platoons sneaked up the branch valley opposite Post 11 and cut their way through the enemy’s wire … Our troops were wonderful under this heavy fire …[fn]Neil McDonald, Valiant for truth: the life of Chester Wilmot, war correspondent, NewSouth Publishing, NSW, 2016, pp. 127–128[/fn]

As well as providing descriptions of the action, his report gave listeners background information to better understand the outcome of this battle:

The difficulties of the terrain were well enough known but the strength of Post 11 was not … [It] turned out to be a fortress with guns in hidden positions so placed that the whole hillside could spit fire …[fn]Neil McDonald, Valiant for truth: the life of Chester Wilmot, war correspondent, NewSouth Publishing, NSW, 2016, p. 126[/fn]

Australians, many of whom had loved ones serving overseas, welcomed the depth of these reports.

A black and white image of two men standing facing each other and talking. The background to too dark to see details of the setting.

Wilmot (on the right) in New Guinea in 1942, where he spent a lot of time questioning senior officers about military tactics. [AWM 013472]

What are some of the ways that war correspondents might gather their information?

Wilmot’s curiosity about the causes of military success and failure grew throughout the war. In New Guinea he completed the challenging walk along the Kokoda Track, where he saw the horrendous conditions being faced by Australian soldiers. This experience helped convince him that the military tactics being used by the Australian command were not appropriate. In a broadcast in September 1942, he exposed a tactical error and said:

… a chance had been lost, and because of this I felt bitter as I stood on that spur of the Owen Stanley Range … I was bitter for I knew that somewhere under those treetops there were unnecessary Australian graves.[fn]Neil McDonald, Chester Wilmot reports: broadcasts that shaped World War II, ABC books, Sydney, 2004, p. 324[/fn]

Wilmot criticised many decisions of General Thomas Blamey, which resulted in his accreditation as a war correspondent being withdrawn. He continued to broadcast for the ABC from Australia, where he also recorded a documentary for the Australian War Memorial.

In May 1944, Wilmot moved to London to work for the British Broadcasting Commission (BBC). After the war he continued to live in England with his wife and three children. Chester Wilmot was killed in a plane crash in 1954 while returning to England after a visit to Australia.

Fast facts: Radio during the Second World War

In September 1939, Prime Minister Menzies made an announcement live on radio that Australia was joining the Second World War. Radio was a valuable source of news and information during the war, but programs related to the war had to be censored before they were broadcast.

A black and white image of five men in uniform sitting on stretchers in an outdoor setting. One man is using a typewriter, and there is a vehicle behind them.

Wilmot (second from left) at a press camp in Greece in April 1941. In his reports for the ABC, Wilmot analysed military events and shared his own opinions. [AWM 007820]

Why do you think members of the press were often kept in a group in war zones?

Did you know?

Wilmot was with Allied troops as they crossed the English Channel to invade Europe on D-Day, 6 June 1944. D–Day was a turning point in the war. His BBC report began:

This is Chester Wilmot broadcasting from a glider bound for France and invasion. We’ve just passed over the coast of France and all around us along the coast ack-ack fire is going up.
A group of male soldiers gathered together under a building with a metal roof.

Royal Australian Air Force members serving in Malaysia crowd around a wireless radio to listen to news of the Japanese surrender in August 1945. AWM OG3234

A determined woman: Nora Heysen

Nora Heysen was the first woman appointed by Australia as an official war artist, and she soon challenged expectations about the role. Painting in both New Guinea and Australia during the Second World War, Heysen offered audiences a new perspective on the nature of service.

Like many Australians during the Second World War, Heysen was keen to contribute to the war effort and set out ‘to do what I could with my talent’.[fn]Nora Heysen, interview with Gillian Freeman, 12 November 1997[/fn], She had been brought up in a creative household and was already an established artist, having in 1938 been the first woman to win the prestigious Archibald Prize. Nonetheless, war art was still considered a man’s task and she had to use her artistic connections to gain selection as an official artist in 1943.

Heysen was given the task of painting women in the services, firstly in Australia and then nearer the action in New Guinea. In New Guinea she was told to capture the work of Australian nurses – a task she soon tired of. Believing that ‘mostly war is fought by men’, Heysen was frustrated that her role was painting women in the relative safety of the hospitals. She explained, ‘I didn’t see the sense of being a war artist if I couldn’t get nearer the action’.[fn]Nora Heysen, interview with Gillian Freeman, 12 November 1997[/fn]

Although she didn’t get to the front like the male artists, Heysen was able to visit several areas where she painted soldiers going about their business, including waiting for transport. As she later reflected:

A lot of the war up there was just waiting. You’ll see that in my drawing, just a lot of people just waiting with their bags for a plane or transport or something to take them somewhere.[fn]Nora Heysen, interview with Gillian Freeman, 12 November 1997[/fn]

While some people criticised Heysen for choosing to paint nurses relaxing and the New Guinean people, her work now offers an insight into service during the war.

A painting depicting an indigenous male patient on a bed having his left arm treated by a female nurse.

Nora Heysen, Sister M Russell nursing an indigenous man (1944, oil on hardboard, 45.5 x 60.8 cm, AWM ART23715)

Heysen sometimes painted locals during her time in New Guinea. This man had both hands blown off by a grenade while fishing when he was a captive of the Japanese.

A portrait of a female soldier standing outside.

Heysen in Finschhafen, New Guinea, in June 1944. Although she was given a captain’s uniform, she chose to wear the comfortable ‘jungle greens’ worn by the servicemen. AWM 073882

Painting in bright colours showing three seated women enjoying a scenic view over a distant valley. The painting is framed by trees and bushes at the sides and a flap of canvas at the top. Three women are sitting on deck chairs.

