52 Journeys, Australia: No 2, Broken Bay, Part 1
So, you know how in 2019 I said I was going to start a new project to explore Australia? And I’ve only made one entry since then? Hmm. I have thought of canning the whole idea; even without Covid rearing its ugly head last year, I knew it would be tricky (my work, Coco in her final years of school, my poor old dad in the late stages of wretched Parkinson’s, etc, etc). But I don’t want to give up quite yet. I really, really want to explore this incredible country of ours. What about, I thought, if I fashion a second entry made up of a few trips I’ve made over the last six months to the Broken Bay area in Sydney’s north.
I started going up there in the second half of last year because I was craving escape and being in nature – especially water – in a way I’ve never done before.
Last year’s Black Lives Matter movement had also reignited my interest in Australia’s Indigenous people and our country’s recent dark history. Reading Julie Jansen’s novel Benevolence, and Kate Grenville’s The Secret River, both set around the Hawkesbury River and Broken Bay in the early 1800s, made me intensely curious about that part of Sydney. I’ve never been up the Hawkesbury but I was familiar with Broken Bay, in particular Pittwater. I knew it only as a beautiful place, not one where so much violence had taken place only 200 odd years ago – really not that long ago. I wanted to see it again with ‘new’ eyes.
So, while it’s not nearly as far away as I’d hoped for my second journey, I’m making Broken Bay No 2 in my 52 Journeys, Australia project, combining both my curiosity about the area’s past as well as my craving for escaping the city and being near water. It’s also a pragmatic choice, what with Covid still impacting travel and the fact that Coco is in her final year at school (can you believe it?!) and I don’t feel I can stray far from home.
We begin with my first brief trip up there, a recce to see what I could see, on a sunny Saturday in late August last year. After over an hour’s drive from the city, I headed first for the ocean side of Palm Beach to stretch my legs and wander around the rocks for a while.
(And a note about the various illustrations in this post that I’ve married some of my images up with, as diptychs: This marrying up of two images was my so called ‘signature’ style for my previous 52 Suburbs projects, and it’s something I enjoy doing. But this time I’m using illustrations, maps and etchings that I’ve found in various old books; I love old works like these and I just thought it would be fun. Fun is good!)
Palm Beach rock-hoppers
I respectfully disagree
When I turned around to head back to the car, I noticed the sky over the headland was filled with smoke, turning the water an eerie colour.
where there’s smoke, there’s fire – but where?
By the time I got over the Pittwater side of Palm Beach, it became clear where the smoke was coming from – Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park was on fire.
peaceful Pittwater no more
despite the smoke, it was business as usual
view of the fire from what must be one of Palm Beach’s oldest houses
I met a local firie, David, down at the wharf. He told me it was a hazard reduction burn and that it was all under control. While it looked anything but, he explained that they based it on wind direction and it was all going to plan. I wanted to get closer so I jumped on the next ferry to Patonga to do a round-trip.
I was totally captivated by the fire, wondering if it was a good or bad fire in terms of how it was affecting the trees and wildlife, and thinking about the way white Australia deals with fire versus the Indigenous cultural burns.
imagine the view of the burning bushland from that chopper
hope they got the memo
as we headed back from Patonga, you could see the huge plume of smoke rising over Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park
it looked like a volcano had exploded
what would they have thought?
or maybe not
not your average sunset
As David the firie had promised, it did all go to plan that day – I left when the fire was still raging but you could tell it was diminishing.
About a month later, I signed up for a guided walk in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park led by an Aboriginal elder, Laurie Bimson. I wanted to see how the fire had affected the landscape as well as learn from Laurie who’s passionate about helping white Australians understand Aboriginal culture better – in particular, how Indigenous Australians care for country.
I didn’t know it at the time but Laurie is a descendent of Bungaree, the respected Aboriginal man who acted as a mediator between the British colonists and his own people in the late 1700s, early 1800s. He moved to Sydney after conflicts with white settlers on the Hawkesbury River and went on to do incredible things.
To begin with, Laurie took us through the bush and showed us the famous ‘Red hands’ artwork, thought to be over 2,000 years old.
Laurie shows us how his ancestors made the artwork, Red Hands, by using their hand as a stencil and blowing red ochre over it
So how did the landscape look after the fire? There were parts that looked burnt out but they would suddenly give way to completely green, unaffected areas. I asked Laurie what he thought about this particular hazard reduction. “They did a good job, it’s a good burn, what we call a cool burn. They didn’t damage the bush. Within weeks the Xanthorrhoeas were coming up, seeds were opening. The burn they did after it at North Head though was terrible, it killed the bush, it’ll take years for it to recover. But this one was good.”
where the fire stopped
These first few trips made me even more curious about Aboriginal life. It’s a culture that’s literally in our own backyard, but one that I know so little about. It’s incredible to think that Aboriginal people lived here 60,000 years ago. 60,000 years! (And that only 200-ish years ago, it all changed for them, almost overnight. Can you imagine?) Indigenous Australians had – have – so much knowledge about the land, how to care for it, how to get what they need from it without buggering it up.
