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Monday, June 25, 2018

Darwin photographer celebrates Arnhem Land, 'the most amazing place on earth'



By Emily Smith ABC News


Sitting in a helicopter over Kakadu National Park more than 30 years ago, David Hancock cast his eye out over the vast Arnhem Land escarpment and asked "What's that out there?".
His curiosity may have only been compounded when his pilot replied, "mate, you'd never get out there".
In the following three decades, Mr Hancock proved the pilot wrong time and time again, each time discovering new pockets of "the most amazing place in the world".
"I don't care what people say about Antarctica or the Amazon or anywhere like that, Arnhem Land is the most amazing place in the world," Mr Hancock said.
"Look at the place: you've got Coburg Peninsula is unique in itself, you've got the stone country, you've got north-east Arnhem Land, the Yolngu country, you've got all the islands like Elcho and all those islands there, you've got the Arafura swamp in the middle.

"It's just an unbelievable place."

Mr Hancock is just as enamoured with the features contained within that landscape — 50,000-year-old rock art, animals that exist nowhere else, landscapes so rugged that early explorers literally disappeared into them, and the birthplace of six major river systems.
Not to mention the fact that it's all under the control of Aboriginal Australians, with local Bininj people pioneering carbon farming and making up to a million dollars a year.
Yet, as the Darwin-based photographer says, few Australians really know about the place.
His recently-released book called Kuwarddewardde: The Stone Country, which details the people, the landscape and their history, may change that.


'One of the most remote parts of the world'
"I always realised there was a book in that area, because I flew over it a lot in helicopters and light planes and I always looked down and wondered what it was like," Mr Hancock said.
"It's probably one of the most remote parts of the world.
"A lot of people in Darwin in particular don't realise that, they go to Kakadu and they think that's it.
"But if you look along the escarpment area where it comes down on the eastern side of Kakadu, that plateau goes on for another 22,000 square kilometres."

Mr Hancock spent eight or nine years accessing parts of the stone country via helicopter, taking photographs for the book.
After getting dropped off, he'd often walk and camp for anywhere between a couple of days to a couple of weeks, along with archaeologists, rock art specialists or local Indigenous people.
'Life isn't full of beaches'
But it's tough country, he warned, so much so that it could be almost "unappealing".
In some ways, that was a good thing — he said many Indigenous people didn't want to see Arnhem Land become another Kakadu National Park.
"Kakadu was a compromise, for what traditional owners want, what miners want, what the NT Government wanted and what tourism wanted," he said.
"Luckily, Arnhem Land is a place that's controlled by Aboriginal people. They choose who goes in there, which is the way it should be."

That toughness also came through in his photos.


"You've got to remember, life isn't full of sunsets and beaches and glowing escarpments," he said.
"There's beauty in a lot of things.
"Most of these places, these are nice photographs of course, but I don't shoot a lot of sunset-y-type landscapes that other people tend to like."

Asked what impact he hoped the book would make, Mr Hancock said he "didn't really care, to tell you the truth".
"It's just basically a story of a really special place and really interesting people doing some really worthwhile work," he said.