A Portrait of Australia: Stories Through the Lens of Australian Geographic exhibition

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By Australian Geographic August 19, 2019 Reading Time: 2 Minutes

From Australian Geographic’s 33 years of unparalleled editorial coverage of Australia’s land, nature and people, a version of an Australian national identity emerges. The people who have been brought sharply into focus across its colourful pages have tended to live beyond the cities. They dwell in places where the vagaries of weather and climate dictate the fortunes of those willing to try their luck.

If we are influenced by our physical environment, then these Australians have been forged by a monumental and often hostile landscape, whether they arrived in modern times, or have lived here for millennia.

They include the farming folk who live in The Bush – that hard-to-define buffer that separates the arid centre of Australia from the cooler coastal fringe where most of us live. It defies a precise geographical definition but, like The Outback, we know it when we see it. It is where our crops are grown and herds of sheep and cattle graze unperturbed alongside kangaroos and wombats. Here long, straight roads stretch to the vanishing point punctuated at uneven intervals by small towns whose populations are counted in single digits.

From this axis of town and country, Australia’s early economic success sprang, as resilience, resourcefulness and innovation transformed marginal lands into breadbaskets and unearthed untold mineral riches beneath.

Venture further into Australia’s heart, and bush turns to outback, where red dirt meets big blue skies and people are few and far between. It took guts, endurance and perseverance to survive and thrive in these harsh, unforgiving landscapes, whether by Indigenous occupants or those who arrived later wielding pickaxes or driving huge mobs of cattle to pastures new. It is still a tough place to live and, with a population density of less than 0.1 person per square kilometre, it is one of the most sparsely populated regions on the planet.

These epic landscapes epitomise Australia, but there is a third geographical feature that completes the trifecta: our 60,000km of coastline. While the majority of us live close to the ocean, we are concentrated in pockets close to cities or along the developed east coast. The rest of our shoreline stretches for hundreds of kilometres, sometimes with barely a human footprint or tyre track to betray our presence. Strung out along this vast coastline and more than 8000 offshore islands, people have learnt to reap the harvest of the ocean or have sought to escape the rat-race and are living in places where rhythms of sea and weather dictate the daily routine.

These landscapes and the people who live there are what inspire Australian Geographic and this exhibition is a celebration in pictures of their indomitable community spirit, their struggles, passions, livelihoods, skills and the changing times through which they have lived.

On show at:

  • Cobb+Co Museum, Toowoomba, Queensland, 15 August to 24 November 2019
  • Bribie Island Seaside Museum, Bongaree, Queensland,  28 February to 24 May 2020
  • SEEN@Swansea, Lake Macquarie, New South Wales, 5 June to 2 August 2021

Read more here.