This evening I attended the opening of Sharon Jack’s ‘The Way It Is’ exhibition at the Port Hedland Courthouse Gallery. As soon as I entered the Gallery the vibrant colours surrounded me, drawing me in to look more closely at these beautiful pieces. Having lived in the Pilbara and travelled through the Kimberley, I could relate to the subject of Sharon’s work. I felt like I was outdoors, standing with my bare feet in the Pindan or in a cool pool of water.
Sharon Jack and husband Bob.
Crowds enjoyed the way in which Gallery staff presented Sharon’s art.
The exhibition was enjoyed by young and old alike.
This exhibition is definately a must see and runs until the 29th August!
Thank you Sharon for sharing your amazing talent
Earlier in March, the journeying of creative minds through the vast Pilbara landscape continued as internationally renowned writers Barry Lopez, William (Bill) Fox and Mark Tredinnick, landscape portraitist Larry Mitchell, photographer Paul Parin and FORM facilitators, Mags Webster and Carolyn Karnovsky descended into the gorges of Karijini and wove through kilometres of dusty roads up into Millstream before hitting the cooler shores of the Pilbara’s west coast.
For Barry, Bill and Mark this was their first Pilbara experience. How fitting it was that it started at the tiny, quintessentially ‘outback’ airport at Paraburdoo. As we stepped off the plane and into the enveloping wall of heat and ducked our way past giant, flying grasshoppers into the arrivals shed it was clear from the wide eyes and huge smiles of our intrepid travellers that the adventure had well and truly begun.
After loading our gear into the back of a couple of utes we hit the road (keeping an eye on the bags and backpacks that threatened to bounce off the back of the tray), arriving in Tom Price just before sundown.
That evening the true conversation began over the experience ahead of us. What would we see? Who would we meet? How would the experience change us?
Our first full day started at a bleary-eyed 4:30am which, despite being difficult for some, was well worth it for the incredible dawn light that welcomed us as we entered Karijini National Park.
Guided by Paul (a frequent visitor of the Park) our first stop was Oxer lookout to take in the breathtaking views of the junction point where Red, Weano, Joffre and Hancock Gorges intersect.
With the promise of a cooling dip, we descended the rocky steps down into the prehistoric terrain of Weano Gorge. Cameras and notebooks were packed safely away as with both hands we gingerly navigated the slippery rocks and ‘abseiled’ our way down into the black waters of Handrail Pool. Our reward for exploring Karijini during the searing summer temperatures was being able to swim in the pool which at other times of the year is cold enough to warrant wearing a wetsuit.
As tempting as it was to continue floating in the pool all day, we slowly snaked our way up and out of Weano Gorge (taking one or two breathers along the deceptively steep steps) and continued down into the rocky amphitheatre of Kalamina Gorge.
After a short visit to the lookout over Joffre Gorge we continued to what would be the highlight of the day- Hamersley Gorge. Nothing can prepare you for the dramatic colours and the complex patterning of the rock faces caused by millions of years of complex geological forces. The purple hue of the surrounding rocks is quite astonishing and something that can’t be captured on camera, despite even Paul’s best efforts.
With the heat of the day and muscle fatigue finally taking its toll, we finished the day with another swim before heading back to Tom Price for a solid night’s sleep.
Day two began at a much more leisurely hour and by mid morning we had reached the top of Mount Sheila for an unforgettable morning tea, courtesy of Elaine and Frank Argaet (graduates of FORM’s P.H.otography workshops).
Elaine and Frank are Tom Price residents and kindly offered to be our guides for the day, taking us along the private road that connects Tom Price to Millstream-Chichester National Park. The road is long and unless you’re Car One in the convoy, very dusty… What met us when we finally reached Millstream was a lush wetland oasis, springing from an underground aquifer and fringed with date palms and paperbarks. The water, which is fed from the Fortescue River through porous dolomite rock, is crystal clear and luminous, shimmering shades of turquoise and vivid green. The site branded any of us speechless for quite some time as we all took a quiet moment to take in the majesty of the place.
By late afternoon we had reached the Dampier coast, welcoming the sea breeze that we had been without for the last three days.
