SILENT ECHOES

Over the past couple of weeks I have been busy working on this large (1500×900) acrylic, charcoal and ink painting. It is based on a large sandstone wall, towering over a rock pool in the Umbrawarra Gorge, south of Litchfield National Park in the Northern Territory. Apart from the spectacular appearance of the place, the thing that impressed me was the strange silence, broken by occasional disjointed echoes. The sounds of distant birds, insects and breezes all seemed to emanate from the rocks, always punctuated by long periods of silence. Hidden through the rocks was evidence of faded aboriginal rock paintings.

I used colored acrylic glazes over white areas of gesso to get a transparent glow into some of the rock shapes. These are contrasted with solid opaque patches of similar colored acrylic. When the paint was dry I drew over it with charcoal pencil (black and white) and Burnt Sienna pigment ink. The most difficult part of this painting was getting the abstract marks right. It took a lot of looking and adjusting until everything seemed to fall into place. What I like about this process are the intricate, underlying textures that build up. Painting like this really makes me appreciate the work of  Franz Kline. He seems to effortlessly create the most beautiful abstract marks – perfectly balanced and proportioned, right from scratch.

ACROSS THE NT BORDER

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Approaching the NT border towards Docker River, the country changes into a series of spectacular ranges.  Reading Herbert Basedows 1903 journal of exploration through this area made it all the more fascinating. There were no tracks and the journey took him 8 months with a team of 18 camels.

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All along the Great Central Road are herds of wild camels. This old fellow was standing under a shady tree just outside Docker River.

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Approaching the NT WA border through a cracked and bug splattered windscreen.

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We camped the first night back in the Northern Territory between sandhills with a great view of Kata Tjuta (The Olgas).

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Ayers Rock (Uluru) is an awesome sight. Photos are useless, it is so massive – the only way to appreciate it is to visit it.

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These strange characters, walking up to a viewing platform near Kata Tjuta, wore bags over their heads to annoy the flies!

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Around 50 kilometers east of Uluru is Mt Connor. It is like the poor cousin to Uluru, given just a passing glance thanks to it’s famous neighbour.

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I climbed to the top of a high sandridge to get a photograph of Mt Connor. In the distance to the north I could see a large salt lake half filled with water. An unusual sight in Central Australia.

We traveled East to the Stuart Highway then turned South through gathering storm clouds to South Australia.

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GREAT CENTRAL RD WRECKS

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The Great Central Road runs from Laverton to Yulara, passing through the aboriginal communities of Cosmo-Newberry, Warburton, Warakurna and Docker River. The road takes in part of the old Gunbarrel highway to cover the 1500 kilometre distance.

Most of the road is good, graded dirt with a few stretches of corrugations and some sand drifts around Docker River. Apart from the great scenery, camels, birds and kangaroos, there are hundreds of wrecked cars scattered along the road. Here are a few victims of speed, fatigue, alcohol or neglect that caught our attention…

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KEEP RIVER

www.johnlovett.com

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After the workshop finished we flew back to Darwin, picked up our car and caravan, had a cracked fuel tank repaired, replaced the caravan springs and stocked up on food and water.

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Our first stop, after crossing the mighty Victoria River, was Keep River National Park. It is listed as one of the 10 best rock art sites in the country.

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The landscape around Keep River is open bush and grassland interspersed with spectacular sandstone escarpments and ranges.

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The temperature hovered around 40 degrees most of the time so we did most of our walking early in the morning or late in the afternoon.

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The Jarrnarm walk is an 8km loop that takes you up onto the escarpment and back through a  series of beehive domes very similar to the Bungle Bungles. At the start of this walk is one of the regions most impressive rock art galleries. Unfortunately the traditional owners had closed it to the public. According to one of the rangers they want to repair some damage and will reopen it in the future.

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A shorter walk following the Keep River had a number of interesting art sites

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We could find no explanation for these strange figures. Von Daniken would have seen them as visiting astronauts. Maybe they were pearl divers encountered on the coast?

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300 million year old sandstone domes, ancient rock art, Livistona Palms and pockets of permanent water make Keep River an impressive National Park

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Spinifex Pigeons wander over the rocks.

