Q & A with photographer and author Mark Lang
Telling Old Man Bill Neidjie's Story
31 August 2015
On Wednesday 9 September at the National Library, author and photographer Mark Lang will discuss the achievements and mentoring of Big Bill Neidjie, a Gagudju elder with his great-niece Senator Nova Peris and John Paul Janke, Director of Communication and Engagement, AIATSIS. Below, Mark gives us a little sneak peek into his experience retelling Old Man's story.
Why do you write?
In this particular case I simply had to write the story because Old Man Bill Neidjie, a Kakadu Elder and traditional owner of that country, had entrusted his last story to me, a story that he wanted passed on to his young people, concerned, as he was, that they were losing touch with their culture. In so many ways its wisdom applied to us all. My job was to record it, nine hours of tape in all, write it out and read it back to him, put it all together into book form, and then get it published. It was also necessary to illustrate the story with photographs of Old Man’s country, a place he loved so deeply. All in all I was two years camped in Kakadu, working with Old Man and photographing the different moods of the country as it went through its seasons. Only when the work was completed was it appropriate for me to say farewell to my old friend and leave there.
What are you reading right now?
I’ve just reached the last few pages of Nicolas Rothwell’s ‘Wings of the Kite-hawk.’ A beautiful book that describes his travel though Australia in the footsteps of the explorers. He has a wonderful feeling for country. Just makes me want to jump into the truck and head back out.
What was the hardest part of writing your latest book?
Finding a peaceful place where I could work and put the book together. I had sold house and home to hit the road and photograph the country for my own book on Australia, a task that took seven years, all in all. So once I had finished the journey I was basically homeless. So I did a lot of house-sitting for people, but it was hard to find a place where I could work continuously for a long stretch. Consequently the book was put together bit by bit. It has taken a long while to complete, but it had to be done before I could tackle anything else.
What was the best part of writing your latest book?
Finishing it. I finally put it all together in dummy form as a Blurb hardback and submitted it to Aboriginal Studies Press who decided to take it on. It's been a pleasure working with them because they allowed me to contribute my thoughts as to how the book should be laid out. Its a privilege rarely granted to authors. You give your manuscript to the publisher and that’s it.
What are you working on now?
Now I have to promote the book Old Man’s Story, so the saga continues. Mind you it's a pleasure talking about my times with Old Man and what he stood for, and you get to meet a lot of people who you would never usually encounter. It also gives me a chance to talk about the story of the entire seven year journey, the manuscript of which is in its final draft, not forgetting the book of landscape photographs that got me going out there in the first place.
And lastly, what do you love about libraries?
Finding books that I have never heard of, and writers about whose work I would like to know more, and as I don’t have the space to keep them anymore, being able to take them back!
Mark Lang has worked as a photographer for twenty-five years and specialises in large format panoramic photographs of Australian landscapes. Lang's work has appeared in books, magazines and advertising campaigns locally and internationally. He is a longstanding member of the freelance photo agency, Wildlife.