Nora Heysen, View from Sisters' Mess, Finschhafen [1944, oil on canvas, 39 x 44.4 cm, AWM ART22392]

This painting shows nurses relaxing at an Australian Casualty Clearing Station in New Guinea in 1944. Heysen had been instructed to capture the work of nurses, and was criticised by her commander for depicting them at leisure.

Why do you think Heysen was criticised for showing nurses relaxing?

A painting of an upturned ship with troops lined up on the shoreline.

Nora Heysen, LST loading troops, Dreger Harbour (1944, oil on canvas on hardboard, 30.5 x 45.6 cm, AWM ART23627)

This painting shows Australian troops embarking on landing ships in New Guinea in 1944. Heysen had asked to paint Australian troops, as well as nurses.

A painting of a male medical officer in a laboratory.

Nora Heysen, Pathologist titrating sera (Captain Robert Black) (1944, oil on hardboard, 45.9 x 39.6 cm, AWM ART22409)

Heysen met Captain Robert Black in New Guinea and created this painting of him at work in an Army medical laboratory in Sydney in 1944. Heysen married Black in 1953.

Heysen holding a paintbrush in one hand and a paint mixing palette in the other. She is wearing a paint splattered over-shirt and appears to be concentrating on something. Four works of art in progress can be seen in the area behind her

Heysen in her Melbourne studio completing paintings that she began in New Guinea, January 1945. [AWM 085075]

Why do war artists often complete their works after returning to Australia? What impact might this have on the artwork?

Suffering from a skin condition, Heysen left New Guinea after seven months and continued her war artist duties in Australia. She worked in Sydney Hospital capturing the service of the army medical units, and then moved to Queensland to focus on the evacuation of wounded soldiers by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF).

Heysen is best known for her portraits during the war, many of which depicted women as strong and capable. To her this was because: ‘I’m a realist and I wanted to portray people as they were’.[fn]Nora Heysen, interview with Gillian Freeman, 12 November 1997[/fn]

After the war, Heysen married and continued to paint from her home in Sydney. Despite believing that ‘Women’s art has never been appreciated’, Heysen received an Australia Council Award for Achievement in the Arts in 1993 and the Order of Australia in 1998.

Did you know?

Nora Heysen was the daughter of Hans Heysen, who was a talented and very successful landscape artist. His bush scenes are displayed in many Australian galleries today.

Fast facts: Nurses in service

Female nurses served in Australia and overseas during both the First and Second World Wars. Initially serving with the Australian Army Nursing Service, nurses were not part of the regular military until 1949. Today, male and female nurses serve as part of the army, air force and navy, deploying with troops during conflicts or peacekeeping operations.

A painting of injured male soldiers on stretchers inside a plane and being treated by female and male medical staff.

Ambulance plane carrying battle casualties from Morotai to Townsville (Nora Heysen, 1945, oil on canvas, 56.2 x 62.5 x 3.5 cm). AWM ART24375

Painting of the side view of a woman driving a green truck. She is wearing heavy leather gloves and a cap, and wearing a loose short sleeved green shirt. She is sitting high in the seat and looking ahead. Mountains can be seen through the side window

Nora Heysen, Transport driver (Aircraftwoman Florence Miles) [1945, oil on canvas, 66.2 x 81.1 cm, AWM ART24393]

Heysen selected Aircraftwoman Florence Ethel Miles as the subject for this painting because she saw Miles as a 'young, forward lass'. Miles was serving as a transport driver in North Queensland. This is one of many portraits by Heysen that show women as strong and capable.

In what ways does this painting show Florence Miles to be a strong and capable woman?

An armband with a red cross logo.

Red Cross brassard.

Close to the action: Damien Parer

Damien Parer’s films and photographs from the Second World War helped Australians understand what it was like to serve on the front line. Always close to the action, Parer was killed while covering the war in the Pacific.

Parer was working as a cameraman and photographer when he was employed by the Commonwealth Department of Information in 1940. He described his job during the war as capturing a true picture of Australian soldiers and ‘keeping newspapers and newsreels supplied with really hot spectacular news’.[fn]Neil McDonald and Peter Brune, 200 Shots: Damien Parer and George Silk with the Australians at war in New Guinea, Allen & Unwin, 2004, p. 8[/fn]

Early in the war Parer took footage of the action in Libya, Greece and Syria. Unlike some previous photographers who staged reenactments, Parer believed that he needed to be with the troops to capture events as they unfolded. He filmed the action from aircraft, ships and on the ground.

In 1942 Parer began to cover the war in the Pacific, and it is his images from here for which he is best remembered. His footage of Australian soldiers serving on the Kokoda Track in New Guinea was used in a newsreel named Kokoda Front Line!, produced by Cinesound Review. Parer wanted viewers to understand the difficult circumstances faced by Australian soldiers in this area. He began the newsreel with a short introduction, during which he said:

I’ve seen the war and I know what your husbands, sweethearts and brothers are going through. If only everybody in Australia could realise this country is in peril, that the Japanese are a well-equipped and dangerous enemy, they might forget about the trivial things and go ahead with the job of licking them.[fn]Cinesound Productions, Kokoda Front Line!, 1942[/fn]

This newsreel helped boost support for the war at home and went on to win an Oscar at the 1943 Academy Awards in the United States.

Soldier in uniform holding camera in a stairway

Informal portrait of Damien Parer about to embark on the transport ship Empress of Japan. AWM 000401


Did you know?

Many local people in New Guinea helped the Australian forces serving there during the Second World War. The jungle areas were muddy and rough and locals helped to transport supplies and equipment. They also saved the lives of many soldiers by carrying the wounded to field hospitals. At the time, Australian soldiers referred to them as ‘Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels’, and more recently their assistance has been recognised with medals.

Two male soldiers next to each other, both smiling and one with a cigarette in his mouth.

