Having travelled extensively in the Country of my birth. I felt as a photographer I would like to show a side of Australia that tourists rarely see. The working and gritty side of a commodity driven country.
I have used black and white for strength. I see much of Australia as time warped in the 19th century. Much of the attitude beyond the populated coastal regions is early 20th century to 1945 the 50s and 60s. When I left Australia the first time the population had not yet hit 10 million. Today it borders on 25 million and should continue to grow exponentially. However still most new comers cling to the coastal regions like clinging to the gunnel of a boat. Little effort has been made by successive governments to develop the interior of this vast continent Island for community growth.
The main development has been for short term commercial / profit driven gains. Such objectives have caused the plundering of one of the world’s great commodity reservoirs with little thought for the landscape or its inhabitants. Many will say irrigation is a problem however Australia has one of the great sweet water catchments of the world in the Great Artesian Basin covering in excess of 1/3 of the country.
The country suffers from lack of real communication infrastructure development, railways and roads. There has been too much profiteering by small groups in power that have been too quick to take the vast sums of corporate cash on offer by the multi-nationals that covert the buried riches of Australia. The country is the epitome of the good life for the few a promotion of the 1%. This issue manifests in the lack of of support for the farming communities, wildlife protection and the governments inertia related to fire seasons.
Still many commodity industries are producing as they have for the last 150 years through the blood sweat and tears of hard yakka (yakka Australian for work). As an example Australia produces 1/3 of the world’s wool this wool from the Merino sheep is of the finest micron quality on the globe. Although some of the micron quality ( not all ) has been purposely lowered for more cost effective Chinese manufacturing. Shearing still takes place in the shearing shed on the sheep stations as it has for 150 years. Many commodities are mined in small holdings by sweating miners sometimes working in dangerous conditions, Lightning Ridge, Coober Pedy, White Cliffs to name a few.
Australia, the 11th wealthiest country in the world with a debt ratio to GDP of 31% far lower than the UK’s is underpopulated and lacks a cohesive tourist marketing plan Australia is a country of global interest that receives only 5 million tourists per year and many of those must be Chinese families visiting the growing Chinese diaspora living in the country .
A country of such vastness that all of Europe can fit into it has so much to offer in the way of wildlife, Art, History especially relating to the 1800s. The aboriginal community a historic longevity that few countries can offer, a continuous and cohesive society lasting longer than the ancient Egyptians and possibly the Chinese that can be traced back 50,000 years.
A historic social and artistic infrastructure that many races should envy.
Most marketing of Australia is aimed in a limited way at the English speaking world and tends to promote mainly beaches and the common knowledge icons, Opera House, Sydney Harbour Bridge Uluru /Ayers Rock warm beaches and the Barrier Reef.
There is however much more to Australia and current promotion does not illustrate the tremendous variations that this great country has to offer, the desert, the commodity industry, a country that supplies one third of the world’s wool,
Merino the finest micron wool in the world, the real history of the Aboriginal people.
Promotion tends to give a potted history of the Aboriginal never with the depth that illustrates the the evolution of these
accomplished people through the ages, the great literature that they have illuminated through storytelling, art and music. The cost of getting to Australia as a tourist from Europe can be high and once there travel around this vast country is not made easy for the visitor.Canberra the national capital has a long train trip to Sydney, Canberra to Dubbo (a major central NSW city) can only be accessed by car or bus. The bus only operating on Saturday and travelling to Dubbo via dozens of small towns. Car hire is expensive and usually carries anything up to a $5000 excess, insuring this excess can also be expensive. There seems to be a paranoia within the rental car industry that the car will be damaged or not returned. Also the cost can rise if the car is taken from one state to another. Such costs need to be looked at more closely.
There is of course the problem of many dirt roads a majority corrugated in the Outback not a plus for car suspensions unless . This does present a problem for rental car companies however there still needs to be a more tourist friendly rental structure. Australia has many rail arteries most now closed due to the lack of usage,When I traveled from the shores of my home country the first time there were only 9 to 10 million inhabitants, today that has increased to 24 million. This vast country could support many more. Controlled population growth brings many benefits, it increases the market size thus giving real reason for manufactures to exist as they have both export and home market. Australia lacks diversification and is dependent upon the commodities industry and the market fluctuations of pricing within that industry.
