Category Archives: Friends

Talking about portraiture with Patricia Coakley

A couple of weeks ago I was in the U.S. and I visited fellow blogger Pat Coakley, at her home. As we shot the breeze I brought up the subject of  portaiture photography and the sorts of images people put up of themselves on their blogs.

I mentioned that I find self selected portraits fascinating because they give such an interesting insight into the mindset of of the sitter. Often I see photos of female bloggers that to my mind show a preoccupation with their self image of themselves as sex objects rather than humans that happen to be female. A similar thing goes for many men with the added conceit that conveys an attempt to look either seriously “deep” or macho.

Now I know it’s human nature to feel exposed when displaying a photo of oneself and it takes a fair amount of courage to let down our defences and allow someone else the try and show a little more about ourselves to others. I’ve often thought that the higher the defences that a person presents, the weaker and more vulnerable they feel. As I’ve grown older, I’ve noticed that the people who “let it all hang out” are usually very brave confident people (either that or drunk!) and I’ve admired them for it.

I hold the advertising industry largely responsible for the mass negative self-consciousness I see exhibited in western society. Our self image is constantly under attack by businesses that want us to feel that we need to buy their products to feel better about ourselves. Like some kind of insidious water torture, the steady dripping of corrosive advertising messages is eroding away many of the fragile positive attitudes we may have of ourselves, to the point that a lot of us feel we can’t be photographed, “warts and all”. As a society we have been brainwashed into thinking that everyone else in our society has to find us sexually alluring at all times. The ad industry would has us believe that we are constantly on some kind meat market catwalk with the spotlight on us, and the rest of the society we live with is the audience of buyers.  

Crazy making stuff.

As I was ranting on along these lines, Pat asked me what sort of portraits did I think people should put on their blogs. My answer was, “a character portrait”.

By a character portrait, I mean a portrait that gives some kind of insight into the character of the sitter, rather than a fruitless (and to my mind, an excruciatingly embarrassing) attempt to cover-up and compensate for their ad industry created insecurities.

To my reply Pat said something along the lines of, “well then, take a photo of me to show what you mean”

So without allowing Pat to make any adjustments to herself I grabbed my camera and took a few shots right where we were sitting at the dining table.

patc

I always like taking portraits of people looking straight back at me. I’m of the opinion that it’s almost impossible to hide on one’s face, what is going on internally in one’s mind. Having a portrait is quite confronting for most of us and I love how when people look down my lens back at me there is usually a questioning openness in their expressions.

Pat gave me a look that appeared on the surface to be a mixture of defiance and vulnerability that intimated to me, “I’m trusting you here”.

Needless to say, I love the photos I took of Pat (even though the depth of field is a bit shallow) because they show her the way how I see her (it’s always going to be a subjective projection from my point of view). In the few days that I spent with Pat I received the impression that I was in the presence of an erudite and compassionate being.

The photo above is all eyes and mouth and in the kindest way I feel that sums up Pat. The eyes are always observing behaviour and soaking up beauty, while the mouth is often transmitting wisdom and insight.

Happy New Year from Sydney. NSW, Australia. 2011

I’ve been so slack with my blog lately.

I could always use the excuse that I’ve been caught up in the social whirl that is what the silly season is all about. I HAVE been socialising an awful lot of late, but that’s still not a good reason for not posting for so long.

Lately I’ve been wrestling with what direction this blog should go. One of the reasons why I have a blog is to practice writing about my early years of colourful stupidity. I know I have at least one book in me. The reason why I write about other subjects besides my past  is to show that I’m not a complete out-of-control-wingnut with poor impulse management. I guess the problem I have is trying to control how, many people are prone to pigeon-hole others. It’s just so easy to form a mental image of someone when you don’t have to use many words to describe them.

I once heard it said that autobiographies are just a self indulgent way to try to control how the subject is perceived and that biographies are much more relevant.

As I think about what direction I should take this blog, I’m constantly conflicted about how much I should expose. Then again, it’s such an act of hubris it is to think that anybody would be interested anyway. I have to admit that such thoughts are fleeting because of all the affirmation I get from my friends.

I think that friends not only enrich our lives, but they are also the benchmark by which we can measure how successful we are as human beings. It’s not success in one’s career or one’s finances that define us in a cosmic sense, but our relationships.

