Destination Kiama – part two – The Sapphire Coast – Murray White

Destination Kiama – part two – The Sapphire Coast – Murray White

Like many other visitors to the beaches of NSW, our enthusiasm to reach the fabled Sapphire Coast surely confirmed that destination marketing remains alive and well in the south east corner of Australia. Before the ocean had even revealed its mystical azure sparkle we felt comforted and somewhat intrigued by an implied reference to its jewel like qualities; maybe not the open wealth and glitter of diamonds, but a more subtle glow, sustained by quieter pride and grounded contentment.

Given that this area’s European heritage traces an earthy path from whaling fleets and frontier country logging, to commercial fishing and rural enterprise, it is not surprising that a pioneering spirit still lingers, permeating the townships here from Eden to Bermagui with a traditional village atmosphere of resourcefulness. Perhaps too, its relative isolation from Sydney (and Melbourne) has been a buffer to the haste of a contemporary lifestyle, helping to maintain an undeniable sense of ‘olde worlde’ purpose and community.

But whatever the reasons for this area’s provincial identity, there is no doubting the power of their effect. Retirees and tourists alike congregate here in healthy numbers to either enjoy a laid back experience of temperate weather and mountainous icecreams, or to be invigorated by its coastal vibrance. New to these possibilities, and unsure of our capabilities, Ana and I pitched for both options; we would begin the day with energetic excitement, then allow Nature to take its inevitable course.

Photographically, there is more on offer here than could reasonably be pursued by one individual in just a short visit. The historic wharf precincts and village or town streetscapes would apply considerable pressure to your film stocks if every photographic possibility was explored. Even the newer harbour areas with their various fishing activities are similarly enticing and extensive, not to mention the magnetic attraction of boats, coastal wildlife, lighthouses and the squeamish experience that accompanies a visit to one of the abandoned whaling sites.

My photographic interest lies only in natural landscapes, so for me it was easy to disregard other potential genres. However even under this restrictive regime, I still found that I needed to narrow my focus if I was to approach subjects and their settings in any considered way. I suspect we all at some stage realise that our most serious and rewarding moments behind a camera are often those spent identifying and then following a particular visual narrative that is meaningful to us. Many enthusiasts speak of the need for a project, the desire to undertake a specific challenge and search for a cohesive visual response, rather than settle for a random and opportunistic grab.

Of course this mode of thinking need not preclude more novel approaches to a chosen subject, or even the selection of an unexpected subject. I often head off on an unorthodox pathway based solely on finding and possibly pursuing a chance combination of light, subject and setting. For example I might be looking at a particular scene trying to visually arrange its architecture to fit in a 4 x 5 box, and in the process of composing notice the sun’s glare from a pool of water. I could shift slightly to remove that glare and continue my ‘planned’ approach, or I could follow that diversion down its own rabbit hole; the diversion then becomes the primary subject. And so on.

The first of those rabbit holes for me in NSW were found at Nadgee Nature Reserve; a coastal wilderness reserve with limited vehicle access, but compensated for by a lengthy remote area walk for those with sufficient experience to take on the not insignificant challenge. In the absence of both time and confidence, we chose instead to visit the northern part of Nadgee via the quiet fishing community of Wonboyn, and other than two tradies rebuilding the fire damaged toilet facility at Bay Cliff, saw not another soul in our time walking along the beach of Disaster Bay.

The headland and beach at Greenglades was our first taste of the Sapphire Coast, but it was the imposing bluff and pounding waves at Bay Cliff that finally convinced me to set up the view camera. I think the compelling combination of isolation, the need to explore rather than follow a pathway and some impressive natural features were in the end, too hard to resist. Other local destinations maintained our sense of visual, and indeed environmental curiosity. Nearby Beowa National Park (previously known as Ben Boyd NP) was especially appealing, with sheltered camping and rewarding landscapes to be found at both Bittangabee Bay and Saltwater Creek.

Dominant rock platforms battered by an incessant ocean attack feature at both camps, with Saltwater Creek also home to a lovely lagoon and beach front. While access to these camps is a little more tedious than some other destinations further north along the coast, we found the relative solitude and lack of those ubiquitous signposted ‘viewpoints’ to be a refreshing change from other more developed parts of the coast. Again, a somewhat lengthy walking track will tempt some to follow the coast from Green Cape Lighthouse to Boyds Tower in the north, although less energetic visitors can certainly walk individual sections as they see fit.

Beowa NP extends north of Eden as well, with no camping areas, but a number of worthwhile turn offs between The Pinnacles (delicate and colourful formations, but limited opportunities for photography unfortunately) and Haycock Point. Our pick for the don’t miss destination in Beowa was Pulpit Rock near Green Cape in the south; an enormous gash gouged into the cliff face revealing solid rock formations that would dwarf a house, yet fine detail almost too small and intricate for the eye to appreciate.

Further north beyond Merimbula and the urbanised growth area of Tura Beach, lies Bournda Lagoon and its popular camping area at Hobart Beach. We found this to be a great camp from which to explore the waterways and beaches of Bournda National Park. There are plenty of walking track options from here that visit secluded headlands and pebble fringed bays.

