24 Jul 2016

Reflections on climbing Uluru

In 1984 when I first visited Uluru, or Ayers Rock as it was then generally known,climbing the rock was the main tourist attraction and so we climbed it. The hotel had shuttle buses taking visitors to the start point of the climb. The culture of the Anangu,the traditional owners,was not considered or even recognised publicly. When I next visited in 1996 not much had changed. Climbing the rock was still the main attraction. As this visit was at the height of summer I went out at first light and did the climb with some friends and was back in the hotel for a late breakfast.
Twenty years later much has changed. The Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is now jointly managed with the Anangu traditional owners and there is a Anangu cultural centre at the base of the rock .
Aboriginal peoples regard Ulura as a sacred site and it seems as if at last climbing the rock is being seen as intrusive by many visitors.
The change has come gradually over the past ten years. Firstly visitors were politely discouraged from climbing the rock and then the discouragement became more active and now at the entrance to the climb route there are warning signs asking you not to make the climb and it is closed in adverse conditions. Last year an activist cut the vital safety chain used by climbers as a handhold on the climb. These actions will not stop all climbers but they really have cut the numbers.

Not climbing the rock is primarily a question of respecting the sacred site but it is also a question of safety. Many people have died on the climb over the years. It is a challenging and dangerous climb. It is very steep and the safety chain on the first section was absolutely vital and even when you are off the very steep climb up the side the ridge on the top there are sheer drops on either side. On the climb "up" climbers went up one side of the chain and "down" climbers came down the other side. Problems arose when "up" climbers froze on the ascent- a very frequent occurence- and decided that they had to get down. To pass climbers have to let go of the safety chain and on the section where the saddle is narrow one false step or a touch of vertigo and you are making a very rapid and probably fatal descent down a very steep smooth rockface.

The other problem is that there is absolutely no shade on the rock or any sources of water. It is totally exposed so on even a warm day yet alone a sweltering summer's day heat exhaustion is an issue for climbers. More climbers have died on Uluru due to heart attacks and heat exhaustion than have fallen to their deaths.
i stood at the bottom of the rock last week and looked up the climb route and I just cannot believe that I went up there so easily. The photos below show the chain route up just the first stage of the climb.

Of course it is easy for me to say now that Uluru should not be climbed because I have climbed it twice but I can say with all sincerity that if I had known then what I now know about the Anangu culture and the significance of Uluru to that culture,the environmental damage done by the climbers in terms of the litter left on the rock and the number of deaths and near deaths on the rock and the difficulties and dangers faced by rescue personnel when recovering injured climbers I would not have climbed it.

I do have some photos taken from the summit but they have to be located in the archives. Because Uluru stands on a vast flat plain and there are clear sight lines you can see,or think you can see,the curvature of the earth from the summit.
I guess I should count myself fortunate that I have been there despite my misgivings now about the propriety of my climbs.

The climb starts from the car park at the bottom of Uluru-where the vehicles are clustered in this photo.The climb goes up the saddle which stretches down to the car park.You can just see the line of the route extending up the saddle -it then goes across the top to the hump - the highest point.

21 Jul 2016

A Moke at Uluru.

My photos of Uluru below prompted friend,John Crawford,to send me this wonderful atmospheric photo of himself standing beside his Mini Moke at Uluru during the 1977 Singapore Airlines London to Sydney Rally. That strange object on the rock is a piece of foreign matter on the slide.
If you would like to read more about how a Mini Moke got driven across the world in arguably one of the world's toughest rallies read it on John's blog at this link MiniMoke .
And note John's absolute professionalism in wearing the rally sponsor's T-shirt for the photo.Or perhaps it was the only shirt he had because of the lack of space  in that little Moke.

