In the late seventies, the Queensland National Parks and Wildlife Service, in collaboration with Ken Taylor, the senior producer of the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) natural history film unit, produced a series of five films detailing the research leading QNPWS zoologists were doing in aridlands, woodlands, rainforests, wetlands, along the coast and on reef islands. A book was to accompany the films — a similar idea to today’s Attenborough–BBC productions. As stills photographer, my task was to record all the events in the series as well as capture underwater motion picture footage of marine turtles on the Great Barrier Reef. I arrived on Heron Island in 1976 to photograph the work of Colin Limpus, who was conducting an extensive study on sea turtles in coastal rookeries and on offshore reef islands. What a task! Col caught, weighed, measured and marked adult turtles and their emerging hatchlings, day after day, night after night. During this and later trips with the ABC to isolated turtle rookeries, and on frequent shore visits photographing crocodiles, lizards, snakes and frogs, my admiration for reptiles and amphibians was born. However it would be some years before I would commit to work nationally and seriously on these animals. This continent is blessed with the greatest reptile diversity in the world. It also houses some of the world’s deadliest snakes. Around 840 reptile species are found in Australia, with many more yet to be described. Of these, around 90 % are found nowhere else. Amphibians number approximately 216 species, many of which are threatened. One species that I photographed for the QNPWS, the southern gastricbrooding frog, is now extinct.
Later, when I set off around Australia in 1981 as a freelance photographer, I was thrilled to add many more species of frogs and reptiles to my collection and was especially impressed with the multitude of reptiles in arid regions of the continent. It was there that I encountered the beautifully patterned velvet gecko and the freakish-looking thorny devil. At Kakadu, my friend and fellow reptile enthusiast Ian Morris introduced me to a trainee Aboriginal ranger, who took us to see a pig-nosed turtle (at the time thought to be extinct on the mainland). It was a revelation that caused a great deal of excitement, and we introduced the rare reptile to a crystal clear rock pool for underwater photography. At night, we donned head torches and went in search of the many frogs and reptiles that inhabit Kakadu’s habitats. Over a lifetime of interest in these reptiles, Ian has developed great skills in uncovering them, especially snakes. I was able to obtain excellent photographs and learn a lot from Ian, who has added to his understanding of these animals by listening to his Aboriginal friends. If anyone can find wild animals hidden in the bush, it is the Top End locals! I recall one estuarine crocodile photographic trip with Ian and an Indigenous man, Barringgu Gondarra, from Elcho Island, off Arnhem Land in the Top End. We launched our small aluminium boat at the Alligator River crossing and headed north, up river into stone country. As I was peering into the shadows cast by fringing pandanus palms, and seeing nothing, Barringgu was telling Ian where the crocodiles were (Ian speaks several Indigenous dialects fluently). Sure enough, there were many crocs (most of which were invisible to my eyes) camouflaged among the shadows, reefs and floating branches. Barringgu was able to spot these supreme predators with ease, even when they had little more than one eye visible above the water. Over the years, I have discovered that reptiles and amphibians are extremely popular with the general public, especially with children, and are wonderful subjects to represent the sheer diversity and splendour of nature.
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