Notes from the field: Simple pleasures

By AG Staff 18 March 2024
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Photographer Rowena Meadows jumped at the chance to document the life of a retired photographer living on Victoria’s French Island.

“As someone who delights in her own solitude and has always experienced the idea of hermitage as somewhat romantic, my attention was immediately caught, ” photographer Rowena Meadows said. 

She travelled to the island and met her subject, Terry Martin, at Stony Point Ferry. He greeted her “with equal parts warmth and gruffness, a combination of traits I didn’t know could play so well together until I met him. As he’d already told me on the phone, Terry was confused about why anyone, let alone Australian Geographic, would be interested in photographing his life. I reassured him we’d figure it out together, which is exactly what we did.”

Related: French Island: Life in trees, surrounded by water

Observing Terry interact with the tiny cast of characters who’d also chosen social isolation on French Island, it occurred to Rowena that this was a man who’d found a way of life that spoke to his desire for togetherness without social fatigue, and aloneness without loneliness. “His conversations on the ferry, at the local cafe, the Landcare meeting and in the home of friends showed me how island small talk was loaded with a different, more grounded kind of care and connection than you’d find on the mainland,” Rowena said. 

Terry has nineteen display albums full of his own animal photography; Terry and friend Neil Le Serve at the French Island General Store.

Terry’s extensive collection of vintage cameras.

Image credits: Rowena Meadows

When she spent an afternoon with Terry at his property, she saw a man who was passionate about the local animal population. He had dozens of display books proudly filled with his own photos of animals and was tirelessly willing Rowena to find a koala to photograph. This quest ended with Rowena climbing the neighbour’s roof – despite Terry’s obvious dismay and well-voiced concerns for her safety.

Photographer Rowena Meadows

“My day with Terry was a reminder of how some people are simply built to thrive in a pared-back existence, carried by a oneness with nature and a handful of sparse, but meaningful, social interactions. That night, as he drove me to the end of the jetty, it had become bitterly cold, and, knowing I’d completely worn him out, I told him he didn’t need to wait with me. He stood under the single jetty light, wearing a bright red coat and his gruff – but warm – smile and said, ‘But I have to make sure you’re really leaving.’

We laughed together and I told him he looked like a strange but beautiful Santa Claus. As the boat pulled away, I recognised this last exchange of thinly veiled fondness as one of the most unexpectedly touching moments of my photographic career,” she recalled. “I’ll remain forever grateful for my day on French Island with Terry.”

Related: Notes from the field: Obsessed with Big Things