28 Apr 2018

Northern Light

The light in the Kimberley is amazing. No need to play with the saturation as the landscapes are naturally super saturated. The sky is a deep blue due to the lack of atmospheric pollution. The earth is a deep red.
The sunrise above was taken from the Berkeley River Lodge looking across the dunes and beach and out to sea.
The sunset below was taken on the beach close to the mouth of the Berkeley River.

25 Apr 2018

Remote defined.

I have just spent four nights at the stunning Berkeley River Lodge on the Berkeley River in a most remote part of the Kimberley region of Western Australia. The Lodge is only accessible by air or by sea. Guests arrive by light aircraft from Darwin which is an hour and 45mins flying time away. The accommodation is in 20 villas-steel huts- perched on a line of dunes overlooking either the sea or the Berkeley River. Supplies are bought in by barge every 6 weeks from Wyndham which is a few hundred kms away and daily in the light plane.

I run out of superlatives describing the resort. The location is beyond stunning and the activities are equally stunning. Above all else it is the remoteness of the location which I appreciated. I went fishing one morning in a boat in the area around the mouth of the huge Berkeley river. Apart from the four other people on the boat I did not see another person or see a single sign of civilisation for 4 hours-no sweet wrappers, no mobile phone towers on the horizon, no buildings or cars, not even a single plastic bottle on the beach. Just the stunning scenery, plenty of fish and saltwater crocodiles as well as sea eagles and sharks.

19 Apr 2018

A strange paradise.

Definitely the strangest place I visited in Myanmar on my recent trip was Ngwe Saung Beach. It was 2 hours by bus from the city of Pathein. The road is narrow and winding and progress was slow. It was not a fun journey.The very long white sandy beach and is attractive enough but nothing really special compared with most Aussie beaches.
Behind a short section of the beach there is a small village strung out along a road with the usual seaside mixture of restaurants and shops selling beach stuff.
The strangeness comes from the fact there is one absolutely immaculate resort complex right on the beachside guarded by large security gates and in a field opposite the entrance is a helipad. Ngwe Saung Beach is the General's playground and the resort is the ruling military junta's resort. Vacationing military personnel whose rank does not qualify them for helicopter transport come down from Yangon in their black,Toyota Land Cruisers with very heavily tinted windows. I saw two of them on the road to the resort and some others in the village. They have a very menacing air and seeing them made my stomach churn.
There are other hotels but most are very run down or abandoned -reminders of Myanmar's recent hard times and strife.
The place had the feel of Bali when I visited it 40 years ago before the overdevelopment and the cheap airfares. There was a solitary beachside bar blaring out the sort of music you would expect from a bar in a tropical resort-see photo.
I went into the very warm sea- the Bay of Bengal. The beach was almost deserted apart from a couple of European backpackers playing beach volleyball. I hope they were appreciating the atmosphere as surely soon it will be gone. Chinese hotels will line the beach and a nearby newly constucted airport will be full of Chinese charter flights jetting in Chinese tourists in their thousands.  Another paradise will be lost.

16 Apr 2018

Public transport

Spotted in Pathein on the Irrawaddy Delta, Myanmar, a pick-up truck loaded with young women just about to start on the trip back to their village. It was sweltering hot and they were packed tightly into the back of the truck sitting on the hard metal deck.  They look as if they have had a hard day already. A different world.

11 Apr 2018

The last swagman?

When I was in Port Douglas, Far North Queensland, last November I spotted this character reciting bush poetry in the market. At the time I had my doubts as to whether he really was a genuine swagman. Wikipedia defines a swagman as a transient labourer who travelled by foot from farm to farm carrying his belongings in a swag (bedroll). The term originated in Australia in the 19th-century and was later used in New Zealand.
An article in last weekend's Sydney paper confirms that he really is the genuine article.Read on-extract from Sydney Morning Herald to which I do have a digital subscription.

 Meet Campbell, a ‘living walking storybook’, and the embodiment of bush ballads and poems. Words  by Justin McManus.

‘I’m living and breathing the words; Lawson’s words, Paterson’s words . . .’ Campbell

The old year went, and the new returned and so had Campbell the swaggie. It was one year before in a chance encounter that I had made the swagman’s acquaintance.

Through various friends, and via the bush telegraph, as the swaggie has no phone, we had arranged to meet by the Java Cafe in Yackandandah, a small town in north-east Victoria.

The swaggie had come around to favour the folk with his poems and country ballads – his last festival in the highlands of the south before heading back north, to warmer lands.

‘‘ I’ll take you out the back roads of Yack,” he said after a coffee and scone, ‘‘ And you can see the life of a swagman up close, and how he came to be.’’

So as the sun set on a dusty old track, out back of Yack, the raggedy old sundowner shared his story. ‘‘ Initially I was captivated by Australian bush music after seeing the Aussie bush band the Bushwackers perform in New Zealand in the early ‘70s.’’

Campbell is a Maori who became strangely fascinated by Australian folklore and cultural heritage. “I fell for the cultural history of this country , and the characters the Bushwackers sang about: The shearers, drovers and the swagman. I wanted to immerse myself in that heritage, so I just followed in the spirit of Waltzing Matilda.

‘‘ One of my favourite Australian poems and songs is ‘Banjo’ Paterson’s classic, Waltzing Matilda. It should be the national anthem you know, the other song has no relevance . It drew me to the swaggie’s life, got me tramping the back roads and stock routes of Australia waltzing my Matilda, living life on the hoof and I’ve been doing it for 40 years.’’

