Helicopter camping in remote Australia

By Richard Green and Carolyn Green 5 August 2010
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For 20 years Richard and Carolyn Green have made ‘helicamping’ trips to photograph the outback.

PHOTOGRAPHER RICHARD GREEN AND his wife Carolyn have made countless ‘helicamping’ expeditions across the Australian outback. Travelling in his helicopter, Richard has been able to capture the most remote parts of the nation on film. These are beautiful and lonely places, inaccessible even to 4WD vehicles and therefore out of reach to all but the most tenacious adventurers. Richard uses very high resolution digital cameras and combines many images to create single panoramic images of great intensity and detail.

See a GALLERY HERE of some of the spectacular results, which are published in Richard and Carolyn’s book Remote & Wild: Seeing the unknown Australia (2010). The article below is an extract from the book which details some of the couple’s many encounters with wildlife over the years.

ENCOUNTERS WITH WILDLIFE ARE a bonus, and occasionally we find the creatures are as curious about us as we are about them. Some birds in particular appear keen to know the ‘what and why’ of our being there. A pardalote, for example, will hop onto a branch right beside us to check what we are doing. Although this is not the sort of behaviour we expect from most other creatures.

We had a remarkable encounter when we were packing up our camp at Tentpole some years ago. Our solar cells to run the fridge at that time were set up on two lightweight tripods. As I went to fold them up, ready to be put away, I found a slender and beautiful snake coiled around one of them.

It was a tree snake, and harmless, and seemed fascinated by the smoothness of the anodised metal surfaces of the tripod. Richard brought a camera to take a photo and it reached out to feel the lens with its tongue. Perhaps it could even see its own image reflected there.

It was completely unafraid, allowing itself to be picked up and handled without needing to be restrained. We both held it and admired it before I finally put it on the ground to finish the packing, but it had no desire to leave and started following along the ground beside me as I went on with the job.

It was a memorable encounter because the snake’s behaviour was so out of character. They are normally extremely shy. Unlike those around Sydney, in the Top End they are not green, but a lovely golden colour with a greyish or bluish head and neck.

WATER MONITORS CAN BE curious as well. Standing on rocks by a pool at Keep River, we were about to take a dip, when one appeared at the other side, and slipped into the water. Moments later it re-emerged below Richard’s feet.

At Keep River as I climbed out of the tent during the night, to answer ‘a call of nature’, I became aware of a watcher. A large trapdoor spider was sitting at the entrance of its hole – a hole that had escaped Richard’s notice when he put the tent up. It was right beside the doorway on my side.

Fortunately I had turned on my torch. We were camped in that spot for a couple of days, and each night it waited. I crawled in and out rather carefully. Helicopter doors need to be kept shut at night and careful baggage checks are a must when packing, as hitchhikers can be a problem, frogs and centipedes being the most likely offenders.

On another occasion a large cane toad made camp inside one of Richard’s boots. Needless to say, the toad was quickly despatched. Native animals have never been cause for concern. They are hardly dangerous and are very wary, understandably even more so when we arrive. I try to imagine how I would feel if a noisy and enormous ‘angry bee’ came and landed in the middle of my ‘yard’.

THE ONLY ANIMALS WE HAVE reservations about are those not native to Australia. Domestic cattle are no bother, although one territorial bull came into a clearing where we were camped in Cape York, and pawed the ground for a while, obviously displeased with our invasion.

In recent years, however, mainly in the Territory, we have come across buffalo and wild pigs at closer quarters than we would like.

Over the years the list of interesting sightings has grown long, as everything that creeps, crawls or flies never fails to capture our attention, and we have been lucky enough to see some fascinating creatures. We marvel at their beauty and colour, their exquisite markings, and their ability to survive in extraordinarily harsh conditions.

Other finds have included a tiny colourful turtle (Emydura subglobosa), various smart geckos with markings that resembled miniature Aboriginal paintings, and more recently a rare purple-crowned wren, a species we first glimpsed in the same area some fifteen years earlier.

On Three Hummock Island, in Bass Strait, it took a while, but we finally found a bare rock big enough for a landing. It was completely surrounded by large tussock grasses. Richard took a photo at sunset, and as it grew dark long plaintive cries started sounding around us.

Our rock was in the middle of a colony of Fairy penguins, with burrows directly underneath the tussock grasses. With torches in hand, we clambered down to the waters edge, and watched them surf in from their day’s fishing to come ashore for the night, calling to one another as they came. The din they made continued throughout the night. It was so loud it seemed as though there was a burrow directly under our tent.

WHEN FLYING OVER NEW country we don’t know where we will make camp or what the conditions might be. Occasionally over the years we have landed to find ourselves totally and eerily alone. No birds, no bird calls, not even a solitary insect sound. One night, in a strangely silent place, we had an argument. The following morning was exceedingly frosty (both real and imagined). A lone willy wagtail appeared, Chittering insistently at us as if scolding our childish behaviour.

At Warburton Creek, however, in May 2000, we had the opposite experience. At that time there was water in the creek, plenty in fact, and we made camp in a place where it broadened into a wide pool. There were birds everywhere, ducks, pelicans, budgerigars and countless others.

At night we were ready for sleep, but the birds – not to waste a moment of such perfect conditions – had an all night party. Led by some particularly rowdy galahs, they screeched, squawked and quacked throughout the entire night, while in the nearby sand dunes, just to add to the fray, a chorus of dingoes howled in mournful solidarity.


To see more of Richard Green’s photography and purchase the book  ‘Remote & Wild: Seeing the unknown Australia’ go to www.richardgreen.net.au.