New Year, New Research

Late last year I was invited to participate in two long term photograph projects. These projects both focus on aspects of Rural Australia. Gary, the lead photographer lives in South Australia. We are already collaborating on a project that examines the changing inner west of Melbourne’s old industrial suburbs like North, and West Melbourne and Kensington. And have exhibited together numerous times. One of the new projects is still in its formative stages, the other at a major crossroad so image style size and medium has yet to be confirmed for the latter, while the former is still being researched by me at least.

An abandoned car with crime scene tape near Newbridge.

The rural projects require I drive about 3 hours north or north west or any point in between. After that I need to find locations or hang around until the light suits the image. The areas I am researching are, the Mallee, and the Murray. Both geographically large and in parts inaccessible. So in an attempt to get a feel for what a trip like this might require I did a ‘test’ of sorts yesterday. I learnt several things. This test also added to my Psychogeography project which yielded some interesting results in itself.

Towns visited, Newbridge, Llanely, Arnold, Arnold West, Rheola

The things I leaned are:-

  • Light. When I left Melbourne the cloud cover was soft allowing some highlights but not so harsh as to make it difficult to get a good picture. Once over the great dividing range, that all changed. The light was harsh and contrasty. There was minimal clouds. Clouds are important when making pictures in the landscape. They add compositional elements to make a picture either more interesting or even drama. Both theses areas are north of Australia’s largest mountain range. This make summer work difficult meaning that I will need to plan to work during the year from April to October. On either weekends or during the school holidays. Next time I will take books to read and wait out the right if needed or be organised in a way that means I can stay over night and catch the light the next day or two. The Mallee is on the edge of the desert here and summer temperatures can be intolerable, so coming is not an ideal solution.
  • Money. When I left the house I had a full tank of fuel, enough food to get me by or the day and plenty of film. By the time I reached the point furthest north I dared go, to get back to Melbourne in time I was down to 1/4 of a tank. I usually move money around when needed on my iPhone, if I get caught short. I knew I was going to have to transfer money while out. Of course that far North of Melbourne, indeed a large City like Bendigo, Internet access was problematic. Next time I will move all the money around I need before leaving home. 
  • Gear. I have 2 main film cameras. A large format,  5×4 inch, monorail, and a Hasselblad. The Hasselblad is easily stored in a a pelican case. My large format camera is carried in a special home made box. This box needs to be modified so it fits into my Subaru better. Later this year I expect to spend extensive times in these areas and having room to fit as much gear in as needed is important. I have yet to decide if I will camp on these upcoming excursions or pay for Motel or Hotel rooms.
  • Route. When I left I was aiming to get to a town called St. Arnaud. I had no timeline and decided as part of my Psychogeography project steer clear of major highways. This worked fine as I found some small tucked way hamlets and tiny townships. These yielded some interesting pictures. However the light still had not improved so I decided to drive north to a ton called Donald. By the time I got there it was nearly 4:00pm. It was going to be a 3 hour return journey. This was as far north as I could explore. Next time I will use the best and fastest route to get to St. Arnaud. And begin exploring the back roads from there. 
A former church in Arnold.

In the end I exposed nearly two rolls of 120 film, and made a hundred or so digital pictures. Most were in the morning as that part of the day I was driving around the lower northern edges of the great dividing range. This area has more trees and other features. North of St. Arnaud the terrain flattens out and towns can be as much as 100 kilometres apart. This makes photography challenging especially in harsh summer light. Hence less pictures were made.

The next trip will move further east and begin exploring the area around the Murray in Victoria about the same distance from Melbourne.

3 thoughts on “New Year, New Research

  1. Some observations.
    (1) The Mallee is a photographic challenge. It will test your skills if you want to dig beneath its surface appearance.
    (2) The weather system in the Mallee is different to that of southern Australia. Summer is basically a no go time. I use an Elders app on the phone to check the weather.
    (3) Petrol is a big expense, and you need to make sure you always have a half a tank, as you cannot rely on the garages being open in the small towns, especially on the weekends.
    (3) Large areas of the Mallee outside of the towns have no reception. I had to switch to the Telstra network but I did so through Aldi –its cheaper with lots of data allowance.
    (4) day trips have limited possibilities because of the distances to get to X or 7 and getting there and leaving outside the good light times. Overcast days, unfortunately, are not normal.


    1. Thanks Gary. I’m still not quite equipped for ‘camping’ but I think by Autumn this year may be in a better position to undertake a camp or two.


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