Guide to the papers of Neil Brian Davis


Title: Papers of Neil Brian Davis

Date range of collection: 1976 - 1989

Collection number: PR00223

Extent: 6 boxes and 2 folio items, 1.26m. Personal diaries, letters, photographs, publications, manuscripts, official documents.

Location: Private Records Collection, Research Centre, Australian War Memorial.

Abstract: The collection relates to the career of cameraman/photojournalist Neil Brian Davis. It comprises two main sections: personal papers created by Davis and information collected by Tim Bowden for his biography of Davis.


Administrative information

Provenance: Records transferred to the Australian War Memorial in 1993. Davis's papers came to the Australian War Memorial in 1993. The material was collated by Tim Bowden, who used Davis's papers while preparing the biography One crowded hour :Neil Davis, combat cameraman . This collection consists of both Davis's papers and Bowden's own papers relating to Davis's career and death. Bowden also collected many articles about Davis and letters from Davis's colleagues, some of which contain anecdotes and first-hand information about Davis.

Access: Open

Restrictions on use: Copyright of materials described in this guide is governed by copyright law in Australia. For further information contact the Curator of Private Records, Research Centre.

Preferred citation: Papers of Neil Brian Davis, Australian War Memorial, PR00223

Subjects: War correspondents; Photographers; Vietnam 1962 - 1972; Southeast Asia; Lebanon


Biographical note

Born Tasmania 14 February 1934, killed Bangkok 9 September 1985. 

For over twenty years Neil Davis was a well known cameramen and photojournalist. From the early 1960's until he was killed in September 1985, Davis brought images of war on three continents to the world's television screens. But it is for his coverage of the conflict in Indo-China that he is best remembered. He went into the field with the Viet Cong as well as American Forces in Vietnam, and filmed the war in Cambodia and Laos. One of his most famous films was the taking of Saigon's Presidential Palace in 1975 - the symbol of American defeat. After the Vietnam War Davis covered many of the world's conflicts for the American National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC), eventually settling in Bangkok. It was in Bangkok in 1985, filming a Thai Army coup, that he was killed by machine gun fire from a Thai rebel tank.


Bowden, Tim. One Crowded Hour. (Sydney: Collins, 1987).

Scope and content note

This collection of six boxes relates to the career of cameraman/photojournalist Neil Brian Davis. It comprises personal papers created and used by Davis and information collected by Tim Bowden for his biography of Davis One crowded hour: Neil Davis, combat cameraman. 

Most of the original material cover the period 1964 - 1985, including Davis's work diaries and notebooks. Many of the photographs and letters were held by other people and were donated by Bowden as part of the research used for his book.

Other items in the collection include diaries, notebooks, photographs, letters, telexes, memoranda, radio reports filed by Davis and newspaper and magazine articles.

SERIES 1: Work diaries and notebooks, 1964 - 1985

This series includes work diaries and notebooks used by Davis, covering consecutive years between 1964 and 1985. The diaries include names, addresses and phone numbers of colleagues and friends; also records of travel, appointments and days off. Many entries also include a summary of the day's events and expenses. Davis also recorded his location at the top of each page. Being work diaries they do not contain a record of Davis's personal feelings or thoughts, and only contain entries for the days and times Davis worked. From 1974, Davis occasionally amended entries in his diary. In 1979, he began to add personal appointments such as dinner dates with friends. From 1981, he recorded details of his investments and lotteries he entered. Also in 1981, Davis started recording on the bottom of each page the amount and type of exercise he had done each day.

In the notebooks Davis recorded names, contact details of colleagues and friends, and travel details and appointments.

