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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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.

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.

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.

Fishing at Fitzroy

I spent a week at Fitzroy Crossing in 2014, acting as a relief worker for the local child protection office. It is located in lands of the Bunuba people. I arrived late morning on Monday, and departed mid afternoon on a Friday. Not the longest stretch of time.

It was very hot, but dry. I’ve always found humidity harder to manage. They put me up in a local hotel, which was very good quality with a pool.

One of the workers at the office, whose name eludes me now, told me her partner was into photography and she kindly arranged with him to show me a section of the river.

We went after work, down a 4WD section of track through the undergrowth, before coming out to the river. It was approaching sunset, and delightful colours reflected off the water.

Close by a family we’re fishing. They were Aboriginal. It looked like they were catching fish for dinner, because the kids were gutting the fish. I envied the family that moment, a mixture of calmness and family life. It made the place seem less remote, even though they were strangers.

I got some good photos that evening. Never got to try the fish though.

Hanging Shoes

Back in 2011, I took a week’s holiday in Tasmania. At the time I had been in Australia barely six. months, and I was keen to explore the wider country on offer.

My trip was essentially a roadtrip, travelling in a rough circle from Hobart to Strahan, to Launceston and then back to Hobart. With hindsight I set my bar too high for what could be achieved in the time it took, nonetheless it was my first taste of the Apple Isle that I now call home.

I spent long sections in the car, taking time to stop off at places of interest. However, the memories that linger the most though are the ones that can’t be anticipated.

One of these was a fence of hanging shoes. You see these in all sorts of places in Australia, and I’m guessing elsewhere too. What drew my attention was the date on one pair of shoes, because it was only a few days before I was there.

The other was a bus stop in the middle of a forest. A patch of graffiti caught my eye.

I did my thing, took photos, and drove on. These things do linger though. The idea of people over time marking their names in wood, seeking a posterity that could never last. More than likely the bus stop bench has been replaced and the shoes rotted in the weather, but it’s these brief moments that catch me. Australia can be such a quiet place sometimes, eerily so, and having these reminders I’m not the only traveller out there, right in the here and now.

It’s reassuring to have that sense of community even when I don’t know the people or can even see their faces. I’m not alone in the journey. I get to imagine who these people were, what was going on for them at the time, why were they there at that moment? Little mysteries that keep the imagination ticking over. It’s why I love road trips.

The long walk to Bamburgh

It was 2010, and I was in the final stretch for moving to Australia. I must have gotten a thirst for exploring early though, and I spent much of final 12 months travelling to France or the Lake District. One day I read an article about top places to go in England, and was encouraged to visit the north-east coast.

I stayed at a B&B in a small town called Seahouses. My journey there was long into the night. I traveled straight from work in the north-west, traversing the passage across northern England. I passed Newcastle during sunset, but it was through stormy weather I traversed the coastal lanes to my accommodation. I was amused to see signs for Preston Tower (having left from my hometown of Preston earlier in the day). Still, I arrived safe and sound.

The next day I took a walk along the beach to Castle Bamburgh. It was windy, but dry and not too cold. As suits my tastes, it has a particular roughness, but with a rich spirit. The kind of place that makes you feel good just being there, taking the very best of nature.

I got to the castle, but didn’t explore inside. My joy is in the journey, not the destination. On the way back the tide was coming in fast. Had I waited another hour the beach would have been impassable.

The next day I visited Holy Island, or Lindisfarne, enjoying the sight of its unusual castle. Again I got to savour the natural state of the island, and the weather. I got more out of the isolated parts of the island than the castle.

It was a part of the country I’d barely experienced before, and I reflected it might be many years before the opportunity to visit again. I was only there a few days, but it was brief capture of a spirit of the UK that I suspect is under accessed. I’d definitely go back.

The Old Scout Hall

When I lived in Mount Gambier, I got into the habit of exploring the town to find interesting things to photograph. Back then I was right at the start of my interest in photography, so was keen to try out photographing whatever I could.

On one particular early morning, I came to a local abandoned hall. I seem to recall it used to be for scouts. Having already explored the old hospital, my interest in abandoned places was peaked.

On entering I found the hall to be a little disappointing. There wasn’t much light since the windows were boarded up, and it lacked the sense of presence of the hospital.

Nonetheless, I took photos as best I could. I came across one room, with a sofa, a chair, a table and some letters scattered about, mainly on the floor. It was apparent someone had used the space to at least sort through their correspondence. I got the sense that someone had, at least for a short time, been sleeping in the room. The letters were still crisp, with no sign of mound or damp.

Looking back on the photo it is very poor. Awful glare and badly lit. Even the composition seems limited. Still, the image conveys the main sense of the room. There’s a sense of incompleteness, as though whatever denizen resided here intended to return. I wonder about the mindset of the person, what would cause them to open their mail here. Were they homeless, did they want privacy? Were they here for drugs, and in the midst of using got focused on more mundane issues? I find the latter, in my experience, just as likely as any other.

The Two Piers

Even though my maternal family originates from there, I’ve never felt that much affinity with Blackpool.

My experience of Blackpool was of a run down, has been town, dreaming of better days, slowly seeing out the passing of decreasing numbers of visiting ageing people who remember the town in its heyday. It was associated with dilapidation and drug use for a lot of people, with a faded atmosphere of yesteryear.

The most I ever got out of the town was enjoyment of the beach. While I saw little to warrant the historical moniker of Blackpool’s “golden sands”, I could take pleasure in the windswept bleakness, accentuated by the sharp cold weather of the north west of England.

The beach was dominated by the three piers, like outstretched fingers reaching for the sea, grasping for something that was gone. Like the town, they had an aged and rundown tone, left weatherworn from years of exposure and neglect.

One day, late on in winter, I took the opportunity to head to Blackpool for some photos. I was primarily interested in getting some long exposure shots of the sea, taking advantage of the fading light. The wind was biting, but there was little rain, just the spray of the sea.

The photo of the two piers captures for me the essence of the town. The reality, the dark frame in the foreground, seaweed hanging off, an old relic. Beyond, as though in the past, lies the full pier across a desolate beach, relatively pristine at a distance. It’s a false promise; the photographic equivalent of an unreliable narrator. One of my favourite photos.