I’ve always lived close to the sea. While not a particularly ‘beachy’ person, I do enjoy looking at it, walking on it, exploring the rocks and pools, and like many of you, I quite like taking photos of it.
But how often do we rock up at the crack of dawn with our tripod & camera to capture the few moments of colour, only to find later while perusing our masterpieces on the computer that they are all a little flat & boring?
Well I’ve been there too. Too many times. Over the years I have learned a few simple principles that have improved my seascapes. Many people want to know “what settings did you use”. While this can be helpful, especially when you are starting out, you need to know exactly why those settings were used, and understand that for your next photographic adventure down by the sea, those particular settings may not be right for you. I have included the settings & camera info with each image.
I don’t profess to be an expert my any means, but here’s a few tips that have worked for me. Enjoy.
Composition and Foreground
Sunrise and sunset colours can be stunning. And it is great when you capture the brilliant oranges and pinks over the water . But when you think about the most interesting seascape photos you have looked at recently, the ones that have interesting things in the foreground, and compositions that draw your eyes into the scene are the ones that truly stand out.
Even something as simple as a rock or a tree can offer enough interest to lift an image from a boring flat ocean to something that grabs the eye. The image above uses the rock formations as leading lines to draw one’s eye into the frame.
Water movement is a personal thing. There is no rule that your water must look a particular way. You simply select what ‘look’ you would like for that image. I tend to refer to water movement as one of three categories.
Frozen waves tend to capture the power and shape – a moment in time where the water stands still. The spray capture mid-flight is often spectacular, especially if you can get in a position to maximise the visible backlight.
Use high shutter speeds (over 1/1000) .
Semi-frozen captures the shape of the water, but is blurred enough to give the illusion of movement.
The results vary greatly depending on your shutter speed, and the velocity of the water/waves. I find it a bit of trial and error to find the optimum shutter speed.
I find my favourite range is between 1/10th second and 1 second. I normally start around the middle – say 1/4 second and then vary the shutter speed up or down until I find what suits the location best
Slow your shutter speed down even further and you can achieve a milky/misty look. This can give an ethereal quality to the image. This could be as slow as 5-30 seconds
My suggestion is to mix it up a bit. Don’t use the exact same settings every time you go out. You’ll find that some locations work better with particular settings.
Coming in Part 2 – Colour and exposure
Now what I haven’t covered yet is how to manage your exposure at such slow shutter speeds. Part 2 will discuss exposure, bracketing and the use of filters. And maybe a bit on colour.
This is the extended version of my story that was originally published in 4WD Touring Australia magazine. The abridged version can be found in Issue 35. Back Issues are available from http://4wdtouringaustralia.com.au/
Just down the road from Mount Mulligan on the road from Dimbulah, you’ll find the wonderfully preserved Tyrconnell mine. During the heady days of the gold rushes of the turn of the century, Tyrconnell was the richest mine in the Hodgkinson goldfields.
The Hodgkinson goldfields were discovered by James Venture Mulligan in 1876. Mulligan was an Irish explorer and prospector who tried unsuccessfully to join the Burke & Wills expedition in 1860 before opening a butcher shop on the NSW goldfields. But it wasn’t long before he joined the gold rush at various locations in Queensland.
Mulligan led expeditions looking for gold throughout Far North Queensland. Ever the adventurer, Mulligan once wrote “To me it is great pleasure to traverse new country where no white man has trod before. Every step discloses new scenes and new discoveries. “
After establishing the Palmer goldfields, which saw thousands of hopefuls leave their jobs and head north to strike it rich, he moved further south, and discovered the Hodgkinson goldfields. Initially looking for alluvial gold, the small amount of gold they found near the future site of Thornborough wasn’t enough to get his attention, so passed by and didn’t return for eighteen months
The mighty Mount Mulligan was named after James Mulligan as they traversed this country. Mulligan was apparently not entirely comfortable with that honour, as he preferred to avoid publicity.
Upon his return to the Hodgkinson goldfields in late 1875, Mulligan and his party discovered some payable alluvial gold but the bulk of the gold was found in the many quartz reefs. According to the Northern Herald in a story written in 1939, the Hodgkinson field had 4400 known lines of reef and 87 different mines.
