I’ve been messing about with cameras for more years than I really want to think about! My first camera was a battered old Yashica twin-lens reflex, given to me by my father (a rock climber, bushwalker and photographer) in the early 1970s.

This was a time when the word ‘digital’ meant something about fingers or numbers. The Yashica had a ground-glass viewfinder that you looked down into, revealing a mirage-like ‘back-to-front’ image. This was mesmerising stuff, and the feel of this camera is burned into my memory. I remember the smell of the 120 roll film as the foil packet was opened and the film was wound onto the spool. The delicate click of the leaf-shutter. I gave that camera to a friend long ago, friend and camera now lost. I wish I still had it in front of me.

Standing in the flooded Cooper Creek, near Windorah, western Queensland.

Standing in the flooded Cooper Creek, near Windorah, western Queensland.

While the gear has changed over the years, the excitement of photography has not. It’s always been a magical process for me. My photography developed along with my interest in exploring the natural world, and a camera of some sort has always been in my backpack or in my hands. Time spent exploring a local patch of scrub or a distant national park always helps me cope with life back in the ‘real’ world. I try not to get too competitive about photography. Everyone sees the same scene differently, and captures it (whether in their mind, on paper or on film) in different ways. So, it’s a personal journey for me, but one inspired by the work of others and one made all the better by the time spent trying to capture some elusive moment with fellow photographers.

I don’t earn a living from photography, my days are mainly spent working for the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, an organisation with a long history of protecting and sharing Queensland’s national parks. I am currently a Senior Ranger, and while usually desk-bound these days, I am very fortunate to be able to work with some fine people and to occasionally get to visit some great places as part of my job. I have a strong interest in conservation, and a passionate belief in the importance of our national parks.

A friend once said to me that, “You are either a good photographer or a good naturalist.” Maybe, old mate. However, I’m happy to juggle the two pursuits as much as possible. It just makes it harder to travel when you’re carrying photographic gear, tripod, spotting scope, GPS, binoculars and field guides — which is why I go nowhere without two assistants and a caravan (or not).

Mount Moffat section, Carnarvon National Park, Central Queensland. Photo Rob Mancini.

Mount Moffat section, Carnarvon National Park, Central Queensland. Photo Rob Mancini.

The camera has, I think, helped me to slow down and take a closer look at things. Lots of hours wrestling with slow, expensive slide film taught me about the need to take time with photography; still a good idea even with today’s digital cameras. I love capturing the character of small creatures, and I like looking for the patterns within the apparent chaos of nature. While it’s my idea of paradise to be off in the swamp with a camera, I’m usually to be found at work or home. However, there’s always a challenge in discovering those things that survive in and around our urban areas. If we could only see the track-ways and territories of all the creatures that cover our own spaces, I think we’d be astonished. Humans think that we’re the centre of everything, but we are just one part of the scene. We should be grateful every day for the web of life, the biodiversity, that surrounds us, even in the suburbs. The devil, and the delight, is in the detail.

“The modern city is a zoopolis, with an overlap of human and animal geographies, where a keen-eyed and patient naturalist can find endless opportunities to stimulate the mind and feed the soul.” — Lyanda Lynn Haupt.

As people drive great distances to explore wild places such as national parks, it can be easy to forget that nature lives all around us — in our backyards, bush blocks, parks and reserves, and these places, as well as the larger, remoter areas, are worthy of our consideration, respect and protection. I’ve grown up in the south-east corner of Queensland, a place of astonishing biodiversity, and over the years I’ve seen the bush reserves and corners of this wonderful part of Australia become ever-diminished by development. The future value of these places for recreation and restoration is undeniable. I believe that it is important to strive for balanced development in the south-east, and I respect the many conservationists working to achieve this. We need places to live, but we also need to leave places for our fellow species to live.

Photographing Common Bluetails (Ischnura heterosticta), Toowoomba. Photo H. Ashdown.

Photographing Common Bluetails (Ischnura heterosticta), Toowoomba. Photo H. Ashdown.

“We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate for having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein do we err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with the extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings: they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.

― Henry Beston, “The Outermost House: A Year of Life On The Great Beach of Cape Cod.”

Robert Ashdown

Dodgy photos of Ashdown messing about with cameras.

Top row (L-R): Always take a photographic assistant with you (Toowoomba, photo H. Ashdown); Far western Queensland, 1996; About to enter the freezing waters at Girraween in search of the endangered Bald Rock River Turtle (photo R. Neilson); Walking with the junior photographer at Girraween NP; Getting a Carpet Python off the road (Arcadia Valley, photo R. Neilson); In the rainforest somewhere (photo E. Vanderduys). Middle row (L-R): Self-portrait with new arrival, 2000; My favourite bird hide, Lota; On the trail, Conondale Ranges (photo A. Creed); At Carnarvon Gorge. Bottom row (L-R): Photographing for the new Cooloola Great Walk (Photo M. Dargusch); Looking east from Mt TableTop, Toowoomba; Long ago with trusty Olympus OM2 at Moreton Island (photo E. Vanderduys); Central Queensland, near Springsure (photo L. Thompson); Boowinda Gorge, Carnarvon (photo A. Creed).