Travel photographer Melissa Findley gets swept up in the irresistible force of an Australian Traveller cover shoot (The Bucket List issue) at the dramatic Devils Marbles (Karlu Karlu). Here’s her behind-the-scenes account.
My second trip to the Red Centre was one to remember.
It’s nice discovering places you don’t know too much about. I try not to do too much beyond the basic research before visiting a place because I find there’s something exciting about getting to a new destination and letting it surprise you.
Admittedly, like most, I did a quick Google map and image search to see why Devils Marbles was the destination of choice for the front cover of The Bucket List issue of Australian Traveller. It didn’t take me long to discover why and the reality of the place exceeded any expectation I had.
The journey began with a flight, an overnight stopover, another flight, and then a five-hour drive along a long and straight, wide-open road – with probably too many “can we stop the car” moments by an eager photographer (me). The anxious photographer in me was hanging to get out, explore and capture the beauty of Australia’s Northern Territory.
On the five-hour drive, I made us stop about 20 times, which I think paid off, with shots like the one of the windmill I took (between the Marbles and Tennant Creek). It was the last shot of the day and maybe the best.
When I was invited to document behind the scenes action, I was sworn to secrecy, having to wait to release my photos on my social media until the release of the magazine. As a travel photographer, who usually documents while on the road, this is a massive personal challenge as my senses were in overdrive – I was bursting to share Northern Territory’s best-kept secrets.
The journey was more intense than I expected. I had such a great time capturing every moment of the outback beauty and thrived off being surrounded by like-minded creatives and inspiring women who spent as much time saying “wow, this place is amazing” as me.
I had never even seen a dingo before. I was having a chat to some locals, who pointed one out, just sunbaking in the afternoon heat. It was a very casual almost natural encounter. I was very excited photographing the animal whereas he/she just sat there in complete peace.
I loved taking any chance to breathe in that sense of freedom along an open road too, the scenery like no other, with that breathtaking night-time Northern Territory chandelier.
One of my favourite shots, in fact, was the one capturing the star trail above the Marbles. I’ll be honest, it was just a ‘test shot’ that went right. I was standing in the middle of the road and it was pitch black. The red glow you see lighting up the rocks was coming from the car’s brake lights.
We also had plenty of real outback experiences: eating at the local pub, staying at the local inn, immersing into the art and culture, learning about the traditions of the people – all reasons I find travelling so interesting.
There were a few photo opportunities that I simply could not pass up, such as the one of the old man (with the Akubra on) who I met at an art centre. He told me he had never taken a day off in his whole life. His face was just so interesting and engaging – I just had to shoot his portrait. His face tells its own story.
Like every place I seem to visit I’m always itching to get back there before I leave. No time is long enough. If I could tell you one thing about the Devils Marbles, it’s that visiting there makes you want to quit your structured life, buy a caravan and live every night there under those stars.
I might just do that… one day.
For more of Melissa’a photography, see www.melissa-findley.com
What are the Devils Marbles?
The Devils Marbles are a mysterious group of granite boulders 114km south of Tennant Creek and, according to geologists, they’ve gradually been shaped over the years by a variety of lumbering erosive processes. Of course if we listened to the rock-botherers, even the most magical of natural phenomena would be reduced to barely noticeable earth movements, which would be very dull indeed.
No, a much, much better explanation is the one offered by the Indigenous Arrernte people, for whom this is a sacred site. They believe the suspiciously smooth, rounded boulders are the eggs of the Rainbow Serpent, the mythological being linked to water in Aboriginal Dreamtime stories. If this is how big the eggs are, you certainly don’t want to be messing with the snake that laid them.
As with most Aboriginal sites, the Johnny-come-latelies completely underestimated the importance of the Devils Marbles and in 1953, a relatively small rock was removed from its structure and whisked away to the Big Smoke (which, in these parts, is what Alice Springs passes for) as a permanent memorial to John Flynn, the founder of the Royal Flying Doctor Service.
Obviously this was intended as a tribute, chosen to emphasize Flynn’s links with the Outback – but taking it without the consent of the tribal elders constituted a big no-no. Eventually the rock was removed from Flynn’s grave, returned and switched with another similar (but non-sacred) stone.
It’s not difficult to see why the site is treated with such reverence; as the sun creeps up through the sky, the lighting on the boulders provides a vision to rival anything Uluru can muster. And at sunrise even the most bungling klutz of a disposable camera-wielder can snap a photograph worthy of a postcard. Visit the Marbles and try for yourself: Karlu Karlu / Devils Marbles Conservation Reserve