Dombrovskis: Journeys into the Wild

Dombrovskis: Journeys into the Wild
Friends Exhibition Preview
Special event

Morning Mist, Rock Island Bend
Recording date: 
20 September 2017

Former Australian Greens leader Dr Bob Brown and curator Matthew Jones offer an introduction to the Library's exhibition Dombrovskis: Journeys into the Wild.

Peter Dombrovskis was one of the world’s foremost wilderness photographers. His powerful, reflective and deeply personal images of the unique Tasmania wilderness had a lasting impact, changing the way Australians think about their environment. The National Library has over 3,000 Dombrovskis transparencies in its collection, and has printed 70 of the best for a special exhibition in tribute to this remarkable man, the most complete survey of his work to date in Australia. 

Image: Peter Dombrovskis, Morning Mist, Rock Island Bend, Franklin River, 1980, nla.cat-vn4707363

Transcript

Friends Exhibition Preview: Dombrovskis: Journeys into the Wild

Speakers: Gary Kent (G), Matthew Jones (M), Bob Brown (B)

Audience: (A)

Location: National Library of Australia

Date: 19/09/2017

 

 

G:         Good evening everyone and welcome to tonight's Friends of the National Library event. My name is Gary Kent and I am the chair of the Friends Committee. What a wonderful turnout and I said to Bob before that I think he's responsible for a sell-out but I think the quality of the exhibition also is a major factor in that.

Firstly I'd like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the lands on which this event is taking place. I pay my respects to their Elders past and present and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians who are here this evening. I'm delighted that tonight the friends are able to host an exclusive preview of the new Library exhibition, Dombrovskis: Journeys into the Wild, which opens to the public on Thursday. So for those of you who are Friends, or friends of Friends, this is an absolute exclusive, or if joining the Friends, this is what you get. Sorry, I had to put the plug in. We're on a membership drive, so this is the quality that you can expect by being a member of the Friends of the National Library.

This exhibition showcases what truly is one of the highlights of the Library's collections, the Dombrovskis collection of transparencies, one of the Library's largest photographic collections by a single creator. And what a creator. Peter Dombrovskis’ photography transcends the everyday to reveal the magnificence of the natural world, creating images that have a deeply personal aspect. Soon you'll have an opportunity to explore this remarkable exhibition and I do hope that you will take this chance to linger in the gallery.

First, though, it's my great pleasure to introduce our speakers for this evening, exhibition curator Matthew Jones and Dr Bob Brown.

Matt is the curator of Dombrovskis: Journeys into the Wild. It was Matt who had the enviable mission of examining the more than 3,000 images in the collection to select the items for this exhibition. Just imagine it, 3,000 images. Now there are not 3,000 photographs in the exhibition so it… there had to be a great skill exercised in cutting that down to what we have to show you. Matt's done an exceptional job capturing with sensitivity the breadth of the collection and its subject matter. Matt has worked in the exhibition branch at the National Library since 2011, where he curated the exhibition, Heroes and Villains, Strutt's Australia and co-curated the life of Patrick White. Probably most of you have seen those exhibitions. Matt has also curated the many iterations of the treasures gallery display that you will have seen in recent years. Please give a warm welcome to Matt Jones.

M:        Thanks Gary. I thought everyone was turning up for me! Anyway, okay. Good evening and welcome to the National Library of Australia. Before I begin I would also like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of this land. I thank their Elders past and present for caring for this land we are now privileged to call home. Today, I'd like to talk about the exhibition and the Library's involvement with the Dombrovskis collection. And Bob will go on to talk a little bit more about Peter in detail, but for those of you who aren't familiar with his story, I will just start with the briefest of biographical overviews.

So, Peter Herbert Dombrovskis was born in a refugee camp in Germany in 1945 to Latvian parents. His father, Karl, went missing at the end of the war and in 1950 his mother, Adele, made the decision to move to Hobart. Now, he lived in Hobart, Tasmania for the rest of his life. His first calendar of photographs was produced in 1972, his first diary in 1976 and his first book, The Quiet Land, in 1977. He also in the same year set up his publication company, West Wind Press. His second wife, Liz, who is in Canberra at the moment, saw the exhibition today—and I'm very pleased to say she liked it, so that was a big relief—has continued or continues to run West Wind Press, producing calendars, books and diaries until 2009.

