Let me begin with a cautionary tale. Back in March 1901, a couple of months after the birth of Australian federation, a bloke called William Lambie – the correspondent whom The Age had sent to South Africa to cover the Boer War – achieved a remarkable but unenviable distinction. He became not only the first Australian war correspondent to be killed in the line of duty, but the first Victorian, military or civilian, to be killed in that ugly conflict. According to an Australian colleague, one A.G. (Smiler) Hales, who was reporting for the London Daily News, he and Lambie were comparing notes behind a group of Tasmanian troops when 40 Boers dashed out of a ravine and demanded they surrender. “We refused and tried to gallop through,” wrote Hales later. “The Boers fired a volley after us, and Lambie fell dead with two bullets through his head and one through his heart.”
Subsequently, the then Premier of Victoria, Mr McLean, told the State Legislative Assembly in a eulogy that Lambie was “an able journalist and an excellent authority on military matters”. Almost a century on, one wonders whether poor, brave Lambie’s editor might not, privately, have had reservations about the Premier’s judgment on both scores. These days, and it was presumably true then too, able journalists are not paid to be heroes but to file copy. Similarly, the editor might have wondered why and how an “excellent military authority” could have contrived to be in the place where he would be the first bloke to be shot.
Recommended CitationCole-Adams, P., Reporting war and conflict, Asia Pacific Media Educator, 7, 1999, 102-107.