Thursday, September 06, 2007

Where have all the heroes gone?

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?



At 10:44 pm, September 06, 2007, Blogger Sakura said...

Hmm that's a really good question.. I think I might have to come back to that one. What are you doing to me Red it's nearly home time and you are making me think ???

At 6:42 am, September 07, 2007, Blogger londongirl said...

Humn. My dad, probably. He's survived a lot, with a smile, and would do anything for anyone who asked.

Failing that... Eric Newby. A fantastic explorer with a wry sense of humour and no pomposity.

I do know what you mean though - how on earth can you look up to David Beckham or a similar poser?

At 9:07 am, September 07, 2007, Anonymous MikeFitz said...

Yeah "Stars" (sports stars, rock stars etc) are not "Heroes" UNTIL they use their high profile to achieve something good for other people.

My well-known hero: Fred Hollows

My unknown heroes: all the volunteers at my local ostomy association. Without them, I couldn't function.

And then there's Gough Whitlam :)

At 11:19 am, September 07, 2007, Blogger Milly Moo said...

My Grandfather, Jack Read. He died last year at 94 but had a sharp mind and was always ready to hear out other peoples' points of view.

A good example is when his local church (Uniting) got into a flap over the Synod approving gay/lesbian relationships and being ordained as ministers. A few fuddy duddies left the church in a huff, but Grandpa told me, "Ah yes, there was a bloke who played the organ for us in the fifties who I thought was gay, and he eventually left our congregation probably because he wasn't welcome. I wish I'd been brave enough to hold out my hand of friendship to him and allow him to lead his own free life."

Not a bad admission at the age of ninety, is it?

At 12:38 pm, September 07, 2007, Blogger redcap said...

sakura, sorry man. Being forced to think at the end of the day is a bit cruel.

LG, that's nice that your dad is your hero. I'll check Eric Newby out - Mr Google will help. and yeah - a handsome face does not a hero make.

mike, Fred Hollows was a real champion. I was discussing this with my bestie and he said, "Fred Hollows" as well.

milly, your grandad sounds like a good sort. Yay him!

At 1:45 pm, September 07, 2007, Blogger kiki said...

my dad

he saves lives, never lives and never says a bad word about anyone. he's also wickedly intelligent, overly kind and generous.
he even had time to compete for australia in an olympic games and (help) raise a happy family

kind of like i'd imagine jesus* to me

*i don't believe jesus was divine

At 1:46 pm, September 07, 2007, Blogger kiki said...

* never lies

* jesus to be

At 2:21 pm, September 07, 2007, Blogger killerrabbit said...

My hero is Daw Aung San Suu Kyi for her ongoing determination to fight for Burmese democracy and human rights even though she has been under house arrest for 11 years. Also the unsung heroes of the Burmese struggle who get thrown in jail or executed for passing leaflets, talking to westerners and protesting the cost of food and petrol in the country.

At 5:50 pm, September 07, 2007, Blogger eleanor bloom said...

So true re celebs (drives me nuts).

I agree with Suu Kyi and Hollows.

Also Mai (sometimes2 blog). She fought alongside her husband and son and other family when they were attacked for being Sikhs in Delhi in 1984. They were there on holiday from Canada.

She strapped her breasts and wore a turban so she could fight alongside the men. She was pregnant with twin girls. The attackers murdered her husband and 21year old son. She took her knife and slashed the murderer's throat. She nearly died herself. Although she survived she lost the babies.

She went in hiding for 20years due to the distress. But now she, finally, talks about it on her blog and another one which focuses on Sikh issues.

She has died 4 times in her life so far. Doctors say she her heart will give out soon and have said she will likely die by November.

Her left side isn't much good anymore due to a couple of strokes. But you won't hear her complain and she has a fantastic sense of humour and spirit for life.

That she can go through so much and still be loving and sweet and generous is pretty impressive to me.

She's done other things that impress me too but my comment will never end the way I'm going!

I have that One Crowded Hour book. Have had it for a while now but yet to read it. Must get round to it.

Hope you have a nice weekend!

At 5:56 pm, September 07, 2007, Blogger Lonie Polony said...

