No price too high to preserve the Kimberley

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One fateful day and a passion to protect our wilderness inspired a road trip to The Kimberley, Hunter G tells Clare Kennedy.

The protest

Two years ago, artist and photographer Hunter G, drove from Melbourne to Broome to protest against the construction at James Price Point of the then proposed liquefied natural gas processing plant at the site about 50 km north of Broome.

The coastal site, which contains dinosaur footprints and a sacred Aboriginal song line, is considered to be a wilderness of outstanding beauty as well as of significance to local indigenous people. It has also drawn attention for its unique attributes. The Kimberley was listed by NY Times as one of the top places to visit in 2013.

The long running campaign to oppose the plant was coming to a head when Hunter, 43, set off on his epic one–man journey from Melbourne to Broome in November 2012.

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The vehicle

“I emblazoned my mobile home (a not entirely suitable two–wheel–drive Town Ace delivery van, nicknamed Claude The Damm Van after famous martial artist Jean-Claude Damme Van) with slogans and a massive paste–up of a wilderness scene to help gain media attention and support as I passed through the deserts and towns of outback Australia. That lead to coverage on radio and in local papers in Mildura, Broken Hill, Alice Springs and Broome,” Hunter explains.

“I have photography skills and writing skills and knew I could help the campaign. I thought, ‘nature has given me so much over my life – day trips, the Himalayas, walks through the bush – and I felt I hadn’t given enough back. I said to myself, ‘I’m not going to get angry about it, but try to use creativity and humour to get people involved.’”

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The inspiration

One unusual day in 2012 triggered the epic road trip. Hunter attended the Melbourne Film Festival and two films had a profound impact. One of them was Patience (After Sebald) directed by Grant Gee. Based on the book The Rings of Saturn by German writer W.G. Sebald, the story hinges around a solitary walking tour of Suffolk and is a poetic mix of history, myth and memoir.

The other film was Journal de France, by French photographer and film–maker Raymond Depardon. Journal de France followed Depardon's solitary tour of France to document simple, everyday humanity on the streets of his own country, while interspersing archival footage from Depardon's previous projects as a hard–hitting documentary–maker about war, society and politics, explains Hunter.

The films highlighted the crazy, brave and moving determination of two solitary artists working to expose deeper truths about people, and their relationship to nature, he says. "They gave me the awareness that I could make a difference, that in fact I had to make a difference. I felt I owed it to nature. If the gas project in The Kimberley went ahead, its flow–on effects would have been catastrophic for the wilderness."

"Later that day while trying to track down a copy of The Rings of Saturn in a Flinders Street bookshop that was closing down, I passed the photography section. There were only two books left and one of them, A Time to Care, by photographer Chris Bell, and with a forward by Bob Brown, was about Tasmania's South–West wilderness during the time of the famous protests to stop the damming of The Franklin River," he explains. Hunter bought the book and it travelled with him to The Kimberley.

"That particular day was so powerful that I didn't sleep for five days, I had an epiphany. I just felt compelled to do it," he says.

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The road trip

On the way, Hunter camped amidst Kununnurra's biggest lightning storm of the year and underneath two aeroplanes, which were planted vertically, nose–first into the desert in a mysterious outback sculpture park, he explains. And he was bogged in the desert for 27 hours.

"I was three days walk from the main highway but I loved every minute of it, trying to work out how to get myself out. I set up a little tea break stand about 50 metres away (from Claude) so I could get psychological space from the situation when needed, and I didn't work at all during the heat of the day."

But sleeping in the dunes beneath the stars when he finally reached James Price Point or Walmadan, as the area has been named by locals, was perhaps, the most rewarding.

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The pictures

Hunter G took thousands of photographs of the Kimberley in medium format, digital and on the iphone during the trip. "I wasn't taking it all that seriously. Technically I know what I'm doing, but sometimes I pointed from the car window. I was just trying to have fun with the whole thing," he says.

He also wrote an article for The Big Issue and won a grant from the Awesome Foundation to support the project.

Hunter returned to Melbourne in April 2013. The same month, Woodside Petroleum announced the plant would not go ahead at the site.

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The exhibition

A fitting conclusion to Hunter's personal project came a few months later in June, when he mounted an exhibition – a stunning tribute to the beauty of the Kimberley. "Many city–slickers have never seen the area," he observes. "It's an incredible place, like being on another planet." He also enlisted the help of watercolour painter, Tom Montgomery, whom he had met at the protest camp north of Broome, to give the exhibition wider appeal.

Bob Brown, the former Greens leader, who had campaigned against the plant, agreed to give the official address at the exhibition. "When he spoke it was goose–bump inducing", Hunter recalls." You can listen to that address here:

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The skill set

Hunter G, has a few strings to his bow, which helped him pull the project off. The one–time law student, who switched to an economics degree, travelled for a few years, including through the national parks of the United States, completed a post–grad in tourism, managed a bushwalking company in Tasmania for a season and then studied commercial photography at RMIT.

However, the commercial world has never appealed to Hunter, and his photographic projects have been mostly for not–for–profits and environmental projects. "I have a few skills and a ridiculous determination when needed," he grins.

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The future

Despite the huge win, Hunter says The Kimberley faces an ongoing threat due to its vast resources of fossil fuels. He encourages everyone to keep their eyes peeled and ears pricked – and to see the region for themselves.

"I also want to acknowledge Aboriginal law–boss, Phil Roe, and the Goolarabooloo mob, traditional custodians of the Walmadan area, on whose land I stayed," he says.

You can view The Kimberley exhibition here:

Hunter G is a member of Media Super.

Photos from top:

  1. Iron Storm*: On Duncan Road to Caroline Pool
  2. Location of the Kimberley region in Australia (Source: Wikipedia) and map of current mining exploration in the Kimberley (Source: Center for Conservation Geography)
  3. Claude the Damm Van*: in the Red Centre near Uluru
  4. Iron-Ore*: From The Bastion, Five Rivers lookout
  5. Electrical Storm*
  6. Iron Mountain*: Btw Intersection of Victoria/Great Nthn Hwy and the rest area 35 kms south
  7. Squirrel Fish by Tom Montgomery
  8. The Blood-Stained Cliffs of History*: Turtle walk from Second Gully to Walmadan

*All Rights Reserved, Hunter G, 2012 and 2013