Unlike the rich alluvial gold deposits in the Palmer fields that supported thousands of small scale miners, the reef gold of the Hodgkinson fields required larger scale operations – underground mines, large machinery to crush the quartz rock, & a ready supply of fuel. This disappointed many miners who travelled here. They blamed Mulligan for the false hope they had placed in the latest gold rush announcement. Despite this, the Hodginskon fields gave up over 1 million pounds worth of gold, and was home to over 10,000 people.
A few became rich, many made a living out of it, while others did it tough. Some interesting stories can be found in the newspapers of the day about people and places.
Stories like old Chinaman Ah Sam, who was ill, short of money, and wanting to return to his homeland to die. The community had started to collect some money to send him on his way, when the stubborn old bloke made one last trip around the gullies ….and found a nugget worth 100 pounds – more than enough for his final journey.
A strange ailment was observed at Kingsborough. Those who drunk from particular wells that pierced layers of black slate came down with what they called the “Kingsboro’ Flash” a condition where their head, feet & hands swell. In hindsight, those at Kinsgborough who ignored the Northern Engineer’s visit advising a dam should be built in lieu of relying on wells, perhaps were regretting their poor decision.
Life wasn’t all hard work though on the goldfields. An amusing account of a cricket match held between the Mt Mulligan team and the combined Thornborough/Tyrconnell on the Mt Mulligan Cricket field was written in The Northern Herald 9th November 1917. With creative descriptions drawn from World War One, the author noted that liquid fire and poison gas were not permitted to be used during the skirmish. When hostilities ended, Mt Mulligan had won by an innings and 24 runs, thanks to the Thornborough/Tyrconnell team collapsing in the afternoon heat with only 20 runs after a devastating 5 for 7 bowling attack by a Mr F. Richards .
The roads were so rough in those days, they even fitted shoes to the bullock teams, not just the horses. Quite a feat when you consider that some of the bullock teams required to move the large machinery for the stampers were up to 60 animals in size.
Reef gold is extracted by crushing the quartz in the stamp battery until it is fine. The gold is then extracted via a process using either mercury or cyanide, both of which are particularly unhealthy.
Tyrconnell’s first battery was erected in 1876, an expensive 10 head stamp battery and crushing began in 1877. However the mine had issues with water flooding, and proved unproductive, with the bank closing it down in 1888.
Sold in 1897, a new owner saw fit to work a new shaft which yielded a larger amount of gold. A new head frame and battery saw the mine continue and expand production. By 1918, Tyrconnell had a 20 head battery.
The towns of Thornborough & Kingsborough were thriving. Between them they had thirteen general stores and twenty pubs.
James Mulligan himself settled at Thornborough, operating a store for a while before returned to prospecting. He discovered Queensland’s first silver and lead deposit down near Irvinebank. Married in 1903, he unfortunately met his end at Mt Molloy in 1907 from injuries sustained protecting a woman from a violent drunk. In life and death, his name was held in utmost respect as a true leader and a gentlemen, a man whose boundless energy and drive opened up the development of Far North Queensland.
His obituary in the Cairns Post 27th August 1907 read “The sad news of the death of Mr. James Venture Mulligan, than whom no man better knew, or was known on the mining fields of North Queensland will be received with regret in every camp from Cape York to Gympie, for no man did more to open up the country, and no man was more universally respected”
Tyrconnell was in operation until World War Two. After Darwin was bombed, and Japanese bombers were seen flying overhead, the mine was mothballed for fear of becoming a target.
The mine was re-opened in the 1960’s, and then in the 1980’s, but eventually closed for good.
1997 saw the mine converted to a tourist operation, and the previous owners painstakingly restored the mine somewhere closer to its former glory.
These days, you can step back in time and wander through the mine workings and machinery.
Much of the machinery is still intact, including a full working battery, air compressor, and shaking table. This is unusual for mines of this vintage as most equipment was dragged off to the next mine. It’s sporadic operation over many years seems to have kept the machinery scavengers at bay.
If you time it right, you can do the full tour and see the machinery in operation. Accommodation options include cabins and camping is also available here, with some of the fanciest outback camping amenities blocks we have seen.
If you want to poke around some more, the road past Tyrconnell takes you to the Kinsgborough cemetery, which was quite overgrown when we were there.
The Hodgkinson gold fields is a great place to explore. Chat to the locals to find out where to go. Dimbulah has an information centre at the old railway station that can set you on your way.