Oh Thank God. I thought for a moment you were heading towards a topical Steve Fossett post.

Sadly, I think I'm too apathetic to have a proper hero I know all about and can discuss at length. But I admire many people, often for just doing good things I never could or would do (so it's not hard to be admired by me then).

One person who really made an impression on me is Fr. Dave, a priest from somewhere I used to live who was always kind and Christian (in the proper sense) and never shy about expressing his 'radical' ideas that - gasp! - gays, divorcees, unmarried parents, people of other faiths and all the other traditional outcasts should be welcomed just as a certain founder of Christianity would have welcomed them. He reckoned women and married people should be allowed to become (Catholic) priests, and also thought people should be able to take on shorter-term priesthoods (say, five or ten years) to enable them to fulfil a sense of vocation without signing away their opportunities for other things in their lives. When ol' JP II died, a small girl told her mum Fr. Dave should be elected Pope. I silently agreed. If there were more forward-thinking people who actually behaved like Jesus in the Church, instead of crusty old hypocrites cloistered in their ivory towers and hiding behind the Church's hand-picked versions of what some guys reckoned God told them, people like me wouldn't have become disillusioned, and the considerable (and incongruous) wealth of the Catholic Church could be put to some actual good in this messed-up world of ours.

End surprisingly impassioned transmission from someone who gave up on institutionalised religion long ago. Apologies to readers...

At 7:37 pm, September 07, 2007, Blogger redcap said...

kiki, wow. Your dad sounds awesome. But I have to ask - does that make you the Son of the Son of God? ;)

rabbit, oh, nice choice. Aung San Suu Kyii is such a strong woman. I could not have done what she did when her husband was dying in another country. I think it would have been, "What? I wouldn't be able to get back in? Oh, fuck it!"

eleanor, what an amazing woman. That was during the anti-Sikh riots after Indira Ghandi's death, yeah?

lonie, absolutely nothing to apologise for, m'dear. Your hero is your hero whether they're atheist or true believer. Fr Dave sounds like the sort of bloke I'd like to have a beer with.

At 8:30 pm, September 07, 2007, Anonymous ali g said...

after John Jarratt who needs to look for undiscovered territory. safer to stay at home and watch the discovery channel.
Fascinating about the magnetic poles never in the same place must be where my glasses come from.
the chasers war on everything boys have got to come close!

At 6:45 am, September 08, 2007, Blogger Scorpy said...

I'm in agreenace with Sakura...A great question and one I may have to ponder. I assume you mean who are our Modern day heroes as opposed to those I admired in History like Cook, Flinders, Hume, Stuart etc...and yes, I'd like to think I was my daughters hero but I also hope they can see these adventurers and explorers as real heroes instead of footballers and singers.
I'd agree on Fred hollows...I have been to his grave in Bourke NSW.

At 7:46 am, September 08, 2007, Blogger kiki said...

not really, we both don't believe in god

At 11:29 am, September 08, 2007, Anonymous ThirdCat said...

The mothers of the disappeared (the plaza de mayo and so forth). And also anyone doing anything about child soldiers (in my opinion, the fact that there are child soldiers is the single biggest scourge on our global society), and also the child soldier survivors.

At 11:30 am, September 09, 2007, Blogger Nai said...

Sad, but true, none of my contemporary heroes are real people, they're all fictional. I think I have a rather classical idea of what consititutes a hero and while I think that various volunteers and humanitarians are extraordinary and brilliant, they lack the spark of mystique and weapon-wielding glamour that I look for in a hero. My first heroes were Luke, Leia and Han and my current ones are the Firefly crew and the survivors of the Second Battle of Hogwarts. What can I say, I equate 'heroism' with global/galactic struggles, smart quips, sexual tension and weapons. If I can look over the 'smart quips and sexual tension' clauses I guess that freedom fighters across the world are my heroes. But unlike fiction I am always forced to remember that one person's freedom fighter is another's terrorist. Damn moral ambiguity!

At 11:36 am, September 09, 2007, Blogger ashleigh said...

Y'know, I don't think I have any at all.

I don't think are any real old-fashioned heroes any more.

