cieran murphy





The planning for this trip began in August 2017 upon receiving the acknowledgement of a First Place Award in the Brisbane City Council Lord Mayors Photographic Prize.

With a love of Landscape Photography and an interest in Aerial Photography, I wanted to produce a body of work that explored remote parts of the Australian outback. My aim was to capture it in a unique, abstract, and original way and taking to the air was the only option in order to achieve my vision. My research started with google earth; scanning satellite imagery of the vast Australia landscape. It was a series of lakes and salt flats, west of Alice Springs, that particularly caught my eye.  I wanted to explore how I could use the vast, and ever changing landscape, as my canvas to create unique, abstract, and engaging photographs that challenged the viewers perception resulting in a series of textural images, with a variety of tonality and composition. I planned to charter a flight and drive to the closest air strip to cover the area I wanted to shoot.

original ideas of routes

original ideas of routes



First stop

My journey begun in Perth, Western Australia. This would be the starting point and end of the 2500km circuit that myself and fellow Photographer David Chatfield would take. I collected my vehicle from Australia 4WD Hire which would be our base camp for the next week.





The Wheat Belt 

The surrounding landscape West of Perth, consists of vast plains of luscious green Wheat and yellow fields of Barley. Combined with its striking landscapes, this area is rich in history, with evidence of Gold Rush heritage and Indigenous history. The Goldfields resemble a Southern European feel in their abundance of agriculture and rolling hills.



On the road

After stopping in Northam overnight where the temperature dropped to 2 degrees, we took to the road a further 590km west of Perth, ending up in Coolgardie. This was the same route many 19th-century families and aspiring miners took, in search of the Gold Rush. 

I begun to gauge the scale, and vastness of the Western Australia, as the highway leads you into the flat open plains. Each town we drove through possessed a similar infrastructure; a post office, a pub, a supplies store, a church, and a police station. Each township had evidence of history, but also struggle. A rogue tumbleweed crossing the road would not seem untoward. The population of each town we drove through was evidently low; an almost ghost town feel.

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BTS Images Courtesy of @ David Chatfield

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Salt Flats  

Once we left Northam and approached Kalgoorlie, the first signs of the vast salt flats begun to appear. The tone of the sky and the earth begun to turn from gold, to shades of blue, and ochre. Although dry on the surface, locked underneath the sun baked surface, dense pockets of moisture is locked away. Glare radiates from the ground as it reflects the over baring sun, as the dry salt land cracks under my boots.



Gold Rush 

Kalgoorlie Boulder is situated 593 kilometres inland from Perth, and is located in the eastern Goldfields region of Western Australia. People have been packing up their lives and moving to Kalgoorlie to work in mining since the gold rush in the 1890s. Since then, it has grown to become a town of 33,000 people and, famously, one of Australia’s biggest open-cut mines, The Super Pit. It was here, we took to the air for just under 3hours to cover the 900km circuit I had planned.


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To the Air 

Once a route had been mapped out we took to the air, departing from Kalgoorlie. Using an iPad the Pilot and I navigated our way over the areas I had mapped out of interest. Using hi-resolution digital SLR camera, and a telescopic lens, I was able to construct the frames as they unfolded. We flew at varying heights, from a couple of hundred feet, to a thousand.



Above Images courtesy of David Chatfield



Goldfields , Esperance

After taking stock of what I had captured from the air it was time to hit the road once again. Leaving Kagoorlie, we headed north to Menzies, which is 728 kilometres east-northeast of Perth, and 133 kilometres north-northwest of the city of Kalgoorlie. At the 2016 census, Menzies had a population of 108, during the gold rush boom, it had a population of more then 10,000.

We passed through Menzies to visit Lake Ballard, which is a ephemeral salt lake about 18 kilometres north of Menzies. It is an extraordinary lake which stretches 70 miles long and 30 miles wide. A pink sodium crust covers the lake, which results in any mark, or footprint standout with the upmost clarity. Dotted across the surface, are 51 of Anthony Gormley’s sculptured figures disappearing into the distance. All 51 sculptures are made from alloy and are derived from laser scans of Menzies inhabitants. A mirage appears as you look out into the distance, only vaguely being able to make out the figures if you look carefully.


Remote Communities

As we continued North from Menzies, we drove through Leonara, and down it’s main drag, ‘Tower Street’, which has remained largely unchanged since the turn of the century. The shops, with their footpath verandas, and turn-of-the-century hotels, have a charm which has remained relatively unchanged by the booms and busts of gold mining which drives the town's economy.


