On the Search, we inevitably find more than we were looking for…
Living the Dream
Blind stars of fortune, each have several rays,
On the wings of maybe, down in birds of prey,
Kind of makes me feel sometimes, didn’t have to grow,
But as the eagle leaves the nest, it’s got so far to go…
– ‘Ten Years Gone’, Led Zeppelin
For me, the search has embodied many things over the years. The whole idea of ‘living the dream’ has shifted like a mirage sometimes, flickering at the edge of my vision out on the horizon somewhere, even when I suspected it should already be wrapped around me like a blanket.
This, though, is one of those exquisite moments of emergence, when the whole becomes more than the sum of the parts, and I realise, with a sense of lightness and ease, that this is what, to me, living the dream is.
At dawn, a new, fierce wave, but now…nothing but the yawning Western Australian sky, a couple of old LandCruisers, friends and a fire to keep reality at bay. And it is enough.
Walking on Water
Overhead ether flow, moment, colors run,
Time so slow, slow
I’ve never seen the arrow of time fly
– ‘Bold Arrow of Time’, Tame Impala
The Northern Territory is another country, hidden within Australia’s borders. There are places out there where the concepts of law and order give way, like the mangrove-lined banks, to tides of chaos.
We’re running down the Buckingham River here, hours away from any kind of civilisation, hours more from our 4WDs, heading into wildness with our lives afloat, as much food and beer as we can carry alongside barra rods and swags.
The wind is moist and brackish, the afternoon sun beating down, and the river is boiling with mud while the tide lashes it full again.
And we are completely free now.
After nine days, I let the horse run free ‘cause the desert had turned to sea,
There were plants and birds and rocks and things,
There was sand and hills and rings…
– ‘A Horse with No Name’, America
This old LandCruiser carcass tells more than just a story in colour and strange defiance against the elements: it stands as a kind of living memorial to the old abalone fishermen and adventurous surfers who were exploring the Kalbarri coastline a generation ago – braving the shallow reefs here in search of waves and riches. True men.
I can’t save you,
I can’t save you,
You can’t find it here,
You can’t find it here.
– ‘Kindred’, Burial
What sacred places are left in the world, now?
Not stones and glass proclaimed sacred by men and the gods they create, but points on the map where ancient ley lines converge, where something older than us resides, eyes half closed, slouching ever toward infinity.
Places where you can feel something as you approach them, even ignorant of their power. Places that inspire awe, that peculiar sensation humans feel when they are in the presence of the divine.
Cactus, nestled in the cheek of the Great Australian Bight, is soaked in old magic. Its sacredness stands before language, before man.
– image Shane ‘Fredo’ Smith
Through the Looking Glass
Silver starlight breaks down from night,
And so we pass on by the crimson eye
Of great god mars,
As we travel the universe.
– ‘Planet Caravan’, Black Sabbath
Travel comes in many forms, fast and slow…active and passive. When I’m on a long, long drive (and there is some magic to the compression of time and space that seems to happen only in an automobile), I always keep my camera handy, and I love the rawness of the split second shots I try to take through the windscreen. Most of them don’t work.
Trying to capture what’s out there is as much luck as it is being there in the first place. When it works, though, you get things you could never set up for again. You capture ephemerality itself, the essence of being both inside, and outside the 4WD going down the road at the same time. It is an out-of-automobile experience.
Ripple in still water,
When there is no pebble tossed,
Nor wind to blow.
– ‘Ripple’, Grateful Dead
Will Wardle lives a few months of the year on Dirk Hartog Island, right off the tip of Australia’s westernmost point, Steep Point.
He’s been capturing the landscapes of the island via drone for a while now, and I love scrolling through his latest edits looking for pure gold. There is always plenty.
It is a landscape of stark contrasts, of untouched beauty crashing into untouched wilderness, and he somehow captures that in single frames, like this as yet-unnamed spot on the east coast of the island.
– image Will Wardle
Sun streaking cold, an old man wandering lonely,
Taking time, the only way he knows.
– ‘Aqualung’, Jethro Tull
Wadeye is another Territory town that time forgot. Only a few hours from Darwin, this Aboriginal enclave was the site, just a decade ago, of fierce gang warfare waged with sharpened spears by lost young men with 80s heavy metal bands as their noms de guerre.
I asked this old-timer for a picture. He asked for a smoke. I got a single frame off in front of a shop lit by nothing but the last couple of minutes of sunlight of the day. And I knew I was finished, then.
The Little Prince
And his skin is cold,
The west is the best,
The west is the best,
Get here and we’ll do the rest.
– ‘The End’, The Doors
Deserts are young, ecologically speaking. Things have not had a chance to balance – chaos reigns, population numbers are low and extinction is just a few meals away for many of the denizens of the sand.
The devil is the little prince of the desert. If you go deep enough into the sand, you’ll find him. If you’re like me, he’ll grant you one wish. Mine was to find one on a clean red dune to capture these shots of my little prince…my little desert djinn.
Joy, beautiful spark of the gods,
Daughter from Elysium,
We enter, drunk with fire,
Heavenly, your sanctuary!