The last week has been a blur of feasting and drinking with good friends. One event after the other. In the short moments between engagements I’ve been catching myself counting my blessings. I feel so lucky on so many levels.

Yesterday I was at a new year’s day get together with one of my wife’s co-workers. I know most of Engogirl’s comrades in engineering and count them among my friends. As the evening wore on I got to hear many accounts of how people spent their new years eve. Sydney is famous for it’s new year’s eve fireworks. People come from all around the world to see the fireworks and each year the crowds get bigger. This year about 1.5 million people lined Sydney harbour to see one of the best and longest fireworks shows available anywhere on planet.

For the well heeled there are very expensive viewing positions but for most people, it’s a case of arriving at least 12 hours before the show to secure a good spot. Of course Sydney at this time of year is stinking hot and many people try to drink themselves into some kind of comfortable place. All along the foreshore in various parks are crowds of hot, sunburnt, inebriated people having a great time. The vast majority of people are in a splendid mood and there is a real party atmosphere.

Luckily for my wife and I, a friend of ours (Peter) has just bought a lovely house in East Balmain that has great harbour views and he invited us to his place to watch the fireworks in comfort. No cars are allowed in of out of Balmain after 3pm on new year’s eve, so we and Peter’s other guests (also our friends) arrived at about 2.30. Before we settled in, to relaxing with food and wine, we took the opportunity to have a walk around the nearby parks that overlook the harbour. Every vantage point had been taken hours ago and there were quite a few people already flaked out on the grass.

A multitude of foreign languages could be heard, and there were plenty of very happy light skinned northern Europeans working on character building sunburns.   

It was pretty easy to pick out the people who are used to living in such a hot and sunny place as Sydney.

The smart people just relaxed in the shade and saved the drinking for later.

Because of Peter’s invitation to his house, we were able to kick back in comfort, drink lovely wines and eat nice food as the day wore on. At one point in the evening, another friend of mine said to all of us at the table with a chuckle, “I wonder what the poor people are doing?” I replied to him, “some of us are sitting with their rich mates drinking their fine wines, in their beautiful houses!”  To which our host beamed with pride and said, “what’s the point of having all this if you don’t have friends to share it all with?”

[youtube 48ulv6KnRts] 

The spring of my discontent. Perisher, NSW, Australia. 2010

Last Saturday I was out skiing with my wife and friends on what was a beautiful day. I thought to myself, “it just doesn’t get much better than this”. The sun was shining and it had snowed the night before. In short, it was a perfect spring day to go skiing.

With such good conditions, it surprised me to notice that I was in a very bad mood.

At first I couldn’t put my finger on why. My wife, Engogirl picked up on my dark mood and asked me if there was something the matter. I said that for some reason, everything was bugging me and that it wasn’t anybody’s fault and that it was just a strange head space I was in at the time.

I was going to try and work things out in my own mind.

Since I hate the whole resort thing with the crowded ski lifts, the waiting in line while strangers ski over my skis and trash them, I go back-country skiing with telemark skis.

I’ve been skiing for years but I’ve never really learnt how to ski properly. Skis are basically long snow shoes for me. My balance is crap plus I have the added disadvantage that I’m not keen on falling at speed which means I dread going down hill. For someone who can’t ski well, I’ve done a lot of back country skiing and snow camping, but the deal for me is that skiing is a means to an end. I just like being out in the bush away from the crowds.

I know that for some people skiing is all about the physical activity and developing the skill. Not for me though, I simply don’t have the aptitude or the desire to get good at it. Generally I just like to get out and be in nature.

So why was I so pissed off on Saturday?

Maybe it was because my old leather ski boots (over 15 years old) had finally bitten the dust and all the new telemark boots are plastic, which I find anathema. I rented some older leather boots for the weekend and as I plodded along, thinking dark cranky thoughts, I felt a blister growing on my heel.

Then there was the cross-country ski instructor who made a point of skiing right up to my wife, and stopping to block her way to show his distain for our group.

What a wanker!

As the day wore on and the temperature rose, the snow became stickier and began to ball up under the my skis but the snow in the shady areas had turned to ice. The skiing experience was like a mixture of trying glide across fly paper and slipping on a banana skin. I was in a constant jerky state of almost falling over for most of the day. So very unaesthetic.

In summary, I was having a John Howard (our ex prime minister) of a day. Short and bloody irritating!

