The other night I had trouble getting off to sleep so I had a look at Australia’s National Broadcaster’s – the ABC – catch up TV service on the internet which is called iView. I was looking for something not too exciting, that would be soothing and comfortable. So I was trawling through the arts documentaries and I found a program called the Repair Shop and the one particular episode that appealed featured the restoration of a 1930’s portrait of Shihan Yukio Tani who is the man largely credited with introducing and establishing Japanese martial arts in England so I tuned in to watch. The history of the painting and its restoration was vaguely interesting but it was the location of the filming that was particularly engrossing. It was filmed at one of my favourite places – The Weald and Downland Museum in Singleton, West Sussex, England. The museum is comprised of a collection of fifty vernacular buildings from the south-east of England that were built between 950AD and the 19th century, along with gardens, farm animals, walks and a mill pond. I was last there in 1991 and so the the TV program was a huge nostalgia trip for me.
As a consequence I started thinking about the museum, the village it is based in and when I worked there in 1981. The next morning I scuttled off to look at my photo archive and find some pictures that I took on my last visit. It was really nice to revisit through those photos, it was almost like reliving the past. Gerry Badger the photographic curator and critic in his 2007 book “The Genius of Photography – how photography has changed our lives” said that there were “basically three photographic subjects – people, things and places” (page 131). So obviously my photos of the museum fall into the places category. However Badger goes onto quote from the American landscape photographer Robert Adams who said:
“Landscapes can offer us, I think, three verities – geography, autobiography and metaphor. Geography is, if taken alone, sometimes boring, autobiography is frequently trivial, and metaphor can be dubious. But taken together … the three kinds of representation strengthen each other and reinforce what we all work to keep intact – an affection for life” Robert Adams (p 154, Badger, G: 2007, The Genius of Photography)
The geography is simple the museum is located in Singleton which I’ve always regarded as the quintessential Sussex village. Well it was until the mega rich started buying rows of cottages and knocking them into one large house only then not to live in them but visit once in a blue moon. The village is roughly seven miles north of Chichester, the town where I lived from age 10 to 23, on the South Downs. The autobiography is that I went to work at the museum as a summer job in 1981 with my then girlfriend. She worked in the tearooms and I was a general dogsbody. It is the job I’ve enjoyed the most out of all the jobs I have done and I really enjoyed working with the people there. The dubious metaphor I suppose is that the museum presents an idealised view of what the ideal English village should be like – quaint old buildings nestled among bucolic rolling green hills inhabited by happy people. But all that doesn’t matter in many ways because to me it was and is a special place and the fact that 57 year old self still appreciates it as much as my 18 year old self is important.
If you have slightly geeky bent, and to be honest if you are reading a photography blog it’s pretty much a given that you have, then Adobe’s Lightroom has several useful tools. One of the ones I’ve been looking at is the ability to look at your photographic work for a specific time frame, and in this case it’s for the year 2016. You can also look at the cameras and lenses you used for that period which enables you to see what patterns of equipment usage emerge. It might ultimately save you money i.e. if you have a hankering for an expensive lens you can look back on your past year to see if that focal length/s you used and whether the objective lens of your desires is one you’d actually use or not. This has actually happened to me – a while back I was working on my project Broncos and Bulls and I felt that the Canon EF 75-300 f4-5.6 IS was costing me shots as it wasn’t the fastest lens to focus and the images at the long end were pretty soft. I wanted a Canon 100-400 L IS but my then preferred local dealer didn’t have one in stock and after waiting nearly 3 months they informed they couldn’t get one. I allowed them to talk me into buying the Canon 70-200 f2.8 L IS with the Canon x2 converter which they had in stock. Their logic was that I’d end up using the 70-200 much more and would hardly use it combined with the teleconverter. Now looking back through my Lightroom library I can see that I’ve hardly used the 70-200 at all on its own and virtually all the times I have used it was in conjunction with the teleconverter. I should have stuck to my guns and gone to another dealer and that way I’d have a lens that met my needs gave and gave good image quality rather than put up with a convenient compromise.
