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Post-Magnus

7373 Washed up on the shore of the world

2015 Tag

5761 Little blue guy 2

5516 Half in light

5721 Tulips, Floriade

7661 Group Selfie

6702 Spring flowers

7402 V & M, back from the hospital

5757 Bonsai tree

7347 On the sand

7629 Zan

4285 Curly wurly

4251 Ferns

7326 On the sand

7531 Train window

5621 Halifax bomber

5274 Tree movement 3

4851 fullmoon flats

7293 Reading in the sun

5576 Jet Engine

8302 Sculpture by the sea

7312 On the sand

Again, a misleading title here as many of these shots were in fact taken pre-Magnus – in other words, before the birth of my son of the same name just a month ago. Without so many opportunities to get out since Magnus joined us, I’ve spent more time going through old photographs and picking out those which slipped through the net. I’ve certainly taken a lot of photographs of Magnus since he came out, but most of these will only really appeal to relatives as babies aren’t necessarily the most interesting of photographic subjects. I’ve certainly sent a lot to my mother, but, however cute we may think he is, a whole series of Magnus shots is perhaps not so appealing to others.

A favourite theme is once again represented here – that of the beach and the various ways in which people make use of it, and, indeed, the variety of people who use the beach. It’s been several weeks now since we’ve had the chance to go, but as soon as V is fully recovered physically, we’ll be back in the water with a vengeance. And a baby…

The Long Dark

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The Long Dark

When you’re not expecting it, permadeath sucks. It really hurts to die several hours into a game, only to realise that all saves have been wiped and all progress lost. Few computer games have permadeath (permanent death, requiring a fresh restart) – the vast majority allow the player to reload their previous saves. Much of the time permadeath is more of a niche choice by players – those who pride themselves on being able to complete something without a single loss of life. In The Long Dark, however, a survival game being developed by Hinterland, permadeath is just one of the many features that make the game so addictively engaging.

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Shelter in a blizzard – don’t forget to check the glovebox

I say “being developed” because The Long Dark  is presently available in alpha through Steam’s Early Access facility. Early Access allows players to purchase a game in development, not only funding the game’s ongoing production, but also play-testing the game and thus helping to improve it through their feedback, should they choose to give it. As the development progresses, those who opted in early will automatically have their game updated to the latest version. All told, it seems a great way to support new game developers in particular – something I’m very happy to invest in considering how much great narrative and art is being generated across the industry these days.

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Logging Camp, be wary of prowling wolves

The premise of The Long Dark is that after a geomagnetic anomaly all electronic devices have stopped working, causing the protagonist’s plane to crash in the Canadian wilderness. Starting as either a man or a woman, the only difference between whom is the voice (I much prefer the female voice), players must attempt to survive as long as possible in extremely harsh conditions. This requires a number of different strategies and techniques – a combination of finding shelter, foraging, hunting, looting, fishing, lighting fires to turn snow into potable water, repairing and crafting clothes and other tools, even using snares to catch rabbits. It is not an easy game at all, though you can certainly play it safe. Yet, however you do play the game, and wherever you go inside it, hanging over your head like the sword of Damocles is the ever-present risk of permanent death. It is this fact that gives the game its incredible intensity.

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The Coastal Highway

The initial experience of The Long Dark will be very different depending on which of two areas you start in: Mystery Lake or Coastal Highway. Exactly where you begin within that area and at what time of day is also initially very significant. Sometimes the toughest part of the game is the first half hour – usually a desperate bid to get out of the cold, away from wolves, and into some kind of shelter. There is no hand-holding, no tutorial, no explanations of how to perform any actions in game, just the ever-ticking calorie count, increasing thirst and fatigue, and the dropping temperature. It is, however, extremely intuitive and anyone with a capacity for lateral thinking will rapidly adapt to the character’s requirements.

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A rough start – injured and freezing

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Mystery Lake

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Warmth and protection

Mystery Lake is more difficult in that it offers far fewer available resources, fewer houses to loot and a great deal more empty wilderness. If you don’t starve to death, you may well die from the weather conditions as it is tough to find enough materials to repair clothing sufficiently to face the cold. The Coastal Highway offers far more abundant loot from the greater number of dwellings along the road, yet it also contains a higher density of wolves – the biggest obstacle to survival in The Long Dark.

