A panorama of Gallipoli shot in the water at Ari Burnu where elements of the covering force first stepped ashore at 4.30am on 25th April 1915. Anzac Cove is to the right, Suvla to the left and the first objective, Plugges Plateau straight ahead and up.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Lest We Forget

High Wood Cemetery-The Somme

In Flanders fields the poppies blow. Between the crosses row on row.

When the Canadian Poet, physician, author, artist and soldier John Alexander McCrae penned the achingly-beautiful opening to 'In Flanders Fields', the images he conjures were not drawn from the harsh northern winter. The gentle words spark your instincts to visit the graves; quiet green cemeteries dotted amongst the fields, their harvest long at peace.

Across this most costly of ground there is barely a point at which you can’t see another field of buried battalions, the white stone sentinels standing to attention these are the marked, both known and unknown graves. Here and there McCrae’s red poppies dot the landscape, a colour echo of the blood spilt here almost a century ago. Many thousands still lie undiscovered in the brown fields that separate the cemeteries.

AIF Cemetery-The Somme
In contrast a winter visit is a monochrome experience. You can read many accounts of life in the mud but until you step into a saturated Somme field, the laden mud shining like grease, you can’t appreciate the frustration of movement it causes.

As it sucks at your shoes you stagger like a drunk in a continual fight to stay upright. You will lose the fight, sudden and hard falls are frequent, limb flailing and camera smashing, falls that knock the air from your chest. I got a small glimpse into the grinding hardships that would have been life in the trenches during the Somme winter; it was thank god only a peek.

This mud will only reluctantly release its grim bounty, at this time of year the softer earth gives up what the locals call “The Iron Harvest”. A sometimes deadly crop of unexploded ordnance lies on the side of the roads and fields heaped up like the beet harvest awaiting collection. This deadly legacy still kills people, even the most experienced. Two members of the Département du Déminage who’s job is the delicate removal and defusing of unexploded ordnance lost their lives in 2007 when a German 155mm shell exploded while they were moving it to a safer place.
The Iron Harvest-an unexploded 18 pounder on the edge of a field near Flers
Sometimes also at this time of year, ploughing and farm work reaps a much sadder harvest, the bodies of soldiers missing in action.

In January this year while undertaking research for a book author and journalist Paul Daley and I stumbled on to such a find. During excavations for a new water pipe outside of the village of Poziers a local battlefield guide we had met found the remains of a soldier. The excavation trench was being dug about 500 meters from Mouquet Farm, scene of fierce fighting involving Australian units in 1916.
Fresh earthworks revealed the remains of a WWI soldier near Mouquet Farm-The Somme
Our guide was not surprised by this, he told us in broken English that “many” are found every year, little wonder when you read accounts of the time.

The biographer of the 15th Battalion AIF Lieutenant Thomas Chataway recorded the horrors as the battalion moved into the line in front of what the Australians had nicknamed “Moo Cow Farm”.
Mouquet Farm was without a doubt the filthiest spot the Battalion ever entered during its service in France. The large number of unburied dead lying about in the mud, their bodies swollen to outrageous proportions, emitted a stench equalled only on Gallipoli. In front of B company headquarters where Captain Snartt resided the air was so foul that all visitors to HQ quickly lit cigarettes or pipes and blew clouds of smoke through their nostrils in an endeavour to kill the odour. In front of C and A company trenches dead men stood erect, waist deep in the mud which had set around their bodies, just as if they were advancing towards the enemy lines. Trenches and saps and the sunken road near the farm were almost entirely built of the German dead, and the continuous shelling of the position stirred up the buried bodies, hurling them in the air and spraying limbs over the living within the trench system. So nauseating was the whole position that strong men were freely sick and non-smokers chain smoked with a rapidity that burnt their mouths and noses.
The remains of a WWI Soldier with Mouquet Farm in the background
Little wonder then fresh earthworks are still turning up lost soldiers. The remains we witnessed being exhumed were subsequently identified as an Australian.

We struggled with our lack of French in understanding the haste of the exhumation but it seems that after consultation with the Mayor of Poziers and the local Gendarmes it was decided to remove the body in case the contractors just reburied the remains. Their efforts to contact the Commonwealth War Graves Commission had also proved fruitless, as it was a weekend.

Our guide told us that it was quite common for farmers and contractors to ignore finds as the red tape involved once authorities were notified halted work and cost money. Others we asked reluctantly backed this claim.

Just how many bodies are “ignored” each year would be impossible to calculate.

Recently discovered grave Trones Wood-The Somme

As the centenary of the Great War approaches it is surely time to try and remedy this. Should the Australian Government offer some form of compensation to farmers and contractors? Some form of incentive would be the least we owe our lost soldiers? Closer ties with the farmers in Australian battle areas would surely not be beyond our means. My thinking seemed clear and reasonable while I was still amongst those that will grow not old, the reality will no doubt be more complicated.

The dark and brooding cemeteries seem a little sadder; I read the cenotaph “Their Name Liveth for Evermore”.  Yes they should.

If Binyon's ode “Lest we Forget, We will remember them” means anything we should act.
Trones Wood-The Somme

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Behind the scenes on QandA

Tony Jones and the team that put together the very successful ABC TV production Questions and Answers invited me and my cameras to shoot and tweet real time pictures from behind the scenes as they prepared to host The Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Monday 14th March.

 I was given complete freedom to shoot whatever grabbed my attention,  uploaded the results in monochrome and colour and they can be seen on Twitter here!/abcqanda

A selected gallery of colour pictures can be seen on the Q & A website here

Here is a small selection of my favorites from the QandA offices at 700 Harris Street, the rehearsals and the show, live from Studio 22.