So what have I deduced about my photography for 2016? Well I’ll start with commenting on 2015 – for that year over half my photographic output was shot with a DSLR (50:50 split between full frame and APS-C). In 2016 that dropped to 10% the other 90% was shot on mirrorless. The DSLR was only used for some macro work (radio controlled TTL flash), some architecture (a specialised lens) and one event where I had a crisis of confidence and didn’t think the mirrorless cameras would cope with high ISOs and low light focussing. When I look at lens usage it comes as a big surprise that one-quarter of the images were taken using adapted lenses and these with a focal range of between 15-135mm in full frame terms. Hmmm well I knew I preferred shorter lenses than
longer already, the main thing is that I enjoyed using legacy lenses and was more than happy with them in terms of image quality. I don’t have to use legacy lenses at all as I have 20 to 600mm covered by modern dedicated AF lenses. For work where it is appropriate I will use the legacy lenses because they give a certain aesthetic that I like which is a less digital and clinical look.
Well what will 2017 bring. Well for 2016 I experimented with finding a certain look. For 2017 will be more project driven as I have found the style I wanted and now want to put it to practice. There will be at least one new book (work on that has already started) and there will be some multi media projects. So exciting times indeed.
I hope for my readers that 2017 will be all that you hope and that you’ll be healthy and happy.
Following hot on the heels from last week’s entry about MONA. David Walsh is not the first person to try to bring a bit of culture to the denizens of Hobart. Way back in 1842 Lady Jane Franklin wife of the governor Sir John Franklin felt that there was a “lack of cultural institutions” in Tasmania. She sought to remedy this with the help of the convict architect, James Blackburn, by building a classical edifice on the slopes of Mount Wellington set in 400 acres parkland. This building was to be the centrepiece of a botanical garden and hopefully instil some cultural aspiration into the good people of Hobart. Fat chance! The Franklins left Hobart in 1843 and the building and land were transferred to the Anglican Church, notably Christ College. After nearly 100 years of neglect by the church the building became an apple shed. Apples are very important to Tasmanians. The nice thick stone walls probably made it a very good store. In 1949 it was acquired, along with 5 acres of land by the Hobart City Council and then leased to the Art Society of Tasmaniawho are now using it as it was originally intended.
The pearl in the Avon Valley, York is approximately 100 Km east of Perth. First settled in 1831 it is WA’s oldest inland town and it prospered as an important agricultural centre. The Gold Rush saw York become an important commercial centre and fueled its rapid growth. Many of York’s historic buildings date from this era and it is the number of intact Colonial and Federation buildings that has earned the town its National Trust classification of historic town. The main focus of activity is Avon Terrace and walking along it is like stepping back in time. The town hall was built in 1897 and was renovated in 1911 to give it the large and grandiose Romanesque entrance hall that is seen today. Next door is the Imperial Hotel opened in 1886 and is a particularly fine example of a railway hotel. It was the first two storey commercial building in York to be made out of local stone.
The Castle Hotel , just a little further up Avon Terrace, has the distinction of being the oldest inland hotel in WA and was built by ticket of leave men from the York Convict Hiring Depot in 1853. Other significant buildings on Avon Terrace are the Courthouse and Gaol Museum and Settlers House .
Also on the terrace is the York Motor Museum which houses the Peter Briggs collection of one hundred and fifty vehicles that range from an 1894 Peugeot to a Williams FW07 which Alan Jones drove on his way to becoming the 1980 World Grand Prix Champion. The Residency museum on Brook Street ((08) 9641 1751) is all that remains of the original Convict Hiring Depot which was built in 1852. In 1867 the building became the residence of the colonial governor and now houses an interesting museum. Close by is the old hospital building which opened in 1896 in response to a cholera outbreak in the Goldfields.
In spring the surrounding areas of York become festooned with a huge variety of wildflowers, many of which can be found on the roadside verges. If you wish to see more prolific displays the main wildflower sites are:
Mokine Reserve has great many different species of wildflower with silky blue orchids, white spider orchids, donkey orchids, leschenaultia, and fringed lily being just a few.
St Ronan’s Reserve just off the Great Southern Highway does not have the density or variety of Mokine Reserve, but if you have time to walk around it will not disappoint.
Wallaby Hills Reserve off the Goldfields Road also puts on an impressive display including climbing fringed lilly, calytrix, yellow hibertia, rosy cheeked donkey orchids, paperlilly, peabush, cowslip orchids, and dryandra.
Mt Brown in York itself is also a great spot for everlastings and donkey orchids.
The roadside verges along Wambyn Road, which is a turn off from the Great Southern Highway, have blue leschenaultia, blue/purple dampiera, yellow/orange pea flowers, cowslip orchids, Donkey orchids, everlastings, white candle flowers, kangaroo paws, fringed lily flowers, and running postman creeper.
