A roving band of dedicated Australian photographers has spent several years recording the drama of sustained drought and its effects on our nation and its people. To mark the publication of the group’s collective efforts, AT joins with the MAP Group to look back on a devastatingly dry decade. Words by Flora King

Cobwebs of cracked, parched mud at the bottom of an empty reservoir; a mob of kangaroos heading for a solitary waterhole; red dust swallowing the horizon like lava; bush smoke obscuring the sun; sad, thirsting crops; hungry cattle with ribs like old fish bones; a sudden but short-lived downpour drenching one field but making a mockery of a hundred others; or just a black and angry cloud that cruelly never breaks; these are the images of drought in Australia.

Here, on the most arid inhabited continent on Earth, drought has become a fact of life, a permanent facet of our national consciousness. Our history has long been chequered by periods of extreme dryness but, thanks to climate change, the past decade has seen some of the worst and most sustained conditions on record. Crops have failed, vast quantities of livestock have perished, riverbeds have baked, dam levels have plunged, bushfires have raged, and everyone – not just the farming communities and those in marginal, inland areas – has felt the effects.

The MAP Group (Many Australian Photographers) is a non-profit association of around 40 documentary photographers who have been recording these tough times and the impact they’ve had, and continue to have, on the land and its people. After hundreds of cross-country road trips and thousands of faces and terrains shot along the way, the best images have now been selected for a book, Beyond Reasonable Drought, which encapsulates this period of cultural, social and climatic importance.

With a foreword by author Don Watson, introduction by MAP President Andrew Chapman and an essay by the Head of Climate Analysis at the Bureau of Meteorology Dr David Jones, the beautiful volume is divided in to four sections – Resilience, Ingenuity, Despair and Hope. It’s as much a bleak book as it is uplifting; the photos tell of wasted crops, withered hopes, land degradation and economic ruin, but also reveal the robustness typical of our nation’s psyche, and a people full of spirit and humour in the face of adversity.

As Dr Jones writes: “At best, the current drought might be an early warning for a hotter and drier future; at worst, it may be the beginning of irreversible climate change.” While only time will reveal the outcome, there’s little doubt Beyond Reasonable Drought will remain a moving, vivid and vital record of this significant period of Australian history.

*Beyond Reasonable Drought, $39.95, for more info on the MAP Group, visit www.mapgroup.org.au.

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