Halls Creek

2014 – jet engine to Broome, then rocketry turbo prop to Halls Creek. Like a flying bus the plane stopped at Derby and Fitzroy Crossing before it’s final destination. It was baking hot, but the pilot was kind enough to put me in the seat behind his, the benefit being a vent of cold air that blew out. It was a sticky flight though.

A good thing about these types of journeys is how tactile they make the experience of flying. I usually had a deep fear of flying, somehow managing to board a plane, but pretty much in a state of anxiety the whole journey. In these small planes, flying amongst the clouds so close you feel you can touch them, or seeing what the pilots see because they literally sat in front of you, it changes perceptions. Nowadays I’m pretty casual about flying anywhere.

I was astonished by the scenery. Expecting an endless red desert I was met instead with lush greenery. There had been heavy rains from a storm recently (maybe a typhoon) and so the water had invigorated the plant life. It was almost surreal.

It was a country relief job. They put me up in a Department house for a week. I was covering the office while the staff went on training. There was just me and an admin worker from Karratha – I can’t remember his name but I do recall he was from Chile.

It was quiet. I think the local community knew the regular staff were away, so were content to wait a week. I only had a couple of clients the whole week.

Halls Creek was a quiet town. Quite sedate in many ways. It was a ‘dry town’, with restrictions on alcohol. Maybe that made a difference I don’t know. There was an IGA, a couple of pubs (one dodgy looking, the other not so), and some other municipal buildings. A wayfarer town, on the Great Northern Highway. I was only there four nights. I came back a month or two later, but nothing occurred to alter my perspective.

It was quite a cruisey week, with good opportunity for photos. A little nugget of country living I would otherwise not have had the chance to experience.

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Come on you Lily Whites! Watching football matches at PNE

I didn’t grow up a Preston North End fan, but after living in Preston for a number of years it seemed a natural evolution to go to matches.

The first match I went to was Preston v Norwich – a fairly mundane encounter until PNE scores in the last minute. The whole stadium (well, apart from the Norwich fans) erupted in celebration. I must admit I was quite astonished by the sudden sharp change. I mean, my mate and I were already walking out when they scored.

Never a regular visitor, I was always intrigued by the social and communal nature of the occasion. The walk across Moor Park towards the stadium, entering the turnstiles, the throng of people gathering beneath the stands, and then the stands itself. This collection of thousands, all cheering on 11 blokes knocking a ball around for ninety minutes. Football, like most sports, may be a shallow humanistic endeavour in itself, but that belies the wider connectivity it provides to a town or city.

I always felt more of an observer than a fan. Familiar enough with football I didn’t need to ask what was going on, but I was always curious about the changing patterns of the crowd. It was a curious mix of local townsfolk; young kids with their parents; large men on their own eating sizeable meat and potato pies; teenagers running up and down the steps of the stands, gathering together in their distinctive tribe-like groups; older people, mainly men, who I suspected used the opportunity to vent decades worth of anger. Seriously, never underestimate the ability of something like offside to bring out pure rage.

My favourite moments were the chants. Most were fairly standard fare – ‘Come on you lily whites!’ (PNE wears white or their home kit). Others we’re quite antagonistic, sometimes directed at the ref for a poor decision (real or imagined by the fans) – ‘you don’t know what you’re doing’ – but some chants were utter nonsense, primarily designed to insult the visiting away fans. My favourite was the chant for regional rivals Burnley. The rural area of East Lancashire – “the Dingles” – always carried a quasi-serious accusation of inbreeding (like many rural areas suffer). This led to the chant ‘your mum’s your dad, your dad’s your mum, you’re interbred, you Burnley scum’. I found the whole thing quite hilarious, and the chant itself was sheer incoherence, even though to many unfamiliar observers it might seem quite astonishing. You had to be there I suppose.

It’s been about five years since I last went to see a match, during a holiday to the UK. I still keep an eye on the often frustrating ups and downs of the team. It’s be good to go again, watch the whole spectacle, and enjoy that strange communal unity that sports like football seem to bring. More than just a match, football is a whole event for individuals, friends and families that unifies a community. I enjoyed being part of it.

Selfie Fetish Phase

For a couple of years before I moved to Australia, I had developed a growing interest in photography. Lacking proper opportunity to develop my skills in the UK, I took the opportunity to start practicing in depth once in Australia.

One particular trope was inserting myself into photos, trying to build some sense of drama or something artistic. Maybe it was a narcissistic streak, who knows? Some of the photos look peculiar now, and raise a self-deprecating chuckle or two, but I can also see some familiar elements that carry on to this day. Notably, there is a darker theme in some of these photos, which manifests now in my fiction writing more than my photography, but I guess it’s a universal artistic trait. It was also winter when I took these photos, so maybe that was an influence too.

Reflecting on it, I think I may have been more experimental back then than I am now, but with less focus. I was just keen to take photos of anything and everything, thinking less of composed form and more of pure trial and error. Back then my success to failure ratio was quite poor, but I probably second guessed myself a lot less than I do today. I miss that old me sometimes; innocent, green, but being more spontaneous.