Between April and December 1941 up to 14,000 Australian soldiers were surrounded by German and Italian forces in Tobruk. Parer took this image of two Australian soldiers in December after the siege had ended. AWM 010982

Black and white image of three men standing on a wooden path in a jungled area. Part of a hut made of local vegetation can be seen beside the men. The men are all in casual military greens and smiling for the camera.

Parer standing between two soldiers in New Guinea in August 1943. This photograph was taken shortly after he had helped to carry a badly wounded soldier to safety during an attack. [AWM 055163]

How might Parer's friendship with the troops have influenced his images?

In 1943 Parer resigned from the Commonwealth Department of Information and went to work for the American company Paramount News. He continued to cover the war in the Pacific, filming American troops. As always, Parer stayed near the action and his reputation for being fearless grew. As Australian correspondent Denis Warner explained:

[The Americans] think of him as a sort of legendary figure the bullets cannot touch because four of their corps of cameramen have been killed in the fighting here and none of them took the same risks as he did.[fn]Maslyn Williams, ‘My friend Parer’, Eureka Street, Vol 4 No 9, November 1994[/fn]

Parer was a deeply religious man and while on leave in March 1944 he married Marie Cotter in Sydney. On 17 September 1944 Parer was killed by Japanese machine-gun fire. At the time, he was walking backwards to film the faces of advancing American marines on Peleliu. On learning of his death, the former war correspondent Kenneth Slessor wrote:

Damien Parer died with a camera in his hand, but his death was as certainly the death of a fighting man as if he had held the trigger of a rifle.[fn]The Sun (Sydney), 25 September 1944, p. 5[/fn]

Parer was 33 years of age, and was buried in the Ambon war cemetery. His son was born the following year, and also named Damien.

Painting showing 6 soldiers posed in front of green hills. Only the men's heads or upper bodies are shown, and they are all facing in different directions. The men are in military greens and holding weapons. They all have beards and are depicted as strong

Charles Bush, Group of Timor Guerillas [1946, oil on canvas on board, 76.2 x 61 cm, AWM ART26363]

Parer travelled to Timor in 1942 and photographed a group of isolated soldiers serving in the area. This painting was inspired by several of Parer's images.

How would you describe the men in this painting? Why do you think the artist based them on Parer's images?

Fast facts: Boosting support for the war

Cinema newsreels were an important way to pass on news and to boost support for the war. The government used newsreels to present a positive image about the Australian contribution to the war. After official photographers collected footage of the war, government officials censored it, cutting out footage which might reveal military secrets or reflect badly on the Australian troops or their commanders. Only then was the footage provided to film companies to be used in newsreels.

Bronze trophy set on a black painted wooden base. To the right of the trophy is the traditional 'Oscar' figure, a knight with a sword standing on a film reel. On the right is raised lettering and below is a small gold plaque with writing

Kokoda Front Line! received this award, commonly known as an Oscar, in the Best Documentary (Short Subject) category at the 1943 Academy Awards in the United States. The plaque at the bottom reads:

To 'Kokoda Front Line!' for its effectiveness in portraying, simply yet forcefully, the scene of war in New Guinea and for its moving presentation of the bravery and fortitude of our Australian comrades in arms. [AWM REL/14879]

Why do you think this Australian film won an American award?

Image of men gathered in a clearing in a steep jungled area. In the foreground a small group of Australian soldiers are talking while leaning on a low sandbag wall. Four New Guinea local soldiers are walking behind them with rifles over their shoulders.

Australian soldiers and local New Guinean troops gather in a village just prior to launching an attack against Japanese forces in August 1942. Parer took this photo at the same time he was filming footage for his newsreel Kokoda Front Line! [AWM 013250]

What does this image tell you about the experience of Australians on the Kokoda Track?

About a dozen New Guinea locals carrying two stretchers across a river. The barefooted locals are mainly wearing shirts and wrap around skirts. They are walking on a number of thin tree trunks which have been laid across the river as an improvised bridge.

Parer was keen to show Australians the difficult conditions faced by the troops in New Guinea. In this image wounded soldiers are being carried over a stream by New Guinean locals in September 1942. [AWM 013256]

Why did Parer want Australians to know more about the war in New Guinea?

A large painting depicting hundreds of tired men in a bare space surrounded by sheds and docks. Many of the men are wounded and ambulances are waiting on the left of the scene; others are lining up to collect food and drinks from trestle tables.

Ivor Hele, Australian troops disembarking at Alexandria after the evacuation of Greece, [1943, oil on canvas, 136.9 x 206 cm, AWM ART22230]

In this painting, Hele aimed to capture the spirit of exhausted Australian soldiers after they were evacuated from Greece.

Why do you think Hele's work was appreciated by many of the servicemen?

Realities of combat: Ivor Hele

At the time he was appointed as an official war artist for the Second World War, Ivor Hele was already serving with the Australian Imperial Force (AIF). His experience as a soldier influenced the way he depicted the activities of Australians throughout the war, and later in the Korean War.

As a child growing up in South Australia Hele loved to paint, and he left school early to study art, firstly in Adelaide and then in Europe. He was working as an artist when he enlisted in the AIF in June 1940, hoping to become a war artist. His hopes came true after six months of service, and as he was already attached to the army in North Africa he did not have to operate through the Military History and Information Section like other official artists. This allowed him more freedom to move about with the troops.

Hele’s military service possibly drove his determination to work near the front line and helped him to establish close relationships with the troops. His first-hand exposure to the challenges of warfare also allowed him to portray events through the eyes of those at the front. This perspective helped his paintings depict the skills of the soldiers and the challenges they faced.

Throughout 1942 Hele was constantly on the move in North Africa. Keeping up with the pace of desert warfare, he made quick sketches using charcoal or crayon. Preferring to paint indoors, however, he completed some paintings in a studio in Cairo and a major series when he returned to Australia in 1942.

