Capturing the timeless beauty of The Outback Loop®

As a commercial photographer, Michael Haines finds beauty in all he captures — whether it be highlighting a simple wine bottle with a single light source in his studio, or sitting in the outback waiting for that precise moment when the light perfectly frames a silhouette of two drovers on their horses.

He travels frequently for his job (as many photographers do), and recently was asked to photograph the Birdsville and Innamincka Hotels along with all of the attractions in the areas surrounding the pubs.

“I was in both Birdsville and Innamincka within the last year. It was a very quick trip up there. Jo [Fort], from the Birdsville Hotel, organised the trip so that we could get some images of the floodwaters coming down from Queensland, which is happening all over again now.”

The Great Australian Cattle Drive from Birdsville to Marree

However, it’s not his first foray into the outback. Apart from many trips to the Flinders Ranges for both family holidays and client projects, Michael was also involved with the inaugural Great Australian Cattle Drive with his business partner Kevin Killey.

Joining the drive at Mungarannie on the Birdsville Track and at the end of the drive in Marree, Michael’s decision to take his Magna wagon on both trips proved to be a shocker.

“I made the [perhaps an unwise] decision of taking my Mitsubishi Magna Wagon up there, it has never worked as hard again. It sorta got shaken to pieces, but that was, you know, all part of the joy.”

“My business partner, Kev, and I went up there to do stills and video of the drive. This was on the very first one, and Kev went earlier for some of the familiarisation jaunts up there. He basically covered the whole length of the event from Birdsville to Marree. I think there was 600 head of cattle.

Tourists from all around Australia and around the world flying in, driving in, and riding a horse for a few days or a week. There were some people that did the whole length I believe. Then in the evenings, getting together in a marquee and having a pretty fine meal and enjoying some amazing wines.”

“Kev was in Birdsville for the start, and then I met him at Mungarannie at the halfway point. There was sort of a major camp there. And at the end, we also took photos in the sale yards because people had come to buy those cattle. So that was another great experience, getting to see the cattle yards actually being used and hearing the sales guy calling out. I didn’t understand a single word, but everyone else did, so that’s all that matters.”

The Call of the Outback

Michael believes heading into the Outback and the long road ahead is all part of the allure.

“It’s always a really fantastic feeling heading into the Outback. You leave the city and the distances do seem immense initially, but you kind of get into the swing of it and start rolling along and enjoying the scenery, or the lack there of. It’s just a great time to think and talk to your family, and just do nothing, switch off.”

“Willie Nelson in the CD player, the open spaces, and that massive sky, is something that I love. Just being out there. Not a soul around, and the sound of the wind and the birds, and not much else. That’s always spectacular and at Innamincka particularly, I remember walking out the front to take some nighttime shots of the trees and the pub and just looking up, and the sky was immense and so many stars. It was a really, really special night up there.”

Outback Hospitality in Birdsville

He is surprised just how much there is to see and do in the outback particularly Birdsville. And not just the scenery but the characters that seem to converge on the pub…particularly after a long day.

“In Birdsville, I was taken out to the enormous sand dune that they call Big Red and we enjoyed the setting sun and a couple of refreshing drinks out there. That was a beautiful place to be. Once again, very serene, and the sand dune itself is this massive sculptural red thing. Quite amazing, all formed by the wind. Also, to see the Billabong in the town and the bird life there was fantastic.”

Michael’s latest trip to the outback was by small plane but the appreciation of getting out of cramped surrounding and walking straight into the Birdsville Hotel is obviously appealing.

“I haven’t driven all the way to Birdsville, but even by air it can be quite a long trip there in a small plane. To get out of the plane and walk across the road into the bar, it immediately feels welcoming. There’s a lot of smiles, and people always keen to share their stories and experiences. There’s so much chatting between different groups of people who have never met each other before. They might be quite different people: grey nomads, tradies, locals, travellers, photographers, writers, etc. People will talk to anybody in that bar, it’s fantastic.”

“The other thing about the Birdsville pub and the Innamincka pub…the level of food and accommodation there caught me by surprise. You’re miles from anywhere, and suddenly you’ve got … well, it’s not Magill Estate, but it’s pretty bloody good. Really, really good food and comfortable rooms. I can imagine for the people that have crossed the desert to get there, it’s an incredible thing. It must seem like the most decadent place on the planet.”

“Other things that impressed me there in terms of infrastructure, their solar array. The huge number of solar panels on the roof because they need to produce their own power, and they’ve got water purification and all sorts of things going on there. They’re very, very proud of how much they’re looking after the environment. It’s a really impressive setup to see just from an engineering point of view.”

“When you actually go into the [Innamincka] pub itself, it’s not too dissimilar from Birdsville in that front bar area because it has a lot of paraphernalia, but out the back [in the Outamincka Bar], that’s just another completely different story. It’s mind-blowing.”

“And really, even if you’re not someone who loves a drink, just to sit in those bars and talk to the people who come and go, or if there’s no people coming and going, just to talk to the bar staff about where they live and what they do on a Saturday night. Those sorts of things is really interesting because it’s a very different lifestyle to what we lead.

If you don’t want to talk to anybody, you can spend hours just looking at the hats on the wall in Birdsville or reading the ridiculous signage and things that people have written around the place. There are also flags and paraphernalia, you could keep yourself busy for a couple of days in each of those front bars.”

Experiencing the 2018 Floodwaters

The 2018 floodwaters brought new life to the otherwise dry outback region of South Australia. Michael was fortunate enough to capture the approaching waters for both the Hotel’s website and The Outback Loop’s website.

“Last time I was up there was to see the flood waters coming down from Queensland and doing the river crossing in the four-wheel drive utes was great. It gave you a sense of just how much water was flowing through that country that, until a few days beforehand, had been bone-dry. You could see birds and wildlife coming from all over the place to come and take advantage of that.”

“We did the flight from Birdsville out to the east, probably 100 kilometres at the most, but enough to see the river coming in. Then it gets towards Birdsville and then it just splits and becomes this massive lake. Birdsville itself was just a little island in the middle really.”

As a professional photographer, Michael can attest, whether you’re in Birdsville, Innamincka, Marree, Mangarannie or any other part of The Outback Loop, in flood or not, there is always something to experience wherever you go.

Just don’t forget your camera.