Five days in WA’s beautiful north west photographing four people for a character based tourism campaign – what could possibly go wrong?
Here’s a clue. Cyclone. Lua.
Day one went OK. If you don’t count the loss of a bag of light stands and a tripod. Claire the Client picked me up at the airport and drove us to Derby to photograph Donny Woolagoodja, a local elder and custodian of cave paintings. Leaden skies were of mild concern but all of the work with Donny was to be shot indoors at Mowanjum Arts. I suppose one should be grateful that Qantas managed to lose only the light stands and not the lights or camera, still, borrowing packaging tape to stick lights to pieces of furniture and a step ladder was an inauspicious start. The heavy rain that fell during the entire trip back to Broome was a welcome break for the people of the Kimberley and it was sure to abate soon. Never rains for long up there. We tried not to talk about it too much.
Day Two. Claire the Client arrived at the accommodation with her car, not the hired 4WD she’d planned to make the trip to Cygnet Bay in originally. We’re going to fly there instead, been a bit of rain, road could be impassable, weather OK at Cygnet Bay. No worries. Off we go in the Cessna. Flying very low. Leaden sky. It isn’t raining but the pilot wants to fly below the cloud so he can see where he’s going. The cloud base is 500 feet. That’s quite low.
When we got to Cygnet Bay we landed at an airstrip 20km from the destination, Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm. There’s another airstrip closer but it’s smaller and could easily get washed out. It didn’t rain until a few minutes after we landed and then only lightly.
Paula from Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm picked us up and said that the cloud will likely lift soon. I guess she’s right because it rained a little harder, it’s as if the clouds were trying to spit something out so they could finish up and move along. After we’ve driven down a muddy road for a while we wind up at Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm where we meet our second character, James Brown. Everyone agrees that it will clear up within the hour, it never rains for long in this neck of the woods. James hands round some raincoats and everyone takes their shoes off.
Claire the Client starts asking me hard questions about the clouds and Kimberley landscapes and photographs. Kimberley landscapes are traditionally depicted under blue skies. Sometimes there are Disneyesque clouds lurking a long way off. I tell Claire that the seascape backgounds we’re planning to use for James’ portraits will look good under cloud, you know, they’ll have a pearlescent quality. We chat about various tourism agencies’ cloud policies. All we need is for the rain to stop. No worries there as we’ve got all day and it never rains for much more than an hour up here.
James took Claire and I for a tour of the bay in a novel craft called Sealegs. We’re going to see where we’ll shoot when the rains stops. It’s actually a bit hard to see very far through the rain but James describes some of the features we would see if it was a bit clearer. When the Sealegs is going fast the rain stings our faces.
Back on shore we stand around and watch people going about their pearl farm business in the rain and mud. After a while our pilot lets us know that Cyclone Lua is heading for the coast south of Broome and that if we don’t head back now we might have to stay for two or three days. We go back to Broome. Flying back we pass over the coast. So much land is washing into the ocean that great sections of turquoise ocean are being stained red. I return to Perth and the good citizens of Broome batten the hatches for the cyclone which is due to hit on St. Patrick’s Day. The good citizens of Cygnet Bay count more than a few Irish among their number. It’s incredible what they’ll brave for a pint of Guinness and a spot of fiddle playing. They made it to Broome, but sadly the fiddler (who, by a strange co-incidence is my sister) was stranded in Perth.
James Brown with his son Dean at Shell Island
The images have been used at the core of a major web campaign and competition
by Australia’s North West
, the regional tourism organisation for the Kimberley and North Pilbara. Only half the story has been told but being ever mindful of your desperate need, dear reader, to get your nose back in touch with the grindstone we’ll draw the curtains on this episode. If you’d like the juice on the Kimberley sunny side up let me know in the comments. There are still stories to tell – what was in Hairy Dog’s esky? How delighted were we to sit around a campfire in 40° heat?
Larissa White , El Questro Station tour guide
Greg "Hairy Dog" Harman fishing on the Ord River