Home' Army News : February 9th 2017 Contents 5
February 9, 2017
Snapshot of soldier’s sheer devotion to duty
it at their laboratory and edited it for us, but
there was no sound facility.
I wrote a commentary that was later dubbed
on to it in Australia. The whole job was success-
ful because of Bill’s dogged determination.
It was all done in the middle of the wet sea-
son, and the only cine camera we had was a tiny
16mm wind-up Bell and Howell that kept seizing
up because of the humid weather. Towards the
end of the job we were squirting penetrine into
its innards every few minutes to keep it going.
The film was a success at the joint chiefs’
conference, although I had trouble getting it
through Customs when I brought it home for
personal hand-delivery to the CGS because I
wouldn’t allow them to view it in Perth. They
were concerned, of all things, that it might depict
dead bodies. It was released later for TV and
general cinema viewing .
People who met Bill in his military life were
always intrigued by his nickname, ‘Spacey’,
which was used to address him by all ranks,
from generals down, for most of his Army
career, and wondered how he got it. I wondered
myself after hearing several secondhand ver-
sions – always wrong – until he told me the story
As a young sergeant stationed at Enoggera,
Brisbane, he went for parachute training, return-
ing to 1RAR flaunting highly-prized parachute
badges on his sleeves.
On being quizzed by a couple of other snakes
in the bar of the first-floor sergeant’s mess as to
whether he could fly, he said: “Of course I can,
can’t you see my wings?”
He was promptly seized by the arms and
legs and thrown through an open window by the
roisterers to check the statement out, landing
in a soft garden bed below and returning to the
bar without injury to be dubbed the spaceman in
those heady early days of space exploration.
Bill always reckoned the funniest assignment
he ever had was to shoot some road signs that
had been erected at Enoggera base in Brisbane.
The engineer unit that erected them rejected
the pictures because he shot them in black and
white – which they were – and demanded that he
return and shoot them in colour.
He continued to take pictures for the Army
as a civilian for many years until health beat him
in his 70s. Even then he continued his insatiable
interest in Service affairs, and stipulated his
preference for donations to Legacy over flowers
at his funeral.
One of my fondest memories of Bill was the
day I, as a fairly competent boatman, was try-
ing to cross the Song Be river in South Vietnam
with him as a passenger. We had found an
abandoned native boat with only one oar, which
I was wielding as a paddle, when we encoun-
tered a strong midstream current and started to
go around in circles, with Bill becoming a bit
“Keep still,” I told him, “or we’ll go arse over
head.”“I will,” he said. “I can’t swim.”
That was Spacey – a flier but not a swimmer.
Ken Blanch was crime reporter on many newspapers,
including The Courier Mail. He was a captain in the
Australian Army and did a tour of duty as a public rela-
tions officer with 1RAR and 6RAR in Vietnam in 1966.
GEN SIR PETER COSGROVE (RETD)
GEN DAVID HURLEY (RETD)
AUSTRALIAN WAR MEMORIAL
Trailblazer leaves lasting legacy
Bill Cunneen was a man who saw the same things we
all see, but he had that great and rare ability to capture
them — to capture moments, time and history. His pho-
tographs ... remind us of who we are as a nation, they
speak to the values and ideals we have fought for, and
they stand as testament to the deeds and sacrifices of
so many servicemen and women. Bill witnessed some
of the defining and most difficult times our country has
faced — 50 years on from the Battle of Long Tan, Bill’s
images are as powerful and insightful as ever. Bill’s fami-
ly, friends and colleagues knew him as a true gentleman,
a man of modesty, honour and quiet resolve; someone
whose legendary and trailblazing work speaks for itself.
His work was, and continues to be, instrumental in
explaining to all Australians the sacrifices made by Bill’s
comrades in some of the most challenging conflicts in
our nation’s history. I understand Bill was the first military
photographer into the area after the Battle of Long Tan
and remember well the iconic photos he took following
the battle. His work continues to live on, including in the
archives of the Australian War Memorial. Please accept
my thanks on behalf of a grateful nation for Bill’s tireless
service and unique legacy.
Through this legacy his contribution as a fine Australian
will not be forgotten. I recall Bill quietly and profession-
ally recording numerous events – a great number of my
memories have been captured by his camera.
Over 1000 of Bill’s images are publicly available
through our website. Viewing them highlights his great
talent for working in the field capturing Australian ser-
vicemen and women with his wonderful eye for engag-
ing naturalistic composition. The images taken after
the Battle of Long Tan will stand out as a most impor-
tant and accomplished body of work and a prized part
of the Memorial’s National Collection. We are grateful
to him for the work he created – for his skill, his com-
mitment and his vision, which will remain a treasured
part the National Collection for future generations.
ACM MARK BINSKIN
Two of the thousands of
iconic photos taken by Bill
Cunneen in South Vietnam
in 1966. Above, an American
Iroquois helicopter lifts off
behind 6RAR diggers. Below:
Australian APCs of 1 APC Sqn
and soldiers on foot sweep
along in pursuit of retreating
Viet Cong troops in Phuoc Tuy
cy, in Borneo during Confrontation, and
an incredible 907 days on duty in Vietnam.
His photos and personality captivated
the Army and the ADF and Brig D’Hage
said he would be remembered as one of
the best known and highly regarded sol-
diers to don the uniform and provided a
valuable service throughout his career.
“For 50 years his shutter recorded
the actions and sacrifices of legions
of Australian servicemen and women.
It is a legacy that will remain part of
Australian military history forever.
“Modest to the core, and a true gentle-
man, he was one of the finest combat cam-
eramen this country has ever produced.”
Bill continues to be an inspiration to generations of mili-
tary photographers and his influence is reflected in the
work of our contemporary photographers, particularly in
the pages of the Army News, which Bill helped make
become the institution that it is. Through his service in
Japan, Korea, Malaya and Borneo, and his three tours
of Vietnam, Bill did more than most to serve Australia
during the tumultuous post-war period. This remarkable
career deserves to be celebrated.
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