Series /Item Title, date and description Box
1/1 Diaries, 1964 - 1965 1
1/2 Diaries, 1966 - 1967 1
1/3 Diaries, 1968 - 1969 1
1/4 Diary, 1970 1
1/5 Diary, 1971 1
1/6 Diary, 1972 1
1/7 Diaries, 1973 - 1974 2
1/8 Diaries, 1975 - 1976 2
1/9 Diaries, 1977 - 1979 2
1/10 Diaries, 1980 - 1981 2
1/11 Diaries, 1982 - 1983 2
1/12 Diaries, 1984 - 1985 2
1/13 6 pocket notebooks [nd] 3
1/14 6 pocket notebooks [nd] 3

SERIES 2: Correspondence with Lillian Davis, 1964 - 1985

This series consists of personal letters written by Davis to his aunt, Lillian Davis. Lillian was his father's older sister and formerly a nurse during the First World War.

Series /Item Title, date and description Box
2/1 Letters and postcards from Singapore, February - December 1964 3
2/1 Letters from Singapore, January - October 1965 3
2/1 Letters from Saigon, February - November 1966 3
2/2 Letters from Saigon, January - October 1967 3
2/2 Letters, January - December 1968 3
2/2 Letters, postcards and aerogrammes from Southeast Asia and Europe, January - December 1969 3
2/3 Letters from Southeast Asia and Pakistan, January - December 1970 3
2/3 Letters from Singapore, January - December 1971 3
2/3 Letters from Saigon, January - December 1972 3
2/3 Letters from Southeast Asia and Europe, January - September 1973 3

SERIES 3: Correspondence with Malcolm French,1964 - 1985

This series consists of personal letters written by Davis to his old school friend Malcolm French.

Series /Item Title, date and description Box
3/1 Letters, 1965 - 1985 3
3/2 Postcards and Christmas cards, 1967 - 1985 3
3/2 Correspondence from the Australasian Post Office to Malcolm French, 1974 3

SERIES 4: Business correspondence, 1967 - 1980

This series includes correspondence between Davis and his employers, Visnews and NBC News. The correspondence includes letters, telexes and memoranda.

Series /Item Title, date and description BOX
4/1 Correspondence with Visnews, 1969 - 1974 3
4/1 Correspondence between Donald Ferguson and Russel Sprur on whether to remove Davis from Southeast Asia, December 1972; correspondence relating to an article by Davis 'Letter from Saigon', 1975; letters to Davis from Andrew Peacock M.P. over the fall of Saigon, April 1975; correspondence with David Bradbury, September - October 1978 3
4/2 Articles and letters to Davis regarding the adoption of Vietnamese children, following the Vietnam - Plus 10 years NBC News documentary, 1982 - 1983 3

SERIES 5: Radio and television reports,1975 - 1979

This series includes typescripts of the radio and television reports Davis filed with NBS News. He filed these reports from South-east Asia, Africa and the Middle East, including from Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Rhodesia, Angola and Lebanon. The reports are arranged chronologically and by region.

Series /Item Title, date and description BOX
5/1 Radio and television reports from Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand, 5 September 1977 - 28 December 1978. A detailed listing of the television reports is available in Appendix B 4
5/2 - 3 Radio and television reports from Rhodesia, 1976 - 1978 4
5/4 Sixteen radio and television reports on Kenya and Sudan, 1976 4
5/5 Radio and television reports on Angola and Zaire, 1975 - 1977 4
5/6 Sixteen reports from Thailand, Cambodia, Pakistan, Perth, Singapore and Indonesia, 1979 4
5/7 Radio reports from Lebanon, 15 July - 22 August 1978 4

SERIES 6: Articles written by Neil Davis,1967 - 1985

This series includes original newspaper and magazine articles written by Neil Davis. Also filed here are unpublished articles and draft manuscripts of published articles.