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The Quonset Service Station

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Abundant supplies to be found here

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The fireplace – a great way to cook and produce fresh water

Survival can be achieved in a number of ways, but unsurprisingly it is about finding enough food, drinking water and clothing to stay fed, hydrated and warm, and finding safe places in which to shelter from the elements and the wolves. There are houses, huts, trailers and cabins from which to loot useful items and anyone who loves looting containers will enjoy the bittersweet process of entering a house and rifling through all the cupboards and drawers. Items can be found on shelves, in fridges, in cupboards, under beds, in medicine cabinets, chests of drawers, filing cabinets, toilet cisterns and, occasionally, on wall-racks. The sheer joy of finding something as simple as a can-opener can flood the player with a brief feeling of relief and respite in a hostile world where death seems just a matter of time.

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The humble can-opener, humble no more

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Water Purification tablets – not often necessary, but good to have

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After fighting off a wolf, you’ll need bandages and antiseptic

What The Long Dark offers in spades is immersion, immersion, immersion. I haven’t felt so completely entranced by a game since the launch of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim in 2011. That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of very immersive games out there, but The Long Dark is almost entirely about immersion. In sandbox mode, without any script or clear goal other than survival, from the very outset the narrative is entirely up to the player. There are no quests, no quest-givers, indeed, there is no one at all to interact with. The only other people in the game are dead; frozen corpses, found very occasionally, lying in the snow or propped up against the furniture inside houses.

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This guy didn’t make it. Don’t forget to check his hands, sometimes they can be found holding a hatchet

The atmosphere in the game is powerful, full of a determined despair. For much of the game there is no music at all, yet when it comes it is spacious and moving, quietly melancholic, a Scandinavian cool. When one stumbles upon a corpse in a house, an alienating and haunting theme quietly plays; a beautiful addition to the interior atmospherics of muffled footsteps on floors and the whistling icy wind outside. The game also looks beautiful and minimalistic. The landscape, structures and vehicles are all highly stylised, somewhere between a water-colour painting and a cartoon, yet the art is so consistent and effective symbolically, that it punches above its weight and delivers an experience the equal of higher-resolution games. Shadows shift as time passes, as does the lurid colours of the gorgeous skies – blue, orange, salmon pink and midnight blue in the alpine night.

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Full moon rising

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The frozen coast

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Midnight Blue

 

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Wide horizon

Wind and snow effects are entrancing, from mild breezes to blizzards, fogs, white-outs, swirling winds and slow-falling fat flakes of snow. Fires cast a warm light and send smoke spiralling upwards, flares light the world blood orange red and the storm lantern is a welcome source of illumination in all conditions.

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Shelter

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Sweet comfort

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Jackrabbit Island

The mechanics of temperature are splendid and wonderfully intuitive. If a strong wind is whipping past, you will be considerably warmer standing behind something which blocks it. It is warmer in the middle of the day than at dawn and dusk. Interiors are usually warm enough without any source of heat, yet stripping naked can make one so cold as to even freeze to death indoors. Clothing carries both a warmth bonus and, in some cases, a wind-chill prevention factor. The weather varies frequently and, at times, very quickly. More than once I’ve been caught in the middle of a complete white-out and gotten lost wandering around on the frozen ocean, unsure whether or not I was going in circles.

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Blizzard in the Ravine

On account of its capacity for intense immersion, The Long Dark should only be played at night, with headphones and lights out. This is to maximise enjoyment, but also for practical reasons. The dark interiors are lit only by wan light through the windows and one doesn’t want to waste one’s lantern fuel unnecessarily. It is also vital in the game to be sensitive to sound. Hearing a wolf’s growl above the howling gale can be the difference between life and death, and wolves can take even the most experienced player completely by surprise.