When he was sent to New Guinea in 1943, Hele drew both Australians and locals, producing works that conveyed the horrific realities of jungle warfare. When one soldier saw Hele’s paintings in 1945 he said:

It’s the real thing all right. I’ve been up there and I know. [Hele’s] … the type of artist the soldiers appreciate because he has obviously been right up close to the fighting. He couldn’t have painted like that if he’d just sat back at base and talked to the boys as they come back.

Hele continued to work on paintings for the Australian War Memorial after the war, and in 1952 he was appointed as an official war artist for the Korean War. The images he created in Korea captured the physical strength of the soldiers and airmen, and also the power of their machinery. These works form a valuable record of the Australian experience in Korea.

Informal portrait of bare-chested official war artist Captain Ivor H. T. Hele sketching bridging activities on lines of communication from Aitape to Driniumor River.

Ivor Hele at work near Anamo, New Guinea, November 1944. [AWM 083629]

A painting depicting frenzied activity as troops are unloaded from covered trucks in a desert setting. A man on the left appears to be yelling instructions at the troops.

Ivor Hele, Troops debussing in sandstorm, Libya, [1943, oil on canvas, 61.3 x 91.8 cm, AWM ART28480]

From the warm tones of his paintings in North Africa, to the dark greens and greys of the New Guinea jungle, Hele used colour to convey the physical challenges of different locations.

How has the artist managed to show what it would have been like to be caught in a sandstorm?

Depicts a group unidentified wounded soldiers walking Missim Track, New Guinea

Walking Wounded, Missim Trail, Ivor Hele 1944. [Oil on canvas 76.5 x 91.3 cm AWM ART22561]

Ivor Hele was Australia’s longest serving official war artist, and his service was recognised with awards such as the Order of the British Empire in 1954, Commander of the British Empire in 1969, and a knighthood in 1982.

His talent at conveying depths of meaning in his paintings meant that he was sought after as a portrait artist for many decades. He was able to insist that those wanting him to paint their portrait travel to his studio in South Australia, where he lived with his second wife until he died in 1993.

A painting in dark tones depicting five men digging graves to bury three dead comrades, who are lying in the mud in the foreground.

Ivor Hele, Battlefield burial of three NCOs, [1944, oil on canvas, 76.3 x 91.6 cm, AWM ART22560]

Hele was present when three Australians were killed in New Guinea during an attack on Japanese troops. He did the sketch for this painting as the dead men were carried to the burial site by their comrades.

How do you think Australian audiences felt about works like this being displayed during the war?

Two women dressed in fine clothes looking at a painting on the wall depicting a dead male soldier.

Members of the public visit an exhibition of Hele’s war art in Sydney in May 1945, just months before the war ended. AWM 108415

Fast facts: The Archibald Prize

The Archibald Prize, awarded annually since 1921, is the most important prize for portrait painting in Australia. Hele won the prize five times during the 1950s. Two prime ministers (Robert Menzies and Malcolm Fraser) and Queen Elizabeth II were among the many public figures who had their portraits painted by Hele.

A painting of a battle scene.

Ivor Hele, Centurion tank, (1953, oil on board, 76.2 x 91.2 cm, AWM ART40305)

In his paintings of the Korean War, Hele captured both the difficulties faced by Australian airmen and soldiers, and the power of the machines they used.

Did you know?

Many of Hele’s works were initially considered too confronting to be shown to the public. Nonetheless, the Australian War Memorial mounted a travelling exhibition of his paintings in 1945, and large numbers of Australians visited it to learn more about the war. One art critic wrote:

No more powerful statement about war has been made by any artist … One reacts so strongly to the scene that it is difficult to look at these pictures.[fn]Melbourne Argus, 27 March 1945, p. 6[/fn]
Painting of a medical air evacuation

Medical air evacuation. Australian airmen assisting in a medical air evacuation. The wounded are being carried on stretchers from an ambulance vehicle to a waiting aircraft to be flown from Kimpo to Japan for treatment at one of the Australian base hospitals at either Kure or Iwakuni. Artist Ivor Hele. Painting made South Australia, Aldinga, 1953. Oil on hardboard. [AWM ART40301]

A point of view: Dorothy Drain

Dorothy Drain worked as a war correspondent in three conflicts at a time when women had limited opportunities in journalism. Writing for the Australian Women’s Weekly (AWW), she offered her readers a personal perspective on war.

Drain grew up in rural Queensland and developed a love of words from an early age. In 1932, she left a job with the Queensland government to start her career as a journalist. From 1938 Drain worked at the AWW, where her popular column ‘It seems to me’ was published weekly for sixteen years.

During the Second World War, Australian Army guidelines made it very difficult for female journalists to enter combat zones. Drain was able to travel to New Guinea, but only to report on those involved in supporting the soldiers at the front. In 1946, however, Drain travelled to Japan to report on the British Commonwealth Occupation Force (BCOF), which supervised the post-war demilitarisation of the country. There she was able to move about independently and observe the work of the Australian troops.

In 1950 American military authorities accredited Drain as a correspondent for the Korean War. They also facilitated her work there, including giving her the opportunity to fly over the front line in a two-seater spotter plane. Her report of this incident read:

I saw the explosion of bombs, the flashes and flame as fighters made a strike, and smoke rising from burning villages that had concealed enemy command posts.[fn]Dorothy Drain, ‘Dorothy Drain flies over Korean battlefield’, Australian Women’s Weekly, 7 October 1950, p. 15[/fn]

While in Korea, Drain had the opportunity to interview wounded soldiers and to witness the impact of the war on the local population. She was challenged by the human cost of the war, and in her column reflected that it had achieved little except:

… proof of the insane futility of war. When it is all over, millions of refugees, homeless and hungry, will need the help of the United Nations to resume life in their ravaged country.[fn]Dorothy Drain, ‘It seems to me’, Australian Women’s Weekly, 18 July 1951, p. 20[/fn]

Drain travelled to Vietnam in 1965 to cover Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War. She remained at the AWW until 1975, rising to the job of editor in her final years there. Drain never married, and died in Melbourne in 1996.