In 1996, while working near Mount Hayes in Southwest Tasmania's Western Arthur's range, Peter suffered a heart attack and died. He was 51 years old. Dombrovskis is now considered Australia's greatest ever wilderness photographer. His images of Tasmania, particularly in the southwest of the state, have raised public awareness of the importance of its wild and remote areas.

So what you're seeing here are some of the transparencies that we have in our collection, and they're quite big, bigger than your 35mm film. That's because Peter used a large format camera, which I'll talk about a little bit later on. And that's a staff member, Michelle Bond, putting it in the cold store where they're all stored.

So, the Dombrovskis archive of over 3,000 film transparencies came to the library ten years ago. Staff at the library love this collection. I always knew this to be true but even so I wasn't quite prepared for the outpouring of enthusiasm when the library decided to do a book and mount an exhibition based on the Tasmanian photographer’s collection. Staff were talking about it everywhere: in the coffee queue, the elevator, at the photocopier, in the corridors, before and after meetings, over lunch… I was even approached about it in the bathrooms. Everyone was pretty excited about the exhibition, and when you look at the images you can understand why.

Any encounter with his photography, whether through the various West Wind publications, the images on our catalogue, the book by NLA Publishing called Journeys into the Wild: the Photography of Peter Dombrovskis—which is available in the bookstore—or the exhibition you'll see tonight will reveal how his work transcends the limits of the wilderness photography genre, particularly here in Australia. It appeals to a broad range of people, not just the hardened bushwalker, obsessed botanist and photography buff. There's a very familiar image. In fact, I would argue that the images appeal to people that usually would not be into wilderness photography at all and that's because Dombrovskis is no ordinary wilderness photographer.

Like many of his peers, he did go to remote regions not often navigated even by the keenest bushwalker and he did take beautiful technically accomplished photographs of the spectacular Tasmanian wilderness. But he also took what is regarded by many as the most influential photograph in Australian history, the one behind me, ‘Morning Mist, Rock Island Bend, Franklin River’. Dr Brown's essay at the beginning of the publication, which I hope you'll buy—I've said that twice now, I'll say it a few more times before the end of this talk—Bob's essay reveals the fascinating story of the role that ‘Morning Mist’ played in the successful campaign to prevent the Tasmanian hydroelectric commission from damming the Gordon and Franklin rivers in the early 1980s.

Dr Brown's essay also tells of Dombrovskis' relationship with fellow photographer and mentor, Olegas Truchanas. It is both a remarkable and a tragic story. Both were refugees from war torn central Europe, loved the Tasmanian wilderness and wilderness photography, and died far too young doing what they loved: taking photos in Tasmania's southwest.

There is so much to admire in the work of Dombrovskis, like for instance his use of colour. So many wilderness photographers, especially recent ones, tend to scorch retinas with lurid intense colours meant to grab your attention from a great distance. However, Peter's images are spectacular and eye-catching. Yes, a work like the one on the screen, ‘Morning Light on Little Horn’ does take your breath away, but they are also subtle and nuanced. The colours are rich and deep and draw you into the image, they make you want to look more.

I think the light that is captured is never overpowering or loud or showy. In images like ‘Peppermint Gum Woodlands’ on the left there and ‘Pencil Pine in the Walls of Jerusalem National Park’ on the right, there is also plenty of room for darkness and shadow, mist and mystery. Unlike many other landscape photographers and painters, there is also very little sky in his images.

Formerly he has a tendency, I think, to push the horizon line high into the composition and change the position of the viewer which I think is part of the magical effect that his photos have and I love this aspect of his work and the variety of perspectives it offers. In this picture here, ‘Lake Oberon in the Western Arthur Range’, it feels like we're flying above the lake and surrounding Jacob Peaks. But in this other image taken in the Western Arthur Range, we're on our knees in a quiet moment of contemplation.

The focus in many of his pictures is as much on shapes and patterns of the mountains, trees, rocks and rivers. Pattern and shape are foregrounded and another signature aspect of his work, the intimate close up details of natural elements. They are photographs that reveal a universe in a thickative seaweed or a cushion plant, to paraphrase Blake. In fact, sometimes they even reveal the photographer himself, such as in this picture where Dombrovskis, his camera and his tripod are reflected in most of the spheres of the seaweed. And in fact, when you go into the show it's the first picture you'll see. And when you get up close to it you'll see him standing next to the tripod, hunched over looking through the viewfinder. So we start with a bit of a self‑portrait.