Tyrconnell Mine is less than three hours drive from Cairns, so is a perfect weekender for locals. The road past Tyrconnell and Mt Mulligan continues north to meet the Mulligan highway west of Mt Carbine, making it a fascinating side-track on your Cape trip
This is a cut down version of my story that was originally published in 4WD Touring Australia magazine. The full story can be found in Issue 35. Back Issues are available from http://4wdtouringaustralia.com.au/,
“There’s something that’s going to happen today, Daddy, don’t go down the mine…”
According to some sources, the ‘Song of The Miner’s Child’ was one of the songs sung at the last Sunday dance in Mt Mulligan before 75 miners started their final ever shift.
On the morning of September 21st, 1921, school commenced like any other day with the children lined up side by side at parade. But their lives were irrevocably changed forever that day when a massive explosion rocked the town, their fathers and brothers dying side by side beneath their feet.
There were no survivors. Up until that point in time, Mount Mulligan had not formally established a cemetery. That soon changed…..
Sacred to the local Djungan Aboriginal People as the birthplace of the rainbow serpent, Ngarrabullgan is home to the oldest known Aboriginal sites discovered in Queensland. The 18km long sandstone and conglomerate tabletop mountain became known to the Europeans as Mount Mulligan.
Under the imposing shadow of Mount Mulligan, a small town grew around the coal mine, established in 1910. A government geologist originally ridiculed the idea that there was coal here, but a landslide two years later exposed three seams of coal.
The primary purpose of the mine was to provide cheaper coal to fire the smelters servicing the many gold mines in the surrounding Hodgkinson Gold fields, as well as the tin mining operations further south at Irvinebank. Up until this point in time, all coal had to be brought in from the south.
Regarded as a safe, gas-free mine, Mt Mulligan miners even still used carbide lamps. But as it turned out, the most dangerous element was the coal dust.
The Royal Commission determined the cause of the disaster to be a coal dust explosion started by an attempt to break up a large machine cut block of coal. It appears a plaster shot prematurely exploded on top the block of coal, rather than in a shot hole. This detonation may have been due to a partial roof collapse or defective fuse. Other contributing factors included the lack of watering of the walls & floor, ventilation fan not working at full speed, and a careless practice of storing detonators in the same boxes as the explosives at the coal face.
The rescue team braved roof falls to recover all 75 bodies.
Seven miners were fortunate to be off sick, either at home or in hospital, but spare a thought for the unfortunate Sam McColm. After being off sick for weeks, he decided to return to work on this fateful day, despite still feeling unwell.
As one wanders through the cemetery, one can imagine the impact of such a disaster on the tiny community of around 300 people. Many of the widows & their families remained in town, despite being offered free rail travel anywhere in the state if they wished to relocate.
The mine resumed operations four months after the disaster, but the mining was eventually scaled back as surrounding gold smelters were closed.
The Chillagoe Company sold the mine off to the government in 1923, and it battled for a while, unprofitably supplying coal for railway locomotives until it was finally closed in 1957.
Many of the houses were relocated elsewhere, leaving nothing but stumps and reminders of another life.
Like many significant events, a mix of fact and fiction melds into legend. There are many rumours and stories about Mount Mulligan.
One of the most interesting is the Aboriginal belief that the spirit of the mountain, an evil presence known as Iku, was unhappy with the white men interefering with the mountain. Iku was reportedly seen sitting in the trees around the mine days before the disaster.
There have also been stories of ‘Morgan’s Ghost’ haunting the mine over the years, particularly amongst the new miners at Mt Mulligan. Edward Morgan was attributed some blame for the disaster by the Royal Commission, although some consider that there was insufficient evidence of this, Morgan was used as a scapegoat
Unless your place of residence is normally beneath the proverbial rock, you will have been aware of the impact mirrorless cameras have had on the world of photography.
Many love the small, lightweight body and lens combos, It is easier to hike, climb, walk, run, and in fact do most things with a camera that doesn’t need 4kg of camera & lens deadlifted onto your tripod.
I’ve used an Olympus EPL1, EPL3, and an IR modified EPM1 alongside my Nikons for the last few years. Bang for your buck, they are fantastic. Not so flash in low light (pun intended) but the high end Oly models are reportedly much improved in that regard.
Many of my shots from my “Dark Paths and Silver Light” project were taken while running along the river paths, with my IR modified EPM1 in a small backpack. Stopping to take photos was a good excuse to try and get my unfit breath back.
They balance beautifully on a Joby Gorillapod, especially when balanced precariously on rocks.
