Iconic Australia

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Excitement! It has been a while in development, but I can finally tell you all about the wonderful work I got to do with my great client OAMPS Insurance Brokers.

What began as a brief back in 2011 to produce some iconic Australian images for their marketing material, eventually grew into a fantastic brand refresh project, leaping from the pages of templates, to going live on the website, and now adorning the walls and meeting rooms of OAMPS offices.

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OAMPS Melbourne

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OAMPS Melbourne

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OAMPS Brisbane

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OAMPS Brisbane

So what is iconic in Australia? For me, it is so much more than the Sydney Harbour Bridge or a kangaroo. Australia is out-of-the-box. The incredible colour and variety of its land, eco-climates, and flora is vast and undervalued. While I love to travel to the more remote and difficult areas of this country, I appreciate that not everyone has the same will or ability, and so I aim to bring it to them. In a world of manufactured fun, beauty, and instant gratification, I like to encourage people to value the incomparable natural wonder that is Australia, and its contribution to the irrepressible Aussie Spirit.

So, how did we get there? The Marketing team and I began by going back to the beginning, identifying the very heart of what OAMPS is about. OAMPS has grown organically over its long history and although the name of OAMPS held a very strong connection with clients, the brand identity itself had become fractured and the way they presented to clients, very inconsistent.

We landed on the idea of representing aspects of Australia’s environmental and geological diversity; from rainforest, to coast, to the arid zones and treasures buried in rock. After story-boarding our way through sandy beaches and other obvious choices, we narrowed it down to a group of potential subjects. Over the next few months, I kept these ideas in my head as I travelled, ever vigilant for the ‘right’ image.

I credit the team for choosing the brave direction, leaving industry imagery behind, and instead, taking clients and colleagues on a journey to Australia’s wild heart and beautiful landscapes. Executed with Simon Long’s gorgeous organic graphic design, these images help OAMPS tell their story, where they have come from, what they value, and what clients can expect from them. This is Project Iconic Australia.

Boulder opal from Lightning Ridge

Boulder Opal from Lightning Ridge, NSW

When I first looked at this piece of boulder opal I saw a topographical map; an aerial view of the Australian landscape with broad dry plains, ridges and meandering waterways. I liked the ambiguity of the image and that the viewer may have to look closer to figure out what it is. I also like the way the opal forms between separate pieces of rock, tenaciously looking for an opportunity, just like the hardy and colourful characters who optimistically seek it. Opals are difficult to photograph, and often a photo does no justice to the range and depth of colour you can see with the naked eye. I spent hours trialling all sorts of angles, light sources and photographing different pieces of opal before I found ‘the one’. To me, opal represents the tough Australian spirit, ingenuity and perseverance, a precious gem wrapped in rock.

Apollo Bay rockpool with anenomes. Who knew?

As an island surrounded by ocean I wanted to represent the coast in a way that wasn’t simply crashing waves. Rockpools are a part of the Australian coastline. Highly resilient, they exist at the whim of tides, sun and human intervention. Rockpools represent carefree childhood summers at the beach, hours spent investigating each one for a sign of life, and dodging breaking waves to get to the best ones. Taking time to peer into each tiny ecosystem, you never knew what you would find, and creatures would only emerge from hiding to reward those with patience. Taking this shot, I had to discourage around 100 seagulls from landing around me and casting shadows. One of them left me a little white present in my hair.

Stag horn fern, Otway Ranges, Victoria

Stag horn fern, Otway Ranges, Victoria

Native to Australian tropics, the staghorn fern lives in symbiosis with its surroundings, seeking out the best position to thrive. It  symbolises Australia’s many forest and tropical regions and presents such an abundant contrast to the open arid centre. The scale, colour, delicate beauty and ingenuity of the staghorn appealed to me. Growing on the trunk of a tree it makes the most of its host’s water attracting ability, but does no harm to the tree. Thriving in the filtered light of a rainforest, this plant is sculptural and unmistakably tropical. Photographed it in the Otway Ranges of Victoria, a gutsy Bull Ant took its chances on my foot while distracted. Thinking it was a stick digging into me, I ignored it. For a week, the three bites I had gave me a cankle that could not be forced into any boot.

