Singaporean news cameraman Willie Phua: A good eye and a little bit of luck
“Get the best picture possible, stay away from danger, and have a lot of luck.” This simple philosophy was the advice from legendary Singaporean news cameraman Willie Phua on Tuesday as he shared highlights from some of the major events of the last 30 years.
Phua, an ABC foreign correspondent cameraman for more than three decades, captured pivotal moments in Asia’s history on film, including the Vietnam War, and was one of the only cameramen to film the so-called “Tank Man”, the young protester who briefly held back Chinese tanks in Tiananmen Square.
He appeared in conversation at the National Museum of Australia this week with his friend, and colleague, former ABC foreign correspondent, Bob Wurth, where he discussed his memory of the famous images.
“For two weeks, nothing happened. But one morning, a tank came. And a man ran out of nowhere and stopped the tank,” Phua said.
“I remember thinking he must have been a very brave young man, and that the pictures of it were very important. I wanted to make sure I got them.”
In a career characterised by integrity, bravery and luck, Phua said he often found himself in the right place at the right time, covering race riots, genocide, bloody coups and conflicts, assassinations, and the overthrowing of regimes across the Asian continent.
“I was affected when I came back [home] … But at the time, you are doing your job. All I wanted to do was get the film out.”
The conversational event, Legacy of a News Cameraman, was held as part of the new pop-up in the museum’s Main Hall showcasing Phua’s four cameras and work in journalism, in a display called Capturing Asia: Willie Phua, News Cameraman.
It is the first collaboration between the NMA and the National Museum of Singapore (NMS), agreed through a Memorandum of Understanding with the National Heritage Board of Singapore.
National Museum director, Dr Mathew Trinca, said he was happy the collaboration was highlighting Willie Phua’s work, whom he credited as instrumental in Australians learning about Asia.
“Generations of viewers saw Willie Phua’s camerawork through the ABC news and documentaries and we are honoured to share his story with the country,” he said.
In a show of respect and as an award for his commitment to the job, in 1996 Phua received an Honorary Order of Australia medal for his services to broadcasting. But when asked why he didn’t wear it to the event on Tuesday, he maintained a humble attitude.
“I’m just a simple man.”
The story Singaporean news cameraman Willie Phua: A good eye and a little bit of luck first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.