As each thing annoyed me I started to think about how I wanted things to go better than they were, on such a nice day and in such good company, then it struck me why I was having such a bad day.

I had broken with my usual habit of having low expectations!

The good company, beautiful day and surroundings had lulled me into thinking that I was going to have a great day and every thing was going to go smoothly. But as the day progressed all the little niggles added up to a general feeling of incoherent discontent that grew into a smouldering rage.

I should’ve remembered old Seneca’s warnings about how fortune’s favours never last and how we shouldn’t get our hopes up because that leads to disappointment and then onto unhappiness.

Stupiddy, stuppidy me!

Here’s a few short videos (a total of 24 minutes) by Alain de Botton about Seneca on anger.

[youtube hJ0g7IKWG7E]

[youtube bUxCL7hbQiA]

[youtube KFKBxDC8L9U]

Caro Emerald, “Just One Dance”

Thanks to Joost (a visitor to this blog) I’ve just found out about Caro Emerald. I think she’s fantastic and her music will be on my next order with Amazon.

[youtube gP1aiChsDk0]

Radio here in Australia is so abysmal.

Arrrggghh!
The tyranny of the majority and commercial concerns!

I’m so glad that I have friends with taste who can turn me onto new and interesting music. My wife and I are always on the lookout (or perhaps I should say listening for) non-mainstream (by Australian standards, which isn’t saying much) music, so if any of you out there think I might like something you’ve heard, please let me know about it and I’ll go and check it out.

Smoke from early morning campfires. Kanangra, NSW, Australia. 2010

Although the temperatures went below freezing during the night, my wife and I had an excellent time camping with friends at Boyd’s crossing in the Kanangra Boyd National Park over the weekend.

The photo above was taken in the morning while there was still frost on the ground. People were starting up their fires to cook breakfast. It was such a beautiful setting to share with friends and to have our favourite breakfast, huevos ranchero.

It doesn’t get much better than that!

Epicurus once said, “We should look for someone to eat and drink with before looking for something to eat and drink, for dining alone is leading the life of a lion or wolf”

X-ray Spex, The Day The World Turned Day-glo

I dedicate this video to Pat Coakley

I was discussing with Pat (via e-mail) how I like loud music, bright colours and spicy foods. In short, just about anything that couldn’t be described as moderate. We were also talking about consumerism, mental health (Pat is a retired psychologist) and cultural dissonance.

To me this song is a great adjunct to our conversation.

The singer Poly Styrene (real name, Marian Elliott) in the video below was misdiagnosed with schizophrenia and sectioned (put in a mental hospital) after having a vision of a pink light in the sky and felt objects crackling when she touched them. Turned out she was bipolar.

Turn the sound up and brace youself for one of the best songs to come out of the whole punk movement!

[youtube rSrOJ1ig6tI]

I clambered over mounds and mounds
Of polystyrene foam
And fell into a swimming pool
Filled with fairy snow
And watched the world turn day-glo
you know you know
The world turned day-glo you know

I wrenched the nylon curtains back
As far as they would go
And peered through perspex window panes
At the acrylic road

I drove my polypropolene
Car on wheels of sponge
Then pulled into a wimpy bar
To have a rubber bun

The X-rays were penetrating
Through the laytex breeze
Synthetic fibre see-thru leaves
Fell from the rayon trees

Flying pharmacologic first class. Tallong, NSW, Australia. 2010

Over the Easter long weekend, I met Shawn who is visiting Australia from the US. Shawn is an old friend and fellow anaesthetist of a friend of mine, Peter.

I always find doctors entertaining in social circumstances, and I love pumping them for information about things I probably shouldn’t know about. As a consequence, I had what I thought was a pretty interesting conversation with Shawn and Peter while we were hanging out at my in-law’s holiday home in Tallong over Easter.

Me: “So, Shawn, how was the flight over?”

Dr. “Shawn: Cattle class always sucks.”

Dr. Peter: “You should’ve flown business.”

Dr. Shawn: “I know, I know, but I just can’t justify it to myself, even though I can afford it.”

Me: “I hate economy and I dislike the fact that I can’t afford first class even more.”
“It’s so cramped and after a few hours my joints start to swell and ache.”
“Not to mention the tedium.”
“Surely as a doctor, you’d be able to prescribe something to make economy more like first class?”