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When shot, the wolves can yield a lot of meat, leather and gut

The Long Dark  is not a combat game; nor does it feature hordes of enemies in the form of zombies, mutants, psychopathic cannibals or any of the other stereotypical antagonists one finds in the genre. Arguably, the main antagonist is the weather and the constant wear and tear on one’s body and equipment, yet there are also savage wolves out there which can rip you to shreds in a jiffy. This is no exaggeration, for they are notoriously difficult to beat once they close in and attack. The game’s biggest flaw is its combat mechanic, which is messy and difficult and involves mashing the left mouse button to build up force to strike with the right. Getting it to work is seriously difficult and at best all that can be achieved is to drive the wolf off for a time, by which stage you will be so damaged and bleeding you’ll very possibly die of blood loss shortly afterwards. Frustration on this front is increased by the fact that it is possible to find a hunting knife and a hatchet, but these cannot be equipped as weapons. I accept that wolves should be difficult, and the character not necessarily a skilled fighter, but being able to take a swing with something would be nice. In truth, the best way to deal with wolves is to learn to avoid them, which often means giving them a wide berth, lighting a fire in the wilderness and staying beside it, or waiting and sleeping inside a house or hut until they wander elsewhere.

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At long last…

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Rifle Ammunition – most rare indeed

It is also possible to shoot wolves if you find the hunting rifle and some ammunition. Both spawn randomly in certain locations but rarely together, so one often goes for long periods with one but not the other. The rifle is certainly effective in taking down wolves, or deer, or rabbits – a head-shot will kill them, while any other kind of hit will see them flee yelping, often to be found some distance away, having died from blood loss. Animals now leave a trail of blood behind and can be followed. The problem with the rifle, however, is that ammunition is so rare and difficult to find that one often has no bullets at all, just a single round, or maybe, if lucky, a packet of five. This rather hinges on whether or not you can find the Prepper’s Cache in Mystery Lake – an old cold war nuclear shelter, the location of which shifts between five or so different locations and can be notoriously difficult to find.

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I can’t possibly express what it took to find this – give me a needle in a haystack anyday

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The bunker

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Prepper’s Cache is a bonanza

You can also risk braving the wrath of Fluffy – a wolf which can spawn inside the Carter Hydro Dam building. Both of these locations can provide a decent cache of ammunition, though I’ve never found more than 25 bullets in a single game – a rare abundance. It is therefore highly advisable only to use the rifle when there is absolutely no other alternative. In those moments, when a wolf is coming at you, don’t hesitate to shoot.

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Carter Hydro Dam – Beware of Fluffy!

I welcome these limitations so far as the rifle is concerned as they make the game far more focussed on basic survival, encouraging the kind of conservation of materials appropriate to the genre. It also leaves the player feeling far more at the mercy of this largely hostile environment, a bleak sense of powerlessness. And one is largely powerless before the elements. You can certainly improve your skills at fire-lighting, repairing and crafting, but it is not possible to level up in anyway, increasing, for example, durability and fighting prowess. The only statistics of concern are fatigue, hunger, thirst and condition, the air temperature and the protective bonuses given by clothing against the weather.

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Cold in the morning. Many chores to choose from

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Keep clothing maintained – always compare values

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Harvesting clothing for cloth patches

These statistics do require regular monitoring. Never go to sleep for long periods or risk waking up dehydrated and losing condition. Don’t set out on a long journey if you are fatigued. Always be aware of the time of day and the air temperature. Make sure you have the means to start a fire if necessary. If it is -12 degrees and you wish to harvest meat from a frozen deer carcass, light a fire beside it first or risk freezing during the process. Try to get hold of a hunting knife, a hatchet, a can opener, a prybar, some tools and a number of sewing kits. These things will also need to be maintained, for items deteriorate at an unrealistically rapid pace, according to use and exposure.

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Necessary for harvesting meat from carcasses. Can also open cans and cut through frozen fishing holes

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Cooking meat to avoid food poisoning risk. With a long enough fire, can make litre after litre of drinking water.

Spending time outdoors degrades clothing very rapidly. A pair of jeans might lose 35 percent condition overnight in the wilderness. It is therefore always best to sleep inside. If you do sleep rough, always try to light a long-burning fire first and never, never, never, forget to pick up your bed roll when you’re done.