By Sunday we had reached the midway point in our journey and in many ways, this was the day that really connected the experience for the group. We had journeyed from the centre of the Pilbara where much of the State’s resources are extracted and followed the ore trains and gas pipelines to the coast, arriving at the Dampier Archipelago to see the huge port operations which ship these resources offshore.
Our tour of the Dampier Archipelago started with our local guide, Shane Peters taking us to the Burrup Peninsula to view the area’s rich repository of Aboriginal rock art. The Archipelago is considered to have the largest concentration of rock art in the world, estimated at perhaps a million petroglyphs.
Our tour of the Dampier coast continued by boat taking us through the calm waters of Mermaid Sound to Malus Island, a barren place stripped bare of all its trees during its operation as a whaling and pearling station in the 1870s. Many of the islands that we passed through Flying Foam Passage are stark in their beauty. Jagged rock faces tumble into the water, occasionally softened by mangroves or the white sands of a secluded bay.
By Monday we had farewelled the Burrup and were starting to make our way towards Port Hedland, taking in Cossack, Point Samson and Roebourne along the way. But first, a mandatory stop at the Pilbara Perk in Wickham. This cafe provides the best cup of coffee and blueberry muffin in the whole region – official! Owner Ross Wall was on duty and he impressed our dust-stained panel of judges (as everyone knows, coffee is the fuel creativity – well, it is for some of my FORM colleagues), all of whom, since leaving Perth, had been hanging out for the real deal in caffeine.
The ideal place to work off the subsequent buzz proved to be Cossack, a place which invites contemplation, so literally does it spirit the visitor into another age with its gracious buildings and solid masonry. Established in 1872 at the mouth of the Harding River, Cossack was the birthplace for the West Australian pearling industry and was a bustling port for some years, gradually declining over the turn of the last century until it was abandoned in the 1940s.
Next stop the town of Roebourne, and Roebourne Art Group. This dedicated collective of talented Aboriginal artists was established in 2002, and through beautiful paintings it produces profound commentaries on the changing landscape of this part of the Pilbara.
Lunch was in the lovely coastal village of Point Samson. And it was very good. If blue bone groper is on the menu, order it.
A final detour in the area took us to inspect The Claypans Project just outside Roebourne, a massive earth/art project designed and executed in the middle of 2009 by artists Arif Satar and Audrey Fernandes-Satar and around 400 local schoolchildren. Now beginning to degrade and disintegrate back into the landscape as originally planned, this bas-relief sculpture still has the power, even in the bleaching light of the afternoon, to cast shadows which trick and intrigue.
On arrival in Port Hedland (via Whim Creek and the ‘hello Harry’ cockatoo at the pub) we embarked on a sunset boat trip around the harbour. The hulls of container ships reared up in the gathering dusk, and we speculated on the size of the crews required to pilot these titan vessels. In these days of computer-aided ‘everything’, probably fewer than one would imagine. After all the natural wonders we had witnessed over the last few days, these testaments to human engineering and design, as much as the cargo they were designed to carry, were a stark reminder of what happens to the stuff that comes out of the ground where we had so recently been walking.
It was perhaps no surprise that during the final day, there was a sense of ‘powering down’ as we all began to ease ourselves out of Pilbara time into shapes that would fit back into our usual lives. Goodbyes at Perth airport were quick, no need to blur them with any more words. We’ll save those for the time when the experience of the trip has settled, and some of its power can be translated. It’ll come in its own time, like the red dust, or better still, the water, working its way up through the many strata of consciousness, until it filters out into the air.
I have all just recently returned from an amazing cross country expedition through the Pilbara. My traveling companions consisted of 4 writers, a painter, a project manager and myself, one very humbled photographer. The shared experience that followed was truly unique and indeed very special as we all brought our different skills, perceptions and broadly different life experiences along for the ride. We looked, watched, tasted, swam and sweated as we traipsed from east to west and experienced a fairly broad cross section of what this dramatic Pilbara region has to offer.
More images to follow…
I wrote this a couple weeks ago, intending to post it, and just today realised that I neglected to do so. As many of you know, a group of professional photographers and students traipsed through the Pilbara maniacally taking photos – some of which have been appearing on this blog the past couple weeks.
It has been very humbling traveling with the group of photographers including Peter Eastway, Les Walkling, Tony Hewitt, Christian Fletcher and filmmaker Michael Fletcher. It allowed me to not only see through my own eyes, but also over the shoulder and through the viewfinder of these great imagemakers. I am trying to decide if it is a comfort or discouragement that even they at times had difficulty capturing what lay before us in the Pilbara.
