'TEACHING Australians about our northern neighbours'
a day of recognition for Willie phua, OAM...
Willie Phua, who always dreaded the limelight, stood nervously beside New South Wales Governor Gordon Samuels. It was Friday, 29 November 1996, and one of those gloriously sunny days overlooking a sparkling Sydney Harbour from Government House.
"Mr Willie Phua", Samuals began, "has spent almost thirty years as the ABC’s TV cameraman in Asia and has given remarkable service and dedication to Australia’s interests. Over that period he has made a significant personal contribution to teaching Australians about our northern neighbours."
Willie shuffled uncomfortably in his best suit, having failed to get Ian Macintosh or any of his other friends to stand with him alongside the Governor. Gordon Samuels put the Singaporean at ease, continuing:
"Mr Phua often worked at great personal risk, and his professionalism and dedication to journalism took priority even when close friends performing similar work were killed. Mr Phua’s camera work has been responsible for Australians seeing all aspects of life in Asia, thus stimulating Australian interest in the region."
Samuels pinned the honorary medal of the Order of Australia on the lapel of Willie Phua’s suit and
delighted the crowd by asking all to join him and the recipient in a ‘pork chop’ on the lawn on such a lovely day. Willie's nephew Sebastian must have come close to running out of film. He was bursting with pride and couldn't wait to call his brother Joe to tell him all about it.
Joe Phua was in Tokyo and couldn’t make his uncle’s investiture in Sydney, but he remembers his brother Sebastian calling him excitedly from Sydney:
"One of Sebastian’s happiest and proudest moments, besides his wife Carol having their son Wesley, was when Willie received the ‘gong’. Nothing could have kept Sebastian away.
He never stopped talking about it."
An ABC TV crew was there to capture the event, which was in fact Australia's first and formal recognition of the work of Willie Phua.
The man who had never lived in Australia was seen on ABC television receiving his Order of Australia medal, both in a news report and on Kerry O’Brien’s 7.30 Report (see the video on this site). As O’Brien’s introduction says: "Generations of ABC viewers saw the pivotal events of the Asian region through his lens."
After the investiture, the guests from Government House walked down to the Tilbury Hotel at Woolloomooloo where old friends and colleagues turned up during an afternoon’s celebration, as friend and former news chief John Tulloh recalls:
"Scores of friends and admirers dropped by to salute a person who had provided more visual evidence of momentous events and history in East Asia in the second half of the twentieth
century to the Australian TV audience than anyone else."
Ian Macintosh remembers that it was like a reunion:
"They came from near and far. That was Willie’s legacy. A lot of us weren’t even talking to each other. There were all sorts of loyalties and all the usual factions in the media but they were
all there for one reason—Mr Phua. It’s an interesting business, isn’t it?"
Peter Munckton, former ABC foreign correspondent and news executive, says Willie Phua's work created "a broad understanding of the region, which successive waves of politicians and diplomats could only have hoped they might have been able to do."
VIEW THE 7.30 REPORT VIDEO
on Willie Phua's work.