Spinifex grass, Karijini National Park, WA

Spinifex grass, Karijini National Park, WA

Spinifex grass is essential to the arid landscapes and dune ecosystems of Australia. Resilient and ubiquitous, it is one plant that is present where little else survives.  Appearing soft, it is actually very sharp to touch, and I recommend long pants when walking through it, although I never take my own advice and always end up with shredded legs. I have seen two-metre snakes, large lizards and scores of spinifex mice disappear into a single plant. The plant appears solid in the centre, so to this day I wonder where they go. Nothing beats the way light shines through it at sunset.

Devils Marbles, Karlu Karlu Conservation Reserve, NT

Devils Marbles, Karlu Karlu Conservation Reserve, NT

Created millions of years ago, and transformed from granite by water alone, they are symbolic of Australia’s ancient roots. I love the idea that we can walk around and touch something formed 1600 million years ago.  Granite graces the landscape all over Australia, in different colours and shapes, but the Devils Marbles are especially stunning. There are few sharp edges or straight lines in the mounds of rocks piled precariously, and the rich colour at dawn and dusk is arid Australia at its finest. I cannot imagine anyone visiting this place without being moved or impressed by it. When shooting this at dusk in January, biting flies that blotted out the sun tested my ability to retain courage under fire, and complete my mission. It was a radiant 34 degrees at 5pm, and I would have given anything for a biohazard movie crime-scene suit.

Gumnut, Great Otway National Park, Victoria

Gumnut, Great Otway National Park, Victoria

A more perfectly adapted plant to an environment beset by wildfire I know not of. Found in the woodlands of Australia, gumtrees connect us to resilience, regeneration and hope, even after disaster. When thinking about iconic Australia, I kept coming back to the gumtree, but as an image itself, I felt it was overdone. Looking closer into the actual seeds and life cycle, I developed a greater appreciation for one of the most uniquely adapted and beautiful plants Australia has. I love the fine detail in each gumnut across the varieties and the contrast between the leathery, hard, gumnut shell and the delicate tutu-like flower that emerges from it. I like the connection for those Australians who grew up reading about May Gibbs’ Gumnut Babies.

Most gumnuts are annoyingly out-of-reach and I spend many hours leaping up to snatch at them, or filling my car with broken branches (and resident bugs) picked up off forest floors for later research. This has spawned an obsession for gumnuts, and a calendar for my Mum. I discovered this particular gumnut in the Great Otway National Park in Victoria, on an extremely windy day with branches crashing around me. It felt like a long walk down to the coast and back up a trail to find this treasure. 40,000km of tyre and foot wear later, I have never found the same one again.

OAMPS Melbourne

OAMPS Melbourne


Sky painting

Perth sky

For a big country town, Perth holds its own for homeward traffic. Stuck on the motorway with no spot to stop my vehicle and whip out the big gun, the iphone got the gig. I would have risked police intervention if only there had been space for the monster truck.

The sky was like this for around 4 minutes in total, and looked even more amazing before I was pulled inexorably into a tunnel, an excrutiating 2 minute crawl to freedom and vision at the other end.


Lightning up my life

Lightning show, Cape Range National Park, WA

Lightning show, Cape Range National Park, WA

As my thinking is drowned out by the fans kicking in on the Mac and the interminable whir of 15 terabytes of storage, I am forced to face the fact that I have literally thousands of photos taking up space, that never see the light of day. They transition briefly through my image management software before I resign them to the Anthony Marantino (Sex and the City) “hates it!!” pile.

I freely admit to a perfectionistic streak, but rather than a charming character trait I have decided it is constraining to ones ability to share and something I must challenge. So, prepare yourself for more frequent posts. Sometimes without stories, sometimes something perhaps your three year old could do better, but the photos will always be something that grabbed me on the day. So, first cab off the rank is a shot of a fantastic lightning storm we had front row seats to, at Easter at Cape Range. It was better than the best fireworks I have ever seen. I love how the clouds are all leaning to the left. Could I love Cape Range any more?