Dr. Shawn: “Well, you wouldn’t be getting a script from me, and that’s for sure.”

Dr. Peter: “Or me for that matter!”

Me: “Don’t go getting all high and mighty with me you glorified meat plumbers!”

Dr. Shawn: “Look, the trouble is that probably the best drug to control the general pain from sitting in a seat for so long would be a narcotic like Endone.”

Dr. Peter: “That stuff is hillbilly heroin!”
“Although we may be friends, you won’t get me writing you any prescriptions for narcotics just so you can fly in comfort in the cheap seats.”
“Anyhow, the Endone would constipate you.”

Dr. Shawn: “Metamucil would help out there.”

Me: “So it’s only the rich and famous with their pet doctors who get to travel by air comfortably?”

Dr. Peter: “They’d have enough money to travel first class anyway.”

Dr. Shawn: “Having enough money to keep a doctor or two in your pocket can lead to death.”
“Look at Michael Jackson and Heath Ledger.”

Me: “So you wouldn’t help out about the general pain, but what about the joint aches and swelling?’

Dr. “Shawn: A Voltaren patch would work well.”

Dr. Peter: “You can’t get those here in Australia.”

Me: “So I guess you’d have to take the pills?”

Dr. Shawn: “Yes and I’d also say it would be worthwhile to take some Aspirin to counter the risk of deep vein thrombosis.”
“Trouble is that the Voltaren and Aspirin are hard on the stomach so I’d say Zantac would be worth taking too.”

Me: “Well, all that leaves is the boredom, and adjusting to the jet lag.”

Dr. Shawn: “The best way to pass the time would be to sleep and for that I’d take Stilnox although Lunesta might be better.” 
“Stilnox lasts for about 4 fours Lunesta works for about 8 hours.”

Dr. Peter: “You can’t get Lunesta in Australia but Stilnox is ok, and no, Razz, I’m not going to help you out there either!”

Me: “O.K., O.K. be that way!”
“But as a matter of interest, how much would this Pharmacological First Class upgrade cost?”

Dr. Shawn: “Under ten bucks.”

So there you have it, people. There is a way to fly long distance, comfortably and cheaply.

Unfortunately it’s illegal.

Happiness is a nice camera. Acinipo, Spain. 2009

For my wife, Engogirl, an interest in photography started as an act of retaliation to my photography. Let’s face it, photography is a crap spectator sport. My wife is as close to perfect as one could hope for and she indulges me in just about any way one could wish for, but watching me photograph things was beginning to pall.

I sensed Engogirl’s frustration in having to wait around for me to take my shots, so when I bought my SLR, I gave her the little compact camera that I’d been using to keep her amused.

Engogirl isn’t afraid of technology, as a matter of fact she actually likes reading instruction books (what’s that all about?!), so it wasn’t long before she was off and taking her owns shots. At first, I think doing something with a machine was what Engogirl found more engaging than the resulting images. I don’t think the images were as important as having something to do. After a while Engogirl discovered the pleasure of sharing her pictures with me. Luckily for me, my wife has a good eye and it was a joy to see her images improve over time.

By the time we went on our trip to Europe last year, Engogirl was really enjoying taking her photos, but then a fly settled in her ointment. Engogirl discovered the short comings of her camera. How come her clouds were all blown out and mine weren’t? How come, my shots had better colours than hers? Why was I able to get shots she couldn’t?

As technically minded as Engogirl is, being an engineer and all, she wasn’t all that interested in educating herself in yet another discipline. The idea of humping a big heavy SLR with a few lenses around with her all the time didn’t appeal either.

About one and half months into our trip, my wife’s camera started to play up. Many shots were coming out with thick magenta stripes through them. By this point, Engogirl wouldn’t dream of going out for the day without her camera, even though she was becoming disenchanted with it’s lack of capabilities. I though this situation was a good opportunity to lure my wife further into sharing my love of photography. I mentioned that I thought it was a good time for her to upgrade to a better camera.

Engogirl said, “but I don’t want to be lugging around a heap of gear like you”

Me: “We’ll get you something that is smaller”.

Her: “But it’ll be crap like what I’ve already got”.

Engogirl had a point. Most smaller cameras are aimed at “happy snappers” who would have a brain aneurism if they had to think more that a nanosecond before they took a shot. I then remembered my friend Paul raving about his Canon G9.