There are certainly a few flaws in this game, though none that really break it. Many people complain about the speed of item degradation, yet, without this, things might be just a bit too easy. The blocky nature of some of the landscape makes it frustratingly difficult to move around small obstacles at times. There is no jump key and consequently you can get stuck behind a foot-high fence or be unable to walk up onto a patio half a foot off the ground without taking the stairs. There are also some areas where it is possible to get stuck, usually between boulders when descending steep slopes.

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The abandoned lookout

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Fishing Hut on the frozen coast

One of the game’s inherent problems, however, derives from its greatest strengths. The knowledge that there is, ultimately, no escape from the sandbox, nor any way to win the game, coupled with the fact that death is permanent and perhaps inevitable, whilst creating an intense and immersive bleakness, can encourage an overly cautious approach to game-play, discouraging exploration except when strictly necessary. At one point, having harvested eight kilos of venison and four of wolf meat, equipped with plenty of ammunition, clothing, tools and medicine, I couldn’t see any reason or incentive for leaving the house in which I was holed up. It was easy enough to forage for wood outside, providing a virtually endless supply of water from melted, boiled snow, and the meat was sufficient to last almost a week of caloric demands. I could have picked up everything and set off encumbered, but I couldn’t help wondering, from both an immersive role-play perspective, and a meta-game strategy perspective, what possible incentive there could be apart from the avoidance of cabin fever.

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Another quaint interior

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Well stocked

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Forestry Lookout – hard to get up here if the wolf is on the road

Perhaps this is the point of the game. Survival is arduous, exhausting, adventurous, yes, even romantic in some regards, but ultimately, it’s a slog. Sitting in a house for weeks until the food runs out would drive many people batty in the real world, and it can do so in The Long Dark. The desire for a change of scene, the thrill of risk, the determination to invent and pursue goals for their own sake all gnaw at the player, sending them back out into the wilderness, once more exposed to the fury of weather and wolves.

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The mesmerising night

It must be possible to survive long enough to consume every processed edible on the map, and I do wonder if the game assumes a whole new level of awesome when hunting, fishing and foraging remain the only options. It must be possible to run out of matches as well, I suppose, though they are certainly abundant in houses and shops along the highway. There are firestrikers and even a magnifying glass to be found, so it might be possible to light fires indefinitely. Should anyone survive long enough to reach this point, it would be an incredible achievement in itself, given the savagery of the wolves and the rapidity with which the weather can change.

The Long Dark may only be in Alpha, but already it is one of the most enjoyable and memorable gaming experiences I’ve ever had. I’m still playing it and I feel nostalgic already. I’m not surprised to see that it rates 10/10 on Steam from 2,431 reviews at present. I cannot stress how wonderfully atmospheric this game is. If you enjoyed reading Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, then this is the game for you. There might be no cannibals roving the land, nor anyone else for that matter, but for a deeply immersive experience of bleak isolation, of loneliness and struggle, of beauty, terror and heart-pounding moments of intense action and fear, this game is a cracker. Well done, Hinterland, and keep up the good work.

5283 Braving the surf

Braving the surf, Bronte Beach, April 24, 2009

Recently I’ve posted a number of shots from Bronte beach in Sydney, and this one was also taken at Bronte on the edge of the salt-water pool. This is a great place to be when the surf is especially strong and waves come crashing over the edge. During an especially big swell, the waves can hit the pool with such force that the local life-guards will shut the pool to avoid any injuries. This might seem an extreme measure, but often so much water enters the pool that the outflow could potentially carry someone out with it onto the rocks. There is also a danger of being hurt by the sheer power of the waves.

One afternoon back in 1996, during a gigantic swell driven by a tropical cyclone off the coast of Queensland to the north, I ran down for a swim in the pool. The waves hit the water with such strength that it was constantly white with foam and the pool was full of violent eddies and currents. After about five minutes of being tossed around like a cork, one particularly large wave struck and hit me so hard that I was pushed underwater onto the bottom of the seven-foot deep pool and driven across the floor until I ran up against the back wall. Both thrilled and a little shaken by the experience, I got out of the pool immediately afterwards.