Bunbury – an eccentric diversion

I never quite understood Bunbury. It appeared to be an odd place for such a large town, located at the long end of a journey to Perth. Near enough to tempt a day trip to the city, far enough to be inconvenient to workers, Bunbury sat as a town apart. Not exactly metro, but never quite country either.

I visited Bunbury a few times, often on the way to and from Perth when I lived in Bridgetown, but the longest stint was two weeks as country relief. An Oceanside town, Bunbury was the gateway for travellers heading south, particularly Margaret River and the South West of Western Australia. It did introduce me to the new sensation of travelling long distance by train in Australia, but even that was a ‘meh’ experience.

A busy town, I found it too full of hustle to be relaxing. I always felt like if I was in the town it had to be for a reason. Compare that to, Mount Gambier say, where there was nothing to it for a quiet walk or chucking a mainey (is that even a thing outside of South Australia?).

The beaches were pleasant, and I enjoyed lengthy walks up and the down the coastline when I worked there. There was something of a partying culture in the town, and I got the opportunity to go out nightclubbing (something I hadn’t done since leaving the UK). The experience made me feel old, and nostalgic for better days, when going out to nightclubs was fun, and didn’t seem so unusual and tiresome.

It’s probably an unfair appraisal of the town, but I found it difficult to fathom its reason for being. I wouldn’t want to live there; it was probably a good town for families wanting some amenities, but without the effort of a city. For me, it was always something more of place I was travelling through (annoyingly slowly, at about 80km on the ring road), and while not bad memories, they aren’t particularly fullsome in their praise, much like the town itself.

Kalbarri and back

Sometimes I get itchy feet and weird desires to just travel somewhere. One weekend I drove from Perth to Kalbarri on a Saturday, returning the next day. A small matter of 7 hours in the road.

It was a blistering hot weekend, one that only got hotter as I travelled north. Blue sky all the way though, and beautiful ocean views for much of the road.

Kalbarri’s a small town. Arriving late I didn’t get much chance for exploring. I was cautioned against going to the national park (although I had no intention of doing so). Temperatures in the gorges can reach 10 degrees higher than in the town, and it was a 40+C weekend.

I didn’t sleep very well. There was no air con in the hostel room, something I find a little bizarre. It was a fitful night – sleep for an hour, wake, drink lots of water, go back to sleep. Repeat.

I eventually gave up at about 6am and headed down to the beach to have one of the most relaxing swims imaginable. At least for a time I felt a decent temperature, and didn’t want to leave the water.

I didn’t bother drying myself when I head back to the hostel, but I was dry by the time I got there. It was just a quick effort to get some coffee and then I was heading back to Perth.

You might wonder what the point of the journey was, but for me it’s always about the journey, not the destination, and that was my weekend trip to Kalbarri.

Anywhere in the world

2010, my degree was over, and I was spending lots of time in the Lake District. I think I had the desire to travel and explore from my imminent departure for Australia. Or maybe it was just that the distraction of my studies had faded.

One chilly weekend I stayed at Keswick, nestled by Derwent Water. My goal’s were relatively light that weekend; the modest peak of Cats Bells, then Pike o’Stickle in the Langdale Valley the next day.

I had rarely ventured into the northern lakes before, so the area was relatively new to me. Derwent Water is a lovely place to visit, and it was blissfully quiet that day. I don’t think there were many other walkers.

It was late in the year, Autumn turning into Winter. I had much less light to complete my walk. In fact, it was dark before I got back to Keswick. There was frost and a little ice, but it was relatively dry. Langdale Valley was a different challenge – lots of ice and frozen paths.

Still, that day on Cats Bells was one of my favourite walks. The sun was out, the views outstanding with a mix of sunray’s and clouds.

I remember in the evening, as I descended the hills and was walking back by Derwent, there was a section that prohibited a view of Keswick. Looking around I could see hills, Derwent itself, and reddish bracken glowing in the setting sunlight. I couldn’t hear anything. For a moment, I felt I could be anywhere in the world; there was something distinctly geographically anonymous about the setting. Not only could I be anywhere, I wanted to travel everywhere.

When I had moments of trepidation about going to Australia, I remembered that feeling of excitement and adventure at Derwent Water to motivate me. Today, I’ve had so many fantastic experiences that trepidation has pretty much faded, but I still recall that lovely weekend in the northern Lakes.

Sandbags in Tokyo

Back in 2012 I travelled to Japan for a holiday. Trying to keep down cost, I went in June, which is arguably the worst time of the year to go – hot, humid, muggy. Nonetheless it was a fascinating place.

Japanese cities are not quiet. The hustle and bustle of a place like Tokyo (which is really a collection of different cities) won’t allow for it.

This is why I like this photo of the sandbags; you can’t see any people. It gives no hint of what’s beyond. Clearly ready for returning workers, everything looks like it’s in the midst of ongoing labour. Even the buildings behind offer little sign of people. It’s like a part of the city holding its breath.

There were plenty of contemplative moments in Japan, but this is easily the most photographic representation I captured.

