Iron Awe by Murray White

Iron Awe by Murray White

My first trip into Karijini National Park was made in 1985 in a 15 year old dust ridden Holden sedan, but carrying a near new Minolta SRT 101 camera, and probably a couple of rolls of Kodachrome 25. Back then the roads to this Pilbara icon were mighty rough, but the camping was a pleasure. Today the roads are mostly a pleasure, but camping in the national park is mighty rough!

Ok, I might be more critical of the camping than is warranted, given that this park is one of Western Australia’s most popular, and its now swamped infrastructure is hardly the centrepiece attraction. The reason people visit here in droves is not for shaded and spacious camps, but to peer inside our Earth’s ancient crust at a scale as can be done nowhere else in this country.

Unlike the beautiful range country defining our east coast, or even the Kimberley just to the north of here, our gazes of admiration do not look upward to elevated features, but rather are directed down into those gorges that part the rock immediately below our walking boots.

Karijini is home to a number of jagged openings in its geological cap, and many of these gorges are accessible to visitors, although closures are possible during the Wet Season. Some can be appreciated via relatively easy walking trails that overlook sheer geometric shaped rock faces, while others require a more nimble and strenuous commitment on an enchanting descent into the abyss.

There is no doubt that for photographers, Karijini is one of Australiaís most compelling destinations. Its winning trifecta of genuinely saturated colours, contoured geological formations and permanent flowing water forces even visually agnostic visitors to repeatedly reach for their smartphones. More enthusiastic photographers will find plenty of opportunity to spread their tripod legs in locations that for the most part are pleasingly free of boardwalks and signage (so far).

I have visited these gorges on several prior occasions, but last year was the first time I have done so with B&W film. We only stayed for two nights (camping was largely booked out, and other W.A. national park camp bookings had forced our hand), but I managed to burn about 15 sheets of 4 x 5 FP4 and a couple of rolls of 120 FP4. I was reasonably happy with a few negatives, but the cloudless Dry Season sunlight was determined to insist on some rather contrasting subjects.

Photographs taken from within the gorges were less problematic if lit by reflected light from the opposing wall. Early morning was especially suitable, to capture those popular locations like Kermits Pool or Fern Pool forget late afternoon unless you joyfully yearn to include dozens of people in your prints.

Although I didnít shoot any colour film this time, the location definitely lends itself to this medium, as it potentially does for panoramic captures too. Pure white snappy gums and lime green spinifex grasses provide a vibrant lift to the essentially monochromatic deep reds of the prevailing iron rich geology.

I will definitely return to Karijini sometime soon, possibly in the shoulder season, and with prebooked NP camping (such is the reality of contemporary touring). In the meanwhile, I might have a hunt around for those near 40 year old Kodachrome trannys, just to compare what my younger self saw of these same landscapes.

Main photograph above: INTO THE ABYSS
Early morning or late afternoon light is great to isolate detail above the gorges. I squeezed the framing tight on this image to help imply that sense of instability that features on these rocky escarpments.

SHAKEN AND STIRRED The folded and striated geology of Hamersley Gorge is visually and intellectually captivating, but even during the busier times it is still possible to find a quiet corner to pull out the dark cloth. What the B&W print here fails to show is the amazing colours defining these walls of buckled rock.
AFTER THE RUSH Despite Karijiniís geology dominating any visit to this Pilbara location, there are many opportunities to capture a variety of other subjects. This stand of melaleuca and rushes offered another aspect to the gorge floor downstream from Fortesque Falls.
SMOOTH PASSAGE I took my rollfilm Mamiya 7 into Kermits Pool and grabbed a few shots of its beautifully banded amphitheatre. This is the only capture which includes a localised section of lens flare, but over time I have actually become attached to that sense of the light filled outside world that it brings. The final 100 metres into the pool is a little tricky, but next time I would definitely bring the view camera.
AWASH WITH TIME Joffre Gorge is just one feature in the western sector of Karijini, with viewing access from several overhead vantage points, or by a combination of walking / wading / rock hopping to its base. Most lower gorge walks require use of substantial steel steps, but some gorges are more demanding. Although the signage is adequate, there are plenty of people to ask for advise during the Dry Season.
THE SOUND OF THREE A recently constructed viewing platform at Fern Pool has restricted potential camera locations at this popular destination, but in the still air of early morning it remains a particularly serene setting. I used a 270mm Nikon lens on the Ebony to get the reach with this shot.
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Murray White is a fine art photographer based in regional Victoria.

There are 12 comments for this article
    • Murray White at 5:24 am

      Thankyou David, Bianca and Shane, yes the Pilbara has some very popular coastline, but its hinterland and Karijini are well worth heading inland for.

  1. Danielle at 2:50 am

    Absolutely gorgeous images Murray. It looks like such an ancient a peaceful place. You have captured the spirit and managed to avoid all the tourists. Well done

  2. Mat Hughes at 1:45 am

    An excellent article Murray and lovely photographs! I especially like the Hamersley gorge folded strata image, powerful and dark. It certainly makes me want to invest in a four-wheel drive!

    • Murray White at 4:49 am

      Hey Mat, thankyou. There are very few sentences where invest and 4WD can strung together! You do not need a 4WD to visit Karijini in The Dry, but there are many other less popular Pilbara destinations that you do.

  3. Peter McDonald at 6:16 am

    Murray, I do like your images very much – they have a wonderful feel about them. And a lovely description of the country – you make it sound captivating.

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