Campbell came to Australia in 1975 and worked as a storeman in Sydney, then Melbourne, for Coleman foods. ‘‘ But I was retrenched, and then I ran into the Bushwackers at a gig in Ferntree Gully in ‘79, and I just started following them around Victoria to bush dances,’’ he says.

‘‘ The swagman grew out of this experience, hoofing around with them, on the back roads of Victoria. I was in my early 20s and was discovering the stories of the landscape, the people, and coming to love the country. There’s something in me that makes me want to spread my wings and breathe the fresh air.’’

Much has been written about swagmen and their traits and ideals. The popular Australian ethos grew out of the ways of the swagman, and the miners of the Eureka stockade, the shearers and the strikes of the 1890s, and the Diggers of the great wars. Ideals of anti-establishment , a fair go and mateship became central values to the Australian character.

Henry Lawson writes in The Romance of the Swag, ‘‘ The Australian swag was born of Australia and no other land— of the Great Lone Land of magnificent distances and bright heat; the land of Self-reliance , and Never-give-in , and Help-your-mate .’’

Campbell suggests that some of these noble traits have been lost in recent times. ‘‘ Attitudes have changed and I’m still living the old ways. I’ve always been closer to the dreamtime than the computer age. The storytelling is being lost and people are becoming more selfobsessed ; they’re not interested in the true stories of the country.

“After Victoria, I tramped up to Longreach, to a drovers’ reunion, and it was the poetry around the campfires that really got me hooked.

‘‘ So I continued to travel and learn the poetry; out the Diamantina River and Coppers Creek in far west Queensland, learning the swaggie game; Paterson’s country out Winton way, and around Dagworth station, where Waltzing Matilda was written.

‘‘ Getting dusty, thirsty and covered in flies , walking about 15 to 20 kilometres a day, sleeping in creek beds or under a bridge, making billy tea and cooking up the damper.’’

After sunset we head back into town. Campbell’s camping down at a friend’s house tonight. He says he mostly gets put up by friends whereever he goes these days, but still enjoys a night camped out under the stars sometimes.

I suggest a quick beer at the Star Hotel in Yack. His eyes light up. ‘‘ Sounds good! The AFL kicks off tonight and I love a beer and watching the game.’’

He’s a big AFL fan, Collingwood supporter would you believe; just when I’m getting to like him. He philosophises that Australia has the Diggers and AFL, and that Waltzing Matilda sits fair in the middle, as the bond that ties it all together.

Over a beer at the bar, people from all over swing by to greet the swaggie , as you would an old mate. They aren’t surprised to see him, they see him everywhere, but their delight is obvious and heart felt.

I ask him about home, if he has one, and in a prompt and selfsatisfied reply he says, ‘‘ I’m home here. Yackandandah is home right now, Australia is my home, home is wherever I am at that moment.’’

As I discover later, he does have a caravan at a place called Cameron’s Pocket in Queensland, where he stores what he refers to as his bookwork . It’s his collection of diaries, or more accurately, his observations, musings, and poetry, as there are no dates to his prose. Time and dates seem to be a largely irrelevant concept in Campbell’s life, save for making it to the next festival.

He visits the caravan once a year, drops off the latest instalment of bookwork, dusts the place down and is back out.

Over the weekend, I am told many stories of his uncanny ability to almost teleport between festivals and around the country. Good friend Chris Smith relates one such occasion as we all sit on the verandah of the festival green room. ‘‘ We left Mount Beauty on a Monday morning and drove to Wintermoon Festival near Mackay, and he beat us there! We didn’t stop, we drove straight through and still he was there before us; he’s got wings,’’ he says.

‘‘ He’s unique, he’s a walking storybook , and a living walking storybook, he’s quoting life and his experience.’’

Campbell chips in, “I’m living and breathing the words; Lawson’s words, Paterson’s words, keeping them alive.’’

Chris finishes : ‘‘ He’s not just quoting Henry Lawson or Paterson, he’s been to where they wrote and lived the poems. He’s lived Waltzing Matilda.’’

Copyright © 2018 The Sydney Morning Herald

9 Apr 2018

Dawn at Blueys Beach.

Since I came out of hospital last year I have been working to get fit again. This means that wherever I am my early morning walk is conducted at a faster pace than previously. So when I was visiting a friend in beautiful Blueys Beach on the mid-coast of NSW, a few days ago I crept out of the apartment just as the sun was coming up and set off up the stunning surf beach at a very brisk pace. I had only gone about 100 metres when I realised that I had not picked up my camera. I though "no worries" I'll give it a miss this time. Then I looked along the beach and saw the surf rolling in and the sun breaking through the mist and the rocky outcrop of Seal Rocks outlined on the horizon and decided that there could be a photo there. So I turned tail and crept back into the apartment and picked up my X1. And I am glad I did. I took just a couple of photos and this is one of them. It is a big crop and the colour original was very blue- because the scene was very blue. I spent some time trying to dial out the blueness but in the end took out so much colour that it was black and white and I decided that it actually looked better in black and white. So I did it properly and converted the file to black and white in Silver EFex.

5 Apr 2018

Parasols of Pathein

I visited  relatively prosperous Pathein, Myanmar's fourth biggest city, on the Irrawaddy Delta expedition. Pathein is one of three cities in Myanmar where parasols are made commercially and a visit to the workshops all situated in one little street was fascinating. The Pathein parasols are used for traditional dance and religious processions as well as being sold to tourists in shops across Myanmar and even exported to Europe.