A sunburnt country
These days, the word epic can be, in my opinion, a little over-used. I blame TV reality programs for most of the over used words in today’s vocabulary. Not that I watch them, but you sometimes can’t miss the advertisements. Journey is another one.
But, when it comes to this trip, epic is really the first word that truly springs to my mind. As you read it, I’m sure you will agree, and will have a number of other equally impressive words that could easily be used as decriptors by the time you’re done.
Matt Williams from Matt Williams Photography recently completed a 9.5 week Australian adventure, covering an enormous 18,118km across some of this country’s harshest and most remote terrain.
With the red dust still clearly visible on his swag, and that wistful look in his eyes a sign that he still wanted to be out there, I sat down with Matt to get him to reflect on some highlights of the trip.
[su_quote] “But it was in Australia that I gained my first impressions of the beauty of the world, and it was the Bush that taught me.” ~ Tom Roberts[/su_quote]
Planning a road trip through the Australian outback
Driving through the Australian outback is an enormous undertaking. Why did you want to do this?
It’s somewhere that I have always wanted to visit. After being involved in the 4WD industry for over 10 years, and hearing all the stories of travelling through the desert, I knew that I just had to get out there and see it for myself.
I’m a photoholic, with a serious addiction to my camera, so the desire for me to capture the amazing landscapes of Central Australia has always been high on my list of “Things I need to do before I die!”
I’m also an avid camper and 4 wheel driver with an adventurous spirit, who loves nothing more than the wide open spaces. Exploring ones own country is also something that I am very passionate about. The places that I went to on this trip, will never be seen by the majority of the Australian population.
18,118km is a huge distance. What were you travelling in?
My wife and I went in a 76 series Land Cruiser Wagon, that was fully equipped and upgraded to meet the daily rigours of travelling through some of the most remote and harsh landscapes this big brown land has to offer. We were like snails, with our home on our backs, carrying everything that we needed for up to weeks at a time, without the luxury of being able to replenish fuel, food and supplies.
I imagine there’s not much accommodation out there. So what were your sleeping arrangements?
As I just said, we carried everything on our back, or at least the Cruiser’s back. We had our swag on the roof rack, and at the end of every day, we needed to get it down off the rack and set it up. If it looked like it might rain, we had an awning that was mounted off the side of the roof rack that was pretty quick and easy to set up as well. When morning came, we packed it all up and hit the track.
You would have seen such incredible sights. I know it’s always hard to pick highlights, but was there one thing you loved the most about the trip?
Without a doubt, one of the highlights, because there were many, was our visit to Uluru. To be totally honest with you, before this trip, I didn’t really believe in magic. I know there are some pretty good illusionists out there, but magic?
After visiting Uluru, watching sunset, and then watching this big lump of red rock start to glow like there was a fire burning deep inside it, well, it’s just like magic. It really needs to be seen to be believed. It isn’t something that can be described. It needs to be witnessed first hand. Once you visit yourself, you will know what I mean!
Now you’re a savvy outdoors and 4WD person, but this is the tough outback. What are the greatest challenges someone may experience on a trip like this?
The biggest challenge that anyone may experience on this trip is the isolation. The fact that you are generally so far away from anything! The planning and logistics of a trip like this is not something you can do in a couple of weeks.
I spent the best part of four months planning and preparing for this trip. From organising permits from the Traditional Owners (permits to traverse are required for a lot of the tracks we travelled), to working out where we could get fuel, water and supplies, and places where we were going to camp for the night. In the outback, your closest re-supply point may be more than 1000 km away!
Tips for planning a road trip through the Australian outback:
• Make sure your vehicle is in A+ condition and take spares (belts, hoses, shocks etc).
• Make sure you and your passengers are in A+ condition.
• Don’t overload your vehicle.
• Top up your fuel tanks whenever you can. It’s a long way between service stations out there and you don’t want to run out.
• Have good quality Light Truck (LT) Construction tyres, and have two spares.
• Ensure you have proper communications. I’m not talking about mobile phones either. The only thing a mobile phone is good for out here is to wake you up for another cracking sunrise! A UHF radio is the minimum, but with a very small working range, these can’t be relied upon in the case of an emergency. A Satphone is a much better option, and can be hired from various outlets. An EPIRB is another item that should be in your 4WD, along with a good quality fire extinguisher.
• A full complement of recovery gear is also vital, and really, this gear should never leave your 4WD.
• The ability to carry enough water for all occupants is critical.
• Last but not least – your camera! You want to be able to take some awesome photos to make all your friends jealous when you get home. Oh yeah, and to post on Instagram!
The beauty of outback Australia
The interior of Australia provided Matt and his insatiable appetite for photos plenty of great content. With around 30,000 images taken during this trip, he looked at me a little strangely when I asked if he could pick some of his highlights.
