Much as I'd like to, I cannot claim to
be a born and bred country boy. It's true that my first years were spent
on a dairy farm, it's also true that for some of my pre-teen years I lived
on "Wanatta", my family's sheep and cattle property in south
east New South Wales. And I have worked as a farm hand on occasion. But
I didn't grow up on, and work, the land in the way a real "country
However I'm sure it's these past associations
that draw me back to photograph shearing sheds and other farm buildings.
The smell of lanolin, the greasy yard gates,
the shiny floor under each stand (polished by a million sheep bums), the
droppings that didn't make it through the slatted floor, and the old hand-cranked
phone still connected to the homestead.
All these sensations and more make up an
Australian shearing shed and make them a fascinating subject for photography.
I love these places and hope to see many more of them. Fortunately I am
occasionally asked to visit properties with a view to photographing the
buildings and/or the landscape.
Two such invitations led to me meet some
interesting people and allowed me to make some photos of what is a fast
disappearing part of Australia's heritage.
The first was to a property called "Bannaby" near Goulburn.
I was asked there by Steve Hartup. Steve first approached me at a John
Sexton seminar in Sydney, he's an interesting bloke, a farm hand by day,
a photography teacher by night, and a large format photographer on the
A fascinating combination that is reflected
in his home. From the outside the place is a standard fibro farm house,
inside however we find folders of proofsheets, boxes of prints and books
such as David Bayles & Ted Orland's "Art & Fear" packing
the lounge room; a spare bedroom is filled with archival print washers,
a dry mounting press and drying frames; while in the ancient laundry,
amid bottles of developer and selenium toner, a Beseler 45 enlarger stands
proud, complete with cold light head and voltage stabiliser.
Steve somehow finds time to make and exhibit
his exquisite prints in between crutching, drenching, and shearing sheep,
not to mention the thousand other tasks required of someone that works
We both spent the day wandering around
the property's shed, I made three photos, Bannaby I is
the first. I bet you can't guess what I called the other two.
Ledgerton "Ledgerton" is another property with over a hundred years
of history. Barry Walker first invited me to photograph the shearing shed
in 1995 but it was about a year later when I finally managed a visit.
The photo entitled Ledgerton
was made in very dim light, to make life more difficult the slatted floor
was quite springy so I could not move during the very long exposure (3
minutes) for fear of also moving the tripod. On seeing the photo Barry
said "I would never thought of photographing that", there are
two reasons for this.
First, he has seen it a thousand times,
it's just one of the many holding pens in the shed, whereas I was seeing
this place for the first time. Second, he is not a photographer, and I
There is a third factor in play here, technical
ability. It's one thing to "see" the image, it's often another
thing to transfer that image onto a sheet of photographic paper. You don't
have to be a genius, the techniques are actually quite simple, but you
do need to spend some time learning, either from books and your own experiments,
or from someone who has already made the mistakes and is willing to share
One Owner, Needs Work
The photo One Owner, Needs Work has that title because
it was built over a hundred years ago by Barry's ancestors so
it has had only one owner (or has been owned by one family anyway),
and it sure does need some work.
shearing sheds were built in the mid 1800s, to stand in them you can almost
hear the bullock drays groaning under the weight of wool bails. You can
begin to imagine the thoughts of the dray's driver, with days or even weeks
of lonely, and sometimes dangerous, travel in front of him as he takes the
wool to Sydney.
The drays are all gone now,
and so have the heady days of Australia's wool industry, however it's
largely the wealth created during these times that made Australia the
free and prosperous place it is today.
It's people like those who built these sheds, people
who actually create something, that are needed by a nation. Not people
who shuffle money from one offshore account to another as exchange rates
fluctuate, or 'bankrupt' billionaires living in huge mansions.