Olympus EPL1 and Joby Gorillapod – great combo for getting close and low
The lack of mirror allows a relatively short flange distance, making it easier to adapt lenses from other manufacturers. You can buy adapters for almost any lens. I picked up an adapter for around $20-30 on ebay, and the popular Minolta RokkorX 50/1.4 for around $100. Talk about a bargain basement combo that can produce very pleasing results.
Oympus EPL1 + Minolta RokkorX 50/1.4
I headed down the low end Olympus m4/3 track myself, as it suited my meagre budget. But there are so many options now. Sony ( full frame and APS) and Fujifilm are popular for their image quality, Olympus and Panasonic have perhaps the widest range of lenses available, and the smaller m4/3 sensor doesn’t give a lot away in image quality. Other players include Nikon, Canon, Leica, Samsung, and Sigma.
I have been happy with Olympus, but can’t really offer comparisons as I’ve not tried the others in the field. I’ve been eyeing off the Sigma Merrills for my next mirrorless landscape camera. They are an acquired taste from all reports, but the image quality is supposed to be outstanding.
For proper warts & all reviews of mirrorless cameras, I enjoy the reviews of Thom Hogan.
So if you’re sick of lugging around a large DSLR and not looked into mirrorless yet, I’d suggest jump in and have a go. It’s a lot of fun, which is ultimately what any hobby should be about.
EPL1 + m.zuiko 9-18/4-5.6 Dawn over Townsville
EPL1 + m.zuiko 9-18/4-5.6 Magnetic Island from Rowes Bay, Townsville
EPL1 + m.zuiko 9-18/4-5.6 – Wanaka National Toy and Transport Museum
I updated my vehicle last year. It was a big mistake I think. But at 17 years old, my trusty 1998 Nissan Patrol was showing her age. A few niggly things like the cruise control not working, heater core leaking, electric windows failing. The safety issue of the third child sitting across the 50/50 seat split with no headrest and a lap only seat belt. The bulletproof 4.5L petrol motor was still chugging along happily, but this year was shaping up to be a big driving year with trips all over Queensland on the cards, so a safer an more comfortable chariot was all too appealing.
I have been fascinated by the frustrating world of Toyota, where a vehicle that cost $70,000 new in 2007 didn’t get even get a 12v socket in the cargo area, a trip computer, seat height adjustment or steering wheel controls like our little 2005 Mazda. I am surprised it even had carpets. Anyway, luckily I paid less than half the new price for my second hand Landbarge, as it is a strange mix of luxury and bargain basement design & build. The 4.7L v8 is a sweet motor, despite a penchant for swilling petrol at an often alarming rate. A bit like having an adorable old aunt who can sing a baby off to sleep , before having a bourbon sculling competition with a group of bikies.
My biggest mistake was getting Toyota to fit a cargo barrier sight unseen, thinking it would be designed like every other cargo barrier I have seen…..Wrong!
In their infinite wisdom. Toyota has assumes we are all quite dull and create a strap system to stop the third row seats from being lowered while the cargo barrier is fitted. I mean, who would even consider that? The seats won’t even fold down if the straps were not there due to limited space anyway!
We love to go camping, so our car is always packed to the roof with gear. This cargo barrier limited the space so much, it was simply impractical for camping. Unlike the Patrol.
So while the Patrol has often graced the pages of 4wd Touring Australia in travel stories I have written, the Toyota has not. To get the Toyota off-road ready has proved more expensive than I thought, so is still in progress.
Complaints to Mike Carney Toyota fell on deaf ears. “No, that’s our approved cargo barrier” blah blah. Thanks for nothing guys. An expensive cargo barrier that was essentially useless for touring.
So I tried to sell the cargo barrier. I have had dozens and dozens of responses to this ad on Gumtree and Facebook, but strangely enough, nobody wants to buy it? I can’t understand why?
This is what I wrote;
Sick of that cavernous cargo area in your Toyota 200 series? Want the practical space reduced to such a small, impractical size that a decent fridge won’t fit anymore? Want a cargo barrier design that makes you and your friends laugh at its ridiculousness every time you see it?
Then look no further. I have a genuine Toyota cargo barrier for sale.
Allegedly designed by drunk Toyota engineers at the Christmas party just to annoy their customers, this design takes everything tried and tested by other cargo barriers designs over many years and tosses it out of those noisy electric windows.