 

 


Fear and reward

Lakeside beach

Lakeside beach

I am quietly finning along, snorkelling for the third time that day at Lakeside, on the Ningaloo Reef in the magical Cape Range National Park. If this rings a bell, it is because I harp on about the place incessantly, there is so much life out in the water. Along with Turquoise Bay, it is a favourite with day-trippers. Borne by tour buses, they amble to the spot with the snorkel marker, march directly out for around 30 metres, flop about for 20 minutes, then retire to shore to smoke, look bored with precision, and burn a new layer of ‘it sucks to be my family back in Europe’ into their undernourished frames.

Turquoise smile

Turquoise Bay smile – that little lump on the horizon is the reef

 

It was at Lakeside that I had an epiphany in 2008. With nothing but the rasp of parrotfish beak-on-coral in my ears, my brain found a space to discover I actually wanted to be a photographer. (And a marine biologist – but that ship had sailed). Snorkelling or diving is the only time I truly switch off. Underwater, where air is generally absent, is ironically when I feel most able to breathe. The eternally blue space, without walls or fences, represents endless possibility for me.

So, I am quietly swimming in and around the rocky outcrops, following a fish that completely changes its colour and pattern as I get close or back off, a peeved turtle, 4m ray, and pausing to watch a plague of parrotfish engulf a patch of coral, the tiny territorial resident fish dashing out and back nervously. Just when it could not get any better, a huge school of mackerel and other silvery fish with wide eyes swept past and then started circling me, gaining pace as they went round. I decided to join their circling, and as I went round and round was thinking “Choice! They think Im their bro! I’m a mermaid!”. Amazed they cared not a whit as I whipped by the other fish and matched their crazy changes in direction, I was at once silver and fishy. Then it occurred to me. They are commonly known as bait-fish. And a school of darting bait-fish are probably being chased. Not that those three reef sharks and their homies, Trevor Trevally, and Barry Barra, liked the cut of my gib, but it’s safe to say I found myself ashore with no recollection of the breathless flail between realisation and landfall.

 

not my pjs

view to the west

When we returned to our camp, we shared a beverage with our lovely Swiss neighbour, J, a fellow water-baby with designs on the outer reef. He had travelled for some months around WA in his wagon, sleeping in the back, and reliant on a dwindling collection of camping ephemera. As days rolled by he realised he only used one plate, cup, knife, fork and spoon. Subsisting happily on long-life wraps, honey, nutella, and canned goods, his camp stove, multiple devices of convenience and esky (chilly bin) found new homes with the Belgians that packed every other camp site.

J wanted buddies to go and explore the outer reef. He had gone out on his own but was worried he may be…ahem…taken, and no-one would know. Fortified with a zesty cider from Harcourt in Victoria, I found myself consulting tide and moon charts and committing both W and I to an outer reef expedition with the excitement I always have when an adventure of any kind is afoot, and drive I have to never miss out.

Cape Range National Park

Cape Range National Park

The following day, in the last 30 minutes of an incoming tide was the only opportunity in the next 7 days, when the tide would be high enough to swim over the reef edge. J knew the way and so three small figures swam out to the reef, quickly invisible to those on shore. The thing about a reef is that waves from the outside hit the edge, rise up and then smash down. Along with a titan tidal-pull, I found myself swimming two strokes forward, getting drilled by excitable waves, then dragged back 4 strokes, enjoying a nasal flush along the way. I don’t think it is a spoiler alert to say we made it, and the silence on the other side was astounding. The water clarity, unmatched. A long shelf of volcanic rock and an amazing variety of coral sat around 15 metres below us and ran out about 40 metres before dropping off into Predator World. As we followed the edge of the reef, we swam over enormous cracks in the reefs surface, so deep you could only see fish in the first few metres framed by blackness. Think awe meets terror. Leaving a sacrificial layer of dermis on the way back over the reef edge, we plotted to do it the next day, knowing full well the ideal conditions to go over the reef, had past.

Again at dusk, three figures headed out, this time for an elusive gap in the reef that we could sneak through. It was a much longer swim and after about a kilometre, I found myself musing on the relative benefits of such activities. There are bitey things out there, but I figure the risk versus reward profile points in the right direction. I never take the ocean for granted, and I accept the side of scaredy-cat that comes with the incredible beauty I get to breathe in.