Anyway, that was my first two little trips to Broken Bay. More to come.
Dear Louise, What a ‘you beaut’ surprise. Welcome back. Sorry to hear about your Dad, I hope he is comfortable.
The fire photos around Pittwater are excellent. The afternoon light is dramatic and gets the message across.
Glad you enjoyed the surprise, Frederick. It was a surprise for me too – I didn’t think I’d hit the ‘Publish’ button on this blog draft but obviously I had! I better let other followers know. (And if you get an email from me, telling you about this blog post, just ignore, because you’ve already seen it.)
What a pleasant surprise to receive this email. I’m so happy to see your work again. I constantly refer back to your 52 around the world…it was an inspiration for me in my travels (pre-COVID) and my personal photography (my family is always telling me off for taking too many photos)
I love the diptych “what would they have thought”
I cant wait to see your next email (i know how hard it will be to juggle, i also have my last child in year 12)
Thanks so much for all that positive feedback, Mark, I really appreciate every word of it. Especially happy that I inspired you with your own photography – it’s so important to take the time to document our lives I reckon.
What a lovely surprise to stumble onto your new amazing blog after so long.
Your ‘Eye’ hasn’t dimmed!
How old is Coco now? Time flies!!
Looking forward to following your new journey.
Marc ( Shutterbug)
Hello Marc! Long time, huh? So glad you made your way here. Coco is about to turn 18… Yeah, shocking isn’t it? I really hope you continue to follow me on this new endeavour – it may take the rest of my days at the rate I’m going, but so be it!
The xanthoreas will now send up flower spikes after being stimulated by the smoke. When looked at closely the high spike is covered with millions of tiny cream coloured flowers. Worth photographing as well. I always enjoy your presentations and was surprised like the previous commenter. I’m going to travel Australia for about 8 or 9 months in 2023 with the intention of photographing the real Australia, not only focussing on nature but exploring the old country towns and old ghost mining towns. Look forward to more from you.
How amazing, Deb, to be planning that trip. Time will fly between then and now, as it always does, so please send me a link when you’re in motion. And yes, stay tuned for more!
Great to see you back, Louise! I got such a surprise when I saw your email – it’s been a while.
I can hardly believe Coco is in her final year! and I’m so sorry to hear about your father…
I’ve been looking at the Pittwater area online as a place I’ve often thought I’d like to visit, so when I saw what your post was about, I was extra thrilled. That walk with Laurie looked interesting. He’s so right about the burning – sometimes they get it right, and other times, so horribly wrong. I’m in the Noosa Shire, and we’ve certainly had our share of fires – the bushfires began when I live, in September 2019. It seems so long ago now, with fires raging all over the country, then flooding, and then a pandemic – it’s been quite biblical…
Your photos have been a joyous relief, as I’m still not going out yet. I really like the introduction of maps, illustrations, and more story. So nice. I must’ve missed the first of the 52 Journeys – I’ll see if I can find it. All the best with everything…
Thank you Cindy – it is lovely to be missed! And thank you regarding my dad – he’s no longer on the planet but nor is he in any distress, which is a huge relief. I’m so glad you enjoyed your virtual trip to Pittwater – there’s more coming soon, like soon soon, not next year! And yes, check back on my Blog page to find the earlier posts.
I was so excited to see your email in my inbox. Beautiful photos and your comments about being connected to the earth made me feel a bit homesick. I live in Singapore but am Australian and haven’t been home for over 12 months now. The longest period I have ever been away.
That’s tough, Lisa. I really feel for you. I know feeling homesick is a bittersweet feeling but I hope my posts can provide some comfort. (I spent a few years in Singapore growing up. I remember vividly looking through bushes at a kampong, seeing people cooking over a fire. Long time ago!) Next post coming soon…
I love the way Covid has driven us to explore closer to home than we would have otherwise. Your photos are, as they always have been, wonderful, and you’ve given this ferry addict another trip to enjoy some day. (You might be interested in the ferry trip from Brooklyn – https://riverboatpostman.com.au/)
I’m so glad you’re back, giving me reminders of places I’ve known in the past, and new places to relish. Although I found the fire images threatening after the fires that came so close to me in January 2020.
Meg, it’s definitely one of the good things to have come out of Covid, isn’t it? And what a country we have to explore! We’re so lucky in so many ways. I recommend that ferry trip – actually, any ferry trip around Pittwater and Broken Bay. Very beautiful.
Thank you for sharing such beautiful photos and I really enjoyed your writing in this edition.
Thank you Grace, so glad you enjoyed it. More coming!
Hi Louise. I’ve missed you. I love every one of your shots, they really show the essence of a bushfire over The Hawkesbury. You captured the light, as always, and I loved the dyptichs. This is my hood and they often burn off but to see it through your lens was fantastic.