And that equipment that you'll just make out in those little spheres of seaweed is also I think a pretty fascinating part of his story. He wasn't into showing new technology, for most of his career he used a large format Linhof Master Technika, which he's holding there in that portrait taken by Liz. It uses film 16 times larger than a standard 35mm camera, and the Linhof allowed Dombrovskis to take extraordinarily detailed images but unfortunately it was also heavy and cumbersome. When walking for a week in the wilderness, Dombrovskis had to carry the required food, tent and equipment as well as the camera and around 50 sheets of film. Now unlike the immediate approach allowed by a smaller 35mm camera, or a contemporary digital camera where you can shoot in a very cavalier cowboy style, photographers using large format cameras have to take more care and time in setting up their shots. Dombrovskis said that, quote, ‘because sheet film is expensive and loading it is slow and tedious, I seldom take more than one exposure of each subject. This occasionally leads to bitter regret when I have misjudged exposure after spending, perhaps, an hour on a single image.’ So you think if he's going out there for five days and only taking 50 sheets of film, that's 10 shots a day, whereas I think most people with a digital camera would go through that in five minutes.

So he loaded the camera in his tent—and there's a picture of his tent there—where the film was protected from the elements, set up a tripod, composed a shot and then waited for the right light or conditions before releasing the shutter. And I think his photographs convey this careful consideration and uncompromising commitment to his process.

Dombrovskis' work helped change perceptions of the Tasmanian wilderness, and in 1982 there was inscribed on the World Heritage list as part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage area. The area now encompasses some 1.6 million hectares which is around 20 percent of the state. It includes the Southwest National Park and the adjoining Franklin–Gordon National Park, as well as the Cradle Mountain–Lake St Clair National Park and the Walls of Jerusalem National Park. And these are all places that Dombrovskis photographed extensively.

He said, ‘I took photos for the simple pleasure of recording objects and places that were important to me and because the discipline of photography increased my awareness of Tasmania's beauty and made me appreciate more clearly the value of its wilderness.’ The Tasmanian Wilderness is unique amongst World Heritage sites. It is one of the few sites to meet all natural selection criteria and is only one of three out of all the sites on the World Heritage list to meet seven out of the ten natural and cultural criteria. It is one of the three largest temperate wilderness areas remaining in the southern hemisphere and contains rare flora such as the slow growing Huon Pine, which can live for over 3,000 years and the deciduous beech which is Australia's only cold climate winter deciduous tree.

The area is also geologically rich with examples of rocks from all but one geological period and contains craggy jagged mountain peaks and cavernous valleys through which run wild and unspoilt rivers. His contribution to the environmental movement is profound, but in the exhibition we also wanted to celebrate his technical ability and his artistry as a photographer. In 2003, he was inducted into the International Photography Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City, USA, and that's an honour that's only been afforded to 76 other innovators in the art form's history, and he was the first Australian to be honoured in this way.

His work has been collected by several of Australia’s major cultural institutions, but fortunately for us his archive of transparencies lives here. Here are some more action shots of staff looking at the archive. The archive as I mentioned before, contains over 3,000 film transparencies and I mentioned before as well of course they're a staff favourite. They have been preserved and digitised and are now readily accessible to everyone on the NLA web catalogue. After this work was completed, the next logical step for the Library was to feature the archive in a book, and print some of the transparencies for an exhibition. And I was one of the lucky staff members in charge with selecting the image and this is our very scientific process where we did up colour photocopiers. So, choosing the works for this exhibition was both a complete delight but also, if I'm being honest, a bit of a trial. The guy hardly took a bad photo and that gets a bit annoying when you have to whittle down 3,000 to around 80. However, with the help of Sam and Isobel in the picture, and in consultation with Liz, we did manage to get that list down to 80 works for printing.

After looking at some of the West Wind Press books, we decided to follow a similar structure to the book Peter Dombrovskis: A Photographic Collection and order our selection by geographic region. So when you go up to the exhibition in a moment we start with pictures of beaches and the ocean, gradually move to images of rivers and then to forests and we finish in the last room with snow capped mountains. So I sincerely hope and so do the rest of the staff at the library that you enjoy the exhibition and the book and they both further your appreciation of Dombrovskis' work and all his has accomplished. I think arguably his greatest achievement is that he brought of the sublime into our daily lives.