Fred Hollows - yeah, I spose so, but he had his faults as well.

Sad, innit?

At 3:14 pm, September 09, 2007, Blogger eleanor bloom said...

Yes, it was the anti-Sikh riots. Some of her stories are here:

Well worth having a look.

At 3:26 pm, September 09, 2007, Blogger Steph said...

This will sound very corny, but my mum is my hero. She battled breast cancer with a smile, never complained and still managed to teach her year 4 class throughout her treatment.

She's the strongest, kindest, most loving person I know.

At 10:30 pm, September 09, 2007, Blogger Rosanna said...

I did a speech on this in order to get a captain position at school.

Queen Victoria. She had so many children, ran a country, became a grandmother to nearly every Head of State in Europe, had the longest reign of any British monarch AND had haemophilia.

Phew. What a woman.

At 9:19 am, September 10, 2007, Blogger The Man at the Pub said...

Stephen J Gould is my hero/inspiration.

He brought together science, art and history, all wrapped up with his big warm heart. The profound, the funny, the sad, the curious. From the sexual di-morphism of mollusca, to the defenesration of Prague, he always tried to make sense of the oddities and contradictions of nature and humanity, but never in a pompous way. He changed the way I see the world, and the way I see that we see the world.

A truly brilliant man, sadly missed.

At 9:06 pm, September 10, 2007, Blogger Ariel said...

That is a great question. I read it a few hours ago and, though an answer sprang immediately to mind, went away to think some more. My initial answer sticks, though.

Martha Gellhorn is my hero. She was hopelessly flawed in many ways - the worst of which, she didn't seem to be much of a parent - but she was a gutsy, intrepid reporter at a time when it was rare for a woman. I love her writing, and most of all, the passion she wrote with. Her best reporting was driven by an empathy for the people she wrote about, and her reportage was always focused on the human aspect - on how events affected people's lives - rather than the bare facts or the game of opposing sides. Hemingway left her because she refused to compromise her career for him anymore - it was over when she sweet-talked her way onto a navy ship and crossed the Channel with the liberating troops.

At 9:47 pm, September 11, 2007, Blogger redcap said...

ali, "the Chaser boys" are so the new larrikins. And yay for them if they can make $100m out of ragging on the US.

scorpy, I'll bet your LLs think you're there hero too :) You're such a cute daddy! But Cook and Flinders are cool heroes. I didn't stipulate that they had to be alive. My man Neil Davis has been dead for 20 years.

kiki, thank fuck for that ;) Otherwise I'd have to start calling you Gary Ablett Jnr.

thirdcat, oh, right you are! And there was I only thinking of people who could choose for themselves what they became ~overactive guilt gland goes into overdrive~

nai, call me narrow-minded, but I prefer that my heroes are older and more experienced than I am, so most of the survivors of the Battle of Hogwarts don't count there. I'm still filthy about the way Lupin and Tonks simply turned up dead with no explanation, btw. Grr!

ashleigh, I'm sure if you think about it over a red or three, you'll come up with someone.
Come on, you're an engineer! No science nerds?

eleanor, wow. How do you come through something like that? What a strong woman.

steph, hats off to your mum! Anyone who can last through a class of eight-year-olds without smothering all the little bastards deserves a medal in my book, let alone the other stuff. (Can you tell I'm really, really maternal?)

Mr Pub, a modern-day Renaissance man! Nice choice.

ariel, Martha Gelhorn's piece about Auschwitz is amazing. Have you read Bearing Witness by Denise Leith? Amazing book with some incredible stories about war correspondents. You have to be feeling strong for it, though.

At 11:29 pm, September 11, 2007, Blogger Ariel said...

No, I haven't read that book, but sounds good. I am addicted to good (and I stress 'good') war correspondent memoirs/reportage, so will look it up.

In fact, my favourite book (I think - tall call) is 'The Zanzibar Chest' by Aidan Hartley, an absolutely brilliant memoir about AFRICA. He grew up there (Kenya), his father was a colonial administrator, and then he was a war correspondent. I think you'd love it.

At 10:48 am, September 12, 2007, Blogger Hungry Hungry Hypocrite said...