Beverley is 130 Km east of Perth and is a quiet agricultural town with its own distinct character which has been created by the wide range of architectural styles used to build it. A walk down Vincent Street will take you from Colonial, to Federation, to art deco to a 1960’s geodesic dome. It all sounds a bit of a hodge podge but it really hangs together well. There is a collection of farm machinery at Ferguson’s Machinery Shed on Hunt Road that recalls Beverley’s by-gone years as an important agricultural hub.
The Railway Station was designed by George Temple-Poole and built in the Victorian Tudor style in 1886. It ceased to be a working station some years ago and has been renovated and converted into an arts centre. The Beverley Art Collection is on permanent display, there are resident artists, workshops and an outdoor theatre. The Dead Finish Museum was originally a hotel of the same name, its displays give an insight into what life was like in the early days of the district.
Outside of town are the Yenyenning Lakes which are a haven for birdlife and used for water sports, for directions ask at the Visitor Centre. Also out-of-town is Avondale Discovery Farm which has an 1850’s era homestead and is a working farm run by the National Trust using historic agricultural machinery and techniques.
Beverley Ester Art Exhibition – a very popular event which attracts lots of visitors to the town.
Beverley Clydesdale and Vintage Day has demonstrations of horse-drawn ploughing and vintage tractors and is held at the Avondale Discovery Farm in June.
The Great Southern Working Sheepdog Society Finals coincide with the above event and are also held at Avondale.
Beverley Agricultural Show is a real agricultural show. There are jam and cake competitions, pony events, tug of war, competitions for the best poultry, sheep, and cattle, and displays of country crafts. It is held in August of every year.
Beverley Harvest Festival at Avondale has displays of historic harvesting methods, working dogs, local produce to taste all capped off with music and dancing.
The Avon valley was officially discovered by Ensign Dale in 1830 when Governor Stirling saw that the newly established Swan River Colony was going to starve unless it found some decent arable land. Of course the Nyoongar people knew about its existence all along and the upper reaches of the Avon were very important to their dream time stories. As we drive out of Perth on the Great Eastern Highway it’s difficult to imagine how hard it was for Dale all those years ago. What takes us an hour today in a car took him nine days of sheer heart breaking slog. The going was so bad that his horses became bogged in mud and it took all day just to travel one mile or 1.6 Km and he named one spot the Vale of Misery. Ensign Dale opened up a parcel of land the size of Tasmania, although in many cases it was not until the 1860’s that the townsites were established. In the tradition of Nineteenth Century explores he named many of the places after his friends, family and places back in England where he grew up.
Ensign Robert Dale of the 63rd Regiment of Foot is perhaps one of the great unsung heroes of early colonial exploration. Everyone remembers Burke and Wills, and Leichhardt because they lost their lives and that heroic failure mythologized them. Ensign Dale’s exploration and surveying of the Avon Valley, the Canning River and Mount Barker region was of vital importance to the survival of the early settlers in Western Australia. His survey of King George’s Sound in Albany was considered an important work then and is seen as an important artistic and historical document today. While undertaking this achievement he never got lost, he did not loose any men and he maintained excellent relations with the local aboriginal population. In total he mounted seven official expeditions and the journals from them were published in 1833. He was appointed to the post of temporary assistant government surveyor and promoted to the rank of Lieutenant. He acquired a lot of property with two town allotments in Albany, a thousand hectares in York and a further 750 hectares in the Swan Valley. But as quickly as his star had risen it fell. He was placed under virtual house arrest by his commanding officer in mid 1832. Soon after he became embroiled in the ugly saga of Yagan’s murder where he was ordered to take Yagan’s pickled head back to England and explain the situation to the Colonial Office and they stripped him of his rank of Lieutenant. Disenchanted Dale resigned from the military and went into business with his brother Thomas importing mahogany. In 1853, at the age of forty-four, he died of tuberculosis in the English town of Bath on the banks of the River Avon.
Today tourists drive out to the Avon Valley to see historic heritage towns, atmospheric homesteads, rocky outcrops and to picnic along the banks of the River Avon. A pleasant spring time trip would be to drive out to Toodyay and then follow the Avon down through Northam, York and Beverley returning to Perth via Westdale and the Brookton Highway. If time permitted you could arrange to stay overnight in Northam or York to get the most out of the trip.
