King Island, TAS: An Accidental Photo Essay

Writer and accompanying-imagery provider, Bronni Bowen, hitches a lift over the dark seas of the Bass Strait armed only with a Canon EOS M50 and two lenses to capture a special space to which few from the mainland will venture. She begs to ask the question — “Is it audacious to have one’s camera set to automatic for the time being and still refer to oneself as a photographer?”

“Seven pm,” sighs the bloke at the camera shop, set deep inside the labyrinth that is Chadstone shopping centre. “Thursdays are f**ked, late night shopping is f**ked. Two hours to go.”

A girl walks in. Regretfully, he approaches her and limply enquires after her health. This achieved, it was right down to business. She was clearly not here to beat around the bush. To his great surprise, she promptly declared she knew nothing about cameras, but was chasing a decent one that would enable her to make high res images suitable for the cover of a magazine, with a lens “wide-angled enough to squeeze in a whole runway, but also shoot well from inside small spaces, such as the cockpit of a light aircraft.” She wanted the images to appear “slightly warped at the edges, but not too much,” and to make the subjects, for example, people standing in the middle of the frame, “pop out” if you took the photo from right up close. She proceeded to enthusiastically refer to this as the “hero effect” and said she’d mostly be taking them of people, and probably aeroplanes.

Said camera also needed to be as simple as possible, not have too many buttons to accidentally bump when in a great hurry, “be easy to grip and hang on to, and light enough to run across a very large paddock with,” — in case she meant to shoot whilst retrieving hot air balloons.

That girl left the store an hour and fifty minutes later with a spanking new kit (body, adaptor, Tamron 10-24mm lens, bag, quick-release strap, two memory cards and filters) and flew out to Flinders Island, top-right Tasmania, the following day.

Two years later, the girl pops the door of a small plane parked up at Currie and sucks in a deep breath of Bass Strait air, freshly whipped. Time to explore the west! For now, the zoom lens settles in her jacket pocket; she fondly pats the cap of her newer, most favourite 50mm prime, sets her trusty, mirrorless, kids-model M50 to the automatic position, crosses her fingers and hopes for the best. Welcome to King Island, the pearl in Tassie’s oyster.

The following is a photo essay. I picked the cream of the crop for ya, Sam Edmonds.

UPPER: A stand of Melaleuca ericifolia lines the boundary of the aerodrome. An iconic feature most typical of the island, tea tree here grows thick and tall, and the smell of it never ceases to remind lost islanders of home
MID: Alfie in the ready-packed plane
LOWER: Currie Harbour from Bicentennial Park lookout

Currie is King Island’s little capital, a settlement clustered around the island’s first harbour. It is gently undulating small-town streets, friendly people and beach walks under the watchful gaze of the cast-iron lighthouse. There are towering, elderly Norfolk pine trees lining Main Street, two epic drinking holes and a thriving arts scene.

Also found in Currie: the Arts & Cultural Centre down at the dock, which showcases a myriad of local artisans, and — on weekends — often hosts a travelling coffee van. You can hang out on the creatively named Big and Little beaches watching the fishermen come in with their catch, and spend hours in the astoundingly well-curated King Island Historical Museum, packed to the rafters with interest-piquing bits and pieces collected by locals from haunted shores.

UPPER: Barrels burl behind Currie, back towards British Admiral Beach
MID: Approaching Currie from the south at dusk, the Huxley Hill wind turbines in the distance
LOWER: Black ship-wreckers at the Cataraqui site (1845), the disastrous location of Australia’s worst-ever maritime tragedy

UPPER: The road to Martha Lavinia and Nine Mile beaches; the road to surge and serendipity
MID: Crisp whites, greens and blues, and the picnic table at Lavinia Beach
LOWER: No filter, promise, haha. It actually looks like that

Martha Lavinia isn’t shy about being one of the top surf breaks in Aus; she puts on her best show over the colder months when the two currents that encircle the island greet again at its north-eastern tip. Look for sou’westerlies and 2m swell on the forecast, and you’re guaranteed a jolly slide. That said, there are so many other secret locations around here to paddle out you can’t lose — and nowhere is far — I just can’t let those out of the bag anywhere other than ’round the campfire. Anyway, everyone knows the best breaks are the ones you stumble upon yourself, and the best thing about King Island is that you’ll hardly have to share.

If you’re the type to put seconds rather than minutes between your sleeping bag and a wave, you can camp out on the beach at Martha — beyond sensational on a starry, breathless night, the prospect of which should have you keen as Kipp Caddy. No national parks pass necessary, free-camping all year round. What more could ya want?

UPPER: Down south, now, somewhere between Surprise Bay and Stokes Point. You’ll want to nominate a gate-opener — there’s heaps — but witnessing this end of the island is worth them all
MID: Gulchway, near Sealers Wall
LOWER: King’s south-west coast, somewhat obscured by Alfie’s handsome head

There are no surprises at Surprise Bay, but it’s a beautiful and wondrous part of the world — a real ripper drive of the west coast, with Stokes Point at the very southern end. Make sure you’re back across the stony creek before the tide! Still, to this day, no-one knows why Sealers Wall was built, or who built it.

UPPER: Rushes at Loorana
MID: King Island beef frothing life in the paddocks behind the Shag Lagoon Bird Hide
LOWER: Little Porky Beach and the King Island Dairy, on Little Porky Creek. It’s named that because of the copious numbers of porcupines that inhabited the area. I’m not lying to you! Taken at high speed and low altitude from the cockpit of the Cherokee Six.

King Island is sure to steal a corner of your heart — and if, after all, you blow back home without windswept, salty hair and a sparkle in your eyes, I’ll be very surprised.

Whether the weather be wet or fine, foggy or sunny and hot,
Or with gales from the seas roaring in through the trees,
(When we stay snug inside eating crayfish and cheese),
We’ll weather the weather whatever the weather
Whether we like it or not.
— Roslyn Nadjarian (Leafy Sea Dragon)

Bronni’s photography objectives, in layman’s terms, from most urgent to ideal:
– To be able to crop and rotate (straighten up) without accidentally losing resolution or anything silly like that
– To be able to roughly edit to a slightly closer uniformity… would this be some kind of signature preset (I genuinely hope that doesn’t make you want to vomit ahahahahaha)? At least enough to lighten or darken if required. Honestly, all of these shots are flukes, and I’ve got so many rippers, great composition, but with tiny things wrong with them that I won’t use
– To have the tools to shoot some film, or film effect, with all the raw, grainy, double-exposed delight
– Foreign correspondence / war journalism / sharing stories from gritty places (ie PNG)

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