– ‘Ode to Joy’, Ludwig van Beethoven
Out here at the edge of the world, the sky bleeds into the horizon while we celebrate. I chase sunsets like alcoholics chase a drink – feverishly, unendingly, hunting that delirious high that only lasts a few moments, especially up here in the tropics.
Cable Beach might just be the finest show I’ve ever witnessed when it comes to sunsets. I’ve seen a lot of sunsets, and nowhere so consistently blows my mind.
Lifeboats in the Sun
I journey through the desert
Of the mind with no hope
I drift along the ocean
Dead lifeboats in the sun
And come undone
– ‘No One Knows’, Queens of the Stone Age
Mankind has sought a kind of direct knowledge of the universe for eons in the vision quest. He has attempted to short circuit the conduits of wisdom, and to communicate with whatever he believes in: ancestors, spirits, god.
He has inevitably ended up in the desert. But the desert is more than just a place that doesn’t rain. The desert is a state of mind, a place that inspires new perspectives.
Atavistic Vestiges After the Rain
You say the hill’s too steep to climb
You say you’d like to see me try
You pick the place and I’ll choose the time
And I’ll climb
The hill in my own way
– ‘Fearless’, Pink Floyd
Somehow, standing at the bottom of the mountain, looking back over my shoulder at the sun about to roll over the horizon with momentum, I knew we would make the peak.
We ran across the edge of the plain in chest high grass until we hit the bottom of the Napier Range, which rises nearly 300m straight up from the flat alluvial champaign.
At the top, breathless until dusk, we caught distant rain, a layer of dust kicked up by some late traveler and a sunset like two dreadnoughts fighting at sea.
The Fire and the Frying Pan
Out where the river broke
The bloodwood and the desert oak
Holden wrecks and boiling diesels
Steam in forty-five degrees
– ‘Beds are Burning’, Midnight Oil
It happened in seconds. One minute one of the boys up at Wiligi Station asks me for a lighter. I reckon he’s having a smoke. Then I hear the unmistakable crackle of burning grass.
The sun is sitting real low over the Indian Ocean and I don’t have long before the sunset is finished and the fire is out, and I have to move my truck up the beach ahead of the racing flames and run out into the waves to get a shot.
As I walk back onto the beach from the surf, soaked up to my neck, I look over and see a massive croc slide right next to me. And I wonder if I’d do it again, knowing what it might cost.
In a place you only dream of
Where your soul is always free
Silver stages, golden curtains
Filled my head, plain as can be
As a rainbow grew around the sun
– ‘Green Grass and High Tides’, The Outlaws
There is always going to be a gap between what happens and what we capture – between chemistry and memory, nothing is ever quite the same.
This is Stradbroke as I remember it, one sunny day. Every wave in the world converging upon a northeast point. Anything is possible on a day like that.
Did they get you to trade
Your heroes for ghosts?
Hot ashes for trees?
Hot air for a cool breeze?
Cold comfort for change?
– ‘Wish You Were Here’, Pink Floyd
It’s hard to imagine just how far from civilisation this place is. Cape Arnhem is one of those places that you shouldn’t be able to fly into. It should be reserved for those who have done the miles to get here. Because only then, I think, can you appreciate what it takes to protect a landscape, as much as possible today, from man.
Belt of Venus
They’re wearing steel that’s bright and true
They carry news that must get through,
They choose the path where no-one goes,
They hold no quarter.
– ‘No Quarter’, Led Zeppelin
Life is full of moments like these, where I look back and wish I could have stayed longer. Kundera once said that life should be like that, as if it were a good dinner you didn’t want to end.
This is somewhere on the Gunbarrel, an hour after sunset. The sky is still alive, unmarred by stars, the ground a kind of hidden map of chaos.
For long you live and high you fly,
But only if you ride the tide,
And balanced on the biggest wave
You race towards an early grave.
– ‘Breathe’, Pink Floyd
It’s rare that a shooter can take a place you know and render it unrecognizable. The ocean never stops dancing for us, waiting for us to notice when she moves in perfect alignment. Somewhere, somehow, though, I wonder if some surfer’s eyes are always on the water, if she is always being watched, now, by someone sentient?
– image Duncan MacFarlane
Lazy bones and no concern
Sees forty one mosquitoes flying in formation.
– ‘Forty One Mosquitoes Flying in Formation’, Tame Impala
Took this one at the base of a black waterfall at the end of the walk to Manning Gorge. Looking for a new way to see places is good exercise – you learn to understand that what appears to stay the same is always changing, especially you.
All this rock and stone you get to feeling like you know how the water shapes the rocks, but sometimes it’s the rocks that shape the light and the water.
All is love, is all I am,
A ball is all I am,
I’m so new compared with you,
And I am very small.
– ‘Embryo’, Pink Floyd
From my first trip out to the Simpson Desert. It seems so empty out there, but there are hints and clues that so much life is just below the surface: tracks and traces in the sand, hieroglyphics from hidden lives.
Sometimes, though, if you’re super lucky, some of that life comes out to say hello, like this little gecko.