If anyone has earned their Australia Day honour this year it is veteran Tasmanian cinematographer David Brill, who was awarded for his service to journalism and to Tasmania over a lifetime of covering conflicts and natural disasters in some of the most dangerous parts of the world. His career really started in 1967 when as a 22-year-old cameraman for the ABC in Hobart his dramatic footage of bushfires was sent around the world. He has since covered every major conflict, from Vietnam to Iraq.
Reminiscing on a dramatic career, mostly at the ABC and then SBS, he talks about realising the power of the image to tell a story and how they can change history. “Anyone can film a gun going off, but I wanted to show what the bullets did.” He was there at the fall of Saigon, along with fellow Tasmanian Neil Davis. He was in Somalia with Australian troops, in Bosnia he interviewed Slobodan Milosevic, and he can reel off time in just about every other conflict in the past 30 years.
He wants to dedicate the award to all the journalists risking their lives to tell the stories in conflicts and crises today. “It is no doubt much more dangerous now,” he told Crikey. “The constant demand for news and the competition among journalists with less resources has led to people taking more risks and working without the support we used have.”
Many of the journalists killed or injured covering the dangerous parts of the world are now freelancers working without the kind of backing provided by big programs like 60 Minutes or Four Corners (for which Brill used to work).
That heyday of television foreign coverage has long passed, but the dangers Brill says very much remain and in some cases, as in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, are greatly enhanced by the fact foreign and local journalists are very much targets for killing and kidnapping.
Brill says he still believes the lessons he learned covering the fires in 1967. “I realised then the power of journalism. It is about people’s lives, and it can and does change people’s lives for the better.” — John Martinkus