It was a difficult task but he managed to do it. So please, take some time to now pore over the beauty and diversity that is outback Australia.
Before I set out on this Epic Aussie Adventure, I wanted, above all else to see one of these little critters. Not being a wildlife photographer, I really had no idea how easy or hard that would be. So, to think that I saw this guy towards the end of only our 3rd day on the road, I was pretty pumped. As it was, I drove straight over the top of him, as he was right in the middle of the track. A quick stop and a grab of my camera, I was lucky that he was exactly where I had seen him. All up, we saw another two on our travels.
A windmill at sunset is one of those images that just screams the Aussie bush to me. After a big day on the Canning Stock Route (CSR), the sky exploded with colour at our camp at Well 33 near the aboriginal community of Kunawarritji. Kunawarritji is the only community along the CSR between Billiluna in the north and Wiluna in the south. A distance of around 1700 km.
Being a Queenslander (on the east coast of Australia) I don’t get to see the sun drop into the ocean very often. So when we made it all the way to 80 Mile Beach on the west coast, there was no way in the world I was going to miss sunset. We were joined by about another 200 travellers and holiday makers down on the beach as we enjoyed a cold drink before heading back to camp for dinner.
The Wedge-Tailed Eagle is a sight to behold at any time of the day. In the early morning light, perched in an old dead tree – it doesn’t get much better for me. I stalked this guy for about 10 minutes, inching closer and closer before finally spooking him. But it was ok, I got the shot that I wanted.
Some of the tracks are so bad in the desert, that after awhile, new tracks are made next to the existing track. This process continues and continues as can be seen here on the Gunbarrel Highway in Western Australia. This highway is notorious for endless corrugations that are so bad that your fillings can fall out! Not to mention the pounding that your vehicle takes.
My absolute favourite time of the day. Sunrise. I’ve always been an early riser, so it’s never a hassle for me to get myself out of the swag in anticipation for what the new day holds. Add in some puffy clouds, and I’m in my happy place. This shot was taken on the Connie Sue Highway, just to the south of Warburton, WA.
Australia’s apex predator, the dingo, can be found all through the deserts, and can be a somewhat elusive animal to photograph. Thankfully we ran in to this guy. And I mean that literally! Well, we nearly ran in to him. We rounded a tight corner, and there he was right in the middle of the track. After a couple of seconds, he casually moved off the track, heading towards the drivers side. Luckily, I was driving, so I grabbed my camera and fired off a few frames before he headed in to the spinifex.
Being a bit of a weather nut (which dovetails nicely with my photography obsession), I couldn’t believe these clouds as we headed south towards Neale Junction, where the Connie Sue and Anne Beadell Highways intersect. It was as though the clouds were trying to mimic the corrugated track we had been driving along all day. The rich red dirt is so very typical of the colour of the soil in the Australian deserts.
Apart from seeing all of these wonderful landscapes and amazing wildlife, it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as good if I wasn’t sharing it with my awesome wife. Watching sunrises like this on the Trans Continental Railway Access Track are best shared.
Prior to heading away on this trip, I purchased a drone. The different perspective that this device gives me just blows me away. In the South Australian section of the Great Victoria Desert, there grows the most amazing areas of spinifex. These can only truly be appreciated from above, as the plants grow in circular formations from the centre out.
The dunes of the Simpson Desert just go on forever and ever and ever. Some reports state that there are over 1100 north-south running dunes alone. When you get to the top of one, stop and get out of your 4WD. Regardless of which way you look, there are sand dunes. In the early morning and late afternoon, these dunes typify the colours of Central Australia.
A tough but beautiful place
Whether you are an Australian or not, one fact will never be argued. The Australian continent is massive, with so much of it virtually inhabitable, and other parts incredibly difficult to live in, or traverse. For those who live in the bush or outback, life is significantly different to the lives lived by those on or in close proximity to the coast.
The outback holds a rare and unique beauty, unlike any other part of the world. It’s what interests, intrigues and sometimes frightens Aussies and visitors alike.
It’s a land of vast contrasts, tied together with some of the most wonderful people you will ever meet in the world. It’s my home, it’s a home I’m proud of, and it’s the place I always love returning to after any overseas adventure.
I haven’t ventured into the outback yet, but I am thankful that I have these stories and Matt’s images to inspire me, and make me wonder, in the meantime.
As a child, I learnt this poem by Australian writer, Dorothea Mackellar. Even today, these words still ring true.
“I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror –
The wide brown land for me!”
Note: Matt Williams from “Mattography – Matt Williams Photography” holds the copyright to all images in this article. The images are used in this article with his full permission.
Planning a trip to the outback? You’ll need items like this to keep you comfortable.