So thank you!!
Ps Cocoa finishing school, five minutes ago she was a little girl in pigtails. X
Hello beachtropic! I remember you well from my first project. And thank you for missing me, it warms my heart I have to say. More soon! (And I know, Coco – ah well, she’s still a delight.)
Good to see you back again Louise and from one of my favorite areas. I’ll look forward to seeing your travels around the Hawksbury and I can remember a young Coco from your 52 suburbs launch at the Australian museum – how time has flown. Commiserations for your Dad too.
Thanks Gill, good to be back here, it’s one of my favourite places to hang out. That launch at the Museum of Sydney seems so long ago now – especially when I look at Coco back then and now. I thank my lucky stars that I decided to do all that back then – both projects, Sydney and round-the-world, were two of the best experiences of my life. And such a good age for Coco to do them at. (Although at the time, I worried that she was too old at age eight and would miss out on too much school – ha!)
Fabulous photos Louise! Great to hear your news and see your pics – you’ve captured the land beautifully. Gloria
Thanks Gloria! Very glad you enjoyed the images. Say hi to my map man for me!
So excited to read this news – have just talked about you and your work with a photographer friend and show your world-tour-book for inspiration. And now this 🙂 The pictures are amazing <3
Hope your dad and your familys situation is as best as possible.
All the best and thank you
Thank you Helga! How lovely to see your name pop up. I have such fond memories of meeting you in Berlin and just revisited my post on Hansaviertel to take a walk down memory lane. You were so kind and welcoming, thank you again. Do you still live in that incredible building? xx
Thank you Louise for a fantastic “local” story via photographs. I always enjoy your articles so welcome back! Looking forward to seeing more.
Thank you Diane, that’s so great to hear you’re happy to see something relatively close to home. More coming!
I’ve ALWAYS loved seeing your email in my inbox. Your eye for composition is always inspiring. Please keep going! Even if 52 journeys take years to complete, it’ll be worth it. What a great ‘rudder’ to have and to guide you through the many months ahead and to keep coming back to. Thank you.
Ah Jules, thanks a million for the encouragement. And I agree, even if 52 Journeys take years, so be it – if people get pleasure and inspiration from it, and I love doing it too, I will forge on!
Thank you so much, Louise. As always your photos and thoughtful juxtapositions are a pleasure and inspiration!
Thank you Claire. I’m so delighted to hear that. I miss making those juxtapositions, so it’s wonderful to be back doing it.
Welcome back, you have been missed!
Thanks so much Patricia! I love hearing that – I had thought, maybe they’ve all gone away. So lovely to know you haven’t.
So happy you’ve decided to continue your journey. My ‘Suburbs’ books are among my favorite.
Cannot even comprehend that Coco is nearly finished school! Omgosh!!!
Sorry to hear about your Dad.
I’m looking forward to seeing and reading more about Australia. Your last entry, and this one, are a great start. How incredible to meet a firie from the fire you saw and absolutely amazing to have gone on the guided walk with Bungaree’s descendant.
Looking forward to so much more whenever you can get out n about
Let me know when you’re in the West
Thanks Lisa, so glad you’re excited to be back on the road with me! (And thanks re my dad; he had a relatively long and happy life, and he’s no longer suffering now, so there’s a lot of relief to balance out the sadness.)
Your images of Pittwater are sublime Louise. We’ve just done a road trip to eastern Victoria and up the south coast. The bushfire recovery of the landscape is both intriguing and eerie to see first hand.
Looking forward to more of your travels 😉
Thank you Kate, so happy you enjoyed the images. That road trip must have been pretty wonderful – I’m itching to get out on the road again. And yes, it is something to witness the post-fire landscape, isn’t it? Hope the land is enjoying all the rain.
Me too. Lovely to have more rain this year. All we have to contend with is COVID and lockdown! All things must pass. As they say.
Hi Louise, how wonderful to hear from you again. Love the pictures, and the words – fascinating. Can almost feel the warmth of the sun and my toes in the water (I wish!).
Looking forward to more 🙂
Thanks so much Jess. And very glad I could give you a virtual taste of sunshine. More to come…
You’re back! 🙂 I really enjoyed reading this and looking at the stunning photos. I moved back to Europe 3 years ago and this really got me missing Australia; especially the wild, raw and beautiful nature. I’m glad you touched on the Aboriginal history, people and culture and felt I would have wanted to read more. Hopefully we’ll hear from you again soon.
Very happy I could transport you back here to, as you say, the wild, raw beauty of this incredible land. And I’m so glad you enjoyed the little bit of Aboriginal history etc. I’ll be back soon I promise!
Lovely to see you back Louise. Superb shots, loved them all.
Lovely to see your name here, Jo, and thank you – as you know, my idea of happiness is explore + photograph + share, so I’m delighted people are enjoying the images and story. More soon xx