Paul is a card carrying, grade “A”, gear freak.

You name it, if Paul is interested in it, he’ll research the hell out of it and buy the best thing he can afford. I respect Paul’s opinions about equipment, be it photographic, camping, cycling or woodworking. So I suggested we get the G9 for Engogirl. We were in Nimes in France at the time and we went into a camera store to get the G9 but it was out of stock because it was discontinued ( I found out later that the G10 which followed the G9 wasn’t a very successful design) and the new model G11 was coming out soon.

“How soon?” We asked.

“A few days, would you like us to order you one?”

Nice try, sales guy, but unfortunately we couldn’t hang around and wait. So every town we went to, we’d check to see if the G11 had come in. Every time I took photos when Engogirl didn’t have a camera, I felt guilty. I even went so far as to hand her my camera to take photos with (no greater love), so she felt like she was getting shots of things she found interesting.

It wasn’t until about two and half weeks later that we were able to find a shop in Lisbon, Portugal that had the new G11.

What can I say? Other than my wife is totally thrilled with her G11 and now is actually interested in printing out some of her shots. 

As for me, I’m constantly amazed how my wife’s photos are so different from mine. We often take photos in the same places but they couldn’t be more different.  I often take very wide angle shots because I’m interested in context, narrative and interaction, whereas Engogirl is into recording detail and objects. Often when I see my wife’s shots, I find myself thinking to myself, “why didn’t I take that?”

So together, we’ve got a very broad record of our trip together.

Shooting into the sun at Zahara de la Sierra. Andalusia, Spain. 2009

Several years ago I was having a bit of a moan to a camera salesman about the limited tonal range that digital cameras could capture. I complained about how the clouds were always blown out and shooting into the sun was pointless because most of the sky would go white. I also mentioned that I thought that even the high end digital SLRs still had a long way to go as they weren’t that much better that the little compact point and shoot cameras.

Luckily the guy I was talking to, unlike so many sales clerks, actually knew what he was talking about and he said that I should take a look at the Fuji Pro S3. The Fuji is basically a Nikon body with Fuji’s super CCD in it. The store where the salesman worked didn’t sell the Fuji and at $3500 AUD without a lens it was way out of my price range. Like a lot of things that I can’t have for whatever reason, I sublimated my desire for the Pro S3 and put it on the back burner of my mind.

Some more time passed and about 9 months before I went to Europe last year I bought a second hand Fuji Pro S3 body, over the internet for $650 AUD. I was pretty happy with the results I was getting with my new camera and I took it on my overseas trip where I took over 4000 photos with it.

About a month ago, I helped out a friend of mine (Mark) who owns a Nikon D200, get his beautiful landscape photos from a recent tirp to California, ready for an exhibition. Mark was a bit concerned about some of his shots because the skies were blown out and the clouds had lost their details. I asked Mark if he’d shot in RAW and he said “yes”, so I said to him, “don’t worry, you’ll be amazed at what information we will be able to pull out of a RAW file”.

I was looking forward to showing Mark how much detail we were going to pull out of his skies and clouds. I got quite a shock when I opened up Mark’s images in Photoshop and there was much less detail than what I expected. I’d become so used to the extended tonal range of my Fuji, that I thought it was “normal” and I was really disappointed for Mark. Although we got some nice results for Mark’s exhibition, I knew the Fuji would’ve provided much better results.

A while back I’d been talking to Mark about his decision to buy the camera he did, and he said he’d been influenced by Ken Rockwell’s camera reviews

To me Rockwell is one of those guys who would have people believe he knows all about cameras. From where I stand, I’d say that he still has a lot to learn. Here is an example of what he has said on his website:

“The Fuji Fujifilm S5 has highlight dynamic range clearly better than any Canon or Nikon camera I’ve ever used. This is too bad because it makes very little difference in real photography. I had to go out of my way to contrive these examples. Cameras can’t fix bad light, only photographers can.”

My response in a word:

“RUBBISH!”

I think what people like Rockwell are lacking, is an understanding of how important post processing of images is.

Just like in the old days with film, one couldn’t get a really good image until they’d figured out how to develop their own negatives and do their own printing. Darkroom skills used to be essential to get images to look like they did to the photographer when they saw the scene originally.

“What!” I hear you cry.