Fremantle Power Station

Ever since seeing the old hospital at Mount Gambier, abandoned buildings have held something of a peculiar fascination for me. They give rise to presentations of light we don’t always get to see in fully developed and in use buildings.

Fremantle power station was one such abandoned building. Situated by the ocean, it was another dormant urban behemoth. A group of us went to photograph the interior one early Sunday.

There was security, who had a party issue about people going in and out of the building. There was even a security guard circling the building in a small car, like some cartoonish authority figure. It appears he had good cause though. One time he passed, and about five or six teenagers scrambled out of an opening and ran across to the fencing where we were shooting the exterior.

In the end, the security seemed a little daft. At one end of the building the fencing was uprooted and there were huge gaps to walk through. There was no way you could logically stop people walking on site unless you posted a guard. We just walked right in. This was back in 2013, so I have no idea what the site is like now.

The interior was hollow, beyond the structural stuff. Graffiti was everywhere, sometimes in ludicrous locations. Unlike the hospital, this building exuded nothing of mystery. It felt like everything was on show. A relic of the past it may have been, but it was a vain one to be sure.

I met some other photographers inside, from Brisbane it turns out. At one point we decided to go upstairs, which meant walking out of the building, then climbing in a small opening (the same those teenagers jumped out of).

Upstairs we found more kids hanging around. They seemed harmless and completely unsurprised by our presence. This building has been photographed a lot.

I took plenty of shots, both digital and film (the images here are film). The building had its own richness, but akin to the more material qualities of urban versus rustic country, there was something lacking that the old hospital had. I realised one particular thing was noise – there was a highway close by, and Sunday morning traffic was increasing on a warm summers day.

I liked the building though. It had its charm, but I’ve never been back. Whereas I have fond nostalgic memories of the hospital, this was an experience that I simply passed though. Happy to remember it, but less treasured, if that makes sense.

The Explosive Rice Wine Barrels

During our stay in Shanghai, a group of us went to an old canal village. If memory serves I think it was called Tongli. It was a very pleasant though slightly busy small village with lots of old buildings.

During our bus ride there, where I got to see the full force of a metropolis worth of cars on the road, we kept ourselves entertained by singing songs. One of my friends, a Hammers fan, gave a rendition of ‘I’m forever blowing bubbles’. Not sure what the Chinese people on the bus thought of that.

One part of the village I do remember was a rice wine brewery. We got to see inside and watch some pretty ancient style brewing going on. I can’t imagine methods have changed much in the past several hundred years.

The wine was potent stuff, the type of substance where the fumes are intoxicating. It had a particular taste to it, but with a sharp bite.

While we in the brewery I noticed one of the brewers working on a barrel. They were small, like a party keg than anything else, made of dark stained wood. As he put it away I noticed there were barrels. Lots of barrels. Probably hundreds. Stacked up all over; goodness knows how I didn’t notice before. It occurred to me that with all the fumes it could only take one spark and the place would go up.

That was the day trip to Tongli.

Why Whyalla?

When I first moved to Australia, I had to undertake further study to get recognition for my degree. It seemed an onerous requirement as I was asked to complete just two undergraduate modules. Given my degree was a MA this seemed particularly peculiar. Luckily I could complete them online.

Part of one module required attendance for a two day course in Whyalla. We had to present an assessment model of some kind and demonstrate its use.

By then I was in Mount Gambier, but this was the first excursion I got outside of Adelaide or the Mount. Whyalla is a dusty, red soiled coastal town located on the Eyre Peninsula, or the lands of the Barngala people. In fact Whyalla is a an Aboriginal word mean “place of deep water”.

Iron ore is the main industry, and the huge steel works dominate the town. The red soil was everywhere, staining the buildings. It was a quiet town, despite its size, and seemed endlessly windy.

The course passed without a hitch. Since I received no certification for my work, other than acknowledgement of passing, I did not put much effort in.

I did notice though that the other students had something of a tense relationship with their lecturers. Several students had been failed (including myself) for a piece of work submitted earlier. We’d been allowed to resubmit to get a pass grade, and since that was all I needed I wasn’t heavily invested.

However, there was some issue about the coursework. In truth, I don’t think the guidance had been very clear. We were meant to write on a particular family setting, but all the examples were included on the same sheet with no other instruction and no indication of distinction between each example, other than a new paragraph. People just assumed the whole document was the example. It was a case of the lecturers should have been clearer, and we could have clarified. The lecturers though, took a more belligerent attitude and became quite defensive. It was an interesting display of power dynamic, and very much to the students disadvantage. I felt sorry for them.

It got a little embarrassing though, because clearly something about my general standard of work had caught someone’s eye. So much that during lunch one of the lecturers came out and asked me, in front of the other students, whether I had considered being a tutor. Quite aware of some looks about the room, I said I hadn’t and would speak to them further when I had more time to mull of the matter. Nothing came if it at the end, but at the time I apologised to the other students. They knew my circumstances and clearly I wasn’t feeling the pressure they were. Empathy did not seem to be the lecturers strong suit.

Beyond that I had a quick mooch about the town, but with a flight that evening didn’t have that much time to look around. All I remember is the red, and that deep, deep blue ocean.