85 km northeast of Perth Toodyay was settled in 1836 and named after the Nyoongar name for the area “Duidgee” which means place of plenty. The original townsite was prone to flooding so it was abandoned in the 1850’s and relocated 5 km and renamed Newcastle. In 1911 the name was changed back to Toodyay because people confused Newcastle in WA with Newcastle in NSW. The Heritage Council of WA list over one hundred places of historical significance in or around Toodyay. Some of these are:
Newcastle Gaol – this was constructed in the 1860’s using convict labour in response to Moondyne Joe’s repeated escapes .
Connor’s Mill on Stirling Terrace was built in 1870 and was as the name suggests a flour mill, it was then converted into an electricity generating plant, and is now the Toodyay Visitors Centre.
Toodyay Post Office – designed by George Temple-Poole and built in 1897
Toodyay Fire station – designed by Ken Duncan and built in 1938
Toodyay plays host to several events throughout the year, the major ones are:
The Moondyne Festival is held on the first Sunday of May and celebrates Moondyne Joe’s life with re-enactments of Colonial life.
The Festival of Food coincides with the Avon Descent and provides culinary delights from all over the world, cooking demonstrations and free entertainment.
Theo’s Run is a convoy of classic cars and motorbikes that starts in Midland and travels to Dowerin via Toodyay.
Toodyay’s Moondyne Festival is the story of Western Australia’s favourite Bushranger, Joseph Bolitho Johns, aka Moondyne Joe is a classic case of where truth is stranger than fiction. Transported to WA as a convict, given a ticket of leave and released, some would say that Johns was a victim of society while others would see him as a recidivist, but what ever your viewpoint it is a fascinating story of a man who is hard done by, has a disdain for authority, who makes repeated escapes from custody and ends up spending his last days in Fremantle Asylum suffering from dementia.
The Toodyay Moondyne Festival has Joe and his gang running riot in the streets of Toodyay. He holds people up, consorts with floozies, avoids the incompetent police and the annoying temperance ladies, is arrested, put on trial and escapes. With local people dressing up in period costume the end result is a gigantic al fresco pantomime with heaps of audience participation (chants of “Free Joe” and “Behind you” ). Alongside the theatrical mayhem there are bush poets, market stalls, displays from the 1860 Regiment, vintage cars and mustache and cleavage competitions. A brilliant day out for all the family.
Northam is 98 Km from Perth on the Great Eastern Highway and it is the largest town in the Avon Valley. With its central location in the valley it makes the perfect base from which to explore. Up until 1891 it was the poor relation to York, but this changed with the coming of the railway linking Perth with the Goldfields and the town became an important staging post. During the 1940’s and 50’s Northam became an important centre for housing displaced European refugees and migrants, in fact the Northam Accommodation Centre was the third largest such facility in Australia. By the time it closed some 23,000 people had passed through its gates. There is a photographic exhibition telling the story at the Northam Visitor Centre. There is a historic town walk that enables visitors to experience the town’s history, some of the significant places on the trail are Morby Cottage – home of the founder of Northam and built in 1836 – and the Old Railway Museum which was built in 1886. More details for both venues can be had by contacting the Visitor Centre. The town hall on Fitzgerald Street is a wonderful example of concrete carbuncle architecture from the 1970’s.
Northam is also the eastern terminus of the Kep Track a 75 km long mountain bike and walking trail that starts in Mundaring and follows the water pipeline the engineering genius CY O’Connor built to take water out to the Goldfields of Western Australia. The name Kep comes from the local Nyoongar word for water. The Golden Pipeline Heritage Trail follows the pipeline in its entirety all the way from Mundaring Weir to Kalgoorlie 650 km to the east, and it also passes through Northam.
Northam is the staring line for The Avon Descent, which was first held in 1973, and there were only forty nine competitors. The event has grown so much now that this year there were over 800 competitors and 2000 plus support crew. In more ways than one it deserves the title the “world’s greatest white water event”. The 134 km two day event starts at Northam and finishes at the Riverside Garden in Bayswater with an over night stop at the Boral Campsite just outside Toodyay. For the majority of entrants the aim is just to complete the course, but for the elite athletes it is a chance of competing in a unique endurance race. The race happens on the first weekend of August every year. It kicks off on the Friday night in Northam with a float parade and firework display. On Saturday morning the event kicks off proper.