My 2015 schedule included a number of shoots “across the ditch” in Australia, which – compared to some of my travels further afield – can sometimes feel a lot like home. Despite their need to call jandals “thongs” and claim numerous Kiwi icons as their own (from Pavlova to Phar Lap to Russell Crowe), when you bump into an Aussie in the backstreets of Beijing or on Safari in Namibia it is always a pleasant surprise and makes the world seem that much smaller. So to have the privilege to visit and shoot some unique Australian destinations through 2015 was something I was really looking forward to. (Made especially more so when we won the Rugby World Cup with a resounding 34-17 thrashing over the Wallabies in October – not that I made a big deal of it or anything)…

Australia is such a vast land mass – often called “The World’s Largest Island” it is in fact the smallest continent but the sixth largest country by total area. It is also one of the world’s oldest continents and is home to a variety of diverse and unique geographical features from the Great Barrier Reef to Uluru (Ayers Rock); the Twelve Apostles; Fraser Island and the Blue Mountains… With 35% of the country classified as desert alongside rivers over 2,000 kilometres long, vibrant cities, tropical jungle, snowy mountains and sandy beaches, Australia certainly has a lot to offer.

I was to start my adventures on a much smaller scale, in the tiny town of Birdsville located 1,590kms west of Brisbane and boasting a population of less than one hundred. However that population swells in July of each year for the popular music festival the “Big Red Bash”, with 2015 highlights Jimmy Barnes, Diesel and Jon Stevens – all artists I’d grown up listening to and was looking forward to seeing. Around 3,500 people make the journey out to the remote Simpson Desert where the festival takes place, camping out over the three day event, sleeping in cars, cooking on the fire and enjoying the carnival like atmosphere. The desert burned red at night with sunrise a dusty glow each morning, perfect photography conditions!

My next visit took in the “Cairns Indigenous Art Festival”. Currently in its sixth year this is an event that highlights Australia’s truly unique aboriginal culture and showcases the visual art of Queensland’s First National. Featuring not only traditional art pieces but also performance through song dance, fashion, screen and theatre – alongside an Art Market, workshops and informative talks – this was a very special event to witness and to photograph. Though for me the best part was once again a musical one, with the opportunity to hear Archie Roach perform live. He is an artist my wife and I have listened to for over twenty years now and his haunting melodies share the poignant stories of Aboriginal history.

After Cairns it was a visit to Mackay for the “Beach Horse Racing” weekend, no shortage of fun and excitement there! But it was during this event that I was also able to capture some of Australia’s more elusive wildlife, and I don’t mean the colourfully dressed who were attending the races… Alongside a couple of kangaroos challenging each other on the beach one morning, I was also able to photograph a little platypus swimming wild in the Broken River. With a duck-like beak, tiny otter-shaped feet, and a large beaver tail this egg-laying mammal – endemic to Eastern Australia – is one of the most unusual animals I have seen.

Despite its’ name I was not going to see any crocodiles in Port Douglas during the “Crocodile Trophy” – an 8 day staged mountain bike race that attracts top riders from all over the world. With the riders sleeping in tents set up in huge mobile camps – moved each day by a large team of volunteers – the race covers 770kms over 9 stages and 17,000ms of elevation. With riders passing through blistering desert, fertile farmlands, coffee plantations and across wide rivers, there were a ton of photographic opportunities to be had, not least of which was shooting from my own bike to show a more unique angle.

Pavlova and Russell Crowe aside, it was great to see a bit more of the country and to spend some time amongst my good Aussie friends. Thanks Australia, but you can keep the thongs.

All images copyright Chris McLennan

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