I’ve just returned from Adelaide where I was absolutely delighted to be awarded the 2019 Resilient Australia Award for Photography. I first heard about the awards back in April when a representative from the Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience sent me an email asking if I’d promote it through my blog and other channels. I decided to go one better and enter the photography element of the awards.
What are the Resilient Australia Awards?
The awards celebrate and promote initiatives that make communities safer and better prepared for hazards and emergencies. There were a number of categories open to community leaders and young people to help promote disaster resilience within their communities.
What is the Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience?
The Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience (AIDR) develops, maintains and shares knowledge and learning to support a disaster resilient Australia. Building on extensive knowledge and experience in Australia and internationally, we work with government, communities, NGOs, not-for-profits, research organisations, education partners and the private sector to enhance disaster resilience through innovative thinking, professional development and knowledge sharing.
AIDR is supported by its partners: the Australian Government Department of Home Affairs, AFAC, the Australian Red Cross and the Bushfire & Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre.
What photo did I take and what’s the story behind it?
The bushfires that swept through central and southern Tasmania earlier this year were a frightening reminder of the power of fire in the landscape. In 1967 bushfires laid waste to much of southern Tasmania, leaving 62 dead, almost 1,000 injured and over 7,000 without a home. In 2009 fires overwhelmed many communities north of Melbourne in Victoria, leaving 173 dead and over 3,500 buildings destroyed.
At times in January, here in Tasmania, it felt like it could happen again. Numerous towns in the Huon Valley were at risk of being overrun by fires that had been started by dry lightning days earlier. I remember walking out of work on January 4th when another fire, the Gell River fire was in full flow and the skies over Hobart turned an eerie and dark orange for a little while. We were far from the fire front and it just made you realise how massive the flames must have been out near Maydena.
A few weeks later and the Riveaux Road fire made its way Eastward and into populated areas. A number of homes were lost as well as an iconic tourism drawcard in the Tahune Airwalk. One of those homes that were lost was that of Dale “Hairyman” Fullard. I had first come across Hairyman on my very first Instameet here in Tasmania. We were invited along to the Huon Valley Mid Winter Festival and it was such a wonderful day and night. I somehow ended up right in the midst of the wassailing part of the festivities with torch bearing locals honouring the pagan traditions and blessing the orchards for a bountiful harvest.
I spotted Hairyman sitting down amongst it all, waiting to sing. He had this smile on his face that was just fantastic and it’s one of my favourite photos from that day. Hairyman is a bit of a legend down the Huon and having had the pleasure of meeting the man and spending time with him, I wholeheartedly concur.
He purchased his property next to the Huon River 25 years ago and in the proceeding years build himself a home, a workshop and a studio as well as several kilometers of walking tracks through the bushland around his home. The house he built was filled with numerous and irreplaceable handmade furniture and sculptures as well as memorabilia and family items that can’t be brought back.
The fires took his home but thankfully spared his studio and workshop so he’s still living there, albeit not as close to the river and with far less “bouncy things” as he so eloquently puts it. I immediately knew I wanted to take Hairyman’s portrait when I found out about the awards.
I reached out to him and he was keen to be involved and so I arranged to drive down his property. Hairy lives in a stunning area of the Huon Valley, right next to the Huon River and surrounded by bush. The damage wrought by the fires was as far as the eye could see on the drive down. The usually lush green forests were just charred black and orange husks of their former selves.
When I got to Hairy’s place I was struck by the silence. No birds were singing, no insects buzzing about. There were signs of life though, signs of resilience with fresh shoots coming up out of the ground. Much of the forest in Australia relies on fire for its life-cycle and although the devastation at the time is horrendous, life returns eventually which is somewhat comforting.
The river is the commanding element at Hairyman’s property and its peaceful tranquillity is quite mesmerising. I figured that would be the best location to give a story to a portrait of Hairyman. A shot of him in the ruins of his former home would have been a bit cliched and as he says himself, it’s the environment that means so much more to him. The fire burned both sides of the river, jumping across it as if it were a puddle and continuing its march towards the towns further to the East.