18 Jul 2016

Out to the Red Centre

I've just spent three days at Uluru-previously known as Ayers Rock- in the centre of Australia- celebrating my birthday. Uluru is 494 kms west of Alice Springs in the centre of Australia. It is a very remote place.
This was my third visit to Uluru and my first in winter. In summer it is scorching hot 40ºC (104ºF) plus most days but as I found out in winter it can be bitterly cold and I experienced it at its coldest with the nightime temperature down to minus 3ºC and the daytime struggling upto 7ºC with a very strong cold wind.
My first visit was in 1984 and the Ayers Rock resort hotel had only just opened and the airstrip was a short dirt strip so I drove in from Alice Springs. Now there is a fully fledged resort complex with a fully equipped airport with frequent flights to Australian cities. It's just over 3 hours by 737 from Sydney. What really struck me was the number of tourists -local and international visiting the "rock". It maybe a long way from anywhere but it was humming and the Sails in the Desert hotel is world standard which is remarkable given its location.
Uluru itself and the nearby Kata Tjuta (formerly known as the Olgas) are the main attractions. It's not easy to get an original photo of either. They have been done to death photographically-at sunrise and sunset in particular. The sand of the desert  like Uluru is red-hence the Red Centre nomenclature- but due to the unusual amount of rain which has fallen this year the vegetation is surprisingly green and there were actually flowing streams and pools of water around. Very unusual. The fact that there was so much feed out in the desert meant that there were was no wildlife -camels,kangaroos and emus- foraging around the resort.
I took a helicopter flight over Uluru and came back with a couple of competent but hardly original photos of the rock. Here's my Uluru-Kata Tjuta collection.


Frost on flowers in the desert at sunrise.

Uluru from the air

Uluru from a distance.That's what the desert looks like out there.It is mainly devoid of features.

Kata Tjuta

15 Jul 2016

A milestone

I'm 70 today-15th July. Looking forward at 70 is not easy. Looking back is more pleasurable.
I recently found this photo of me taken in 1978. Since then my hair has retreated a long way. My shorts are longer. I've grown more cautious about going out in the sun. Was I really that tanned then? No wonder I keep having to have nasty things cut off my skin nowadays. My taste in beer has improved. My backyard barbecue is much more sophisticated and my cooking technique has improved or so I claim. And I'm still laughing or trying to and for some reason despite being right handed i still wear my watch on my right wrist.
Here's to the next X years........

12 Jul 2016

Mighty Big Mini

My first car was a Mini Traveller bought used in 1969. The highlights of many a race at Brands Hatch and Crystal Palace in the 1960s were the giant killing performances of the Minis. See photo below taken by me at Brands Hatch in I think 1969 -understeer redefined.

 I owned and competed in a Mini Cooper S for quite a few years in the 1990's and did the Targa Tasmania in it in 1996.  I have a soft spot for Minis although no way would I drive an early one today-way too small and too close to the accident for my liking. Photo below shows me at the wheel of mine on the very wet Targa-conditions which suited the Mini.

Friend Brett's partner has just bought a new generation LWB 4 door Mini Cooper S. Brett tells me she only had eyes for the Mini-it was an easy sale for the dealer.
This photo really brings it home how unMini like the Mini now is. Not quite a Maxi but surely Midi is more appopriate?

Both my photos taken with Leicas. Brands Hatch taken with a Leica 3A and 50mm Elmar lens. Brett's garage 2016 taken with a Leica X1.

10 Jul 2016

More from Le Mans

Well it seems as if this year's Le Mans Classic has been blessed with glorious weather. Typical - the one year I decide not to go the sun shines. That will be very welcome after the miserable conditions at the last Classic in 2014.
My good mate Patrick has gone and is sending back a stream of photos to make me jealous. He is camping there on the saturday night. He's welcome - my camping days are behind me -no ifs or buts.
Anyway two shots from Patrick's camera. The first shows a full grid of E-Type Jaguars lining up on the dummy grid to go out onto the track. It all looks glorious.
The second taken in what Patrick describes as the best car show in the world-the Le Mans Classic public car park-and shows a very original 912 Porsche.

6 Jul 2016

Le Mans Classic 2016

It's the Le Mans Classic this weekend and I won't be there. I've been to the last 4 but I am giving it a miss this year as it is a big birthday next week and I am off to Uluru -the Red Centre of Australia-to celebrate.
Anyway to all my friends who will be there and in particular my usual Le Mans companion,Patrick,I hope the weather holds up and that you have a really great time.
Some photos from previous years-rain and shine.

5 Jul 2016

My photo of the week.

Well the week is far from over but I can't see myself doing better than this photo-Warren in his workshop last Sunday polishing the handbrake assembly of his Porsche restoration project.

I reckon that it really captures  the atmosphere of the workshop. I have entered it in the July Clique photo challenge run by the Sydney Morning Herald. The challenge is for Black and White photos so I have entered the version -below.

3 Jul 2016

Still restoring after all these months.....

