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These journeys were for three books: To The Inland Sea (Charles Sturt), Across The Centre (John McDouall Stuart), and The Desert Coast (Edward Eyre). The aim in each case was to integrate excerpts from the explorers’ contemporary journals with photos showing the places that the excerpts referred to. To thus highlight the key challenges each explorer faced: distance, terrain, and water supplies.


Each explorer’s journey was plotted (using navigation data given in the explorers’ original accounts) onto World Aeronautical Charts – with a scale of 1:1 000 000. This scale was ideal to give an overall perspective, while also showing the local topographical and visual features.  


The map shown here is one of six charts from John McDouall Stuart’s departure place, Adelaide, SA – to his end of journey, Point Stuart, near today’s Darwin, NT. The sheet covers 430 kilometres south to north. The blue lines indicate Stuart’s northerly line-of-march, and his many (often fruitless) side forays seeking water. On the map, the red circles are “quote and photo” sites – most requiring 4WD travel on little-used dirt tracks and sometimes driving across rough country. The numbers refer to Stuart’s three expeditions – and the “quote and photo” sites. Thus, “2/16” means – “Stuart’s second expedition, quote and photo site 16”.


With heroism and tenacity, Stuart led three transcontinental expeditions to reach – finally – Australia’s north coast. His map-making was recorded with pencils and notebooks – using compasses, a sextant, and his long-practised bushman’s skills and instincts. 


At each site, after rapid scouting around (rapid since time and budget normally only allowed one-night camps) and assessing local light and weather conditions, the site photos – seen in this Photo Gallery – were taken. They aimed to integrate the explorers’ accounts with the landscape today. Often hundreds of kilometres from any habitation, safety was paramount. A Royal Flying Doctor Service two-way radio was the only means of communication.  


For further details see Ed Stokes’ three books: To The Inland Sea, Across The Centre, and The Desert Coast. Each book has preface notes on the planning, expedition route mapping, and on-site photo taking.

For example, for the first of this Photo Gallery’s Australian images:


Sand dune near the Flinders Ranges, SA

Strong late afternoon light, 24mm lens, polarizer, 81C warming filter

In flat, very open landscapes it is extremely important to have major, dominating elements in the foreground. Otherwise, what is psychologically strongly perceived by the photographer as “dramatic space” is rendered visually as “empty space” for the viewer. After exploring around and along this sand dune, this leaning mulga tree perfectly filled that need. Its brightly lit foliage also framed the dune and distant Flinders. Late afternoon diagonal cross light was needed to give the tree a sculptural effect, and to enhance the sand dune texture: even the smallest wind-blown “crest” is etched out by its shadow. Shot on a tripod, at f/22 for the fullest, virtually total, depth-of-field.

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