The welling surf and sinking sun loomed large in my overactive mind.  Stuff incredible beauty inhalation, I waved the boys on and with a feeling like there wasn’t enough air in the sky, swam to shore with an urgency that just skirted fish-in-distress. It is great to be alive.


Camping for Princesses and those with mild OCD – part 1 – Arrival

Salmon and sparkling water

Say no to sausages

If you are arriving at a Karratha campground, it is 42 degrees, windless, there are only a tiny scattering of caravans, no tents, and the washing lines are flapping with hi-vis, do not engage grey matter. Put your game face on, your swimsuit, and some clothes on top you will never want to wear again. Avoid discussion with fellow tent/camper erector/Sergeant, and just hook in, Private. Follow the drill as rehearsed at home and know it will soon be over.

Try not to test botox effectiveness at neighbouring campers orientated toward your site with fully engaged stubby holders dwarfed by the massive digits gripping them. Think about what colour you will paint your nails when this is all over. Lincoln Park After Dark? Bubble Bath? Big Apple Red? Indian Ocean? Orange-Utan? Back to task.

Appreciate the pore clearing that is occurring as sweat drips inelegantly from the end of your nose every time you look down to adjust a pole while keeping the canvas taught. It is Bikram yoga without the aroma.

Unfurl camping chair and orientate toward other campers. Grasp glass of chilled NZ Sav Plonk with frozen grapes for extra chill and down as if your life (ok, relationship) depended on it. It actually does. For if you do not do this, your body would independently find its way into your vehicle and drive with the aircon on Lo until the fuel ran out.

Wash hands with $35 Aesop liquid soap or equivalent. Find cold water source to immerse in. Pool, ocean or shower. Put on clean outfit that would not look out of place in LV luggage on safari in the 1940s. Have another chilled beverage. You can now speak to fellow camper.

CONGRATULATIONS! You are officially roughing it. You will redefine this lifestyle genre.


Coasting

Sandy Cape is a brilliant camp spot north of Jurien Bay in WA. The basic offerings of a long drop loo satisfies the fisher crowd that pack into the pretty bay.

photo thanks to W

photo thanks to W

We were staying here because I kept reading about swimming with sea lions at Jurien Bay and Green Head, and ever alert for opportunities to commune with sea-life decided this was an excellent gift for W.

The boat we were to board was called Hang Ten (something like that), prompting warm memories of childhood surf labels. A multi-purpose vessel catering to fishing, diving, and in the off hours, sea lions tours. She had earnt the paint job she appeared to have been stripped for. Pounding through the swell it didn’t seem optimal conditions for such a trip, but Hang Ten was solid as a rock and the ten young people of varying nationality that boarded with slabs of condensating stubbies were in high spirits. The french girl whose thong bikini afforded no comfort against the metal seating bounced from spot to spot. The rock climbing Irish lad swung from the roof on single fingers. And before we knew it we were at the sea-lion island. A relaxed colony onshore were about to have their peace broken. Smacking fins together, a crew member wandered up and down the shore encouraging the resting mammals into the water for the eager punters bobbing about in the water. 30 minutes on and the performing sea lions retired back on shore, save for one teenage male that the older males prevented making land. Six of us chased him about, in between looking back to the boat for any sea lion sightings that the crew member on the bow would point out with her roll-yer-own.

Back on board the wiry Irish guy had succumbed to sea sickness and lay ashen in the corner. The thong was doing the rounds, up and down the stairs to the bridge, and beers were getting warm. Irish downed a warm one, and like a miracle was up and doing one handed chin-ups to the delight of the crowd. A lovely Irish girl shared the rest of her six pack, and tea and muffins headed off greying pallor.

As the sun settled back at camp, it became apparent that the tree we were camped next to was the midnight pee spot for all the men that had gone before. The malodorous waft of the PeeTree gathered under the camper annex and took residence in my nostrils, departing only once we had achieved a distance of 5km.

