Photojournalist captured nation’s experience of the Vietnam War

by Nicole Hasham – Sydney Morning Herald Nov 23, 2011


Photojournalist Denis Gibbons, left, receives a briefing.

Denis Gibbons- photojournalist

Photojournalist Denis Gibbons, left, receives a briefing. Photo: Australlian War Memorial

  • Photojournalist Denis Gibbons, left, receives a briefing.  The fire support base, NDP Beverly, 20 miles east of 1st Australian Task Force.  An Australian Field Hospital dust-off, triage and operating theatre.  Operation Federal, 7 Platoon, C Company, 4th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment.  Long Tan cross ceremonies with D Company, 6th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment.Andrew Mattay, a company commander with the 7th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment talks with Denis Gibbons.

HE would stand fifth from the front, just behind the machine gunner. On his hip was a revolver; on his back, a typewriter and in his hand, a camera to capture the crude, startling truth of life on the front line.

For five years, renowned Vietnam War correspondent Denis Gibbons marched at the shoulder of Australian troops – dodging bullets, taking shrapnel and shooting thousands of frames as the Vietcong bore down.

Of all the Australian photographers and photojournalists following the Vietnam War, he had by far the deepest involvement.

Gibbons died on Monday night aged 74, leaving behind the nation’s largest single visual record of the Australian experience in Vietnam.

He arrived in Saigon in January 1966 and would photograph the tours of nine Australian infantry battalions for Fairfax and United Press International.


Over five years, the army-trained Gibbons became a trusted sidekick to Australian troops, living at the 1st Australian Task Force base at Nui Dat and spending weeks with each unit.

The Australian War Memorial photography curator, Ian Jackson, said Gibbons spent longer in the field than any other Vietnam correspondent and captured a rare ”soldier’s-eye view” of the conflict.

”Of all the Australian photographers and photojournalists following the Vietnam War, he had by far the deepest involvement,” Mr Jackson said.

”You really get a very powerful sequence in his work, where he was in the midst of things in some hairy situations.”

In a 2004 interview, Gibbons recalled the last of six injuries he sustained on his reporting tour of duty. He was travelling with a group of Diggers on top of an armoured personnel carrier when it struck a landmine.

”[We] came out of the top of the explosion like a Roman candle … and we ended up in various areas. I was about 30 metres away, face down in the bush,” he said. ”Not only was I really shattered by the explosion, bleeding from every orifice in my body, but … I was really psychologically shot.

”And the doctors said, ‘You know, you got to go home.”’Upon his return, Gibbons campaigned for the recognition of Australian war correspondents in Vietnam and eschewed press photography in favour of his first love, plants.

Gibbons had earned a degree in botany before forging a media career and documenting the simple beauty of Australian natives helped soothe the mental wounds of his time in Vietnam, his son, Shaun Gibbons, said.

”I wish he’d gone and sought help afterwards. He definitely suffered post-traumatic stress [disorder] but never admitted it,” Shaun said.

”After seeing all that death and destruction, it was his way of dealing with it.”

Denis Gibbons, who was made a member of the Order of Australia in 2005, is survived by six children.

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I am delighted to advise that Dennis Gibbons family has donated his photographs to this Museum where some are already on display and we will organise an exhibition of his work in the near future. We are in the process of trying to organise more funds to build exhibition bays in the Museum extension. Regards …Gary Parker
Gary B Parker

This Museum is the legacy of ALL Vietnam Veterans.

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