It is worth mentioning that not all of this area’s photogenic features are hidden a day’s march away in remote parts of the national parks. I found some interesting coastline at Boydtown, just south of Eden, where a late afternoon stroll from the caravan park revealed any number of potential subjects. Even the front beach at Tathra backs onto some imposing headland, and formations that are deserving of closer scrutiny under sympathetic lighting.

Tathra as it turned out, was also our place of peak camping fees. As late afternoon walk ins, we were quoted $81 for an unpowered site for one night, and this outside of public or local school holidays. Now I understand the pressures of wages, amenity upgrades and rising public liability insurance premiums, but in terms of risk, I had no intention of doing a Neil Armstrong impersonation on the jumping castle, and I certainly wasn’t planning to walk the plank on whatever scale model pirate ship lay scuttled at their aquatic centre.

So I respectfully declined the offer of becoming a transient shareholder, and through the magic of our free market economy found another nearby park requesting $45 for the same grassy plot and hospitality. I’m not sure that Ana saw this outcome in quite the same way as myself, but in the fading light as we contemplated the next leg of our journey, I calculated we had just saved enough money to buy another three rolls of film.

STRIPPED TO THE BONE Even a short telephoto lens on the Ebony could not fully isolate me from the effects of random wave activity here, and it took several reframes of this subject before sunlight, wave action and sand firmness simultaneously played the game. A predictable absence of other early morning visitors and the sweep of an overnight high tide across Hobart Beach had gifted a lack of footprints in the sand, and indeed purged the site of every other vestige of recent visitor impact. For me, the absence of all visibly identifiable human inputs helps to instil a sense of timelessness to a subject, and sometimes prompts a feeling of privileged participation, both at the time of capture and even on subsequent viewings.
CLEAN BREAK Questions of absolute size and relationship are hard to avoid at Pulpit Rock, where few clues provide evidence of either with visual conviction. Decisive cuts to the parent rock here, yet little residual material to be found seem strangely incongruous set against the apparent solidity of the remaining structures. I spent probably an hour exploring the towering shapes and juxtaposition of various entities here, before narrowing my focus to three captures. This image was made on the Mamiya during a windy and overcast midday visit to the location. I used a 43mm wideangle lens to emphasise the foreground entity and deliberately maintain that ambiguity of scale, perhaps raising questions of this foreground rock’s genesis, or even belonging.
THE PENTAGON A recent bushfire had dumped considerable ash onto Boydtown Beach, coating the otherwise gleaming sand with a migrating film of sooty black residue. There were countless possibilities to capture the evolving impact of this invasion, and with the mobility of the rollfilm Mamiya, I was willing to try a number of different compositions. In the late afternoon sun I still required my tripod to cope with exposure times around 1/15 second due to my inveterate compulsion of selecting apertures friendly to focusing errors with the safety of a broader depth of field. From the five or six negatives exposed, I selected this one to print for its circular architecture and explicit transition from dark to light.
LIFE IN THE FAST LANE Of the many waterways that wind their way into Twofold Bay, this one stood out to me with some graphic tonal and textural values. I originally set the Ebony up for a much wider view here, thinking that the rather attractive ‘S’ bend of this creek would stand alone aesthetically, but as is sometimes the case, in the process of framing and focusing and interpreting what this scene was about under the dark cloth, I realised that the real action was happening much closer to the feet of my tripod. I recomposed to focus on the multi strata variance that time and tide had carved, appreciative of the low sun angle introducing a welcome network of shadow play.
BEDROCK NATIVES Complex shoreline studies are great subjects for the detailed observations that a view camera is inherently capable of gathering. What I originally saw on the ground glass in this instance as a random collection of bedrock and wave tossed stones grew more structured and potentially indigenous the longer I cared (and needed) to look at it. Was the larger flat stone once a piece of the ribbed foundation, and if so, how far had it travelled? There is some wild surf and tidal behaviour in this area, but just how far has each of these pebbles and broken pieces of rock really travelled relative to their original home? From experience I know that even pieces of driftwood can settle in to a particular location with remarkable stability over time, apparently immune (or perhaps in tune) to the forces and interlocking structures around them.
CONVERGED One of the many hurdles that confronted me when I made the transition from colour to B&W capture was my inability to predict how particular colours may convert to a monochromatic tone. I still struggle with this reality today, and there are plenty of muddy prints with camouflaged subjects that find their way into my darkroom rubbish bin to prove that. However I find that simple compositions bearing clearly defined tonal variances (like this water-stained rock outcrop at Saltwater Creek) are often ideal subjects for B&W. In many cases their capture does not always reflect the visual truth of their existence in terms of being an accurate eye-witness account, but rather expresses an aesthetic shadow somewhat estranged from reality. For me this restriction is also a freedom; in fact I think one of the communicative strengths of monochrome lies in its capacity to reveal of a structure’s substance without necessarily needing to also disclose its identity.

Part one can be seen here.

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Murray White is a fine art photographer based in regional Victoria.

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