Regular followers of the blog may recollect previous stories on friend Warren's restoration of his Porsche. In summary his daily driver Porsche Targa failed to proceed over a year ago due to a piston ring failing. Warren decided to have a full rebuild of the engine and gearbox at Autowerks on the Central Coast of NSW and to take the opportunity to restore the car at the same time - but incorporating his own personalisation ideas.
 Like most big restoration projects it has gone way over schedule on time and budget on money but the end is in sight and he is still talking about it being ready for the Porsche Club NSW Concours in September. We shall see.
The engine rebuild is only about to start but the body is coming together. The upholstering has been a disaster and Warren is finding it very difficult to get  repossession of the seats and steering wheel from the upholsterer. So there are still a few bridges to cross. Here is the car as it stands now. Onwards and upwards....

30 Jun 2016

Car stuff and thoughts on Instagram

Some miscellaneous car stuff from around the world and a plug for Instagram.

Firstly a nice glimpse of an early E-Type Jag taken at a coffee and cars meet in Detroit by Scott Ferrier a few weeks back. A typical good Instagram photo and in this case taken on an iPhone. I have a growing enthusiasm for Instagram and a declining enthusiasm for the blog format. I was an Instagram sceptic but I have changed my tune. I am seeing some really good photography on Instagram.
 I like this type of shot - good examples of the genre can be found on Instagram at Bob Tilton's @Werk_crew,Scott Ferrier's @motorcityscotty, Matt Hart's @the_escape_road and  many more which I have not found yet.
 Matt Hart is a leading practitioner of this style and he also has big portfolios on Tumblr under the escape road tag. He also builds and competes in interesting cars.

Secondly another recent phone shot. This one by David Young from the streets of Paris.A very ordinary ordinary car but it raises two questions which have always intrigued me. Why do many French enthusiasts still find classic British sports cars so fascinating? Maybe it is because there were not any French made sports cars  in that era - except Alpines.
Secondly why would you go around in a very pedestrian MGB in Paris nowadays? I know that this is heresy to many but surely an early Mazda MX5 is a much better proposition than a MGB if you want a cheap early sports car to hack around in Paris. Enough said.

Thirdly a photo from the past I found last weekend. Friend Patrick's beautiful 1971 911T Sportomatic which we drove south from San Francisco to Monterey back in 2004.I took the photo with a Leica Digilux 1-an early digital Leica. Sadly Partick moved to Belgium in 2008 and he had to sell the 911 which has now been turned into an outlaw 911.It was beautiful as it was.

Finally two shots by me taken on my Leica X1 at the Gosford Classic Car Museum last week. American Iron and Italian Red. Instagram fodder. My Instagram photography is on Instagram@therollingroad
You can follow thousands of Instagram accounts devoted to Porsches and classic cars without much effort.The trick is to restrict the number you personally follow to those you can spare time to look at and which feature quality original content.
My personal list in addition to the ones above is @zwart,@24heuresdumans @singervehicledesign,@reedminor.@autofokus911,@aewebster,@duckandwhale,@vintagecarcollector @porsche and finally the star-@petrolicious.
If you have not discovered the Petrolicious website yet then you have been missing out on some of the best classic car photography and videos around.The Instagram account maintains the standard.

27 Jun 2016

A beautiful lens-Zeiss Planar 45mm f2.

Regular readers of the blog will know that I am a Leica fan. My enthusiasm for Leicas goes back a very long time - I bought my first in 1967-and I just like using them for all sorts of reasons but above all else for their lenses which are just stunning performers.
I also own a Sony a7 and for a change the weekend before last I did some photography of my grandsons using the a7 fitted with a Zeiss Planar 45mm F2 Contax G series lens which I borrowed from my son ( yes we are all into photography). This fits onto the Sony with a rather clunky adapter which has to turn as it operates the manual focussing of the lens.
This particular Zeiss lens is reputed to one of the sharpest lenses ever made and although it is an old design-and this particular lens is probably around 20 years old-it is still an incredible performer. The photos have a distinctly Zeiss look to them which is markedly different to the look from Leica lenses to my eyes.

I am not into pixel peeping and photographing walls for lens tests but I can say that even at very high magnifications the sharpness of photos from this lens is extraordinary even right into the corners and with the lens wide open. The sharpest lens I have ever used? I can't say but it certainly is up there.
You can find,with luck,find one of these lenses for sale for US$250-$500 depending on condition.