A woman wearing glasses and holding luggage is standing and facing a military worker in overalls next to an aeroplane wheel.

Traditional reporting still had (and has) its place in war. Dorothy Drain of The Australian Women's Weekly was one of the first Australian war correspondents in Vietnam. She had earlier reported on World War II and Korea. Drain was photographed interviewing a member of the RAAF Transport Flight Vietnam underneath a Caribou. AWM 044130

A tape recorder used during the Korean War.

National electric reel to reel tape player and recorder

A black and white image of a badly damaged building against a background of total destruction where all other buildings and trees have been reduced to rubble.

In 1946 Drain visited Hiroshima and saw the devastation that was caused by the atomic bomb dropped on the city a year earlier. [AWM P01804.002]

How do you think travelling to war zones may have changed Drain's views about war?

Magazine item with the title "It seems to me" and with a black and white image of a woman's head above the signature"Dorothy Drain'.

Drain wrote a column in the AWW for sixteen years. As a war correspondent, she developed strong anti-war views, and in 1950 wrote:

War is no place for anybody, man or woman, and if humanity cannot find some more sensible way of settling its arguments it doesn't deserve to survive.

[Dorothy Drain, 'It seems to me', Australian Women's Weekly, 14 October 1950, p. 23]

Why do you think Drain called her column 'It seems to me'?

Did you know?

The Australian Women’s Weekly, often known as ‘The Weekly’, began in 1933 and for many years was Australia’s top selling magazine. Although it is still called the Australian Women’s Weekly, the magazine is now a monthly publication.

A black and white image of several soldiers and a woman spread across a hill with sparse vegetation. The men are standing or kneeling, and the woman is walking away from them down the hill.

Drain (on the right) in the field with Australian soldiers in Japan in 1950. During this visit she was often the only woman in an area. [AWM 146764]

Why do you think women were discouraged from reporting from war zones?

Fast facts: Female war correspondents

During the Second World War, the few women who were accredited as war correspondents were expected to stay within Australia publicising the women who worked in support roles for the army, navy and air force. Until the Vietnam War, Australian military authorities believed that women should not be in operational zones because they would not be able to cope with the conditions and needed male protection. Women now report from conflict zones around the world, displaying the same bravery and skill as their male colleagues.

Lone operator: Neil Davis

For more than twenty years Neil Davis worked as a cameraman and correspondent covering various conflicts, including the Vietnam War. Fiercely independent, Davis took many risks to bring new insights to television viewers across the world.

Having left his Tasmanian high school at age 15, Davis first found work at the Tasmanian Government Film Unit and then became a cameraman at the Australian Broadcasting Commission. In 1963 he moved to the international news agency Visnews, where he was employed as a cameraman and correspondent covering the South-East Asia region.

At the time, tensions were building in Vietnam and Davis soon gained a reputation for providing new and compelling footage of the situation there. According to a colleague, he believed that ‘the power of pictures was in most instances more effective than words’[fn]'Neil Davis of NBC News, 51; killed in Thai coup attempt’, New York Times, 10 September 1985[/fn] and was prepared to take many risks to capture the reality of war on film.

Unlike most other television correspondents, Davis mainly chose to work on his own. He carried his own lightweight camera and sound equipment and often filmed himself talking to the camera. He also differed from others reporting in Vietnam by choosing to spend his time with the South Vietnamese soldiers, rather than their American or Australian allies. As he later explained:

I preferred to go with the South Vietnamese forces because it was their war. It meant a great deal to them and they were fighting it on their own terms.[fn]Frontline films, Frontline, 1979[/fn]

In his effort to be balanced in his reporting, Davis became the first Western reporter to cross enemy lines. He spent several days in 1973 filming the Viet Cong and during this time experienced an aerial attack by the South Vietnamese forces. As he reported:

… we all sprinted to squeeze into an underground bunker covered with foliage. The helicopter sprayed the area for 30 minutes as we sweated underground. Bullets got through the thick bamboo-and-earth ceiling.[fn]‘Neil Davis of NBC News, 51; killed in Thai coup attempt’, New York Times, 10 September 1985[/fn]
A studio portrait of a fair haired man.

Davis, shown here in about 1974, was tall and athletic. As a young man, he played Australian rules football professionally. (AWM P00508.005)

A khaki green military protective vest.

Protective Body Armor Vest worn by Davis during the Vietnam War years. (AWM REL34208)

Three male soldiers wading through a swamp in waste high water.

Most famous of the war's many combat cameramen was Neil Davis, who spent eleven years in the war zone. He usually accompanied South Vietnamese forces in the field, in this photograph shown crossing a river while filming a patrol. Davis stayed in Vietnam to the end, filming the first North Vietnamese tank to crash through the gates of the Presidential Palace in Saigon Ð a symbolic ending of the war. AWM P00508.010

Black and white image of four men, including Davis, resting on a bushy slope. Davis is sitting between two South Vietnamese soldiers and they are all smiling.

Davis on patrol with South Vietnamese troops in the Mekong Delta in 1972. His preference was to move around with the local troops, rather than the Western forces. [AWM P00508.008]

Davis left Visnews in 1973, but stayed in Asia, firstly as a freelance reporter and then working for the American network NBC. He developed a reputation for neutrality, and was the only Western journalist to film as a North Vietnamese tank stormed through the gates of the Presidential Palace in Saigon on 30 April 1975. This marked the moment of victory for the North Vietnamese forces and the end of the war.