Now, his work has not been extensively exhibited before in galleries and most Australians I think would have encountered his photographs for the first time in quite prosaic settings, maybe in a diary used at work, a calendar on the side of the fridge or perhaps a poster in a waiting room or maybe an ad in a newspaper. And many of us will never go to the wilderness he photographed but into the most ordinary everyday places, I think he brought us something beautiful which are images of a timeless rugged and remarkable world, a world worth saving. Thank you.

G:         Thanks Matt, that was a wonderful preview of the exhibition. It won't be long now and you can go up and have a look at it but we have a couple more things to do before then. Particularly, I'm now absolutely thrilled to introduce to you someone who knew Peter Dombrovskis extremely well. From 1978 to 1983, Dr Bob Brown led the campaign to save Tasmania's Franklin River from damming. As a member of the Tasmanian Parliament, he led the Greens in negotiating a doubling of the size of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage area. In 1996, he was elected a Greens senator for Tasmania in the Australian Parliament, and in 2005 he was elected leader of the Greens, positions he held until his retirement in 2012. It was during that early fight to save the Franklin River that Bob and Peter forged a friendship that endured until Peter's death in 1996. Now, Bob's had a very long career in politics. If Bob had achieved only one thing in that time, if all he'd achieved were the saving of the Franklin River that would have been enough, but of course Bob achieved a lot more than that and I think for all of that we're all very grateful. Without further ado, because I know you're keen to get upstairs, please welcome Dr Bob Brown.

B:         Thank you, Gary. Thank you, Matt, thank you ladies and gentlemen. It's a very great privilege to be here talking about, and to a degree with, Peter because his photographs are to a fair degree his personality persisting on into the future, with Peter to you folk, and I've just had the fortune of having a quick squiz at the exhibition. I went to—well I've seen a number of exhibitions of Peter's photographs in Tasmania of course, both while he was alive and since he died. I went to Oklahoma City to the International Photographic Hall of Fame when he was inducted, I think back in about 2002, and they had a very big display of his photographs. But this is the best. And I say that because it's… the space is so beautifully used and the assemblage of photographs is so wonderfully… well it unfolds, as Matt was indicating, from when you see that first image with Peter's reflections in those beads of the kelp through to the end, it's the quintessential Peter. And so I congratulate the National Library of Australia, and the support you as Friends give to it, for mounting an exhibition which, were Peter here, he would love to see.

I got to know Peter in the 1970s, of course, when the Franklin and Gordon rivers were increasingly threatened with dams which were going to… There would be a series of four of them: one below the junction of the two rivers flooding back up both, and then three more on the Franklin, flooding it almost to the mountains where it rose at the top. And it was no spectre, it was a reality, and Peter had watched that reality in the flooding of Lake Pedder where his mentor, Olegas Truchanas, had brought photography from—in an age of colour—from out of books and periodicals onto the floor of the Hobart Town Hall, where eight sell-out crowds saw his pictures of what he called My Pedder, My Lake Pedder, and as he was working with the hydroelectric commission said the best he could do was show what a magical and mystical place Lake Pedder was to the hoards of people who came to listen to his beautiful voice, Lithuanian voice, and to look at the pictures he had.

Peter was a very quiet chap, young fellow, he very rarely said much. He was brought at the age of five from Germany–his mother, Adele, was Latvian–to the furthest place on the planet. Just what Olegas had done a few years earlier, away from war-torn Europe, and goodness knows what it was that she saw and went through when the Stalin's armies overtook where Hitler's armies had been. So she took her young son to the other side of the planet, promising that he could have as much yoghurt as he wanted when he got to Tasmania. Well of course we weren't yoghurt people, we were Anglo-Saxons, but he got to see enough of it in his lifetime. And Adele finally had a house up on the slopes of Mount Wellington and I got to meet her with Peter, she had some Huon Pines brought from the bush. She was a spirit of nature and she imbued Peter with, and took him on his first walk in the Cradle Mountain–Lake St Clair National Park with his Zeiss camera, 35mm camera, when he was a teenager. But he got under… He'd been taken under the wing of Olegas and was developing both the skills to be an outdoors adventurer par excellence, not least on the wild rivers.

