Foreign correspondent Kate Webb, who covered many of the key events that shaped
modern Asia over the last four decades - including the Vietnam War and the
escalation of the conflict in Cambodia - died on May 13 in a Sydney hospital
after a six-month battle with cancer. She was 64.
colleagues as a tough, brave, but sensitive reporter, Webb was widely respected
and considered a consummate professional.
Born in New Zealand in 1943,
Webb moved to Australia at the age of eight, when her father was appointed to a
professorship at the Australian National University in Canberra in 1951. At the
age of 18 both her parents were killed in a motorbike accident.
herself through the University of Melbourne and in 1965 joined the Sydney Daily
Mirror as a typist. She quit her job in 1967, and at 23 years old, paid her way
to Saigon where she became one of the few women to cover the conflict in
Working for UPI, Webb was made the agency's Phnom Penh bureau
chief in 1971, during an escalation in the fighting between Lon Nol's forces and
the North Vietnamese-backed Khmer Rouge.
Only weeks after her
appointment, Webb, her interpreter, and four local journalists were ambushed on
National Highway 4.
Under fire, they escaped into the jungle, where they
spent the night in hiding. In the morning, North Vietnamese soldiers woke them
with the barrels of their AK-47 rifles. The six had their shoes taken, were
roped together, and marched through the jungle where they were held for 23
The world thought them dead. A box of bones said to be Webb's
remains was anonymously delivered to the Reuters office in Phnom Penh. The New
York Times even published Webb's premature obituary on its front page.
But the group was set free, and suffering from malaria and lacerated
feet, they returned to Phnom Penh. It was generally accepted they had escaped
death only because their captors were North Vietnamese and not Khmer
At the time, Webb said one of the soldiers had told her in French
to "tell the truth about us," before disappearing into the jungle.
don't lean towards one side or the other in this war," she said in an interview
after her captivity. "My reaction is a woman's reaction: how very sad it all is,
what a bloody awful waste."
Webb, who also worked for Agence France
Presse for 16 years, became one of the most well-respected journalists to cover
While mainly known for her work in Cambodia and Vietnam, Webb
spent long periods in Indonesia, India, Afghanistan, South Korea and the
Philippines. She also covered the first Gulf War in 1991
Ron Moreau, now
Newsweek's Islamabad Bureau Chief, remembered working with Webb aboard the USS
Blueridge during the evacuation of Saigon in April 1975. He described her "as
one of a kind."
"She was on deck round the clock watching the fleeing
helicopters land on the tiny flight deck and then get dumped into the South
China Sea," he told the Post. "She could out-report us all and certainly
out-drink and cuss all the sailors."
Lindsay Murdoch, of the Melbourne
Age, worked alongside Webb in Indonesia, and said over her career she had seen
"the worst side of humanity."
"But this didn't make her hard, or bitter,"
Murdoch told the Post. "[She] was kind and generous, particularly to people who
didn't have anything. That to me, was the most remarkable thing about
Webb survived a horrific motorbike accident in India, a beating by
Afghan militia, and chronic malarial fever.
"People always think I must
be so tough to survive all this," she said in a 2001 interview with the Foreign
Correspondents Club of Hong Kong. "But I'm a real softie. But maybe that's what
it takes - you have to be soft to survive. Hard people shatter."
Webb was terrific, a charmed and courageous journalist who was so often at the
heart of a big story that she became an inspiration for the next generation of
foreign correspondents who would follow her," said Luke Hunt, former AFP
Cambodian Bureau Chief, adding "When the doctors took her off chemotherapy they
gave her a month to live, she almost doubled that and went eight weeks, it was
the only time she broke deadline,"