Admitting that he had ‘become addicted to combat’, Davis was injured many times throughout his career.[fn]Tim Bowden, One Crowded Hour, Harper Collins, 2013[/fn] After spending years in Vietnam and Cambodia, Davis moved to Thailand, and continued to cover conflicts, including in Africa and the Middle East.

On 9 September 1985, Davis was killed by shrapnel while filming an attempted coup in Bangkok. He was 51 years of age, and was cremated in a Buddhist ceremony in Bangkok.

Black and white image showing Davis giving a piggy back to a Cambodian soldier on a rough dirt path. The soldier is wearing thongs and leaning onto Davis. Both men look anxious.

Davis also covered the war in Cambodia and Laos. In this image he carries a wounded Cambodian soldier to safety in Phnom Penh in 1971. [AWM P00508.004]

Black and white image showing Davis standing next to a South Vietnamese soldier. Davis is drinking from an upturned helmet, which the soldier is helping to hold.

Davis takes a drink from a South Vietnamese soldier's helmet while in the Mekong Delta in 1972. When filming with the South Vietnamese troops, Davis ate the locally available food and water the soldiers relied on. [AWM P00508.007]

Why might Davis have provided a perspective on the war that was different from other correspondents?

Did you know?

Throughout his career, Neil Davis kept diaries related to his work. Inside the front cover of each one he wrote the following lines from the poem ‘The Call’ by Thomas Osbert Mordaunt:

One crowded hour of glorious life Is worth an age without a name.

Fast facts: Television and the Vietnam War

The Vietnam War became known as the ‘television war’ because it was the first time that the action during war was broadcast directly into homes around the world. Numerous television networks sent correspondents to report from Vietnam, and the government no longer had tight control over what was aired. Many confronting scenes were broadcast, which caused some people to question Australia’s involvement in the war.

Davis lying on a stretcher. He has his head raised and is gesticulating to the four men gathered around him. Three of the men are Cambodian soldiers, the other is wearing civilian clothes. They appear to be moving Davis to, or from, a military vehicle

Davis receives medical aid after being wounded in the leg by a mortar blast in Cambodia in 1974. Davis was given a transfusion directly from a green coconut, which saved his life. [AWM P00508.013]

What do you think drove Davis to take risks?

A military protective helmut.

Helmet with camouflage cover

Davis, in blue sweater and brown pants, posing in front of a black military tank. The tank is in a large room sitting on a raised platform. It is very clean and has"843' and a star emblem painted on the side.

Davis stands beside a tank in a museum in Vietnam in 1985. Davis was the only Western correspondent to film this tank as it smashed through the gates of the Presidential Palace in Saigon in 1975, signifying victory for the North Vietnamese forces. [AWM P00508.001]

Why do you think Davis was considered impartial by the Vietnamese forces?

Witnessing history: David Dare Parker

For six weeks in 2003, David Dare Parker photographed the work of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) in the Middle East. He was the first official photographer to be appointed by the Australian War Memorial (AWM) since the Second World War.

As a ten or eleven-year-old, Parker saw photos of the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War and was struck by the power of the images. Although he started his career as a guitarist, his memory of the photos helped him realise that photojournalism was the career he wished to follow. Parker changed jobs and continues to work as a photojournalist today. He enjoys the excitement of capturing history as it unfolds.

Parker has worked in many countries, including Turkey, Indonesia, Israel and East Timor. He is used to working in difficult conditions but believes that as a photojournalist, ‘your first responsibility is to the people whose stories you are trying to tell’. At times this responsibility has placed Parker in dangerous situations. He has been under attack in Israel and was directly targeted in East Timor. Acknowledging the risks, Parker tries to be careful, saying, ‘I’m not going to die for a photograph’.

Ironically, during his time as an official war photographer Parker felt safer than he usually does, as he was restricted to documenting the activities of the ADF and was always under their protection. As he was in secure areas, he was not able to cover stories such as the impact of the war on the civilian population.

Through his images, Parker recorded many aspects of the Australian presence in Iraq. He captured navy mine clearance teams searching for unexploded mortars, air force bombers returning from a combat operation, and the crew of HMAS Kanimbla patrolling for boats involved in illegal activities. Other images featured supply clerks in the military bases, and air traffic controllers working to establish secure conditions for civilian air traffic in Baghdad.

A black and white image of a man with two cameras and a fabric bag around his neck. A badge on his sleeve has the words"Australian Official Photographer'. He is standing in front of a concrete building in a deserted streetscape.

This portrait of Parker was taken when he was in the Middle East in 2003. He felt honoured when the AWM invited him to be an official photographer. As his father was in the army, he was very aware of the Anzac tradition. [AWM P04102.218]

In what way might Parker's respect for the Anzac tradition have influenced his photography in Iraq?

A badge with the words 'AUSTRALIAN OFFICIAL PHOTOGRAPHER' sewm in gold thread on a dark green khaki background.

Embroidered badge : Australian Official Photographer

A night vision view of a male soldier aiming a gun.

A member of the Australian Army on night duty in Baghdad in 2003. Australian troops provided protection for Australian diplomats in Iraq. AWM P04103.489

A black and white image of a soldier wearing full combat uniform and carrying his rifle in the confined space of an armoured vehicle. He has a cloth badge with the Australian flag on his sleeve and he is looking toward an opening in the ceiling.

This Australian soldier is travelling in an Australian Light Armoured Vehicle (ASLAV) during a street patrol in Baghdad. Parker generally prefers black and white images as he believes that they have greater impact. [AWM P04158.017]

How important is having the right equipment for soldiers today?

A black and white image taken from the rear of an armoured vehicle and looking over the head of a soldier toward the flat road ahead and the bare ground surrounding it. On the right side is a line of fence posts, and there is some low vegetation along the

A Special Air Service Regiment (SAS) patrol at an airbase in Iraq in 2003. The harsh desert environment meant that Parker had to clean the dust from his equipment each day to prevent damaging the camera lens. [AWM P04101.389]

What are some of the dangers which this patrol might have faced?

