When I speak of Australia I mean northern Australia--the top tier of the continent, stretching from Cape York to the Kimberley. I worked there for parts of six years because other places, including Australia's south, seemed tame by comparison.
In its arid emptiness and rugged, sometimes quirky way of life the north reminded me of an earlier era in America's own outback--the dry, sparsely settled ranching landscape of Nevada, Utah and the northern tier of New Mexico and Arizona. But in Australia few rules applied. That appealed to me and I pushed my photography hard. Because of that there were some dangerous episodes.
The danger begins with the reptilian landscape. Bony mountains rise from rough skinned, defensive deserts. The defense is from the scorching, ever-present sun. In the Hall’s Creek cemetery on the edge of the Great Sandy Desert there is a tombstone with a not uncommon epitaph: Died of Thirst on the Tanami Track.
There were many ways to die in the empty outback of Australia. Twice I came close, both times under cyclones in small planes with scared pilots.
More common, and just as dangerous, was the ever-present possibility of bogging one's vehicle on the sandbars, beaches, and salt flats that beckon travelers. The northern coast is littered with rusted hulks of abandoned vehicles. Each skeleton tells a story.
We circled such a story one afternoon. Aborigines had bogged on a beach many miles from their village. The tide was coming in. Our pilot radioed for help. I photographed. I did so with misgivings because the Aborigines were in danger.
But there was never danger without beauty and that, for me, was the intoxication of Australia.