Galileo, Wilkins (I want to make a movie about him) and Bill Hicks. And yes, I think our worship of sportsmen and women is entirely unhealthy.

At 8:24 pm, September 12, 2007, Anonymous Teddy said...

I have read this post two or three times and I keep wanting a definition of hero.
Of the comments, I want to vote for Steph's Mum.
Do you have to fight in a war, climb a mountain, swim an ocean or do something that puts you at risk or do you just have to jump the hurdles that life puts in front of you, help other people and get on with your life without the accolades of others.
My dad fought in the Middle East and PNG in WW2,----- lived under a sheet of iron on a fruit block for months on end to earn money to send home to his family--- but they were thing that others talked about----he just wanted to get on with life.
My mother lost an eye at 3 years old, came to a new country at 12, supported her family during the depression, ran cheer up huts during the war, went back to school at 40, had to lose her native accent and taught primary school for 25 years-----but they were not things she needed to talk about----she just wanted to get on with life
Hmmm, maybe we are all heros to someone-----all we need to do is get on with life

At 7:49 pm, September 13, 2007, Blogger redcap said...

ariel, I love good war reportage too. I'll definitely follow up The Zanzibar Chest. I found a very good one on female Vietnam War reporters called called War Torn by Tad Bartimus and others. It might be out of print, but it's probably on Amazon or in the local uni library. Tim Page is another incredible character. I've been looking for Page After Page for a while. But I think after One Crowded Hour, Dispatches by Michael Herr is my favourite. The writing is golden.

mr hypocrite, a film on Hubert Wilkins? That would be cool...

ted, I guess in the end, your hero is your hero. All the better if it's your mum or dad.

At 6:53 am, September 14, 2007, Blogger knifepainter said...

Henry Blogg

He was the longest serving Coxswain of Cromer Lifeboat. He also won the RNLI's Gold medal twice. The only person ever to do so.

I'm a current crew member, and when we are having a difficult day I always ask myself what Henry would have done.
The answer is always the same. His best.

If you don't know of him, look the man up when you have a spare lunch break.

At 6:44 am, September 22, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can my hero be me?


At 11:25 am, September 28, 2007, Blogger Ann O'Dyne said...

to be a 'hero'
the person has to have sacrificed for an unassailable cause
been totally committed to it for a long time
get no comfortable gain from it.

so, True Heroes are rare.
Killer Rabbit
nailed it San Suu Kyi

At 4:04 pm, October 08, 2007, Blogger raoul duke said...

Hungry - a film about Richard Wilkins would be awesome! You'd need to invest in the widest film available to fit in his giant head though. Agree with a lot of the sentiments here re: deference to hollow idols and the fact that mums, dads and other people close to use keep coming up is a great indicator of what makes a hero. Like Hungry, I hugely respect Bill Hicks and people like Hunter S. Thompson and other people who, despite their many short-comings, lack the one thing that makes people great - the absence of fear to tell and fight for what's true and right. They inspire me but I'm too full of fear to be like them.

At 5:01 pm, October 12, 2007, Blogger tonypark said...

When I started work as a journo I wanted to be Neil Davis (when was alive, that is). What a legend he waa.

As to heroes: I spent time with a national parks anti-poaching patrol in zimbabwe last year. Three black guys with the arse hanging out of their trousers, old rifles, bugger all ammo, and a bag of beans (literally) and some mealie mealie to live off.

They're paid next to nothing, and when pay day does come around their money's worth next to nothing, and there's hapana (nothing) in the shops.

Yet every day, for two weeks at a time, they're out in the bush, looking for poachers, shooting and getting shot at with AK-47s.

Occasionally they kill a poacher; occasionally one of their number is shot.

There are still rhino in the Zimbabwean bush (unlike much-touted Botswana, Zambia, Kenya etc where all the naturally occurring rhino were shot out - they had to be re-introduced) because of these guys.

Why, I ask myself do they bother? I tried asking them, but they were too modest to get into reasoning.

As Eric Bana said in Blackhawk down: "It's what we do".

Heroes. Real ones.

At 5:25 pm, October 14, 2007, Blogger redcap said...

tony, you're right. Those guys really are heroes.


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