Throughout his time in the Middle East, Parker admired the professionalism and humour of members of the ADF. He found they were happy to be photographed and have their stories told at the Australian War Memorial. Many of Parker’s photos from the assignment were included in the AWM exhibition Focus: photography and war 1945–2006.

As one of Australia’s most successful photojournalists, Parker continues to travel the world and work in conflict zones. When he returns home to Western Australia he is able to share his experiences with his wife, Martine Perret, a photographer who has also worked in various conflict zones.

Male soldiers in a group standing and sitting on a road with a tank in the background.

A briefing session for Australian troops at the Australian National Headquarters in Baghdad in 2003. (AWM P04159.161)

Fast facts: The Special Air Service Regiment (SAS) in Iraq

During the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the majority of Australian forces on the ground were members of the elite SAS regiment. Being among the first to enter the war, they captured a range of enemy sites and equipment, from aircraft and air bases to Scud missile launch sites. Their work, including lengthy patrols to gather information about enemy activities, greatly increased the safety of other troops operating in Iraq.

Did you know?

The Australian Army provides training for all those deployed to conflict zones, including war photographers. The training covers basic medical knowledge, and strategies to use if you are captured, including not revealing information to the enemy.

What do you think should be taught in pre-departure training?

Four male soldiers in combat gear sitting under a rooftop.

Parker has made several visits to East Timor to cover crises. This 2007 image shows Australian troops who are helping to ensure the success of the election. (AWM P05977.038)

A colour image of two men in uniform standing on the deck of a ship looking out to sea. One man is looking through a view finder and the other one is wearing headphones. A large missile launcher is between them.

Crew members of HMAS Kanimbla operating a missile launcher near the Persian Gulf while supporting the operation to disarm Iraq in 2003. [AWM P04103.450]

What feelings might these men have experienced as they launched missiles?

A crowd of Timorese women grouped together with a white helicopter in the background.

Parker took this image during the presidential election in East Timor in 2007. Members of the ADF helped to maintain security during the election process. (AWM P05977.006)

Working together: Lyndell Brown and Charles Green

In 2007 Lyndell Brown and Charles Green were appointed as official war artists to Afghanistan and Iraq. Their paintings offer a rare insight into contemporary warfare and reveal beauty in unexpected places.

Brown and Green are a married couple from Victoria who work as a team to create their artworks. They were already well-established artists when they were approached by the Australian War Memorial (AWM) to work as official artists. According to Brown, their reaction to the offer was complicated ‘because we’re both peace-loving vegetarian pacifists’. After initially declining the position, they reflected on the strong tradition of war artists in Australia and decided to accept.

Over a six week period the pair visited military bases in the Middle East, with the aim of capturing the activities of Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel. Although they were not permitted to accompany the troops ‘outside the wire’, the artists experienced the danger of moving around the region. Brown described their drive to a base in Iraq:

We were on an armoured vehicle called the Rhino bus and we were wearing our ballistic goggles, our helmets, our 20 kilos of body armour, driving into the heart of Bagdad … It’s about a twenty minutes’ drive … but it is the most dangerous road in the world.
A male soldier and a female soldier standing together in front of a large river.

Lyndell Brown and Charles Green, Route Irish, Baghdad (2007, oil on linen, 31 x 31 cm, AWM ART93307)

Painting showing the frame of a window in the foreground, through which a road scene is visible. An equipped sand-coloured military vehicle is stopped next to a steep embankment on the side of a road. A soldier in camouflage uniform is seen in the vehicle

Lyndell Brown and Charles Green, Route Irish, Baghdad [2007, oil on linen, 31 x 31 cm, AWM ART93307]

This painting depicts an American military vehicle viewed from a bus travelling along Route Irish - the road to Baghdad International Airport where vehicles were frequently attacked.

Why do you think the artists chose to capture this scene from a window of a passing bus?

A badge with the words 'Australian War Memorial OFFICIAL ARTIST' embroidered in gold on a dark green background.

Australian War Memorial Official Artist shoulder title

Painting which shows the view from high up on a large ship, down the side of the ship to the sea below. The left half of the painting depicts the steel of the ship's side and pieces of attached equipment, the right half shows the mildly turbulent sea.

Lyndell Brown and Charles Green, Dawn, Iraqi waters, Arabian Gulf [2007, oil on linen, 31 x 31 cm, AWM ART93290]

This painting portrays an Australian boarding party in an inflatable boat returning to HMAS Toowoomba at dawn.

Why might the artists have painted the returning boat from this perspective?

Brown and Green were amazed by the size of the military bases that they visited. Members of the ADF were often located within larger United States military compounds, and these secure areas housed many thousands of troops. The artists were struck by the bleak landscapes and environmental impact of war. Green described seeing:

Vast fields, several times the size of the MCG, of pallets of bottled water progressively being covered in desert dust.[fn]‘The art of war’, Artworks, Radio National, 24 June 2007[/fn]

Amongst such scenes, Brown and Green also found beauty. The artists tried to capture what they saw by taking numerous photographs to use later when creating their paintings back in Australia. Brown and Green stress that their paintings do not aim to document war, they are instead artistic interpretations of what they saw.

Painting which shows a wire fenced storage yard set in a cleared, flat landscape with reddish soil. Equipment is stacked in the fenced area and in the distance, on the horizon, a sand coloured temple can be seen

Lyndell Brown and Charles Green, Ziggurat of Ur, Tallil, southern Iraq [2007, painting, 31 x 31 cm, AWM ART93313]

The artists were interested in how the military presence in the Middle East shaped the environment. This painting depicts tyres, crates and razor wire, with an ancient temple in the background.

Why do you think Brown and Green chose to paint this scene?

