Sometimes you visit a place and the place never leaves you. I don’t think this is something anyone can control. There is no ability to turn it off once it has turned itself on. Typically, for this to happen you need time. Not always but most likely. Sometimes it happens on a second or third visit and sometimes it happens almost immediately. I can’t say I know much about Western Australia but I know enough to know, for me, this is one of those places.
When I see this image my first thought is “pre-Lyme Disease.” I look like a different person. I look decades younger than I do now although it hasn’t been decades since this image was made, but Lyme took time out of me in a variety of ways and continues to take from me and it probably always will. But I also see a shirt I still have, albeit rotting away after years of being soaked in sweat, dried in the sun then worn again. I see a camera I still have, a meter I still have and a bag I still have. And yes, sadly, I see the oversized cargo shorts. Most of us have been there.
I also see the land. That red Earth of WA. I see and feel the silence and the wind. I see and feel the exposure and I remember the moments, my companions on this trip and the residue they left behind. WA opened itself and then wrapped around me like the arms of a friend. An outsider like me. Out of place, out of time even and out of sync with the songlines of history. But yet my role, my part is to explore and record. No judgment, no definitive statement. Just go.
I also remember my level of exhaustion. I had just come off a three week Blurb tour of the eastern side of Australia. Five days and six events in Brisbane. Five days and five events in Melbourne and five days and five events in Sydney, not to mention the extra events, the nightly meetups, the art school talks and the rounds of media. People who don’t know me think I’m an extrovert. They think I must love this lifestyle, and in some ways I truly do. I love my job but in reality I am extremely introverted. The version of me that accomplishes this job is a manufactured version I created to handle the needs of the job. So by the time I left Sydney I was hovering above the realm of no return.
WA was my therapy as was the companionship of my friends who knew I was running on fumes. I thought there would be time in Perth, time to unwind, to rewind and prepare but when I asked “When are we leaving?” the answer was “now.” I was given a two by two section in the back of the 4×4. For some reason I grabbed my Hasselblad and ditched the Leica(s). I didn’t care. Life ghosted a half second behind, the whispery vapor trail of mental exhaustion.
I remember stopping at a store. I remember gassing up and I remember the first indicator of my friend’s love of candy. The center console filled with unnatural colors and shapes. Smiles coated in garish colors. I remember heading north through the outskirts of Perth. I remember talk of shark attacks and Tim Winton. I remember we had no plan, no real agenda. And I remember we only had one tent, so the three of us wedged in laughing before night consumed us all.
A thousand kilometer’s north. Shark Bay. Then inland on two track to remote villages. Long stretches of nothing but red. Clothing in treetops at low water crossings. Croc warnings from the elders. Dusty, open-doored pool halls and getting shot down at the brothel. Not as paying customers but as photographers. “Mind if we shoot” “Yes, as as matter of fact, we do.” The hum of the diesel, the abandoned wrecks littering the road. Roadkill, road trains and road houses selling meat pies and chips. And candy, more and more candy. Lobster cooked over an open fire at midnight in the middle of absolute nowhere. Surf and turf under the most brilliant night sky I’ve ever seen.
Southern hemisphere light, similar to light over the Atlantic. Smooth, buttery, soft on the edges. Angular and tempestuous. Sometimes the light of Trent Parke and sometimes not. And the culture, unique, dramatic, combative. Like home, here in New Mexico. Age old cultures roughing up the newcomers colliding like storm fronts over the plains. Square pegs, beautiful square pegs being offering the best and the brightest of round holes to fill. Planes of acceptance and oneness running circles around the disease of progress. Mineral wealth and poverty.
When the light splinters across green eyes and chapped lips. When you are afforded the time to clear the mental table and think is when a place comes alive. Through the dirt and heat of the day and the cold and isolation of the night. When left alone with thought and purpose the secondary layers of place begin to expose their tortured being. Sometimes they bring you in and take you with. There is nothing you can do but appreciate and celebrate. You are alive in the fleeting moment of existence.
Yes. A thousand times yes.
Yes, you know.
On the list for sure. Only reason I haven’t gone is that I might stay!
It does have that sense to it.
Cargo shorts. Yep, we’ve all been there. Great sense of time and place.
Man, mine were just so huge and awful and are a stain on my fragile legacy.
You see? Your hair was much better that way. Don’t waste it while you still have it!
That was back when a friend was doing my hair. I would just walk in and he would take over. He was using dye and worked in a high-end salon. Those days are long gone. Now, its’ all about my wife with a buzz cutter yelling at me.
Western Australia has ingrained itself on my mind since flying to Perth in 1995 and driving/Greyhounding it all the way up to Darwin like nowhere else on the planet and somewhere around Carnarvon it felt more isolated and remote than anywhere else I’ve ever been. I remember waiting at a railway crossing as a freight train took a millennium to pass by.
Tim Winton, Trent Parke, Shark Bay, Broome, boab trees, road trains, freight trains, the light….all of it!
I agree, Western Australia tortures you like nowhere else. Not even India can match it.
We had a strange night in Carnarvon. And then we went inland about a 700ks and it felt like we had left the Earth behind.
I lived in Metro and Country WA for ten years and seeing this makes me nostalgic…for the Dan bag!
Oh man, I’m jealous. Had the Dan bag in my hands today. Still use both of them for all kinds of things. My back is so screwed I can’t use them like I used to.
I am so happy to read this. I am moving to WA next year for my postgraduate studies, and hopefully staying for the rest of my life! I’ve never been to New Mexico (or North America for that matter), but from now on I will think of WA as “the New Mexico of the Southern Hemisphere.”
There are many parallels. At some point, you gotta come this way.
Hey Dan, hope you are well. I know about your love all things Australia. I am originally from Germany but been living in Straya for almost 8 years now. Been all around travelling for over 2 years. WA is my favourite part as well. Just came back from Exmouth area / Nigaloo reef doing BMX shows for a week and I must say its looking pretty bad for WA sadly. I am, as you are, a realist…and it surely goes the wrong way over there. Just watch this:
Its no bullshit. I saw it with my own eyes. Just wanted you to know about this because I know how much you love to educate yourself 🙂
have a great day and stay safe!
Corruption is the new black. Globally. The Aussie PM is a trainwreck, but coming from a country that elected a guy who didn’t know what Yosemite was I have no room to speak. Mining in Australis is our oil and gas. Blatant violators with zero responsibility and strong ties to political parties who operate with impunity.
“Sometimes you visit a place and the place never leaves you.” That’s India for me….Mumbai, Chandigarh, Baddi, up near the base of the Himalayas…
Have not been there yet but it’s high on the list.