When the Forgotten River project was proposed, two opportunities arose. First, it was a story which needed to be told about the people of the Darling River.
Second, it was a chance to indulge a personal passion - drone photography - in an utterly unfamiliar environment.
Living on the coast, I get to fly over stunning landscapes, photographing rocks and waves and empty beaches, snapping all the drama and movement of the sea from a unique perspective. It's world of blue, green and gold.
The chance to take to the skies over the outback - the vast red expanse of the Never Never - was something entirely new.
There was something else, too. The drone would afford some me time, a bonus after many long hours on the road.
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Flying is a mindfulness exercise. For those few minutes you have the thing airborne, you are living in the moment.
You are focused, almost meditative. It's a profoundly centering activity. You get high to ground yourself.
I'm by no means an expert - far from it, in fact. But like any hobby, the more you practise, the better you get.
This trip provided another opportunity, to get some tips from professional photographer Dion Georgopoulos. Exposure, composition, the right angle - things like that.
Memphis Belle (us drone hobbyists like to name our aircraft) was prepped and packed for the trip and we set off - straight into rain squalls and wind.
The drone would be "socked in", grounded by poor weather, for a couple of days.
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It had its first outing at Menindee Lake, just as the sun was sinking over the seemingly unending expanse of water.
Everything was cast in a golden glow but it wasn't the sunset which really caught my eye. It was the ground directly beneath the drone that held the real drama.
It was the same the entire trip.
From above, the oxide red dirt, the almost defiant sage-green of the vegetation, resemble a First Nations dot painting.
Depressions in the ground succour the plants. Looking directly down, the water courses become apparent.
Depending on the time of day and where the light is falling, the colours change.
Point the camera one way and the landscape is an intense red or ochre. Point it the other way and it's almost grey.
First thing in the morning, just as the sun clears the horizon and the air is still, the water in the Darling is mirror-smooth, reflecting the sky and the majestic red gums that line its banks.
At midday, out on the flood plain, a station owner musters sheep - a swirling circle of white forms against blood-red dirt.
The kelpie helping to round them up in unaware of the art he's creating. It's the favourite image from the trip.
Australians love to mythologise the outback but we cling to the coast, as if we're terrified of the interior. I was like that too, until this trip.
Compelled by COVID to holiday at home, we're opening our eyes to our own backyard, heading west.
We're discovering a raw beauty unlike anything you'll see on the coast.
And it's best seen from above.
Read more about the Forgotten River:
- Learn about Wilcannia. Before it was a COVID hotspot.
- Find out what happened after the historic Menindee Lake fish kills
- Hear the stories of those challenging water policy to save Australia's outback river
- See the mighty Darling River for the first time through a photographer's lens