Yep, cameras don’t tell the “truth” as we know it. Cameras, film, CCDs only approximate what we see. The huge difference between an image taken with a camera and a scene seen with the human eye is that the eye has a brain behind it that makes all sorts of decisions about how the scene is going to be interpreted by the viewer. Cameras, for all their electronic wizardry are basically very, very, very dumb.

Have you ever noticed how flat and boring so many photographs are when you get them back from processing or look at them on you computer monitor in comparison to when you were looking at the original scene? The camera has no way of prioritising what is important to us; what should be emphasised and what should be ignored. To a camera, every scene is made of elements that have no meaning or aesthetic weight.

Your eye has a far wider acceptance of tonal range than any film, camera or CCD. Plus our brain automatically adjusts to what we are interested in, whereas a camera has no way of knowing what is important to us. Now I know there’s bound to be some smart arse reading this, who will pipe up and say, “oh yeh, what about exposure compensation?” The trouble with exposure compensation (particularly with digital cameras) is that if you expose to retain detail in your highlights, your shadow detail will be lost, and vise versa if you expose for the shadows.

Back in the days when film was king, the maxim of, “expose for the shadows and develop for the highlights”, was the catch cry of the masters of the darkroom arts like Ansel Adams and Edward Weston. The old photographic masters knew that most of the tonal information could be captured if you knew how to control the process.

Nowadays in this age of digital cameras, the darkroom has been just about replaced by Photoshop.

Now many people think Photoshop is for “jazzing up” images and that somehow using it is “cheating”. These same old purists would think nothing of selecting a particular film stock for it’s saturated colours, or printing papers for it’s rendition of flesh tones or “pushing or pulling” colour film to affect its colour balance, etc.

Back when one worked on an image in the darkroom, it was accepted practice to dodge and burn a print, because of the fact that film and the paper being printed on couldn’t deal with the complete tonal range. The same goes for the printing industry. The highest quality fine art books, especially those with high quality black and white images, use a process called “duotone” to get a tonal range that is close to a hand processed photographic print. A duotone is basically two images at either extreme of the tonal range that are printed on top of each other.

So in a long winded way, I’ve tried to point out that it is necessary to have as wide a tonal range as possible so that the end product image, can be as close as possible to the scene first seen by the photographer. The wider the tonal range, the wider the options are when it comes to how one wants an image to look in long run. 

The trouble with reviewers like Rockwell is that they seem to have limited knowledge about what’s really going on when one takes a photo and what’s really important. So many of the specifications that people masturbate over, are in the grand scheme of things, not that important. Unless you’re a sports or wildlife photographer, who cares if your camera shoots 5 frames a second, if your tonal range is crap and it causes highlights to be blown out, while your shadows are just black blobs?

When it came to the misrepresentation or misinterpretation of facts, my grandmother used to parody an unscrupulous cloth merchant, saying, “never mind the quality, feel the width”. Just to emphasise how ridiculous, whatever illogical or misleading thing was being said.

Much of what is in reviews isn’t all that relevant to the photographic cognoscenti. Knowledge is power, and it pays to be an educated consumer. The trick, and this goes for just about everything in life, is to pick the right people to listen to and learn from.

For me, the best on-line camera reviews are at

http://www.dpreview.com/ 

Yes their reviews are very in depth and require a fair bit of technical knowledge to interpret, but I’d say just take a deep breath and look up the terms that you don’t understand as you go. Eventually you will build up enough knowledge to make informed decisions on you own instead of being misled by people with big holes in their knowledge like Rockwell. 

Oh!

One more thing, if you are shooting to save your files as JPEGs, do yourselves a favour and stop it. Start using RAW because you will get far better results because the RAW file format is much more versatile as it contains way more information.

Here’s a video tutorial on how to adjust RAW files as they are opened in Photoshop.

[youtube tK0uqKJSFMY]

This next tutorial is on another important Photoshop technique, “masking”, by the god of Photoshop, Russell Brown.

[youtube pJp260NVqEY]

Dunn’s Swamp. Kandos Weir, NSW, Australia. 2010

My wife Engogirl and I, decided we wanted to get out of town for the weekend so we invited some friends to come camping with us up at Kandos Weir at the Dunn’s Swamp campground which is in the Wollemi National Park.