This shot captures a favourite sport for many people, especially kids, who visit the pool – hanging onto the boundary rope for dear life and getting smashed by the waves as they crash over the rocks. It’s both a test of strength and a fun way of being thrown into the pool in a shower of foam. I doubt anyone could ever get bored of this and most only stop when they become tired, get a fright or simply have to go home. This shot was something of a gift, nature and people combining in a dynamic scene – I was just lucky to be in the right place at the right time.

Rosetta, woot!

On the 12th of November 2014, if all goes according to plan, the European Space Agency will land a probe named Philae on the surface of a comet. This is the first such attempt to do so and will not only be a gigantic milestone in our understanding of these heavenly bodies in particular, and the origins of the solar system, but it also marks one of the most daring and brilliant engineering efforts of the modern era. Philae will be dispatched from the Rosetta space probe which went into orbit around comet  67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko (hereafter 67P/C-G) in August this year. What it has taken even to reach this point and achieve these initial goals is truly extraordinary.

Rosetta was launched on March 2, 2004 and finally reached the comet with which it was designed to rendez-vous on August 6, 2014.

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Powered only by its solar panels, Rosetta has been forced to make a number of complex manoeuvres in order to save energy and accelerate sufficiently to chase a speeding comet. Thus, after launch, Rosetta has relied on gravity assists from a number of planet flybys – first swinging around Earth in March 2005, then Mars in February 2007, Earth again in November 2007, before flying by an asteroid – 2867 Steins – in September 2008, back around the Earth in November 2009, then out past another asteroid, 21 Lutetia, in July 2010. Having finally picked up sufficient momentum and been set on the right trajectory, in mid 2011, as it swung out toward the orbit of Jupiter, Rosetta was shut down and entered a 31-month period of hibernation.

Rosetta trajectory 2

For almost three years Rosetta floated in space, waiting patiently for the comet to swing past so that it might begin its final chase. Then, earlier this year, on January 20, 2014, Rosetta was woken by her internal alarm. The probe fired its thrusters to slow its rotation, faced its solar panels towards the sun, rotated its antenna towards the Earth and finally, after an anxious wait, sent a signal to indicate that its systems were operational. It was the first communication heard from the craft during those 31 months and mission controllers (along with fans and supporters the world over) were understandably ecstatic.

She's alive!

Rosetta was alive and well and the mission to pursue comet 67P/C-G was back on.

Since waking, Rosetta spent nearly eight months chasing the comet and finally caught up in August, at which point it executed a series of burns to manoeuvre into orbit around the comet by September 10. On arriving at the comet, scientists were surprised to discover that it was curiously misshapen, appearing almost to be two comets stuck together and joined by a narrow bridge.

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Comet_on_18_October_NavCam

On account of its shape, it was likened to a rubber duck and presented mission controllers with significant problems in identifying a suitable landing site for the Philae lander. A decision was finally made in October and the landing site name “Agilkia” was selected, along with the date of November 12. The name of the site carries on the Egyptian theme of the mission – Agilkia being an island in the River Nile.

Comet_on_15_October_NavCam

Come the 12th, Philae will detach itself from Rosetta and fall slowly towards the comet, a process which will take around 7 hours to complete. The landing will be hazardous, largely as it is very difficult to pinpoint exactly where Philae will touch down within the chosen site and there is a risk that it will land on a boulder or ridge and flip over. Also, on account of the incredibly low gravity of the comet, a consequence of its negligible mass, there is some concern that even if Philae lands on a flat surface, it may rebound from the comet. Thus, Philae is equipped with harpoons which will fire into the surface, as well as feet designed to screw into the ground upon landing.

How_Philae_lands_on_the_comet

The scientific understanding that has come from this mission so far is very valuable indeed and, even if Philae fails, roughly 80% of the mission’s objectives will have been met. Rosetta will continue to orbit comet 67P/C-G until August 2015, as it swings around the sun, thus giving us an opportunity to study the material make-up of the comet and its behaviour in unprecedented detail. The images that have already been released show an inspiring and magnificently barren landscape with robust and jagged features, stark in the high contrast of the unfiltered sun.