While almost every other design on the planet keeps their top mounts high and out of the way to avoid both the curtain airbags and the cargo, Toyota has decided that all long distance travellers will definitely leave the third row seats in place just in case they are away so long, they return with more children that they left with, and will not mind two intrusive diagonal steel straps projecting into the cargo area beside the folded seats.
Unfortunately I bought it sight unseen from Mike Carney Toyota in Townsville, who will not refund my money, stating that this barrier is fit for purpose.
Well I guess in their defence, it is fit for most people’s purpose…..because I understand that 90% of 200 series Landcruisers are purchased for the ability of that stonking great V8 engine to carry the upper middle class suburbanites around town in superb comfort to their hair dressing appointments in between coffee shop sojourns and kale purchases. And the cargo barrier indeed suits this purpose very well. One would not want a shopping bag full of Kale and Nespresso capsules flying through the air as one brakes heavily to prevent the immaculate colour-coded winch bar striking the private schooled child prodigy leaping from their Lexus at their daily advanced calculus tutoring session.
As much as I would love to keep it for the entertainment value , I would like to actually attempt take my Landcruiser on long trips and maybe (surprisingly?) even off-road, so I do need to acquire a proper, functional cargo barrier so I can carry more than a Corolla. So I must regrettably sell this masterpiece to pay for a real one..
So if you would like to purchase for yourself a copy of what is perhaps the worst ever cargo barrier design in the world (although it was a closely fought competition with old Jim’s homemade barrier constructed of old security screen, VB tins and chicken wire) then feel free to purchase this fine piece of railway engineering.
It will come with the bolts, but you may need to buy a mounting kit, as I have no idea exactly how it is fixed. I am surprised that they didn’t just use velcro, as they don’t seem to expect anyone to actually carry anything substantial in there.
It is fitted to my vehicle, but it hasn’t had any wear and tear as I CANNOT FIT ANYTHING IN THERE!
A suggestion from an internet forum was to turn it into a big BBQ grill. Not a bad idea. 🙂 If anyone out there has any more creative things I can do with this barrier that is useless as a cargo barrier, please post them here !
Since then, I have now modified the strap mounts so I can fit my fridge in there. I will eventually change it so the top mounts are attached to the roof, like every other manufacturer out there is happy to do.
I have left the ad up though, to bring joy to those that read it. Coupled with the fact that after several months, a knock sensor died, the CD changer died, and the dealer gave me a mismatched spare wheel that the previous owner told them explicitly they wanted to keep, I am happy to continue to annoy whoever from Toyota could be bothered to read my ramblings.
Once the kids leave school in a few years, I might have some disposable income again, so will be looking for a new full size 4wd. So far, Toyota is off the shopping list. Bring on another Patrol!
Thought I’d throw a few thoughts together regarding shooting landscapes in black & white.
I don’t claim to be an expert by any means – this is more a summary of what works for me & to give you a few ideas to try if you’re not sure where to start.
It is more aimed at those who are newer to DSLR, as those of you with more experience will probably have your own approach to this.
Monochrome photos are not something people always think of when taking landscape shots – Most shots we see are in vibrant colour.
Why shoot landscapes in mono?
Without colour, you tend to focus more on the subject, you notice the small things – textures, shapes, patterns
You can create dramatic scenes and intense moods. Clouds and water in particular can work really well in mono.
If the scene is dull and colourless, mono can actually breathe a bit of life & energy into it, bringing contrast and more defined
…and of course if you really make a hash of the white balance, this can help you hide it!
Thinking in black and white
Learn to think in black & white….I normally have an idea of which shots will be mono when I take them.
We say it is a black & white shot, but really, most monochrome photography is more like many shades of grey (no, not 50 shades like you are thinking ! ).
The number one rule for photography is that it is all about the light. And for monochrome photography, that is especially true
So I try & picture in my head what a mono version of what I am seeing will look like. Where the shadows and light fall, what textures are interesting and will stand out. Will detail be hidden in the shadows?
A few mono tips
Composition is the key – with no colour, the composition becomes even more important to engage the viewer
Keep it simple – If there is too much happening, the shot can be confusing to the eye. The strongest images are usually the simplest ones.
Watch your highlights – This should be something you do anyway in colour – blown highlights can ruin a great colour photo, but in mono they can become too intense. Unless of course that is the look you are after. Sometimes intense backlight is what you want
In general, don’t shoot mono in-camera. You are locked into the camera’s processing preferences, which may not be the best solution for you.