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Red Winged Parrot

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Small rock lizard

OUTBACK WORKSHOP 3

OUTBACK WORKSHOP 3
It was interesting to see the landscape change as we headed west from Katherine.
The sparse savannah of the Northern Territory gave way to dramatic escarpments and weird vegetation as the West Australian boarder approached.
Boab Trees and Kapoks take over and spear grass is replaced by Cane grass.
Roadhouses are few and far between and the cost of diesel climbs as the distance from major centers increases. It appears there have been big changes at Victoria River roadhouse.
Temperatures were creeping up into the 40’s so we found a big sandstone overhang, just out of Kununurra and settled down in the shade for a morning painting.
We flew to the Bungle Bungles the previous day and walked into Cathedral gorge. Because of weight restrictions, we couldn’t take painting gear. This spot, close to Kununurra, offered similar rockforms and was only 10 minutes from town.
I love the contrast between transparent watercolour and flat, opaque gouache. I also used Burnt Sienna Ink and a sepia pastel pencil on this demonstration.
We left Kununurra by coach and headed down the Gibb River Road to El Questro. Being the end of the Dry, all roads were open. During the wet they can all be closed.
The landscape here is magnificent. The time to see it is just after sunrise and just before sunset. The middle of the day is hot and the light is flat and overhead.
On El Questro Station are Zebedee springs. They are a series of thermal pools, tucked under an escarpment and jammed full of beautiful Livingstonia Palms. We spent a while swimming there, but had to be out by midday. Guests from the Homestead (paying $3,000 a day) are then ushered in to relax without the distraction of folks paying less.
El Questro’s airstrip is a busy place. When we arrived there were a dozen small planes lined up.
Another impressive feature of El Questro is Chamberlain Gorge. We did a boat cruise up the gorge and were amazed at it size.
The Gorge is full of archer fish, Catfish,and Barramundi.
These two Barra were around a metre long.
Archer fish archering. I have never seen it before, except on telly. Thanks to a 12 shots per second frame rate, managed to get a photo of one. They can squirt water a couple of metres with pinpoint accuracy.
Our coach made a couple of unsuccessful attempts to climb the steep dusty track out of Chamberlain Gorge. Finally, with a long run up and no passengers it made it out.
…we were left to walk.
Our accommodation at El Questro were interesting, triple skinned tents with timber floors. Designed for the tropics, but struggling to cope with 40 plus temperatures.
The air-conditioned option is “The Homestead” but at $3000/night, a bit expensive!
Emma Gorge, where we stayed on El Questro, is a great walk and early morning swim.
Our last painting day with the workshop was at, or in, the Pentacost river behind El Questro township.
We started out packed into the shade of a large paperbark, but soon spread out into the river.
An endless supply of clean, cool water
The cattle couldn’t quiet figure out what was going on.
Farewell dinner at the Emma Gorge restaurant with the roof open.

KUNANURRA, EL QUESTRO

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It was interesting to see the landscape change as we headed west from Katherine.

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The sparse savannah of the Northern Territory gave way to dramatic escarpments and weird vegetation as the West Australian boarder approached.

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Boab Trees and Kapoks take over and spear grass is replaced by cane grass

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Roadhouses are few and far between and the cost of diesel climbs as the distance from major centers increases. It appears there have been big changes at Victoria River roadhouse.

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Temperatures were creeping up into the 40’s so we found a big sandstone overhang, just out of Kununurra and settled down in the shade for a morning painting.

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We flew to the Bungle Bungles the previous day and walked into Cathedral gorge. Because of weight restrictions, we couldn’t take painting gear. This spot, close to Kununurra, offered similar rockforms and was only 10 minutes from town.

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I love the contrast between transparent watercolour and flat, opaque gouache. I also used Burnt Sienna Ink and a sepia pastel pencil on this demonstration.

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We left Kununurra by coach and headed down the Gibb River Road to El Questro. Being the end of the Dry, all roads were open. During the wet they can all be closed.

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The landscape here is magnificent. The time to see it is just after sunrise and just before sunset. The middle of the day is hot and the light is flat and overhead.

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On El Questro Station are the Zebedee springs. They are a series of thermal pools, tucked under an escarpment and jammed full of beautiful Livistona Palms. We spent a while swimming there, but had to be out by midday. Guests from the Homestead (paying $3,000 a day) are then ushered in to relax without the distraction of folks paying less.