Series /Item Title, date and description BOX
6/1 Reports on Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam and Rhodesia, 1976 - 1985 4
6/2 Unpublished and published articles and book reviews on the political situation in South - east Asian countries, including Vietnam, 1967 - 1977 4
6/3 'One day with the Viet Cong', written by Davis for the Sunday Nation, 11 February 1973 oversize item
6/4 'Letter from Saigon', written by Davis for The New Yorker, 6 October 1975 relating the three months Davis spent in Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War; also includes other miscellaneous newspaper articles written by Davis, 1975 - 1985 4

SERIES 7: Papers collected by Neil Davis,1964 - 1985

This series includes articles and research documents written and compiled by Davis concerning the political and military situations in Southeast Asia and Africa. Other items include articles based on the hazards faced by war correspondents.

Series /Item Title, date and description BOX
7/1 Articles on Laos, 1967 - 1968. Subjects include a speech by Prince Souvanna Phouma; the Pathet Lao movement; the Constitution of the Kingdom of Laos; the Meo in Laos; the political situation in Laos 5
7/2 Articles on mercenary activity in Angola, 1976; biographies of political figures in Southeast Asia, 1979-1984 5
7/3 Articles and research material regarding the political and military situation in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War, 1984 5
7/4 Copies of published articles regarding the hazards of war correspondents and casualties of war, 1972 - 1985 5

SERIES 8: Documentaries,1976 - 1985

This series relates to two documentaries Frontline; (1977), a biographical film on Davis, by independent film maker David Bradbury, and the NBC News television documentaryVietnam - plus ten years (1985).

Series /Item Title, date and description BOX
8/1 Press releases and reviews for Frontline documentary, 1980 5
8/2 Newspaper articles relating to Frontline;; also includes correspondence with NBC News and correspondence from Davis to Vietnamese government officials concerning the Vietnam - plus 10 years project, 1984 - 1985 5

SERIES 9: Photographs,1924 - 1985

This series is mainly comprised of photographs taken by or of Neil Davis. Many of these photographs appear to have been arranged and numbered by Davis. Most of the photographs were taken during his years as a war correspondent in Vietnam.

Series /Item Title, date and description BOX
9/1 - 2 Passport photographs of Davis; numbered photographs relating to Davis's family and career, 1950 - 1985 5
9/3 - 4 Captioned slides and photographs, 1980 5

SERIES 10: Personal identification documents,1964 - 1985

This series comprises personal documents belonging to Davis including press passes, passports and business cards.

Series /Item Title, date and description BOX
10/1 Press passes, certificates, passports and business cards 6
10/2 Trespass notice [Missing as at October 2008] 6

SERIES 11: Tributes and obituaries,1985

This series includes newspaper and magazine articles written about Neil Davis after his death.

Series /Item Title, date and description BOX
11/1 Newspaper articles about Davis and his work, September 1958 - July 1985 6
11/2 Articles on Davis's arrest and torture in Iraq, 1981 6

SERIES 12: One crowded hour: Neil Davis, combat cameraman by Tim Bowden, 1985 - 1989

This series comprises correspondence to Tim Bowden relating anecdotes about Davis for the biography One crowded hour: Neil Davis, combat cameraman Much of the correspondence related to personal memories written by Davis's colleagues after his death. Also filed here is background material collected by Bowden on some of the political and military situations Davis worked in.

Series /Item Title, date and description BOX
12/1 Richard Clement Crocker family history and copy of a diary from 1859; Davis family history spanning 1819 - 1989. Other items include a photocopy of a map of Richard Crocker's land grant, and a biography. 6
12/2 - 3 Correspondence between Bowden and Davis' family, friends and colleagues, 1985 6
12/4 Copies of letters from Davis to Tom Krause at Channel 7 Sydney, 1985 6
12/5 Typed transcripts of interviews with Davis' family, friends and colleagues, 1985 - 1987 6
12/6 Newspaper articles on the Tasmanians in Thailand Club, 1982 - 1984; chapter drafts of One crowded hour :Neil Davis, combat cameraman 6
12/7 Eulogies and memorials given at Davis' funeral. Includes a booklet for the 'Service of Thanksgiving for the life of Neil Brian Davis', 27 September 1985; letters and telexes regarding an inquiry into the deaths of Davis and Bill Latch. 6