Tasmania was a place you went bushwalking, but to go by river transport was something that these men were really introducing. It was a novel way of travelling, particularly on very wild rivers like in western Tasmania. And so they did, they travelled the Pieman River, which was later dammed, the greatest potential tourist rafting river in southern Australia.

They went down the Gordon, they went through so many other bush experiences, and then Olegas drowned in 1971 and it was the young Peter who found his mentor's body as the river was drained away. And in that same year Lake Pedder was flooded, so it was a very, very tough period. I can only imagine how Peter coped with that. But he did, and he came out of it, with his increasing technological skills and his ability to have better equipment. And then I met him, and I'd taken some pictures of the Franklin in the '70s, having first been down there in 1976, but Peter agreed to go down and he did in 1979 and 1980 and 1981 on his own. Huge weight of cameras and a little raft, but he was technically far ahead of the rest of us in being able to negotiate the rivers. And he came back with the collection of pictures of the Franklin River which were so integral to the campaign, which now could bring these pictures in living colour to people all across Australia. And of course the image of Rock Island then which we just saw.

I went up to Peter's house at Fern Tree after he'd come back from that trip, and he was going through all the photographs from taking me down the river with him. And I'm a campaigner, and I'm highly anxious and fretting that they're about to announce… Well in 1979 the plans for the dam were announced, the biggest rock-filled dam in the southern hemisphere. And we knew, because we'd floated past them, the jackhammers were at work, the helicopters were coming in, the barges were there, they were dynamiting to anchor this dam. This was a very fraught time for those rivers that we had been down and seen with all their glorious living potential for the inspiration of and adventure of human beings down the ages to the future in a world where wilderness is such a… Well it's the world's fastest disappearing natural resource and yet we need it as human beings because it's where we come from, as a salve to the soul amongst other things.

Well, he took me down through the [inaudible 26:08 arenabis] and the Great Ravine—and fabulous pictures—but these were places that were going to be flooded by the consequent dams and then down through the Propsting Gorge and to Glen Calder. And then Peter brought up onto his light box the picture of morning mist on Rock Island Bend, and I did jump out of my chair. It was such a beautiful transparency and it was horizontal and it was a—it had the mystique of the Franklin. Peter thought it wasn't his best picture, and maybe he was right about that, but in terms of campaigning it was. And such an effect that this picture have on both sides of the debate. Delighting those of us who love nature, but confounding those who wanted to flood the area, that in 1982 when the government of Premier Robin Gray flew all parliamentarians down to the dam works—the dam was now being actually built, the roads were going into the site for the pouring of concrete and rock and whatever—there was one exception to the parliamentarians invited and that was Dr Brown, they didn't have room for me.

Well I drove overnight and to cut a long story short I got on the bus anyway and ended up in a helicopter over Rock Island Bend with the premier of the day, I'm sorry it was the leader of the opposition of the day, Harry Holgate, and the leader of the hydro, the Commissioner for the hydro, Mr Ashton, and as we flew over Rock Island Bend looking down, the poor Commissioner for the hydroelectric commission said, look, it's not beautiful like it shows in the pictures at all, is it. And to me it looked fabulous. And there was more to that story. But Peter went again and again and as I relate in the book, he came back and had his pictures processed especially in Melbourne from one of those trips and somebody sabotaged the pictures and ground them into the back of the Ansett truck bringing them back into Hobart, ground them in under the boot into the truck to sabotage the pictures, so great was this division in Tasmania at the time. But Peter weathered that as well.

He, of course, went on and had been, and was while this was happening, taking pictures in wild places, both easy to get to and beyond the reach of most us as bushwalkers. He went back and back again, not just to his beloved Mount Wellington which he had at his backdoor, but to the Walls of Jerusalem and to Cradle Mountain and Lake St Clair and Frenchman's Cabin, the south coast which he loved. And he took pictures, I can… He was a fairly solitary character and I can see him taking a long time. Most of these trips he took on his own and he took a long time; each image may have taken an hour or two or sometimes a day or two. He would set up his camera and wait for the light to be right.