I had Hairyman sit on some rocks that jutted into the river and went for a wider angle view to show more of the surrounding environment including the orange tinged trees lining the river behind him. Hairy sat on the rocks, barefoot in his trademark hat and waistcoat which he made himself while we chatted some more and I shot away. I took the image with a 6 year old Olympus E-M1 so I guess you don’t need to have the latest and greatest camera to take award winning photos (But if you’re reading this Olympus, I wouldn’t say no to an E-M1 MKII haha!)
I submitted the above image into the competition and awaited to see how the judging would go. The first phase was a People’s Choice award which was decided via a Facebook vote. I was a little nervous as Facebook based competitions can often be decided, not on the best image but on who can get more friends to like their photo. Thankfully lots of people liked and commented on my image (including my friends, ahem) and I was delighted to find out I had won the Tasmanian category of the awards! I was invited along to Parliament House in Tasmania and was presented with a lovely trophy and certificate by government and state emergency services representatives. Happy days!
My image was then entered into the proper judging phase of the competition and it was super exciting to find out I had been selected as one of three finalists! The AIDR would fly myself and Dale out to Adelaide for the Ceremony. They went one step further and agreed to bring along Bodhi Diaz-Icasuriaga who I had asked to help with a bit of filming they had requested as part of being a finalist. You can see the beautiful short film Bodhi put together for the awards below.
When it came to the awards ceremony, the organisers put on a lovely event inside the Adelaide Convention Centre. We were sat on the same table as the other two finalists who had taken a harrowing image of a forest impacted by fire as well as a portrait of a horse that had been rescued in the Black Saturday fires in 2009 and was now working as a search and rescue horse in WA (beautiful story of survival and resilience).
The runners up were called out and when they mentioned the 2nd placed entry, it dawned on me, I’d won a National photography competition!! Dale and myself went up on stage to receive the award and Bodhi’s lovely film was shown on the screens in the venue. Took a little while to sink in that I’d won and it was a great feeling and it was fantastic to have Dale and Bodhi there with me. I just took a photo at the end of the day, Dale lost his home and Bodhi actually did far more work than me with his wonderful film.
The rest of the ceremony was really inspiring with so many amazing initiatives winning awards and being highly commended including some amazing projects being lead by school kids who give me great confidence in this nation’s future. Here’s hoping by the time next year’s awards come round, there won’t be new initiatives set up as a result of future disasters or loss of life.
Growing up as a kid, Australia was always this scary place where it was the wildlife that could kill you but living here the past few years it has become quite apparent that mother nature herself is the real terror and the true threat to life, whether it’s bushfires or floods, Australia has been hit hard in recent years and it’s looking like that will continue and even get worse as the effects of climate change become more damaging and extreme. The Resilience of Australia’s citizens is bound to be put to the test but I have no doubt they’re more than capable of standing up against anything and staying strong and proud.
A massive thank you to the AIDR and in particular Greg Taylor who organised our flights and accommodation and went above and beyond to support our journey there and back. Thanks also to Leone Knight for her assistance with producing the video and media support on the day. A big thanks to Sue Lehtonen of the SES who coordinated the Tasmanian aspect of the competition.
A very big thank you to Bodhi for putting the above video together. I’m sure you’ll agree he did a fantastic job and if you’re in the need for videography work in Tassie, check out his business page at Evolucion Media.
A massive thank you to Gemma, my amazing partner and mum of our beautiful boy Lachlan for her constant support and encouragement of my photography. Love you!!!
And of course, the biggest of thanks to Dale for supporting this and being an all round legend and amazing portrait subject. He sings powerful songs about convicts and issues affecting society as well as creating amazing sculptural pieces out of various antiques and parts. Check out his Facebook page to find out a bit more about the man himself.
3 thoughts on “Resilient Australia Awards 2019”
Congratulations, James. The photographs, video and your text are moving and putting it together as you have done carries great weight. The resilience dimension is encouraging, contrasting with the negativity (understandable) of much of what is carried in our media.
Thanks Maurice, you always have a kind word to say which encourages me to keep writing and sharing stories. Hope you’re all keeping well.
Bravo James. Well deserved. You are a talented photographer and wordsmith