But if it helps your creativity to shoot in mono, make sure you shoot in RAW + JPEG, your jpeg will be mono, but your RAW file will still have all your colour information,
Use the colour filters in your processing software creatively. Most of your software eg. Lightroom, Photoshop, Paintshop pro etc have a black & white conversion where you can adjust the colour filtering. You can make the sky lighter or darker grey to contrast against the foreground, or , bring out more detail in foliage.
Learn to edit levels and curves – playing with levels & curves is where you can make your photos pop.
Be creative – Sepia tones work well with old things like buildings, farm machinery etc – gives you a vintage look. But like selective colour and HDR, I’d suggest to use sparingly. You can have too much of a good thing.
Vignettes (white or black) can help draw the viewers eye into the shot
For interesting clouds, experiment with a GND filter – it will control highlights and give you more detail in the clouds, and can make them ominous looking
Finally, think outside the square – . Be ready to recognise opportunities for something different.
This last shot was very opportunistic – was a bit of a fluke really – just had to straighten the canoe to suit.
It breaks the rule of thirds, but rules were meant to be broken on occasions.
Call me weird, but I really enjoy cemeteries. I love wandering down the silent rows of graves, reading the names, and imagining their stories. The blank eyes of a stone cherub forever guarding the much loved child of heartbroken parents. The plain and austere gravestone of a nun, resting in peace after a lifetime of service to her God. Tales of tragedy and sadness, interspersed with memorials to a full life well-lived. The variety of headstone designs is wonderfully fascinating. I am in awe of the craftsmanship that is on show – it is a gallery of stone art built to last for generations.
I find it relaxing to take time out of a busy day to enjoy the solitude and peace of a cemetery. The challenge of capturing a grave that best reflects its mood and story is cathartic in a way. Like a portrait of the dead if you will.
Many days I prefer the company of the dead to the company of the living.
My fascination with infrared photography started with cemeteries when I stumbled across the amazing work of Simon Marsden, an English photographer who specialised in infrared images of cemeteries, abandoned ruins, and moody landscapes. He was the master of spooky, atmospheric and often ghostly images, shooting primarily with an old Nikon F2 with Kodak HIE-135 infrared film.
I picked up an IR modified Olympus EPM1 off ebay for a good price. While the small sensor has some limitations in regards to noise, it has proved a fantastic little camera. I have so far printed up to 20×30″ on canvas with very good results. Eventually when funds permit, I’d love to get a modified Nikon full frame.
As show in the images above, a modified camera gives you clean and crisp shots. You can use higher shutter speeds and handhold, which is a big bonus.
I do however also like the softness and flare of IR film, It gives a sense of atmosphere you can’t achieve any other way. To achieve this, I use PaintShop Pro’s IR film effect over the top of a ‘normal’ IR image. You can dial the amount of the effect you want to suit your taste
I find I keep coming back to the same headstones, trying different compositions, trying different lenses. It is an ongoing project that I have not tired of yet. The next two photos show how you can get quite different images using different lenses and angles. The first uses my magical Minolta RokkorX 50/1.4 taken from a little further up the hill. The second uses the versatile Oly 9-18/4-5.6 at 9mm, taken up close for a totally different perspective.
Cemeteries aren’t everybody’s cup of tea, but they offer a chance to play with angles and light, and also shoot a subject that doesn’t complain or ask if you can remove their blemishes.
They say that you will never hear a man on his deathbed pondering his life as it draws to a close, and stating “I wish I had spent more time at work”
Like many, I find myself caught up in the never ending cycle of work, appointments, school, kids sport, housework. As last year wound up, I was left wondering where it went. Much of it now seems meaningless. An endless blur of stuff happening. I’ve been musing over some of this lately. What is really worth spending my time on? I find myself less and less chanting the mantra of our modern society – own more, build more, earn more, increase productivity and efficiency.
Efficiency is of course a good thing. Consuming less to create more. But the modern efficiency drive is not about less consumption – it is more production for less money. Increase in sales with less staff; build cheaper widgets so people buy more things that they don’t need. We are no longer here to survive – we are here to consume. Retail giants cry in their cocktails when people tighten their discretionary spending, which is often money they don’t really have anyway. We now seem to exist to feed the consumer economy.
What is existence worth anyway? At work I am measured – my contribution boils down to a number that has to be better than last year. I am an employee number working to achieve a number. There is no satisfaction in numbers.
