Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Kangaroos and The Land Down Under

On my first trip to Australia my writing partner and I bought an old yellow Volkswagen Passat and called it The Last Thylacine, after the famous, probably-extinct Tasmanian Tiger.  Our assignment was to produce a book about all the species of kangaroos, of which there are over fifty. We drove the Last Thylacine all over New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia. We even ferried further south to the island of Tasmania where we encountered a private zoo full of Tasmanian devils, the largest species of surviving marsupials. The zoo owner, and a few scientists, are convinced that Tasmanian tigers (aka thylacines) still exist on a remote wilderness corner of the island but no definitive proof has ever been offered for such a claim.              

  Prior to traveling to the 'island continent' I had had no idea that Australia hosts so many poisonous and dangerous species.  It has the most venomous snakes in the world (one, the inland Taipan, is nicknamed the two-step snake for obvious reasons), the most poisonous spider (the funnel-web), the most deadly jellyfish (the box jellyfish), and aggressive crocodiles that have been known to drag campers out of their tents.  I spent nights around campfires when out of the pitch darkness a four foot goana lizard would appear looking for a meal.  I have also shared those campfires with gray kangaroos that seemed to like the brightness of the flames and were impervious to flying sparks.

Meals in Australia were sometimes an adventure in themselves.  Once we bought sliced lunch meat at a deli and let it sit in the incredibly hot car for a day before making sandwiches. I remember laying out the slices of bread on top of the car and then, without paying much attention to what I was doing, throwing a few slices of ham on to the bread and then putting the top slices of bread in place.  As my partner and I were about to pick up the sandwiches off the car roof the top slices of bread started moving. We watched in disbelief before finally lifting off the top slices to have a look.  Maggots had hatched out in the heat and were crawling all over the meat.

The best and most exciting photographs that I captured during those first two months in Australia were taken at Pebbly Beach in Murramarong National Park in New South Wales.  I got out of my tent before sunrise and walked along the beach. No one else was out and about yet.  I came across several gray kangaroos and two of them began to leap at each other and fight. They kick at each other's chests, making a 'thwumping' sound as they make contact. They have big claw-like nails on those feet that could tear open a person, but their own skin is adapted to take the blows.  When it became light enough I started shooting pictures. In those days of still using film I had to push process the film to an ISO of 800 in order to be able to shoot at a fast enough shutter speed to stop the action. The film I used was Fijichrome 100.  One of the images from that sequence appeared on the cover of our book, Kangaross: The Marvelous Mob

Mark Newman

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