As Matthew said, there's very little sky in many of the pictures, although one of the favourites of mine which is of Mount Geryon, 1,507 metres, one of the highest mountains in Tasmania but very picturesque with the labyrinth of lakes in the foreground. I so much loved that that I got it blown up into a wall height, floor to ceiling height, photograph in my senate rooms at Parliament House for the years I was there. And it was so often that picture of Mount Geryon and the labyrinth which relaxed the people coming in to see me, as they were nervous, which included a few ministers and a few ambassadors and the school kids who came. It was only when I did get into some legal troubles over forestry and needed to pay the damage of the court costs at Forestry Tasmania that I was later on forced to part with it and sell it at an auction, so it's in some good home somewhere or other. But we all had the pleasure of now getting it in this book, I think at page 174, if you care to look.

Peter is an extraordinary photographer. When I look at these pictures and compare them with the digital photographs we're seeing now, you would have thought—he died in 1996, you would have thought it would have dated. Technology is so astonishing. Well, ladies and gentlemen, I invite you to see these photographs and think, are the photographs we're seeing of the wilds of the world now better? In my books they're not. He had the best equipment at the time. He of course was pre-digital. He Photoshopped nothing, he didn't have colour filters at the front. It's, as Matthew said, what you see is what he saw and what we now see. And it's a historic record. That fabulous picture of Lake Oberon with the three Pandani looking like they've just landed from Mars standing in the front with the meadow underneath now has a walking track right across the middle of it. And so quite a few of those fabulous pictures of the Walls of Jerusalem, so there's that—it's as if we're taken with modern technology back to a time when the place was a little wilder.

I'm so privileged to have known Peter. I'm so privileged to have worked with him. He was always shy about saying he was a conservationist but—or he was a campaigner. He wasn't shy about saying he was a conservationist, of course, but he had campaigning in his blood. He went where places were threatened. His pictures of the Tarkine wilderness we now use, we're still campaigning to protect this 500,000 hectares in the northwest of Tasmania. You'll see some of them on the walls are being used in our campaign now to save that place because so often where Peter went followed protection of the area, because through the beauty of his and the inspiration of his photographs people worked, got him to campaigns, it worked on politicians and the areas were protected. His legacy is double. It's not only one of the most brilliant natural photographic collections that is now in this great library on the planet, and I include with that the people that Peter saw in such high regard like Eliot Porter and Ansel Adams. But his collection is one of those… is up in that peerage and not… I don't think bested by anybody as a photographic collection.

But I don't know that there are any photographers, those included, who can claim when you look at the threat of it of being integral to have save so much of the Tasmanian wilderness from the Franklin River to the Walls of Jerusalem to the southwestern coastline of Tasmania. He… and indeed the Douglas-Apsley on the east coast of Tasmania, which is now a 16,000 hectare national park where it wasn't when he walked down the Douglas River taking the pictures, some of which you'll see on the wall down there, or up there is it, up there I think.

It's, as I say, phenomenal to be here speaking for Peter as a friend of his about this terrific collection and this exhibition. I hope, ladies and gentleman, that you'll enjoy it. I'm so glad you're Friends of the Library, and if you're not, I just join in asking you to support it because any library that can represent something so brilliant as Peter's photography out of the Australian ether in the way that this is done is of itself a treasure to our country of Australia. Peter would love this exhibition and I hope you'll enjoy it and come back and see it again. It is going to be on for some months so I'll be directing everybody I know to come and see it and of course the book is now available and it's a tribute to everybody who worked on it, Matthew, and it's within the pocket reach of us all. Peter would be delighted with that as well. So there we have it. Peter Dombrovskis: a special piece of the Australian firmament, a great creator and a great doyen of the protection of wilderness for this country and for everybody who comes to Tasmania to see these places for centuries to come. Thanks, ladies and gentlemen.

G:         Thanks, Bob, that was absolutely marvellous. If Peter couldn't be here, well in some ways I think he was. So if we couldn't have Peter we had you and I think you gave us the context, the meaning, the long-term significance of what Peter did and, as I said earlier, the two of you have left a legacy which we will… always important to all of us.

Now we have time for a very, very small number of questions. Now we do need questions and not statements, so please be very clear as what you're asking. We don't want a lecture. Now we do have microphones on either side of the room so if you put your hand up the first one up gets the first question. Do I see a hand? Yes, down there.

