Fiona Lake is a historian of the outback. An unofficial record keeper from way back, Fiona has been traversing the rural and regional areas of Australia long before it was popular on social media.
She lives in Townsville, North Queensland. On the edge of the wet & dry tropics, a rock’s throw from the bush. The same distance to the Kimberleys & Melbourne.
Her current project is a book of photographs taken on every single NT Barkly Tableland cattle station.
SCROLL THROUGH MORE OF FIONA’S IMAGES HERE: http://www.fionalake.com.au
ORDER FIONA’S BOOKS HERE: http://www.fionalake.com.au/outback-books
What was your childhood like, growing up on a sheep and wheat farm in NSW?
The family wheat/sheep farm is fairly typical, so my childhood was similar to many others. But also different. My mother grew up on the outskirts of Melbourne & had different ideas on many things; we grew up right on a state border, and I had 3 brothers but no sisters. Consequently I’ve felt like I’ve had a foot in 2 camps, from day dot. Apparently it’s common for people who end up in creative fields, to feel like they don’t fit in.
Do you have fond or poignant memories of your childhood?
Yes – I grew up on a family farm I loved, and as not the eldest and not a boy, knew it would never be something I could call my own. Something I’m sure most who aren’t the eldest boy in the family, can relate to. But it’s a thought I accepted long ago, because at the end of the day, we all die and whatever land we own passes on to someone else anyway.
Landowners are merely caretakers. I loved the natural-state redgum bush and wildlife beside the river, where I happily roamed on my own, as much as possible.
Were you aware you from when you started photographing that you were essentially being a record keeper of Australian rural history?
Not until I started work on a cattle station. I was one of the few station bookkeepers left in Australia, and I knew that when manager Gordon Arnold retired, the full time position would no longer exist on Wrotham Park.
I grew up surrounded by historical stuff on the farm; so knew how sneaky time is – we usually don’t realise things are changing, until things we take for granted are gone.
A few years before my grandfather died, he wrote a couple of little booklets of his reminisces – of “corduroying” the creek crossings on the dirt road (now highway) to Melbourne, sewing up bags of wheat by hand, etc.
I also had a rellie who lived to 103; and the changes she talked about having seen, were a good reminder to not take anything for granted.
You’re capturing iconic Outback Australian figures, such as the stockman, jillaroo, jackaroo, managers etc. Are there “breeds” still alive in the midst of the outback?
Every year, I see changes. A love of horses is what has traditionally kept people living on the largest northern cattle stations. Without the horses, there would be a slab of people who would no longer have their heart in it. Horses are still viewed as being the very best means of walking mobs. However there is increasing pressure from above – head offices – to work faster and faster and get cattle in for trucking at shorter notice, so motorbike use is creeping in more. Even though very few managers want to work in a rushed fashion. This makes their job increasingly stressful – having to rush, when they know ‘steady’ would be much better husbandry; so they aren’t able to do the job as they know it should be done. The pressures in the industry probably peaked around 8 years ago, when the mining boom staff drain was at its worst, and stations become full of disinterested gap year play-abouts, unashamedly with no interest in learning and no interest in staying. This was a horrendous period for managers, already working very long hours, forced to also squeeze in hands-on teaching and supervisory roles.
Are the horsemen and horses still vital to these big operations?
As for me, I would lose interest in photographing these stations if horses vanished. There’s a certain fundamental attitude difference between managing cattle on these big places with horses, and managing them with motorbikes.
A classic quote from Allan Fogarty (Central Australia): “you could spend all year mustering with a motorbike and still not know anything about cattle at the end of it” (unlike working cattle with horses, in which case, you learn a lot, and quickly).
My own riding is of the most basic standard consequently I’m all the more appreciative of great horsewomen and men at work, and love taking photographs of them in action.
Very few Australians realise how amazing it is that so many working horses are still a vital part of so many Australian cattle stations (no longer the case, in many other cattle-producing countries).
Most horses worldwide are now just used for recreational purposes – ridden for just a few hours at a time, at the most.
This is a snapshot from our upcoming Graziher Magazine.
Find out more about our publication over at the Graziher website: www.graziher.com.au