Comet_on_24_September_NavCam

For a mission first conceived in 1993, after rejecting plans for a sample-return mission, this data has been a long time coming. Irrespective of the scientific understanding that comes from Rosetta’s remarkable journey, its very conception, the skill and precision which has gone into its execution, and the beautiful images that have come to us already constitute a wonderful and inspiring achievement. Fingers crossed, come Wednesday, we shall be looking at the first ever images taken from the surface of a comet. That is truly something worth celebrating in a jaded world in which humanity has little to be proud of right now.

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Philae_s_backup_landing_site_from_30_km_b

Comet_on_2_November_NavCam

Comet_on_14_September_2014_-_NavCam

Comet_on_8_October_NavCam

Comet_on_18_October_b_NavCam

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Comet_close-up

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Paper and Sand

6221 Blue birdy

6185 Young corndog 2

6179 Life goes on

6287 man with child

5922 Bronte

3621 Dog walkers

5649 Biplane

6359 Beach pattern 3

6259 Native

6156 Reading 2

5989 Reading by the pool

5818 Reading at the beach

4970 Reflection deck

5916 reading in the sun 2

0697 Playground dream

1043 Texture

6139 The Bronte train

6212 Bogeyhole window

6065 Backwash over seagrass

5950 Rooftop tramp

6231 Blue bird

These shots follow recent themes, mostly revolving around the beach. This is partly circumstantial – as I always take my camera to the beach these days and it’s one of the few occasions now where I dedicate time specifically to taking shots. Much of the time my shots are purely reactive and incidental – I see something, pull out my camera, grab the shot and continue with whatever I was doing. In many ways this means I don’t spend enough time lingering in the scene and making more use of it, so it can be a bit hit and miss. Then again, so can any shoot, and hanging around does not guarantee results.

Having said all that, the desire to focus on the beach also stems from a long-standing fascination with beach culture as a core element of the Australian lifestyle. Ever since studying Australian literature and the history of various Australian artistic movements, I’ve had an interest in the gradual cultural transition from the bush as the principal symbol of Australia in the nineteenth century, to the 20th century recognition that the beach was in fact far more representative of Australia and Australian life. In recent decades the Australian geographical identity has coalesced into a combination of bush, beach and outback, as any international tourism advertisement will confirm.

This interest was piqued again recently when writing several series of courses for HSC ESL students – in other words, final year high school students with English as a second language. Much of the HSC material is focussed on getting students to identify and analyse distinct Australian voices and visions – writers, artists, film-makers, lyricists etc, whose subject matter and themes reflect or directly engage with Australian experiences, attitudes and concerns. This is very difficult for people who have arrived in Australia only a year or two before who have little grasp of Australian attitudes and stereotypes. It’s nigh impossible to explain why Paul Hogan, for example, is distinctly Australian, if you’re not entirely sure what distinctly Australian is. It’s also very difficult to make sense of say, Henry Lawson, if you have no understanding of Australian tropes and archetypes. My courses were designed to address this problem by focussing on fundamental aspects of Australian history and identity through the lens of Australian writers and artists – with, of course, an appropriate focus on indigenous contributions. Ironic, isn’t it, how indigenous art is, arguably, the most key signifier of Australia after the kangaroo, yet the people themselves are entirely marginalised. Sadly, mainstream Australia uses indigenous identity to disguise its own lack of distinctness.

Enough prattle, but yes, the beach, hardly unique to Australia, yet utterly key to its identity. This is presently the wealthiest society on the planet and it shows, especially in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney – an upper middle class paradise. It’s wonderful, sure enough, to have such abundance, but it carries with it the underlying guilt of decadence in a world in which nearly everybody else is less well off. Drink in the sun and forget, I suppose. Just drink and forget. And swim.

9873 Varanasi

Varanasi, May 9, 2010

By the time I made it to Varanasi in 2010, I had been travelling in India for almost two months and was rather exhausted by it all. Perhaps more pertinently, having just come down from the cool and peaceful heights of McLeod Ganj, where I had found an oasis of awe-inspired equilibrium, Varanasi seemed unpleasantly hot and crowded – something I’ve written about elsewhere. Despite this, however, in the moments when I was refreshed and energetic enough to engage with the place, I came to enjoy wandering the narrow, crowded streets with their close-pressed holes-in-the-wall and contemplating how like an ancient city it seemed to be.

