The Red Center

At the Devil's Marbles, or Karlu Karlu, in the outback of the Northern Territory, Australia.

This is the Devil’s country; he’s even emptied his bag of marbles around the place!
— John Ross, Australian Overland Telegraph Line expedition, 1870

The outback is a wild and magical place where I was lucky enough to spend a week in 2009.

Over the last three weeks I've been highlighting my 2009 trip to Australia for an advertising campaign I was helping Bill Frakes with for the then soon-to-be-released Nikon D3s. We began our journey in Sydney, Melbourne and Tasmania, then took off for a week in Western Australia. Now is the final installment on Australia - our final week in the Northern Territory.

The name, “Northern Territory,” evokes images of the unknown. To my mind, a territory is a not-yet-settled land mass; it's a place humans don't go, or haven't yet traversed. 

The Northern Territory is different. It's been consistently occupied for more than 40,000 years by the Australian Aborigines, one of the oldest extant cultures on Earth. 

Ancient Aboriginal cave drawings somewhere outside Alice Springs.

We arrived in Alice Springs, Northern Territory, a little worse for wear after short nights in Cervantes and a long flight from Perth. The date was July 20, 2009, the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 landing on the moon.

The Northern Territory radio station - there was only one station - played R.E.M's "Man on the Moon" on repeat. Driving through the scant civilization that is the Northern Territory made me feel as though we had been transported back to 1969 and that there really was a man on the moon above. 

Our first stop in the Northern Territory was Ayer's Rock, also known as Uluru to the native cultures.

Uluru was a place I had imagined one day visiting since I first started working with Bill two years earlier. One of my favorite pictures of his is a black and white silhouette of tourists climbing the side of the rock. 

Bill's image of Ayer's Rock (Uluru) that he took in 1985, which I always like to remind him was before I was born.

The rock itself is a rock. A large, red rock, but a rock none-the-less. Still, I loved the Aboriginal beliefs surrounding it. Uluru is a sacred place that is central to their creation story. It's been reported that those who take rocks from the formation are cursed and suffer misfortune. I didn't want to test the theory and left Uluru as I found it. 

After one sunset we drove back to Alice Springs on an ill-advised overnight drive. We were both tired and there is very little in terms of gas, food and help along the highway - highway being a generous term for a two lane road - between Uluru and Alice Springs. But there was no rest for the weary. We had a shoot the next day at a rodeo outside Alice Springs and had to get back.

Over the last decade I've been to some good rodeos, but none of them compete with Hart's Range.

I made some friends while searching for a high vantage point of the rodeo atop a bluff in Hart's Range.

It's a hard place to explain. It's rural to the extreme. When I say it's located “outside Alice Springs,” I really mean it's roughly four hours away. Most of our drive to Hart's Range was off road. I'm still not entirely sure how we got there. A lot of bumps, a few streams and endless desert. 

The rodeo itself was a dusty mix of cowboys descended from European settlers and Aboriginals. The sight of the sun scorching through the red dust is an image I won't quickly forget. Pictures from the day still bring back memories of the arid smell of the desert mixed with a potent sun beaming through cool air.

The rodeo ended as the sun set and we began the long trip back to Alice Springs. To break up the drive, we stopped for a drink and a bathroom in Barrow Creek. One of the small-town stops along the Stuart Highway - Australia's principal north to south highway - in the Northern Territory. We had seen it on the way in and knew we needed to stop on the way home. 

Outside of the Barrow Creek Pub earlier in the day.

Barrow Creek is a town with a pub / hotel and a population of 11. The night we were there, 3 of the 11 inhabitants were at the bar - the owners of the pub / hotel and a local ranch hand. The pub was built in 1926 and still has the original tin ceilings and bar, along with a collection of eclectic memorabilia and signed bills from around the world given by various pub visitors over the years. 

I sat and talked with the ranch hand - whose name I no longer remember - over a beer for a while that night. He was on a quest to collect all 50 of the state quarters from the USA. I fished into my pocket and offered Wisconsin and South Dakota. I've never seen 50 cents make anyone so happy before or since. 

It was in Barrow Creek that we recorded the closing shots to our "All Over Down Under" multimedia piece - a dog yawning in front of a fire on a black and white checkered floor, and Bill wearing an Akubra and lit by a dim, red light. It was the final chapter in one of our first major multimedias

One of our last night's in the mythical land of my childhood dreams, and one of my fondest memories of the last decade.