Christian Fletcher, the fearless leader, is well known to many in the Hedland community from his workshops and many trips to the area. Knowing the area well, he brought together a superb group of photographers for this project. While there was great camaraderie and banter between the artists, there was definitely friendly competition as well. However, Christian was always there to make sure things didn’t become either too serious or silly. Forever the teacher, he would talk his way through the photographing process, with the students hovering around picking up his knowledge.
Les Walkling, scientist and intellectual, saved his energy by avoiding frivolous banter. But when he spoke, everyone listening dropped their jaw in either amazement or incomprehension. A great teacher like Christian, he navigated the balance between technical prowess and conceptual thinking more than anyone else I have worked with, and was more than happy to share this knowledge. When he took a photo, he also became a photo, striking an epic figure in the landscape.
Tony Hewitt was the hardest for me to photograph. Being primarily a portrait photographer, he would restlessly move in and out of the other people. Unlike the landscape photographers who set up in a prime vantage point, he would look for the stories in the land as though he were taking a portrait. A consummate mediator and generous of spirit, he always made sure the group was happy. This is why he is one of the most sought-after photographers and public speakers in Western Australia.
Like Tony, Peter Eastway was also difficult for me to track. He would immediately disappear when we reached a new location. After a bit of searching, he could be found in a prime location away from the others, discovering a sublime panorama or a gentle image of solitude in the vast horizon. He knew when he had a good picture, and didn’t waste his time if the light wasn’t perfect or the feeling wasn’t there. These skills of discernment help make him one of Australia’s best photographers, as well as publisher of two of the most important Australian photography magazines.
Michael Fletcher, like most great filmmakers, studies how the scenery unfolds. He can predict when something interesting is about to happen, and be at the perfect place to capture it. Always watching, silently listening, he looks for the subtle moments or dramatic events that a single frame cannot interpret. Working with manual focus, which is unique to many filmmakers, he is able to articulate the point between the vastness and intimacy of the landscape.
What reminded me I haven’t posted the above thoughts yet was that Mags from FORM just left for the Pilbara today with a new batch of professionals – two writers, a poet, a painter and another photographer. I look forward to seeing and reading what they experience. However, we will not forget the above mentioned photographers (and filmmaker), all of which promised to return to the Pilbara again soon.
I first arrived in the Pilbara after already spending most of the year traipsing the globe, my most recent sojourn being a leisurely three weeks sunning myself on the Greek Islands. Returning to winter in Perth left me restless. Seeking instant change and Vitamin D I migrated North to Port Hedland in search of warmer weather and a career in journalism.
I touched down on the late afternoon flight, met by my manager and an exquisite sunset - those in the know will tell you this is prime landing time in Hedland. What we see at ground level translates to ethereal in-flight views as twisted creeks snake through mangroves and the stillness of salt lakes meet with rough red earth.
Following a brief stop at my new office I found myself largely outnumbered by men – all orange and steel capped - at the local pub, perched on the waterfront and catching the cool sea breeze perfectly. With drink in hand (the house white in a plastic cup) I was introduced to ”the cricket boys” and had my vital statistics assessed: How long have you been here? How long are you staying? Got a boyfriend?
I was feeling a little out of my depth in my new surrounds, and when somebody handed me a grubby looking stubby holder to cool my drink the look on my face must have said it all. ”Ah she’ll never make it through the summer” said one particularly loud orange man. A challenge, “Oh I’m pretty sure I can handle a couple of hot days thank you.” Politely accepting, I slipped my plastic cup o’ wine into the stubby holder.
It was right then, with a determination to prove to myself I could “make it through the summer” in this dusty red town, my Pilbara adventure began.
When it comes to Port Hedland I wear my heart on my sleeve.
Over the past two years or so Hedland has become such a part of me that I’ve become immersed in this surreal place – so different from anything I’ve ever experienced. It’s ingrained in all of my senses: red dirt, mammoth skies, searing heat, sea breeze, the horns of trains and ships sounding in the dark, a horizon flecked with lights.