The Aussie Dollar is a commodity driven currency.
Car manufacturers have mostly pulled out of Australia even the iconic Holden is now manufactured overseas. Most business people will tell you that diversification is important in any business strategy if helps to flatten out the market controlling fluctuations.
Goods in Australia tend to move around by truck Road Train this is expensive and lowers the volume of product that can be moved quickly from manufacturer to consumer.
Many of the railway lines carefully constructed from the early 1900’s have been closed. The development of the interior has been neglected for lack of water yet 23% of the country is covered by one of the world’s great sweet water caches the Artesian Basin to this day greatly underutilized and still the 3 to 4 year droughts cause consternation or should I say constipation. Stretching from Cape York in the north, down to Dubbo and across to Coober Pedy, the Great Artesian Basin covers almost a quarter of the Australian continent, and contains enough water to cover the world over. Much remains to be known about this valuable resource that has enabled life in inland Australian to develop over thousands of years.
Look at the irrigated development of Israel and no Artesian Basin. The Darling Murray river system is being plundered without thought. Great rivers that once were busy arteries carrying paddle steamers transporting goods and passengers would be lucky to see a canoe.. Mines are closing even Broken Hill the beginning of Australia’s largest company Broken Hill Pty Ltd a region of more variation in differing mineral deposits than any other place on earth seems to be scaling back.
By 2050 the population is expected to reach 42 million. The infrastructure to cope with this increase needs to be kick started as soon as possible. I think that I pointed out in a previous blog that if Woolworth and Cole’s had waited until their current 18 million supermarket customers had been lined up in front of the first plot for the first complex they would never have reached the market saturation levels they have reached today. When reading papers on population growth and how the terrain can support the projected numbers what I find missing is projected figures based on future investment and development most papers only discuss the here and now, Australia needs some serous modeling put into place, such a vast country is a blank sheet of paper and possibly the world’s real last frontier.
Much of Australia’s development is not dissimilar to that of the United States and its growth from the coastal regions to the west or inland.Not all of Australia’s population hugs the coast rather like hanging onto a tippin mattress. Although the greater proportion of the Australian population is on the coast the Commodity wealth of the country has driven growth inland seeking the rich mining of every mental and mineral from Gold, tin, copper, bauxite, opals, Uranium, silver, iron ore, coal ;
Sheep and cattle farming booms across most states with the country hosting some of the largest sheep stations and cattle ranches in the world. Wine vineyards stretch from Western Australia to Queensland. Grains and cotton at also grown in the commodity rich outback
Australia produces 30% of the worlds wool and the merino is the finest micron level available to the market. Australia is the 7th largest beef producer in the world, producing around 4% of the world’s beef.
All this rush for wealth really commenced in the 1800s. In 1851 the Australian population was only 437,655 the gold rush of 1851 changed all of this with the population growing rapidly and a decade later it was 1,151,957, today of course it is nearly 24 million people. the mining, sheep and to an extent the beef industry was away from the coast and caused the development of outback towns and cities such as Condobolin,Dubbo, Broken Hill, Ballarat, Alice Springs and Lightning Ridge all now major centers for the commodity driven industries.
The development of these towns really dates from the 1800s a period when the United States of America was developing in a similar way. North America’s towns of the wild west were very similar to Australia’s even down to the stagecoach connections of Cobb and Co. What developed in this period of inland growth were what Australians refer to as the ‘Veranda Towns’. Towns with large verandas circumnavigating the period commercial buildings and houses of these regional centres – designed for hot summer evenings.
This architecture gives Australia its unique character influencing its development from the 1800s on. So much of this development is left in- tact across the continent that the country is a ‘Museum for the 1800s and the growth of a nation..
