I went to a lunchtime lecture on South Australian polar explorers a little while ago. It looked at the work of Douglas Mawson, Hubert Wilkins and John Rydoch Rymill. Naturally, Mawson was the star of the show, with his hundred dollar stare and his dog-eating survivalist ways, but Rymill and Wilkins were also men with big dreams who accomplished amazing things. I found out all sorts of interesting things that I hadn't known before, like the fact that the magnetic poles are never in the same place two days in a row. They move around inside an area called the oscillation zone. Cool, huh? Oh all right. I'm a nerd. You got a problem with it, you can bite me.
Anyway, the lecture made me think about heroes and the fact that real heroes are thin on the ground these days. I don't mean courageous people who rescue drowning children or pull old ladies from burning houses, though they're certainly heroes and as rare as rocking horse crap. I mean people who want to discover something, see something no-one else has seen, achieve something that will add to the world's knowledge or make life better for people who need help: people who are an inspiration.
We live in a time when there is no undiscovered territory any more. There are no more North West Passages. Even the most unimaginative suburbanite can go to the Antarctic. Crossing the Simpson Desert isn't likely to kill you unless your car breaks down or you meet John Jarratt on the road.
These days, our heroes are footballers, racing drivers, rock stars and actors. Sure, I can look at Clive Owen for a long time without getting bored and I spent my teenage years wishing I was Courtney Cox just so I could have danced with Bruce Springsteen to Dancing in the Dark, but really, what's inspirational about either of them? Where is the wonder in someone who can kick a ball a long way?
My hero is a Vietnam photojournalist and cameraman called Neil Davis. You can read his life story in Tim Bowden's wonderful biography, One Crowded Hour
. Davis was a vain, proud man who ate flowers and had as many shortcomings as anyone, but he was also a marvellous photojournalist and cameraman who was dedicated to telling the real story of Vietnam from the Vietnamese side. He lived for the bang-bang. He walked point when he went out with a company. He ate what he was given by the Vietnamese soldiers, even though he knew it probably contained human flesh taken from defeated Viet Cong, simply because it would have been offensive to refuse. People called him Suicide Davis because they thought he took crazy risks, but he just wanted to tell the story. He was incredibly determined, fighting his way back from polio as a teenager and later from a serious shrapnel wound that almost cost him a leg. He was killed in 1985 while covering a fairly minor skirmish in Thailand and many people thought he was murdered to stop him asking inconvenient questions.
So come on, loves. Tell me, who's your hero?