Local Art

Wiluna is located at the southern end of the Canning Stock Route and the western end of the Gunbarrel Highway. These are some of the most dangerous and challenging drives in the world. Stopping through Wiluna, we came across a local community gallery, the Tjukurba Art Gallery, which celebrates the local art and history, and is also a place for artists to display and sell work. The gallery’s motivation is to ensure the artists are supported in their creative goals, and make sure they receive a majority percentage of sale profits. 

There was a time, back in the 1930s, when Wiluna was a thriving mining town with a population of around 9,000 people. Today it serves many 4WD enthusiasts who pass through on their way north, driving the Canning Stock Route or east along the Gunbarrel Highway.



‘The Mid West’

Once leaving Wiluna, we stopped to fuel up in Meekatharra, grab a bite to eat, and throw back a cold beer. It is widely recognised as one of the hottest towns in Australia and recorded a temperature of 45°C in December, 1972.

This was going to be as far north as we would travel. The only road available West is the Goldfields Highway, the roads along this route have no bitchumen, only loose gravel dirt, which should only be attempted by a serious 4x4 vehicle.



Leaving the Outback

On the way out of the red centre, we drove from Meekatharra and headed south-west through Lake Austin and towards Mount Magnet. Our aim was to exit on the coast line at Geraldton, and gauge if we could continue north, or have to turn back towards Perth. As we drove, the land began to undulate and become rockier in areas. Scrub and greenery began to appear as we approached the coastline. This stretch of road from Mount Magnet to Geraldton resembled that of the Canyons in Utah or Texas.



Great Ocean

Upon hitting the coast we made the attempt to push on as far north as Shark Bay, but reached only as far as Kalbarri. It was time to turn around and head south, bound for Perth, hugging the Brand Highway.

Kalbarri is known for its seaside cliffs, estuary beach and wild pelicans. Nearby Kalbarri National Park has rocky gorges and the coast is home to resident dolphins and seasonal humpback whales, seen from a boardwalk beside the Island Rock and Natural Bridge rock forms.



Pink Lake

Port Gregory lies near the mouth of the Hutt River on Western Australia’s Coral Coast and is home of the ‘Pink Lake’ known as Hutt Lagoon. This picturesque fishing village is encircled by five kilometres of exposed coral reef. Originally developed to serve the Geraldine Leadmine, the town is now a holiday hotspot for fishing, diving and camping enthusiasts.

Depending on the time of day, the season, and the amount of cloud cover, the lake changes through the spectrum of red, to bubble-gum pink, to a lilac purple.


Better Days

We arrived in the town of Geraldton, which is a coastal city in the mid-west region of Western Australia, 424 kilometres north of Perth. The Port of Geraldton is a major west coast seaport, and the city is an important service and logistics centre for regional mining, fishing, wheat, sheep, and tourism industries. Unfortunately Geraldton, and several other mid-west towns like Meekatharra, Morowa, and Northampton, are also facing a large increase in unemployment. The high-street seemed desolate, most shops closed or bordered up. There was a fair share of anti-social behaviour on display in the town centre, where we witnessed drug and alcohol abuse first hand.


Coast Line

Jurien Bay is a coastal town in the Wheatbelt region of Western Australia, located roughly 220 kilometres north of Perth facing the Indian Ocean. The landscape here levels out, and the oceans winds have sculpted sand dunes set back from the ocean. The sea breeze provided some respite from the humidity, with this new landscape offering us a different canvas to explore photographically on the way back down south.




Cervantes is a small coastal fishing town in Western Australia, north of Perth. Its local delicacy, lobster, draws many tourists from Asia. The daily catch can be viewed from the jetties and from Thirsty Point Lookout, overlooking the Indian Ocean. The town is a gateway to Nambung National Park, home to the Pinnacles, a desert area spotted with thousands of limestone formations called pinnacles amid shifting sand dunes.

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Sand Dunes

Located on the Indian Ocean Drive, just south of Wanagarren Nature Reserve, down a discrete slip road, we came across an abundance of sand dunes. White fine sand polarised against electric blue skies made for capturing the incredible almost moon-like setting. The dunes seperate the road and the popular 4x4 driving location, ‘Wedge Island’.

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Full Circle

After 2500 kilometres on the road, several thousand photographs, hundreds of dollars of Diesel, one speeding ticket, and almost a dozen different towns visited, we returned to Perth. Red dust was remnant in every crack and seam of our gear. Rolling back in to Perth was a sad moment recognising it was the end of our trip. The outback offered us a beautiful canvas, incredible light, vast desert, but ultimately, and most importantly, a sense of freedom. I am truly grateful for the opportunity to explore such an incredible part of the world. I will never forget the truly breathtaking sights I witnessed, and the incredible people I had the pleasure of meeting along the way.

Jump over to my Western Australia Gallery page to review a selection of aerial shots I captured.