Australia comprises a land mass of around 7.629 million square kilometers. It is about 50% greater than the European Union. When I did my first trip overseas in the early 1970s the population was around 10 million today it is 24 million people. The latest visit to my homeland started to give me an insight into the deficiencies in the infrastructure of this vast and exciting country. I mentioned in a previous blog the difficulties in travelling to the major inland city of Dubbo from the National Capital. There is only one bus a week Saturday and this travels through many outback small towns. Australians whom I spoke to and as an Australian I do understand the lingo generally felt that there are not enough people to justify building the infrastructure. This is rather like saying that Woolworths and Coles with their 18.3 million customers and total control of the $85 billion grocery market should not have built stores until the 18.3 million people where queuing up in front of the vacant plot picked out for the first store.
I spend my time now between Spain and Australia and have pointed out on many occasions the strong High Speed Rail Network that has gone together in Spain – Alta Velocidad Española (AVE)
Now I know that much of this network is built via EU (European Union for those Australians who don’t know where the EU is) loans. This money is however much better spent on infrastructure than going into some greasy politician’s pocket. The last 6 months have seen Spain coming out of recession with a growth rate as good as Germany’s. The infrastructure in Spain will pay off the country now has the second best High Speed Rail network in the world after China, where is Britain and Australia. The road system of Spain is now mostly silk like highways. Goods and tourists can move faster companies like this type of investment. Ford motor company is putting 2.8 Billion Euros into manufacturing in Valencia what a confirmation of trust; one of the biggest car manufacturing investments ever. What of Australia’s car manufacturing it has stopped, even the
iconic Holden has left the shores. Australia loosely welcomes 5 million tourists per year. I will add that at least half of these tourists are probably Chinese families coming in and out to visit relatives. Spain has 70 million tourists, France 85 million and Britain 35 million. Now most Australians while over the Barbie will tell you that it is due to the distance, from where the antarctic, Asia including China and Japan are in striking distance as is much of the East Coast of the USA. Tourists can lift an economy the Greeks may have to survive off the tourist industry. Greece attracts 22.5 million tourists per year with a population of 11 million; tourism contributes over $30 billion US per year to the economy. Now it is the birth place of democracy whatever that is, however Australia has a people who can be traced back 50,000 years and are living on one of the oldest continents on earth. The differential between what other countries achieve in attracting tourists and what Australia with its stunning and much unspoilt countryside, outback and beaches achieves should make the tourist board ashamed. Thailand gets 22 million plus Tourists annually.
Australia is generally believed to be a dry land once away from the coast. However the Great Artesian Basin is the largest and deepest artesian basin in the world covering 1.7 million square kilometers some 23% of the continent this is a massive sweet water cache, It is also an under used resource with many of the great Australian Rivers being pumped dry.
The Darling river with its tributaries is 2,844 km long making it the largest river system in Australia. The Murray river is Australia’s longest river at 2508 Km. The Murray Darling confluence is at Wentworth New South Wales.The Murray Darling river system is one of the longest in the world.
There was a period when steamers came up the Darling river today you would be lucky to paddle a canoe up this great river. Industry and to some degree intensive cotton farming and its hunger for water have had a great effect on the water level of both the Darling and Murray rivers.
The Murray still has some depth to it but the Darling has little left. Cubbie Station located near Dirranbandi South West Queensland the largest irrigation system in the Southern Hemisphere covering some 240,000 acres has dammed of more water than the total volume of Sydney Harbour from the Darling river system.. All of this intensive agriculture is damaging the environment and having an effect on the native commodities wheat and the wool industry. The problem seems to be that successive governments have been more concerned with their political power and personal financial gains rather than investing management skills into protecting this exciting continent and growing the real wealth of the country. It is hoped that the Aboriginals who control the rights to most river banks will step in and help fight this destruction of the environment.
The only state at the moment that has a sound financial base is New South Wales but I wonder how long that will last, possibly NSW should go for independence the Scots would support them. With sound management Australia has the mineral / commodity wealth to be one of the leading countries in the world. Australia is the 11th wealthiest country in the world, Spain is the 12th. Generally speaking the country left to the Australians would go bust. It’s lucky that the Chinese have come however the joint deals need to be managed so that the Australians also benefit. There is the population for both a manufacturing base and commodity base. The Australian Dollar is at the mercy of commodity and especially mining prices – good business spreads the risk.