A:         I just can't imagine how you could whittle down 3,000 photos. How, into just 80?

M:        Yes, well, I said before, we had an organising principle which was the idea of following some of the West Wind publications. So we wanted to do that journey from the sea to the mountains, and also as I went through a lot of the photographs—it took about three or four weeks to go through them all—we thought it would be good to show ones that had been published already in the calendars that Peter and Liz had worked on so people could see them in a different context. So that made the selection process a lot easier as well. And then I got it down to about 600, I think, and that's when I brought in other people to stop me going a little bit insane. So yeah there are a few little guiding principles, I guess, that helped the selection process.

A:         This is a technical one for the curator too. So how do you have those printed, who prints them and how do you decide the size that you should print the images?

M:        We were very lucky to have a guy called Les Walkling who was a particularly well known Australian photographic printer and he's worked with a lot of great photographers such as Bill Henson. And we went with a fairly standard size, which is I think 67x47, which is an art gallery photographic print size that will fit in a standard Fini Frame. So what we decided to do was do about 50 pictures of that standard Fini Frame size, that large size 67x47, and then we just thought we'd mix it up a little bit and do some smaller shots and some mid-range shots just to give the eye a bit of a chance to see something different. So we hope we've got the balance right when you go through that if you notice that when you see Peter's work in other collections like the National Gallery or the National Gallery of Victoria, they are mostly done at this standard Fini Frame, A frame size, yeah.

A:         A question for Bob. What's the status of the protection for the Tarkine?

B:         The state - thank you. The Tarkine, again in the northwest of Tasmania. It's got a—it's not protected. It was assessed by the Australian Heritage Commission and they said the whole lot should be National Heritage but the Environment Minister at the time put only four percent on the coastal strip in as heritage, and at the moment you may know that's the richest Aboriginal coastline in Tasmania in terms of sights. There's middens everywhere. I flew out on Wednesday by helicopter to take some Aboriginal people and some folk who were assessing that area as to whether the track should be opened to allow four-wheel drives into part of it that's never had licensed four-wheel drives ever and that's of course extraordinary damage up and down the coast. So that's now in the hands of Federal Minister Josh Frydenberg and within the next few weeks—it's open for comment at the moment—he will determine whether or not those tracks will be opened.

I was standing next to the representative for the Aboriginal Heritage—the Aboriginal Centre, Heather Sculthorpe, the other day when she was asked what would happen if he gives the go-ahead and she said ‘well, we'll only be able to do the time honoured thing and go over and get in the way’. And being next to her in front of the microphones I said, yes and my foundation will be over there sitting with you and helping you. Even though the media didn't run a word of it—very curious. But it's all —and there's 159 logging coupes. The government has just decided, with the agreement of our prime minister, to open the rain forest for future logging, and 90 percent of it is under mining exploration licenses. So it will only be, as with the Franklin, it will only be when the rest of Australia gets to see enough of the Tarkine and start saying we will change our votes over this that it'll be protected. And we're on the way.

A:         Dr Brown, you are a loved man. I just wonder whether you are going to further work in terms of talking about the story of Dombrovskis and your interaction with him in a book or lectures?

B:         Yes, I have, I was… When you say that I'm loved, I thank you very much for that. I had noticed there are a few people who have a contrary point of view. But that said, I was very kindly asked by the National Library if I would supply an essay, and I'm very grateful to Peter's now young adult son, I think Nicholas is 22, for sitting with me in the Retro coffee shop in Salamanca Place and talking about his dad. He couldn't be here tonight because he's in Tokyo and he's a fabulous photographer— the genes are running true there. But, as you'll read in the book, that adds new information and a new… And Nicholas wrote an essay for me from which I've taken some excerpts so there's more about Peter and new material about Peter in the book. But, yes, I'm, well, as I said, Peter's Tarkine pictures we're using in this campaign to save the Tarkine, and we'll get there. So yes, while I keep working off his shoulders so we all will down until the rest of the areas that need protecting in Tasmania are protected. We seriously… I owe this friend of mine a great deal for not ceasing to influence the world for the better so long after he died and I think that's just going to keep going and walking into the exhibition here this evening was just such a delight. Thank you, Peter.

[End of recording]

Download transcript 172.27 KB

Recent audio All recent audio