Entering Carnarvon, we took a spin of the main street. Rain had fallen freshening up the place and inviting me to open my car window and get a lungful of bracing salty air. Quelle Horreur! The PeeTree had hitch hiked its way to Carnarvon! Urea rose from the pavement the length of the main shopping area. Surrounded by banana plantations, mango orchards, and the evidence of fantastic fruit and vege supplies when in season, I am at a loss to understand Carnarvon. Boasting an award winning Aboriginal Cultural Centre, an active and enthusiastic local council, friendly locals and bounty from land and sea, the cafes offer roadhouse food, and the marina restaurant entices with chicken and lamb curry. I thank my innate talent for sticking with something long after wisdom would indicate. I knew the BBQ set, novelty cheese knives, and Lewis Carroll talking book I had discovered on sale at the Post Office for W were making for a memorable day for him, but I wanted more. And there it was. Shining like a yellow beam of happiness, a fantastic omelette at the shopping centre coffee shop restored plummeting blood sugar and humour.779

Camping. The only time plaid-on-cheetah-on-plaid is ok.

Camping. the only time plaid-on-cheetah-on-plaid is ok.


Gimme some paw

I’ve been looking for Kangaroo Paws (Anigozanthos) for ages, and was sure the flowering season was around spring/summer, but in my search for gumnuts, noticed a flourishing of floral splendour that got me breaking out the Nikon. Love those colours!


Love, Fear, and Loathing in Perth

Three months in Perth and I’m feeling the need to distribute hugs.

It is not the perfect pink and gold sunrises over the glassy Swan River, bearing dolphins upstream to the imagined strains of spa music, that have brought this on.

Nor the buzzy cafe in a hoity-toity suburb, and strength of character that took this 20 something guy in his my-girlfriend-just-dumped-me-for-a-personal-trainer-wear to get up off the couch, pop on a suit jacket and aviators, and head out to his job, fashion forward.

No. It is the thread of angst that keeps popping up in otherwise happy places.

At a sunset concert, a balmy 26 degrees, barefoot girls with lovely skin in bamboo dresses, dancing on soft grass…

In the immensely secure arms of Kimbra’s amazing performance at the Metro last night before jetting off to the US…

On a security guards car. Even the Golf to the right looks angry…

C’mon Perth, my arms are wide open.


Out the end

Woodend to Perth: Roadtrip – Nullabor

That which moves, is still. Whoa.

When a road train decides to lie down, some hours pass before a sky hook can return it to an upright position. The road is blocked and humour fades as travellers cook quietly in their vehicles, devoid of phone coverage, coming down from a roadhouse donut carbo-high, and realising they won’t make X that night. Fresh on the scene, we could see the driver in the company of other drivers, and all in hand, so we swept by, ahead of the authorities that would thwart the progress of those behind us. Captured by my intrepid co-driver, Canon ever at the ready.

The meditative space of the Nullabor must end eventually, and thus you reach Norseman. When I passed through two years ago,  I was struck by the feeling it was a town that kept things close to its chest. The wide country-town main street was empty. Windows cloaked in corrugated iron. The single cafe delivered a fresh and tasty salad sandwich from behind lace curtains. Two pre-school children walked barefoot, alone, down the street arguing over a two litre bottle of Coke, and the petrol station pump ticked over 12 litres more than my tank could physically hold.

Norseman, WA, Nullabor

This time, it was Sunday, and the only things open were the petrol station, and the Visitors Information Centre (with the familiar security mesh on the windows). Foiled in our search for coffee and home baking, and keen to walkabout, we hit the Visitors Centre. Inside, homely handcrafts and brochures graced the walls and surfaces, while a spritely senior Centre volunteer battled with callers delayed for hours by the sleeping road train and demanding accommodation. The Country Womens’ Association interior completely at odds with the street vibe.

Declaring a side trip to Esperance a new imperative, we set off for the coast, arriving at dusk to a biting 16 degrees, and whipping ourselves into an excited frenzy over visiting Cape Le Grande the next day.


No fences

My love of a far-reaching, uninterrupted vista is becoming more self-evident in my work. It dawns on me that this Vista-Love is directly related to my Ocean-Love – no fences and a sense of limitless expanse seen through the dive mask. W would probably suggest this relates to my alleged resistance to authority and boundaries.

I took these on our recent trip to the Pilbara and back.

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