A journey around Australia will bring the traveller in contact with some of the most interesting and creative art in the world, Indigenous, European descended , Road and Urban The first great artists of this stunning country where the Aboriginals dating back some 50,000 years. The creativity of this highly sophisticated people is now legendary. One fellow traveller meeting me by chance on an outback road told me ‘ Europe has history Australia has art’.
Many Australian outback centres have established artist’s names past and present associated with their local community some with international reputations, Albert Namatjira, Pro Hart , Howard William Steer, Arthur Boyd – worth seeing the Broken Hill desert sculptures. It would take some time to name all the talent that is and has created the Australian unique character.
Much of the art of Australia contains great humour of a real Australian Character. The vibrant hard colours of Australia make for strong clear work by artists. Ochres reds of the dust, blue of the never ending sky make for some of the most vivid images that can be recreated by artists. As you move away from the green coast travelling over the great dividing range the landscape moves from a light ochre to a ochre red dust and then to the red heart with the bright red dust covering the car. As you get to the red heart the sky becomes clear and cobalt blue.
This is what many Australian artists from the aboriginals to the humorists of the European descended art community depict somewhere in their art. Australia is a country close to the earth the aboriginals mixed earth colours the European community recreates those colours. The traveller looking closely will also discover the abundant road and community art of this incredibly creative country with its stunning landscapes and history of 50,000 years and the development of the second nation from the late 1700s to present day . Australia is a country of Artists.
Most people know Australia by the traditional icons, Sydney harbour Bridge, Opera House, Uluru/Ayers Rock, long beaches with surfers, the Barrier Reef. There is another Australia that I grew up in travelling west inland from the east coast and northern Victoria. This region is where Australia began as people moved inland from Sydney and Melbourne in order to work and mine the land and is where much of the current exciting development is today.
When I first left Australia it was a country of 8 to 9 million people, today it is a nation of 23 million. A country rich in commodities, gold, tin, copper, bauxite, sheep, cattle (beef and dairy) and fine wines. I found large numbers of prosperous small towns, looking like something out of the wild west with their typical awning and veranda architecture stuck in a ‘time warp’ from the 1800s to 1950s, towns with young populations. Driving into a town full of period history and finding a delicatessen selling food products from all over the world and a coffee shop promoting panini with Mediterranean vegetables and of course the inevitable Chinese restaurant. Small towns with massive Cole’s or Woolworth’s supermarkets servicing the outlying sheep stations, farms, mines and now vineyards spread out over 1000s of kilometers from South Australia across NSW and into Queensland. Towns full of young people working in the the lucrative world of physical commodities. Australia is a country of growing importance and influence in Asia, a country that has become of great importance to the development of China.
The Chinese the greatest of trading people have seen the importance of this commodity rich country and have in great numbers began to call it home. While sitting in Condobolin a small sheep and mining town inland NSW, I was asked by a cousin what we should do tonight, “do you want a Chinese” he asked. Of course three shops in town, coffee shop, supermarket and Chinese restaurant. i should add there is always a pub selling great old and new beer. Most pubs in this region have a history dating from the 1800s. The Chinese are bringing real wealth to the country and are living alongside the Australians and easily integrating. Australia is a country in transition a country that is creating a new race of people who are developing and promoting its exciting commodity wealth. Sales of Merino wool are on the increase again. Merino wool the world’s finest wool in the past too expensive for the Chines market, however many sheep stations have lowered the micron quality and can now put this fine wool into a cost bracket that suits the Chinese market, allowing them to still brand products Merino.
There is so much life in the Australian outback its commodity wealth and its vast beauty from red ochre laced dust to the never ending cobalt blue skies. The wealth of this region is now attracting the young. I have added a quote I found on the the front of a pub in an outback town.
I currently live in London for business reasons, working as a photographer, am an Australian citizen and proud to call myself an Australian.