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A Man I Met Yesterday

May 17, 2010

By Danielle Lancaster

Getting away from the city and into the country for some may mean dust, flies and isolation. For me it means a chance to meet new people, see new sights and have new experiences. The Queensland outback is full of interesting characters. Walk down any town’s main street and there is one word you learn to say very quickly – g’day.It was such an encounter I had recently on a visit to Hughenden. Frank was leaning out a window and as I walked past I heard the all too familiar g’day. His face, beneath a big broad brimmed black hat intrigued me and I stopped, ‘g’day’ I replied. With a few dark clouds in the sky it allowed me another avenue to keep our conversation going. ‘What’s this weather going to do?’ I asked.

‘Geez mate I dunno, it could rain or it could piss off,’ was his reply in a rough yet friendly voice as a dog came out announcing my arrival by barking. ‘Sit down, you bastard,’ scowled Frank and the dog cringed back under the timber house.

It was now or never and I knew if I let the opportunity go with such limited time in this outback town it may be gone forever. ‘Would you mind if I took your photo?’ I asked and of course presented my best grin. ‘What you wanno do that for, geez I’m just an old broken ringer,’ replied Frank rolling his eyes and tossing his head almost in disgust at my question. And that’s exactly why I wanted to take his photo.

He agreed and hobbled to the front of the house, his legs bowed from years in the saddle. ‘Come around in the morning if you like, tell me a time and I’ll be here,’ he said. Quick as I could a time was set and the next morning I was on his door step calling out g’day.

The dogs of course heralded my arrival but it was me this time telling them to sit down, though not calling them by the same name as Frank had done the day before.

Photographing the old men of the bush can be a tricky subject. They are not patient and once they hear one click of the shutter they presume the session all over rover. They are shy about their lives –of often extreme hardship living in drovers camps, shearing hundreds of sheep per day, working in excessive heat, lives where luxuries are rarely heard of and if they are its a clean set of clothes, a hot meal in their stomach and maybe a rum or three.

I like to photograph them in their own surroundings. At their house, in the shed, by their vehicle and prefer only using natural light. It means I have to work quickly. They fidget, their eyes roam and there is always something they need to do even for those in retirement – a word they don’t seem to use.

Frank was born in Julia Creek in western Queensland and is now ‘retired’ in Hughenden. All his life he’s been a shearer or a ringer wandering the vast western properties of Queensland’s outback. The years of work in the sun have taken a toll and he looks older than he is. He’ll be 67 in a few days time. He tells me there’s not many people he does not know, he’s on dialysis a result of too much salt and his ‘kidneys being cooked from working in the heat. I use to cut an orange in half and fill it up with salt to try and help stop the heat cramps, not just a bit of salt, fill it right up I did.’

I work quickly and sit and chat for a bit before bidding him farewell and thanking him saying I look forward to catching up again. ‘Geez ,’ he says, ‘that should be alright if I’m not under the bloody ground next time you come!’

Thanks Frank, you were a great subject and I look forward to seeing you again on a return to Hughenden – I’m sure there’s a few good years left in you yet.

Please note: Images are unprocessed

Frank at his front door in Hughenden
Image by Danielle Lancaster

Frank sitting on his favourite chair
Image by Danielle Lancaster

I  rarely can let a good set of weathered hands not be captured.
Image by Danielle Lancaster

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