This particular street – on which I had a haircut later that day – contained the entrance to an important local temple (I forget to which god) and a long queue stretched from both sides of the entrance, which is roughly where the loudspeaker can be seen in the background. There was a surprisingly positive atmosphere amongst the crowd and people were smiling and enjoying themselves, which made it all rather fun. I got briefly stuck and stood to the side, from which position I grabbed this shot.

Apart from the general subject matter, I’ve always liked the neat vectors in this image, snaking from the elderly lady in the bottom left corner and running through the generations of the family on up the narrow laneway. There seems to be a neat progression from what I assume to the grandmother in the foreground to her daughters, sons and grandchildren. The angle of the heads, with their beautiful hair, adds dynamism and movement, leading the eye to the turning, smiling boy in the very centre of the image. It is always pleasing when a momentary snapshot pays off like this and randomness conjures not merely an order of sorts, but also a mini-narrative.

 

Spring Clean

4589 Opera house steps

5304 Trees 2

4605 Pre-show, Opera House

4629 A chance encounter 1

4674 Shoes selfie

5689 Wall of remembrance

4769 Pigeon buddy

1962 Glebe Point

4909 Frames, broadway

6018 Reclining smoker

4521 The Hub

2035 Little flowers

5190 Lake, Snowy Mountains

4599 Opera House crowd

5841 Brothers

5827 Ripped dad

4850 Industrialism

5042 Text 2

6036 Towards Bondi

5016 Bus

5887 Bronte window selfie

4690 Dancing gait

5467 Eucalypt twist

6031 Suspended

5575 Variedad Geisha

5471 Alpine landscape

By way of contrast, V & I went down to the Snowy Mountains a couple of weeks ago and returned to Sydney to visit the beach for the first time this season. The ease with which we could transition between these regions was a welcome reminder of how fortunate we are to live in such a place. For the uninitiated, the Snowy Mountains lie about five hours drive southwest of Sydney in New South Wales and contain Australia’s highest mountain – Mount Kosciuszko. With a rather unimpressive elevation of 2228 metres, it is a reminder of what a flat country Australia is across its length and breadth. The Snowy Mountains form part of the Great Dividing Range, the 4th longest mountain range in the world after The Andes, The Rocky Mountains and The Transantarctic in, surprise surprise, Antarctica. While we’re on the statistics, for those who primarily consider Australia to be a hot and dry country, The Snowy Mountains are just one of the many and varied climate zones in a state which, while being only the 5th largest in Australia, is still bigger than France at a whopping 800,642 sq kilometres.

The Snowy Mountains are splendidly bleak; muted greens and browns, clumps of shrubs and grass and gnarly snow-gums with their twisting trunks that exhibit a surprising range of colours. They might lack the dramatic peaks and soaring walls of stone and ice found in higher ranges, and the skiing is at best mediocre, yet the mountains offer a curious play on the Australian landscape and, indeed, on Alpine zones generally. One noticeable contrast in Australian snow country is that, on account of the shape and nature of the gum leaves, snow does not generally sit on the trees, leaving them standing out starkly against the white.

In Jindabyne we found a magnificent Persian restaurant called Café Darya, set up by a former Iranian downhill ski champion with his wife. The menu was fascinatingly varied, with tantalising combinations of flavours and spices and a range of meats including goat and camel, yet in no way was it gimmicky. The love shown for the place on Trip Advisor confirms that we were not deluding ourselves in our assessment.

From here spent a couple of days in Canberra, a place often ridiculed as dull, bland or sterile, yet which we greatly enjoyed on this visit. A city planned from the ground up at the start of the 20th century, Canberra has the orderliness of Washington’s monumental heart, whilst exhibiting a far more modest monumentality. As the home of Parliament, the National Gallery and the War Memorial / museum, among many other significant institutions, it serves as a clean and refreshing shrine to culture and history, both Australian and international.

Back in Sydney now, the beach beckons and its lure is, as always, irresistible.

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