Painting of a female soldier in sand-coloured uniform sitting cross legged on the floor of a military helicopter. She is wearing sunglasses and looking towards the viewer. A circular embroidered badge on her shoulder includes American and Australian flags

Lyndell Brown and Charles Green, Portrait, Corporal Dianne Cuttler, Kandahar [2007, painting, 31 x 31 cm, AWM ART93296]

During her time in the Middle East, Brown was amazed by 'the number of women in all different roles in different places'.5 Corporal Cuttler, shown here in a helicopter, worked as a medical technician responsible for evacuating the injured.

What flags and symbols are shown on the badge on Corporal Cuttler's arm? What might they tell you about her role?

Fast facts: Women in the ADF

At present women fill nearly 20% of the positions in the Royal Australian Navy and the Royal Australian Air Force, and the government aims to increase this to 25% by 2023. In the Australian Army, which is the largest service, female participation is currently at around 12%, and the aim is to increase it to 15% in 2023.

What strategies could the government use to encourage more women to join the ADF?

Why do you think Brown and Green chose to paint this scene?

Brown and Green returned to Australia having gained a new understanding of contemporary war and an appreciation for the Australian troops serving in the Middle East. Brown said:

I was really humbled and impressed by the people we met and their sensitivity, and intelligence, and caution, and professionalism … I felt very proud to be involved with the Australian troops ...[fn]‘The art of war’, Artworks, Radio National, 24 June 2007[/fn]

The experience of serving as war artists inspired the couple to move from Melbourne to regional Victoria. Feeling relieved to have returned safely from a war zone, they decided to live in a naturally beautiful and quieter environment. They continue to work as artists and both hold positions at the University of Melbourne. The artworks created by Brown and Green in the Middle East were shown nationally in a travelling exhibition in 2008 and now form part of the AWM collection.

A male soldier dressed in camoflauge adjusting netting.

Lyndell Brown and Charles Green, Soldier preparing cargo, Camp Victory, Baghdad (2007, oil on linen, 31 x 31 cm, AWM ART93295)

In this painting, a soldier is preparing to palletise the artists’ packs before they depart on a Hercules aircraft.

A night vision of soldiers on patrol.

Lyndell Brown and Charles Green, Night, soldiers in darkness preparing for patrol, Tallil, southern Iraq (2007, oil on linen, 31 x 31 cm, AWM ART93317)

Brown and Green witnessed activity on the bases throughout the day and night.

A military shirt with a badge on each sleeve.

The badges on this shirt identified Lyndell Brown as an official artist. AWM REL38671.002

What flags and symbols are shown on the badge on Corporal Cuttler's arm? What might they tell you about her role? 

Did you know?

Feeding thousands of service men and women at military bases in the Middle East is an expensive task, as much of the food and water is transported in from elsewhere. In many cases, disposable plates, cutlery and water bottles are also used.


accreditation Official recognition that someone is qualified to perform a particular activity.
Aegean A part of the Mediterranean Sea that is located between Greece and Turkey.
AIF Australian Imperial Force. The Australian force formed for overseas service during the First and Second World Wars.
Allied forces The group of nations, including Australia, which fought against Germany and its allies in the First World War and against the Axis powers in the Second World War.
Anzacs Originally soldiers from the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) in 1915, but later used to refer to other Australian and New Zealand troops.
bayonets Stabbing weapons designed to fit on the end of a rifle.
British Empire The group of nations or colonies with ties and allegiance to the United Kingdom.
bunker An underground shelter used for protection, sometimes with openings that a gun can be fired through.
cable A written message transmitted by an electronic device. The message was carried along wires, and then the text was written out and delivered.
casualty clearing station A military medical facility, located close to the front line, to treat and/or stabilise wounded soldiers.
combat Fighting, generally between two or more armies.
commemorate To act in remembrance and respect for a person or event.
commission A posting to a military officer’s role.
confronting Something that causes a person to be distressed or upset.
demilitarisation The process of removing military equipment and installations from an area.
diplomats Government officials who represent their country overseas.
freelance To be self-employed and work on projects for different companies.
futility Sense of something having no useful purpose because there are no benefits.
Gallipoli A peninsula located in Turkey where Australian soldiers fought in 1915.
glider A light aircraft that flies without using an engine.
Kokoda Track The steep and narrow walking track across the Owen Stanley Range in New Guinea.
lead A metal used to make bullets.
marines Members of the US Navy who are trained to serve in an amphibious role.
MCG Melbourne Cricket Ground
Middle East A large geographical area including countries such as Iran, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
mine clearance The process of removing explosive land mines from an area.
morale Positive or negative feelings felt by a person or a group of people.
mortar A weapon to fire explosive bombs on a high trajectory.
mortuary A place where dead bodies are kept until they are buried or cremated.
negatives Photographic images made on film or glass, from which photos can be printed.
neutrality A position of not supporting or helping either side in a conflict.
offensive A military attack.
Pacific The part of the world near the western Pacific Ocean, including countries such as Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and Japan.
pacifists People who believe that war cannot be justified.
palletise Packing goods onto a pallet before they are transported.
peacekeeping Maintaining peace and order within or between countries, usually by an international force in the aftermath of conflict.
peninsula An area of land almost surrounded by water.
photojournalism Journalism that relies on images more than words to present news stories.
platoons Groups of soldiers (from 25 to 40 in each platoon) who are commanded by a lieutenant.
shrapnel Fragments of a bomb, shell, grenade or landmine etc.
stills Single photographs taken from film footage.
transfusion Transferring blood or other fluids into a person to replace blood lost because of injury or surgery.
Western Front The central area of operations for Allied forces in Western Europe during the First World War.


Permission is given by the Commonwealth for this publication to be copied royalty free within Australia solely for educational purposes. Apart from any use as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, no part may be reproduced for commercial purposes.


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