The pointed intersection of sand, red dirt, industry and sea fascinates me. As does the notion of the weather dictating everyday life – from November to March air conditioning becomes a luxury that we cling to as best we can, and come winter there’s barely a moment spent indoors as we try to soak up as much of the outdoors as possible.
For me the Pilbara engages an unabashed mix of beauty and brazenness that can leave me exhausted but always wanting more. Most people come here with the aim to leave but find themselves enveloped in an unlikely comfort that seems to make time go by with the blink of an eye. Perhaps this is the true meaning of ‘Pilbara time’ – the phrase originally coined to reflect the laidback attitude and diregard for real time that Pilbarians frequently display.
All I know is I came to Hedland for six months and more than two years later I’m still here…
The Courthouse Gallery was the place to be last Thursday as a 550-strong crowd turned out for the opening of ‘I took the time to look’: perspectives of the Pilbara and From Somewhere Else.
Both exhibitions showcase the wealth of local talent in Hedland with ‘I took the time to look’: perspectives of the Pilbara featuring images captured throughout the 2009 P.H.otography program and From Somewhere Else showing artwork by local artists Nicole Yardley, Leny Davis, James Reus and Pam Armstrong.
The night kicked off with attendees taking in the stunning works whilst enjoying a glass of bubbly or two – and squeezing into the photo booth in the Gallery gardens provided by BHP Billiton Iron Ore principal supporter of the Gallery and P.H.otography program.
Speeches by John Slaven Chief Development Officer BHP Billiton Iron Ore, renowned Western Australian photographer Tony Hewitt and Hon Norman Moore MLC highlighted the sense of town pride and appreciation of the Pilbara region that both exhibitions had captured with Tony urging the crowd to ‘take the time to look’ at their surroundings.
We always look forward to our opening nights at the Gallery – the chance to share the creativity of others with the wider community is an absolute pleasure and definitely a highlight in my time spent in the Pilbara. The Gallery becomes a hive of excitement and the positive energy of the experience is electric.
Since opening night we’ve had an amazing response to the exhibitions with people travelling from across the Pilbara to take in the stunning images and artworks on show.
Throw your arms around some of the most amazing people you will ever meet. The air is thick with heat and the scent of the sea. Mix up a Finucane Island Ice Tea, potent lovechild of too much fun and whatever’s in the kitchen. Clear some space for a makeshift dance floor. Let your hair stick to your skin. Pile in for a midnight road trip out bush. Swim in dark waters. A stubbie holder is essential.
There’s an unspoken camaraderie that can only be experienced by those living in the Pilbara – a ‘we’re in this together’ bond that ties each person to the next. It’s an inexplicable affinity that embraces you and leaves you breathless, wondering how you could have ever lived anywhere but here.
Feb. 1, 2010. Today is my first day of work. I recently joined the team at FORM out of desire to work in regional Australia. However, my prior experience traveling in Western Australia hasn’t brought me further North than the beaches of Dongara, further East than the farming communities surrounding Northam, or further South than the wineries enveloping Margaret River.
Previous to making Australia my home, I lived for a couple years in the Northern desert region of Mexico where I taught art at a University in Hermosillo. When I first entered Mexico, I considered myself primarily a painter, with photography playing a supporting role. After months of struggling to find my way with paint, photography soon became my dominant means to interpret the world around me. The sublime landscape was filled with contradictions, bending my logic of space, colour and texture. But rather than try capture what can’t be contained, my lens would find its way to the periphery, the small edges and ruptures appearing on the endless horizon.
Now after living in Australia for a couple years, the smell of oils and turpentine once again pervade my studio. We will soon see if the Pilbara air has the same affect on me as the Sonoran Desert.
Day 1: Not long after we landed in Port Hedland, the group of photographers and filmmakers spread throughout the port. The group includes Peter Eastway, Les Walkling, Tony Hewitt, Christian Fletcher, Michael Fletcher and local P.H.otography graduates Nicole, Simon, Faye and Judith.
Day 6: My first trip up to the Pilbara is beginning to wind down and this is the last day of shooting. I will be spending much of the day in the Courthouse Gallery, surrounded by the brilliant P.H.otography exhibit (‘I Took The Time To Look’ Perspectives of the Pilbara), which had a grand opening last night. Hopefully we will see a great showing for the ‘Meet the Photographers’ event tonight as well.