Back in another world of reporting from overseas....

By the ABC's Paul Lockyer, on abc.net.com, July 9, 2010.

It now seems like another world - a world of reporting before tweets, satellite phones and even videotape.

This was the world of the ABC's foreign correspondents who were posted to Asia from the 1960s, who would file on shaky radio circuits and ship out news stories on film or find a traveller who was prepared to hand carry it back to Australia.

They would often be out of touch for days on end. Even in the early 1980s there was no communication possible from postwar Indochina.

We could be out of touch for weeks at a time finding travellers to hand carry film and radio cassettes from Vietnam and Cambodia back to the ABC's office in Bangkok.

It was a difficult and dangerous working environment, but the ABC was blessed by the support of the resourceful locally-engaged staff, many of whom served the organisation for decades.

One of them was the Singaporean cameraman, Willie Phua.

I was just one of many correspondents who owe an enormous debt to Willie. Like many others, I arrived in Asia as a young, enthusiastic journalist eager to get on with the job.

That was 1979, and a refugee emergency was unfolding as tens of thousands of famine stricken Cambodians were streaming into Thailand, accompanied by the remnants of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge forces.

Willie was already an acclaimed cinematographer, held in high regard by his peers, particularly Neil Davis, the Australian cameraman based in Bangkok at the time.

The methodical manner in which Willie approached that assignment - the careful planning, the constant assessment of the risk, the calm approach to the locals - was a lesson delivered to many correspondents.

He opened the door to the cultural nuances of Asia and always knew where the best food could be found, and the coldest beer.

From the early 1960s, for more than 30 years, Willie guided a constant stream of young Australian journalists through the ways of Asia, protecting them and educating them through all the big stories across the region.

No-one possessed a stronger work ethic or a more disciplined approach to his craft.

To the ABC's great credit his role was recognised and fostered by the corporation's managers in Singapore. He would roam the region like a circuit judge - off to New Delhi, then Bangkok and on to Tokyo.

Later his nephews Sebastian and Joe would follow in his footsteps, as a Phua dynasty was born.

After some of us had left Asia and our careers had taken other paths we believed it was important that Willie's contribution to Australian television and to building bridges to Asia should be recognised in a more public way.

Wilie Phua was awarded an Order of Australia for his work in 1996.

It was a fitting celebration not just by former foreign correspondents but by their spouses and children who had came to know him as 'Uncle Willie'.

Paul Lockyer in 2010 with Willie Phua at the ABC's photographic

exhibition in Sydney featuring Phua and ABC correspondents in Asia.

Paul Lockyer was a reporter and filmmaker with the ABC. He was a foreign correspondent in Asia from the late 1970s.

 

Paul Lockyer with a photograph of himself at Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Willie Phua in front of images of himself on assignment in Pakistan.

Willie Phua with friends, including many former correspondents, on receiving his Order of Australia medal at Government House in Sydney in 1996.

Willie Phua with Dana Munckton, daughter of former correspondent Peter Munckton and his wife Ann. Dana, now a mother herself, was present at the celebrations in Sydney for the launch of the book on Willie Phua.