The day begins in the QandA offices on the 5th floor at The ABC in Ultimo......

Production meeting in the early afternoon with Tony Jones, Senior producer Lindsay Olney and Executive Producer Peter McEvoy (who's elbow is framing Mr Onley)

Tony Jones reads through some of the hundreds of questions submitted by viewers

Sorting through the video questions sent in by viewers in Executive Producer Peter McEvoy's office with Tony Jones and senior producer Amanda Collinge (Peters sense of humor is evident from the Frontline Team photograph on his office wall)

 The known questions are ordered and edited

 The crew check camera angles, lighting and generally sort out the myriad of technical details that all must run faultlessly and reliably when broadcasting live TV

 Audience members start to arrive and wait patiently in the foyer at 700 Harris Street

Tony has a practice run through with the crew in the Studio

The magnificent ABC wardrobe department stand by with a selection of ties all pre-knotted and ready to slip over Tony's neck during rehearsal and camera check.

Tony Jones talks to the crowd in the foyer at The ABC prior to entering the Studio

 The Prime Minister is in the building

The Executive Producer Peter McEvoy talks to the audience after they have taken their seats in Studio 22

 The Prime Minister Julia Gillard in her dressing room with her advisors.

Some last minute instructions to the studio audience.

Julia takes her place on set

It's airtime

All the crew have these very cool T-shirts, the new shirts have a pair of shoes and the phrase "now with added security"on the back

The Prime Minister Julia Gillard watches the Julian Assange video question

 Prime Minister Gillard and Tony leave the set

Executive Producer Peter McEvoy and Tony debrief after the show

As well as the behind the scenes pictures I set a camera about half way up gantry stairs that lead to the roof in an empty Studio 22 on the Friday before the show.

I programmed the automatic timer to take 1 picture every minute and let it do its thing.

I assembled this into a time-lapse video that covered the over 9.6 hours of activity on the set, this included the set up, camera tests and rehearsals, dry runs, lighting adjustments, warm up, the show and finally taking down the set and readjusting the lighting. The video runs for 24 seconds and for those who want to know such things was put together at a frame rate of 24 frames per second.


I had a wonderful and time with the Q and A people and I will be returning for another visit later in the year so stay tuned. Thanks to everyone at QandA especially Tony, Peter, Amanda and my old mate Lindsay.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Cursing my packing on the McIvor Highway

Picture opportunities often present themselves at inconvenient times and your instincts are to push on and ignore them. I have learnt over the years that you always regret not stopping and getting the gear out, the picture that never was. I suspect that every photographer has a file of "missed opportunities" through either apathy or fatigue the picture that was glimpsed but never conceived. I made a resolution this year to chase every glimmer of a picture no matter what the circumstances, a no regrets picture year if you like.

It started as a faint glow growing steadily brighter.  I could see over the top of the trees what I thought was sprinklers working under lights, playing fields being watered I thought. As I drew nearer I realised the moving mass was actually small crickets swarming around the lights at the Bendigo trotting track. A night meeting was underway. 

Their zig zagging flight lent itself to a timed exposure which I hoped would show their erratic flight path so I fought my fatigue and pulled the car over.

I cursed myself for packing the tripods first. After a few minutes on the side of the road, the air heavy with expletives I liberated the sticks, the passing trucks must have puzzled as their lights revealed a lunatic hurling lens cases and light stands out of the boot. I scrambled down a steep bank with my gear and played around with exposures and apertures until I was happy.

It’s not going to win a Pulitzer but I am glad that I stopped and took the time to capture it. No sick feeling in the stomach for a lost opportunity.

 From time to time this year I will post my taken opportunities here.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Cartooning in Benghazi

My Friend and Middle East correspondent for The Age and Sydney Morning Herald Jason Koutsikas sent me these cartoons from Libya. Some have  been painted on walls and the large works on paper are being exhibited on the Benghazi corniche near the courthouse building where the uprising began on February 17. He sent translations with some of them, the others need no translation

 Libya kicks out Gaddafi.The map of Libya is in the colours of the original flag adopted when it gained independence in 1951. The flag was replaced after Gaddafi took power in 1969 with a plain green flag. If you look closely at his right shoulder you can see the star of David. There is a widely held perception in Libya that Gaddafi  is the son of Jewish parents and is a secret ally of The State of Israel.

 The 42 on the boot heel is the number of years that he has been in power 

Gaddafi says: “If I leave Libya, I take everything with me”. The red script identifies the man kneeling as a member of the February 17 Youth.

“You Next”  In the rubbish bin are Hosni Mubarak and written across the arse of the other guy in the rubbish bin is "Ben Ali", the former President of Tunis, Zinedine Ben Ali.

On the rubbish bin is written: Trash. 


  The map of Libya crushes Gaddafi. Written on the map in blue: Libya Free, Libya Together. In the speech bubble, Gaddafi is saying something like: “You, Libyan people, I am not dead. I am stone”.  

  Gaddafi points to an African mercenary: Go get ‘em.

Gaddafi and his son, Saif al-Islam, who was his designated successor. On each of the bullets is a reference to various things that have upset the people. For example, Libya’s war with Chad, his neglect of health and education, political prisoners who have been martyred.



Gaddafi cries and bangs his fists against the date February 17 2011, the day the uprising began.

Standing next to Gaddafi is the “nurse” that was referred to in the Wikileaks cables as taking special care of the colonel. With his right hand, Gaddafi is trying to block the satellite dish. He is looking at the satellite which is identified as belonging to NileTV, which is Egyptian State Television. The caption across the top effectively says: You will not tell Libya what is happening in Egypt.  

 My thanks to Jason for the considerable effort he went to in photographing and translating these works.