Photographic essay  of Australia’s outback by Steve Strike

My Backyard 

Can you build a career shooting nothing but your own backyard? For Steve Strike, whose backyard spans from Uluru to Coober Pedy, from the Bungle Bungles to Alice Springs and everywhere in between, the answer is a resounding yes.

For many years the name, Steve Strike was thought to have been a ghosty – a name magazine editors made up when the true author didn’t want his revealed. When the real life Steve Strike was introduced at a function of professional photographers in Sydney a few years back, he heard whispering among the gathered: “Damn, that guy is the real deal!”

Steve then had to face some ardent questioning as to exactly who his agent was, as he must be a good one. A bemused Strike was left stranded – he didn’t even know what an agent was or did. “I just go out there and take photographs and people buy them,” he says. “It can’t be any simpler than that.”

Steve is one of the few Aussies fortunate enough not only to have explored most of outback and northern Australia during the past 25 years, but to have made it his home. And if his many clients in the tourism, automotive, aviation and mining industries see fit to pay him to go out there and shoot it, well – you won’t hear him complaining.

“I’ve had many great experiences travelling throughout remote Australia,” Steve tells AT. One of the more memorable ones involved the unenviable task of placating an executive from a major US car company.

“We’d visited all the major attractions Central Australia had to offer and there was just no way of impressing this bloke. ‘Back home,’ this guy would undoubtedly say, ‘we’ve got a bigger or better one.’ Well, that was until we pulled up at Uluru. He got out of the car and, with a totally stunned look on his face, blurted: ‘God damn, man! We ain’t got one of those!’”

Steve was relieved that he’d finally found something in Australia that was bigger or better than back in the States. The feeling was short-lived, however, as Strike’s American guest pulled on his chin, turned and said: “You know, Steve, if we did have one of those, we would’ve built a glass roof over it by now.”

When he’s not playing impromptu Aussie ambassador, Steve’s based in Alice Springs with an additional office in Darwin. He travels extensively on assignment, flitting from Coober Pedy to Kakadu or from Birdsville to Broome. He’s even got a current slot on the National Geographic Channel in advertorials promoting the Northern Territory. For more info on Steve and his work, check out www.photoz.com.au. And next time you’re in the Alice, don’t miss the magnificent panoramas on display at The Outback Photographers Gallery in the Fan Arcade on Todd Mall.

Desert Storm // Rain on the Rock
Easily my most sought-after Australian photo of all time, this image appeared on the front page of The Australian three times in one week. A freak shot taken minutes after a tropical downpour right in the middle of the day, this is indeed one rare shot as most rainfall in this part of the world occurs at night. When I arrived it was raining so hard I couldn’t even see the Rock. Minutes later the rain cleared and I was presented with this sight.

Johnny “Devil” Devlin
Some 20 years ago I was commissioned by Time in the US to shoot a story on the demise of the Aboriginal Stockman and his role on Australian cattle stations. We travelled up the Stuart Hwy to a property that neighbours the famous Newcastle Waters. There on Heyfield Station among the genuine bulldust was a character the Aboriginal ringers called “Ol’ Devil”. I later found out his real name was Johnny Devlin, but he preferred to be known as Johnny Devil.

Most of the ringers were camera shy, so the younger fella’s thought Ol’ Devil should be the one to play up to the camera. I’m glad they did as the shot of Johnny Devil with rollie still intact while scruffing a calf out of the mob is still a classic today.

Last year I though it’d be good to photograph old Johnny again, who must now be in his 70s. I found him living in a little town on the Stuart Hwy called Elliot. He was sitting on a pile of mulga wood making boomerangs. When he saw me his face lit up as he remembered our encounter that resulted in him gracing the cover of Time magazine some two decades previously. He called out: “Hey, Steeb! You come to built da tatyou of me and itchy on da tuart highway?” For a moment I had no idea what he was on about until I realised he wanted his moment of fame immortalised in the form of a bronze statue on the Stuart Hwy. Itchy, by the way, is the name of his stock horse.

When confronted with the camera for the second time in his life, Ol Devil called out, “Hey! Susan! Come an ab you poto wid me!” Susan, his wife (whom I’d never met), appeared and they snuggled up for an emotive display of affection.

Star Trails at Sunset
Out in the Western Desert after Pinatubo (a volcano in the Philippines) blew up in 1991, the sky would turn into a huge fireball literally for hours after sunset. Here, the planet Mars rises though the glowing volcanic ash lit by the sun way below the horizon.

Bearded Dragon
The Bearded Dragon is the Aussie chameleon. It can change colour from black to bright ochre. I was photographing wildflowers when this one, hidden by its camouflage, surprised me by hissing when it saw itself reflected in the lens.

Mt Sonder
Mt Sonder, made famous by painter Albert Namatjira, is a beacon in the West MacDonnells near Alice Springs. During the day its shape and colour resemble mountains in the Swiss Alps. In the pre-dawn glow it’s the epitome of the Australian outback.

Knob-Tailed Gecko
I’d been out flying helicopters all day and had landed at Glen Helen in the Western MacDonnell Ranges right on dark. The pilot was refuelling the chopper from 44-gallon drums when this rare little creature crawled right out from under one. I couldn’t resist the shot.

Poached Egg Daisy
It never ceases to amaze me how photographers have the ability to hone in on minute detail. In a sea of Poached Egg Daisies covering vast acres of land, I spotted this single one shaped just like a heart. I guess I’m no different.

Mt Gillen Sunset
The year 2000 was one of the wettest on record in Central Australia. Unfortunately, when the rains stop, the mountains of grass dry out and go up in smoke. This brings in the Black Tailed Kites, which circle above the fires hunting the fleeing animals. I waited with a 600mm telescopic lens until one flew through the setting sun-ball near the base of Mt Gillen in the heart of Alice Springs.

Bungle Bungles
I was doing a recce for Tourism Australia and looking for a location for their “Where the bloody hell are you?” campaign. It’s amazing the characters you meet when you get out there. In this instance I ended up at the Bungle Bungles (Purnululu) in WA. There’s a wilderness camp there where I stayed a few nights. After a few days someone in the camp said: “Have you met ‘Handbrake’ yet?”

Well, as it turns out, Handbrake Harry was this fella not unlike Matt Shirvington the Australian sprinter. Handbrake Harry was possibly the greatest sprinter ever seen in Australia never to win a race. So how was this possible? It seems Handbrake Harry was a gambler and had entered the professional footrace The Stawell Gift many times. When the gun went off, Harry would be way out in front until the last few metres when he’d pull on the handbrake and lose by a nose. He’d always back someone else with better odds than himself, then let them win so he could clean up with the bookies.

Handbrake Harry is now a tour guide in the Bungles and appeared in the “Where the bloody hell are you?” ad campaign.

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