Oz01 - Adventures in the Australian Outback

Wendy Kwan

Wendy Kwan

Our Ansett Airlines flight touched down in Darwin Australia on the morning of  September 11 2001 (Aus time). Russ and I had travelled in Australia several times previously, visiting his family in the south, riding the “Ghan” from the red centre, and bicycle touring the Queensland Coast and the Great Ocean Road between Adelaide and Melbourne. We think of Australia as our second home – the people so warm and welcoming, and the land so unusual and surreal. For many years we had considered travel “across the top” through the most remote outback, but realized we would need to cover this land by 4 wheel drive, not bicycles!

nb: there are those who have “push biked” in the remote north – but a little too crazy for us and all our gear!!

That night at our hotel as we were preparing for an early night, we watched in horror and dismay as two airliners crashed into the twin towers in New York City. We didn’t get much sleep.

The next morning in a local café we briefly wondered if we should change our plans, but realized there was no reason to do so. Remote Australia seemed not a bad place to be actually.

The next day we picked up the 4 wheel drive “bush camper” – quickly named the “Britzmobile” – after the name of the rental company “Britz”. The Aussie adventure was underway, en route to Kakadu National Park, abandoning the catastrophic world events, knowing access to news would be spotty at best. In retrospect, an excellent decision.

The travels were incredible and included transit through both the Northern Territory (N.T.) and Western Australia (W.A.) Among the wonders we experienced:  Kakadu National Park - featuring amazing wildlife wetlands, the best Barra Burgers at Douglas Daly Van Park, the sweltering but amazing Butterly Gorge, mmmm -  macadamia nut ice cream, Magnetic Termite Mounds, boating on Katherine Gorge, heading west on the Victoria Highway to Lake Kununurra, a welcome afternoon respite next to a bird filled wetland at Parry’s Creek Farm near Wyndham, a short trip up the Gibb River Road, bumping across creeks in the Britzmobile to reach the Bungle Bungles is Purnululu National Park, the continual search for the next “espresso stop”, a visit to the “China Wall” near Halls Creek, kangaroo sausages, “mosies” and the most deet I’ve ever worn in a single night, a wonderful respite at the “Bali Hai Resort” in Broome – including our very own private deluxe outdoor bathroom, tropical fruit smoothies and the freshest baking at the Zoo Café, supply shopping at the Turkey Creek Roadhouse, Karijini National Park, Sunday roast dinner at the Mercure Hotel pub in Tom Price, the best scones and jam in the middle of nowhere, losing and finding the Britzmobile keys  while swimming in the Indian Ocean at Ningaloo Reef, lots of bacon and egg breakfast sandwiches, aussie roadhouse “pies”, the Hamlin Homestead tea stop, the “stromatylites”,  the other worldly Pinnacles, a rammed earth motel surrounded by eucalyptus trees in Norseman – complete with a roast chicken dinner and pavlova, sea shell laden beaches in the Cape Le Grand National Park, the Taylor St. Tearooms in Esperence, the wineries and cottage industries of Margaret River, a succulent lobster like fresh water creature called a marron – very tasty!!, the lighthouse at Cape Leeuwin in brilliant sunshine, Kauri trees and a tree tops walkway near Walpole, and reclimatization to more urban life in the seaside sister cities Freemantle and Perth. All in all we drove lots of rough road, forded rivers, observed bush fires, ate very well, and once again experienced the incredible inclusiveness of the Australian people, always feeling like we were amongst “best mates”.

Photographically, in the month prior to departure, I had taken an infra red photography course from a wonderful Vancouver instructor James Emler. I decided that the Australian Outback would be photographed entirely in infra red – it just felt right –likely based on my pre conceived ideas of barren lands and weird craggy shapes – coupled with relentless blinding sun. I didn’t take any other b&w films. Crazy? Probably. I had very little experience with the medium, but was determined. The most unfortunate aspect of the whole experiment was due to 9/11, we decided to have all our film processed in Perth. Unsure of new airport security measures neither Russ nor I wanted to take the risk. How often would film be x rayed? Would they still allow hand inspections?  I really didn’t want security opening all my IR canisters. I think we found the best b&w film processor in Perth, however, more than half the film suffered from “pinholes” – a problem often reported in Kodak IR film development. Choice of film developer and temperature may both play a role in the occurrence of the problem. Today with our home processing rituals I occasionally see pinholes in my Kodak IR but they are rare. Thankfully, there were enough good results to keep me happy.


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