 It certainly holds its own with modern lenses but you do have to focus it manually and the adapter is clunky. Techart do make an electronic adapter which allows the a7's autofocus to work with the lens but I have not seen any reports on its performance and it is quite costly. I also see that B&H are advertising a DEO-Tech adapter which also promises to link the autofocus and the exposure controls. It is not available yet so there are no reviews of its performance.
All the photos below were taken with the lens wide open at F2.

24 Jun 2016

I cannot believe they did it

Thirty nine years ago I left the UK and permanently emigrated to Australia with my family and three years later we all became Australian citizens. I broke the umbilical cord to the "mother" country but the events of the past 24 hours sadden me greatly. The Leave vote is going to inflict real financial and social pain on the UK people and do massive damage to the world economy. For what? For some nebulous concept of "independence" and a bizarre belief that somehow they will be better off by cutting themselves off from free access to the world's biggest market.
The Leave voters in the UK align themselves alongside the Trump for President, the US gun lobby and the Climate Change deniers in Australia for living in a post factual world. Facts don't count anymore.
My heart goes out to the enlightened millions in the UK who voted to stay in the EU. These are the ones who will be in the deepest despair. They realise what the alternative meant. The Leave voters will be waving their union jacks and singing Rule Britannia and Jerusalem and feeling euphoric but the reality will bite soon enough and they will surely rue the day they marked that ballot paper leave.You cannot eat union jacks.
Words totally fail me so perhaps I should just leave it to a more erudite writer to express my and I am sure many others feelings.
From today's editorial in the UK Financial Times.

A great big disappointment

Gosford Classic Car Museum has recently opened in Gosford,NSW. It is housed in a very big box warehouse-formerly a Bunnings Hardware store. The opening has been much anticipated. The entrepreneur -and he must be a very rich man-behind the project has amassed a huge collection of cars.
I went there yesterday and what a disappointment. There are quite a few very hohum old cars but many of the cars are superb-and they appear to be in excellent cosmetic condition and there certainly are a lot of them. But there it ends. It is just a massive car collection put on display. Each car has a small information board but you cannot see into the cars and no bonnets/hoods are open so no engines are visible. There are no interpretation boards or history on the cars-probably because many of the cars were just bought with no regard to their history or lack of history.
I have been very fortunate to have been to three excellent car museums in the past 12 months in the USA. They were all so much better than the Gosford Museum and yet they have nowhere near as many cars on display. Often less is more.
The Gosford Classic Car Museum is a golden opportunity missed. The Museum should have stored most of the cars and put a limited number on display in properly themed exhibitions which are changed regularly. That way visitors could engage with the exhibits and learn something and there would be a reason to keep revisiting the museum as the exhibitions changed.
Contrast the photos of the Gosford Classic Car Museum below with the photos of the Petersen Museum in the previous story. Chalk and cheese.
Even the name of the Gosford Museum is pedestrian. My suggestion "World of Cars"
Above all else the Gosford Museum needs some really experienced curators. It is not a modern car museum -it is one man's huge ad hoc car collection neatly but not imaginatively displayed. See it once and leave yawning.

21 Jun 2016

Petersen Museum

Whilst in LA a few weeks ago I visited the Petersen Museum. Petersen Publishing started out by publishing Hot Rod magazine-one my boyhood favourites. They went on to publish many other very succesful motor and hobby magazines. The success of the business allowed Robert Petersen and his wife to establish a motor museum in 1995 and this has gone on to become today's museum which is now administered by the Petersen Museum Foundation. In the last two years the museum has been completely rebuilt and is now a very striking purpose built structure on Wilshire Boulevard in LA.
I thought the building and the displays were superb but it was not what I was expecting. With LA being the epicentre of California's car culture I was expecting American cars and hot rods from door to door. When I visited the displays had a distinctly European bias with some quite exquisite and very rare cars on display including a superb line up of Porsche racing cars-see photo- and some of the most beautiful coachwork I have ever seen on cars in the big Rolling Sculpture exhibit.
I did not have time to take a guided tour of the Vault where the cars which are not on display are stored and this may have given me the American car fix I was expecting.
The museum is very highly recommended and on my next visit I will take in the tour of the Vault as well.
All photos by Leica X1.