We are in general, wealthier than the previous generation, but in the middle of all this, I don’t see people being more content, happy or fulfilled. The expanded shopping centre down the road apparently is ‘shopping redefined’. Hmmm. Why did it need to be ‘redefined’? Why do we need more shops anyway? Don’t we already have enough stuff?
I am still intrigued by the concept of ‘uncivilisation’, promoted by the group curiously named the “Dark Mountain Project” which encourages stripping away conventional thinking of ‘growth, progress and human glory’ and gets us looking away from ourselves and back at the world we seem hell-bent on destroying. While I don’t necessarily subscribe to all of their philosophical musings and explorations, they provide much food for thought. The planet does not belong to us humans. We are not the centre of the universe, but rather we are part of an incredibly complex and wonderful ecosphere.
I think an important part of this is getting our kids away from their electronic screens and out into this ecosphere and realising that there is more to life than the first world ‘civilisation’ we find ourselves in. A civilisation that is increasingly self-centred, uncaring, and wasteful. A civilisation that now perhaps finds itself in a dreamless sleep. Without vision, without original thoughts and ultimately will find itself mindlessly programmed by the media and popular culture. Puppets for the rich and powerful.
For me, touring and camping are perfect for getting ‘uncivilised’. Stripping back to the basics – simple food, simple shelter, and simple fun. Rolling out of your swag to an empty schedule. No meetings, no rush.
Our most memorable trip a couple of years ago was wonderfully uncivilised. Bush camping beside a river with no power or facilities. No phones, computers, no TV. The kids caught fish and redclaw. We kayaked, walked, explored, swam, saw birds we hadn’t seen before. We balanced precariously on a fallen tree to cross the river. And no, we didn’t do a risk assessment or safety analysis. We let the kids build the fire. And light it themselves. The nanny state would certainly not have approved.
We weren’t fully devoid of technology here. We found our first geocache here in the middle of nowhere – a challenging pastime that is enjoyed by many thousands of people made possible by inexpensive GPS technology.
The beauty of camping is that we are outsiders in this environment. It is not about us. Watching an Australian Darter and Little Black Cormorant up close diving for fish in his habitat really highlights the message that these rivers and creeks are vitally important. Our haul of redclaw (or lack thereof) teaches us that food is not an endless supply to be taken for granted. There are inter-dependencies.
We disturbed a couple of spectacular wedge-tail eagles feasting on a kangaroo carcass in the middle of a lonely dirt road. The circle of life is a lesson that doesn’t need a movie soundtrack.
We stopped in the middle of a huge flock of Galahs, a swirling, chaotic mass of colour and noise. Life out here is both simple and spectacularly complex at the same time.
We now regret not taking the kids on the ‘big lap’ around Australia when they were younger. For many Australians, this is where they find themselves, a rite of passage when they are young, or a last bucket list challenge for the retired. The lessons learned and friends made last a lifetime. As long as this is a popular tradition, I remain hopeful about our generation.
We find even the short trips up to the tropical National Parks nearby stick in their minds. The snakes, goannas, rock slides, waterfalls and march flies. This is life …for real. We even climbed a volcano one trip. It was extinct of course, much to the kids’ disappointment.
It was funny to see our kids that are often ‘so bored’ at a home (which incidentally is full of typical first world electronic entertainment devices) spending hours jumping into a creek off a platform. Jump in. Climb out. Jump in…ad nauseum. Nobody was bored…except perhaps for the supervising parents of course.
Like it or not, we still have to work. We can’t all be hermits living in a cave. But we can change our mindset. We don’t need to buy more stuff. We don’t necessarily need a bigger house. We can make decisions that are more considerate of the environment. We don’t need to mindlessly accept society’s definition of what is important.
For me, I often feeling like I am unravelling – trapped in a mundane 9-5 existence. As a cure for this, nothing beats hitting the road.
I’m realising how important it is to get our kids out there appreciating the wonder and importance of the ecosphere of which they are a part. The best part is that you don’t always need the latest 4wd or camping equipment. Plenty of people are doing it on a budget. Toss swag in your ute. Get a cheap tent and (and a good tarp). Got an expensive rig? Make the most of it. It’s
the most fun you’ll have with four wheels on the ground. Get it dirty. Get it scratched. Someone will run a key or shopping trolley down it anyway eventually, so you might as well get it scratched the fun way – out on the tracks.
Then some time in the future, you can lay back on your deathbed in that moment, smile and say “It’s been a great ride – We had some great times and visited some magical places.”