Destination Kiama – part three – Tathra to Batemans Bay – Murray White

Destination Kiama – part three – Tathra to Batemans Bay – Murray White

With Highway One now heading noticeably inland from the coast, we pushed north from Tathra following an alternative easterly contour that more closely hugged the coastline. With minor roads and tracks fishboning off our primary route, it was easy to find diversions that could consume an hour, or indeed most of the day. Our less than clinical touring strategy of ‘I wonder where this may lead?’, on occasions questioned our sanity, but at the same time revealed some extraordinary gems (or was that sapphires?).

For us, Mimosa Rocks National Park was one such find, with appealing coastal camps at both Middle and Gillards Beach, together with the terraced camping sections of Aragunna in the northern enclave of the park. There were many other bays and headlands that we visited throughout here, which I must confess in the absence of making detailed notes, have now swirled into a dreamy recollection of deserted beaches and distant rocky points partially hidden under saltwater haze.

We chose to walk many of these coastal access sections, mostly inspired from the rather aimless, almost fatalistic view that time and the weather and the urge had all coincided at this particular location. These were the best walks. To set off not knowing or caring what lay ahead other than a yet to be determined turn around point reduces expectations to a level that even the most modest, perhaps least significant feature of the walk, assumes a larger than life persona.

From a curious visitor’s view (and even a curious photographer’s view), I found these opportunities to really study some subjects without information boards or preconceived ideas filtering my vision, allowed for a more authentic transaction with Nature. Sometimes if the Gods of Aestheticism had preceded my visit, I would get out the Mamiya and capture a slice of this privileged encounter, and we would move on, uncertain of the next exchange, but content to observe that which evolves of chance.

I mentioned earlier that I thoroughly enjoy using my view camera wherever possible, but this was most commonly done when walking alone. In the company of others I find the convenience of the rollfilm M7 with its inbuilt exposure meter allows me to capture the moment relatively quickly, and to some extent it encourages me to consider less conservative visual possibilities than I usually do with the Ebony. Its slightly wider wideangle lens and slightly longer telephoto lens form only a small part of this more adventurous approach, but its manoeuvrability (even when still attached to a tripod) and my willingness to take an extra shot to bracket a questionable exposure for example, often prove justifiable.

Our travels through Mimosa Rocks NP were marked by some unexpected cloud cover and even periods of rain, together with several other surprising outcomes. Bithry Inlet for example was widely promoted as a fishing destination, but we arrived only to be immediately fascinated by its beautifully striated grotto and the resident pebbles within. On the other hand, the enticing description of Picnic Point remains unverified, as we found its narrowing access track through private rural land effectively closed off by parked oyster farm vehicles and a large mound of shells piled on the road.

A series of beaches and headlands punctuate the drive to Bermagui and beyond, with lagoons, swamps and lakes reaching out to the now familiar Pacific Ocean backdrop. The fragmented blocks of national park that make up Eurobodalla stretch from south of Narooma to Moruya in the north. Camping at Mystery Bay and Congo was excellent, with great facilities at the latter, and inspiring scenery around the former.

One of the more interesting observations to me as I looked at the photographic possibilities around me, was that invariably I was metaphorically rearranging sand, rocks and sea. Well perhaps that description is a little simplistic, but there is a reality within it that I think all landscapers will recognise. The key structures of our location become by definition our visual building blocks, not necessarily by choice, but of circumstance, and it is these segments of this world that force our vision to adapt to their domain.

But what is it that drives us to eventually arrive at a particular composition? Is it simply that we wish to create aesthetic interest by a process of visually manipulating various structures like an environmental Rubiks Cube, or should our subjects be permitted to express something of their purpose in the landscape? In the past I have been inclined to consider the former path as my primary aim; to find a pleasing visual balance in our environment where the natural elements are strategically placed to provide evidence of their beauty.

I still look for this quality in my photography, but in recent times will often choose not to operate the shutter unless two questions can be satisfactorily answered: What will I be capturing? And what will I be saying? The first question is relatively easy to answer, but the second question requires a much deeper assessment. We could respond that Nature is calling the shots here, and our role is to relay that message. However we should not underestimate the impact of our interpretation on a scene and how the routine levers we pull like viewpoint, choice of crop and printing decisions all influence the dynamics and viewer understanding of an image.

Elsewhere in Eurobodalla we found some of the most captivating rock formations of the trip. Some places are well signposted, others a little more hidden, while a few lie just a short drive from the national park camps. There are other accommodation options to be found around here as well, allowing access to these smaller, less visited locations. Some beaches have public access through private land holdings, so it is important to respect any local restrictions, but it is well worthwhile taking the time to explore the area, as the solitude and scope for photographic variety is priceless.