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El Questro’s airstrip is a busy place. When we arrived there were a dozen small planes lined up.

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Another impressive feature of El Questro is Chamberlain Gorge. We did a boat cruise up the gorge and were amazed at it size.

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The Gorge is full of archer fish, Catfish,and Barramundi.

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These two Barra were around a metre long.

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Archer fish archering.

I have never seen it before, except on telly. Thanks to a 12 shots per second frame rate, I managed to get a photo of one. They can squirt water a couple of metres with pinpoint accuracy.

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Our coach made a couple of unsuccessful attempts to climb the steep dusty track out of Chamberlain Gorge. Finally, with a long run up and no passengers, it made it out.

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…we were left to walk.

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Our accommodation at El Questro were interesting, triple skinned tents with timber floors. Designed for the tropics, but struggling to cope with 40 plus temperatures.

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The air-conditioned option is “The Homestead” but at $3000/night, a bit expensive!

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Emma Gorge is where we stayed on El Questro. It is a great walk and early morning swim.

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Our last painting day with the workshop was at, or in, the Pentacost river behind El Questro township.

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We started out packed into the shadow of a large paperbark, but soon spread out into the river.

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An endless supply of clean, cool water

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The cattle couldn’t quiet figure out what was going on.

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Farewell dinner at the Emma Gorge restaurant with the roof open.

OUTBACK WORKSHOP 2

NITMILUK – KATHERINE GORGE

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Nitmiluk National Park features a massive gorge carved through layers of sandstone by the Katherine River

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You can hire a canoe or take a boat cruise up the gorge. We had a guide with a good knowledge of the local geology, vegetation and cultural history, which gave us a better appreciation of the gorge.

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Ancient rock art is scattered throughout the gorge

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Dry season exposes sandy beaches and great swimming holes, once the saltwater crocs have been removed

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This little guy watched on, amused, as we painted on the banks of the river.

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Nitmiluk demonstration watercolor

OUTBACK WORKSHOP 1

DARWIN, KAKADU, KATHERINE

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We arrived back in Darwin, put our vehicle into storage and met Amanda and Gordon, our tour guides, at the Mindil Beach Markets. After wandering  around and watching the sun set into the ocean, we all headed back into the city for dinner.

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Monday, the 26 people that form our group got to know each other over drinks on the balmy veranda of the Holiday Inn.

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Tuesday, our first painting day,  we headed down to Government House , spread ourselves out on the rolling lawns opposite, and filled in the morning painting under the shade of a banyan tree.

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The afternoon was hot, so we found a shady spot opposite our hotel and painted the fringe of vegetation between us and the Arafura Sea

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Off to Kakadu and three days at Cooinda Lodge, Our coach driver had a tremendous knowledge of the aboriginal people of the area, having lived and worked with them over the years, He took us around Nourlangie and filled us in on many of the aboriginal customs and beliefs.

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Nourlangie

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Whistling Ducks – Yellow Waters. Except for the fact that these guys are walking around, they are the most artificial looking animal I have ever seen. They don’t  like getting wet either, happy just to stand beside the water.

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We watched this Croc cruise past our boat accompanied by a large Barramundi with a death wish.

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Red Lillys – It may not look like it, but every bit is edible!

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Pair of Jabiru (Male with dark eye)

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Cruising Black Cockatoo – they fly slowly in formation like a flock of B52’s on a mission.

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Wetland Waterlilies

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In the afternoon heat, an old Akubra in front of our lodge was a more comfortable option for a painting subject. Just so things didn’t become too comfortable, we limited ourselves to just two colours.

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Home Billabong at Cooinda Lodge was dotted with shady clearings looking across the water – great places to paint.

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Home Billabong – Cooinda

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If this little fellow hadn’t hopped, we would never have seen him

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South Alligator River, meandering across the wetlands

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Arnhemland Escarpment

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Ranger Uranium Mine

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South to Katherine

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Gold rush architecture, Pine Creek NT

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Another shady Banyan tree, this time in Katherine

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Some transparent watercolor washes and a lot of pale Ultramarine Gouache made this demo a lot of fun.

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Splashes of Alizarin, ink marks, charcoal pencil lines and fine rigger strokes suggest a lot of complicated detail without being too descriptive.