Kandos is about three and a half hours drive north east of Sydney. Although the weather forecast was for rain we left on Friday night anyway.

Just about everyone we hang out with is fairly experienced with the outdoors and they all have plenty of camping gear for just about any circumstance, so the weather was of no real concern for any of us. As a matter of fact I always feel good when it rains at night and I’m in my tent as it seems to justify bringing all the equipment.

Engogirl’s uncle Ray brought up his kayaks so we could get out on the water and have a look around the lake created by Kandos Weir. The kayaks were quite nice sleek things that were designed for better kayakers than me. Being so narrow made them not only fast but also a bit tippy. I felt a bit nervous in them although I’ve done quite a bit of paddling in wider, more stable kayaks. Whereas, Ray and Paul (in the photo below) were quite home in them.

Although I was in constant fear of falling in, Engogirl and I went out for a couple of kilometres to paddle about the lake. It was absolutely beautiful and if I hadn’t been so afraid tipping over and getting my camera wet, I would’ve taken some shots while we were out in the kayaks.

The Weir was built back in the late 1920s to supply a cement factory 25 kilometres away and it flooded a narrow valley of sandstone pagodas. I’m pretty sure such a structure wouldn’t be allowed to be built in a UNESCO world heritage area (due to the biodiversity of plant and animal communities, including the recently discovered Wollemi Pine) with Aboriginal cultural sites nowadays.

The name “Dunn’s Swamp” doesn’t sound very promising but I’m sure it comes from before the weir was built. When ever I hear the word weir, I think of one of those low walls in a stream that the water flows over. Kandos Weir is more of a dam in the real sense of the word being about 30 metres high (about 90ft).

When Engogirl was at university she did an assignment on the weir and we went to the cement works to meet up with the engineers who run it now, to have a look at the original drawings. It was a bit of a shock to see that the plans for such a large structure were in pencil and seemed so simple and yet the weir is still there working just fine.

One of the things I love about my country is that places like Dunn’s Swamp have been made available for public use at a very reasonable cost. Only $5 a day per person and firewood is supplied plus there are environmentally friendly composting pit toilets, but there is no potable water so you have to bring your own.

All around the lake there are various walking tracks and on Sunday a few of us went up to a look out, which gives a panoramic view of the surrounding countryside.

Because of all the rainfall lately, the vegetation was lush (by Australian standards) and I can’t remember seeing the area looking so beautiful and green in the past 15 years I’ve been going there.

 

It was just so beautiful that it came as a surprise to come across a large group of people (foreign university students) who were out there drinking and leaving their beer bottles lying about, discarded on the track. I went up to them and said, “hi, it’s a beautiful area isn’t it?” They all smiled back and said yes. Then in a polite and gentle way, I suggested to them that the area looks better without the bottles and they agreed.

From a distance I watched them leave and the guys who had been drinking weren’t carrying anything back with them.

It’s funny how people will say one thing and do another.

When we came back to the area we found a bunch of bottles hidden behind rocks and under bushes so we collected them up and took them back to the campground. On the way to our tents we passed the students, so my friend Joseph and I went up to the group of about twenty with smiles on our faces and I said, “Hi! How are you all?”

Smile and greetings of “hi” came back to us.

I walked up to one of the guys who I had seen drinking the beer and I pulled out one of the bottles from my coat (a Gore-Tex with large cargo pockets) and said, “here, I think this is yours”.

He looked embarrassed and his friend stepped forward and said, “oh thanks, we were looking for them but we couldn’t find them”.

I said, “yeh right!” and then I handed the other bottles back to various other guys, “saying, here, I think this one might be your’s” until I was rid of the rest of the bottles.

Sheepish looks of embarrassment all round. I then dug out all the bottle caps that I’d also picked up on the way back and said to the group, “these are so small you can just put them in your pocket and bring the back with you”.

All the while I was making sure I was smiling and speaking in a polite and gentle manner. I was into winning hearts and minds, not getting the crap beaten out of me.

I went on with, “it’s great to share these places with you, but let’s try and keep it nice for each other” as I patted the biggest guy in the group on the back in a friendly and brotherly way (I’ve read that touch can help make people more calm and co-operative). Much to their credit, the students seemed to be taking what I had to say on board, and there were mumbled apologies (which I hadn’t come for) and smiles.

Hopefully that will be a group where some of the people will think twice about littering in the bush.