Like other parts of Australia, many beaches open to the public here can have very slippery rocks and hazardous surf conditions to contend with. King waves and undercut cliff edges are always a possibility, and I speak with some experience when I recommend that you take particular care when walking on loose rocks. In recent times I managed to fall onto rocks at a relatively inaccessible and remote beach in Western Australia’s south west. The crushed vertebra that resulted set in motion a helicopter attendance, paramedic assessment, and a spinning winch ride out; all very memorable, despite the fentanyl administration!

Thankfully that incident was my one and only contact with emergency services in 45 years of outdoor recreation, and I guess that all is well that ends well, but it reinforced to me the ongoing need for environmental respect and preparation for any outdoor activity. We always travel with a satellite phone (and have used it in the past for others in trouble) and my camera bag always includes a snake bite kit and often a locator beacon and/or a handheld UHF radio depending on the circumstances. I now always walk on a loose or slippery surface with both hands free!

However, having illustrated (and wrangled with) some of the hazards we landscapers must manage, I would find it very difficult not to at least push myself just a little beyond my comfort zone from time to time. The natural world I think invites us to experience life in a much rawer and less structured way than city living and our well meaning legislation makers would have it. And perhaps to those for whom Nature brings close, a total absence of risk would be the greatest risk of all.

On our continued travels northward we briefly met Highway One again at Moruya, before swinging back onto the coast and not merging with the growing vehicle queues again until Batemans Bay. Colloquially (and somewhat facetiously) known as East Canberra, we spent a couple of days around the area at Easter, and yes, we did witness a large number of cars with ‘Y’ prefix number plates plying the Kings Highway in a westerly direction. Our next stop corrected that traffic management issue.

NO ESCAPE I often wonder why we are drawn to one tree and not another, one section of river and not the next, or even one moment of light and not what preceded. Perhaps it is the availability of other options that forces us to choose between them; to make a value judgement based on an aesthetic understanding that is unique to us. In this instance at Aragunna Camp I had plenty of other clumps of seaweed to ponder, but for some reason it was this subject that warranted the Ebony’s attention. I could say that I was attracted by this subject’s ‘tail’, or by the etched sand lines, or more accurately by the conceptual juxtaposition of the two observations (all of which is true), but in the first instance, perhaps our visual instinct is really the greater power of all.
MORSE CODE I usually avoid including sky in my photography, generally because I think a closed landscape is more likely to reveal a message of greater intimacy. However this morning’s walk along Bunga Beach was accompanied by such an expressive cloud bank that I felt it would be impolite to the occasion (if not the entity) not to give it purpose. Traditional mechanisms of landscape treatment like foreground interest, leading lines, tonal contrast, reflection and a receding strata of pictorial elements remain effective influences on composition right along the south coast; we just need to be in the right place at the right time, and for those of us on a self imposed visual diet, perhaps in a negotiable and sympathetic frame of mind to enjoy their company!
EXPULSION For me, the Eurobodalla area was certainly one of the highlights of the NSW south coast. Intriguing outcrops of rock were never far away from the numerous access points, and in many cases these captivating subjects seemed to lead into other settings of even greater interest. I think that sometimes our aesthetic way of seeing is fuelled by the setting we find ourselves in, and our immediate creativity can be drawn into an ever increasing spiral as our heightened sense of awareness becomes further engaged. In my experience, the harnessing of that initial artistic spark helps me to find more adventurous visual possibilities in subsequent subjects, so long as I remain ‘in the zone’.
SWEPT ASHORE A number of stars need to align before I can summon the courage to attempt a convention seascape. In the past, high contrast subjects, featureless skies that somehow still act as magnets for drying marks on the negative, and a limited capacity for the composition to suggest of depth, have all conspired to torment me. This particular capture at Gillards Beach ticked a few boxes in the field, with diffused light, defined clouds in the sky and mid-ground features to provide some interest. I maintained the foreground reflection by timing the wave activity at the moment of exposure, but still needed to burn the sky and some wave highlights in the darkroom.
FANTASIA I was struck by the intricate detail of this subject and its setting on the cliff ledge at Moruya Heads one morning. As I set up the Ebony in the predawn light I gradually became aware of an odd sound in the air. It was an approaching drone, presumably waiting for the sun to peek through the gathering cloud, and hovering quite close to me. Now putting to one side whatever rules apply to these devices, I find their impact slightly intimidating and almost incongruous with the interpretation and sensitive capture of a natural setting. However, it could be argued that this type of photography has less impact on a fragile landscape than a walker may inadvertently inflict, and it will be interesting to see where the future will take us.
HERE ONE MINUTE Those of us who regularly photograph predominately static subjects often overlook the fact that we are still capturing a moment in time. Now that moment for a granite cliff face may well in human terms translate into an eternity; but transition it inevitably will. At the other end of the longevity spectrum, wave action seems to cease almost as it begins, but there will be a measurable time for its expression. I pointed my Ebony toward this nexus at Mystery Bay one morning, hoping to reveal something of this relationship in the high contrast lighting. This print made at grade 0 has just managed to find some detail in both entities.

Part two can be seen here.

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

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