The Australian Outback's Largest Cattle Stations

About Fiona Lake

Who am I?  I grew up as Fiona Mckindlay on a wheat-sheep farm on the New South Wales side of the Murray River. As long as I can remember I have been interested in art, craft and design; agriculture, sustainability and the natural environment (plants and animals); books, language, history and the differences between cultures. I've always been curious and loved roaming about. What I do now combines all these interests in a very satisfying way. 

I have spent many years living on a variety of places spread throughout three states and now live in Townsville.   A daily newspaper and a daily mail service are aspects of town life that I continue to appreciate. These are the sorts of little luxuries taken for granted unless you have spent some years without them (living in a remote area).

I've specialised in photographing and writing about Australia's largest and most remote cattle stations since I had the good fortune to start work on one in 1984. Though I grew up on a farm I had no idea these stations existed, let alone what they were like to live and work on. It was obvious that few other Australians did either, and I've dedicated my life to recording this very special part of Australian culture, bringing life in remote outback Australia to the rest of the world. And in more recent years, running workshops and keynote speaking; to help rural residents tell their own stories and ensure they're seen by others.

Outside the industry, not a lot is known about the specialist fields of professional photographers.

There are three main fields of professional photography and different personalities are drawn to each segment:

  1. Portrait photographers - specialising in photographs of people - weddings, families, school groups, events, corporate portraits. The most common type of professional photographer; spread across Australia. Most professional photographers who are women are working in this field.  Mainly, B2C - and usually very good at spruiking their business.
  2. Commercial photographers - advertising/marketing image creation - from cars to fashion and food. Top-drawer specialists only found in capital cities and a few of the largest regional cities. A very specific field requiring a high degree of technical skill - re image capture & processing. The last bastion of photography training.  Mostly blokes and very independent by nature, who don't market themselves much. B2B.
  3. Photojournalists - capturing factual images that convey a story, with minimal digital manipulation - for editorial or marketing purposes. Tend to be cause-driven people who enjoy the challenge of creating an image that helps make the world a better place while at the same time being beautiful. Traditionally employed by newspapers and magazines, plus some freelance. Mostly B2B.

I avoid number 1 like the plague, 2 is highly specialised & I narrowly avoided ending up here by declining an offer to study at RMIT in Melbourne, many years ago. I spend most of my time in 3 - my forte.

There are also art photographers - capturing beauty just for beauty's sake. However due to the flood of better quality amatuer photographs, no professionals would be making a living solely from art photography, these days.  The world is already drowning under the weight of beauty for beauty's sake, even the best images are becoming like forgettable wallpaper.

Owning a camera does not make a professional photographer - just as cooking does not make a chef.

My business is multi-strand; it includes: 

  • Photography (freelance & commission work; including commercial aerial photography - via helicopters & drones)
  • Writing
  • Book publishing
  • Running workshops & keynote speaking
  • Event promotion
  • Running effective photography competitions
  • Photography exhibitions
  • Farm tour leading

Please consider supporting the rural advocacy work I do, by purchasing a book.

A comprehensive professional bio can be found on my LinkedIn profile - and there is additional information (not found elsewhere), in each book.

What is the 'outback'?

What used to be commonly known as 'the bush' is now usually referred to by those living on the coast as 'the outback'. Many people say you can't define it. But to me 'the outback' is a place where you can't see from one fence to another. Where all you can hear is the sound of the wind in the trees or grass and all you can smell is natural. Where you look around and can't see the 'hand of man' anywhere. Where it would have looked the same, more or less, 100 or 200 years ago.

Despite what many believe most extensive grazing properties are well managed and there are few if any detrimental effects on the environment. Extensive grazing often has little or no impact on native wildlife, in fact sometimes birds and animals benefit (eg. from a reliable water supply) and increase in numbers. By comparison, there is enormous, ongoing environmental damage in our cities and native wildlife is virtually extinct in urban areas (apart from a handful of bird species, some small lizard species and possums).

Agricultural communities all over the world have a lot in common but unfortunately they also share the problems. Rural communities everywhere are rapidly undergoing fundamental, irreversible changes or they are under huge pressure trying to control or resist these changes. This pressure is exacerbated by extremist animal rights groups who are out of touch with the practical realities of natural life cycles. I am passionate about prompting people to think about who grows the food they eat and where it comes from. It is an important responsibility to provide useful and accurate information to increase understanding and encourage mutual respect and maintenance of a healthy, evolving rural culture, worldwide.  To pass on what I've learned over several decades I run workshops on best-practice rural advocacy, photography (mobile phones to drones) plus a range of other topics. Details of the workshops I run, including testimonials, are in Rural Workshops.

Food producers keep us alive

After oxygen and water, food is the most critical element we need to survive. We must look after those who grow our own food, and our natural environment, if for no other reason than to ensure our own survival.  It is vital that every person on the planet understands that every single one of the daily choices we make, affect the environment in some way - though the effects are not always right in front of our face.

The photographs and information on this website exists thanks to farm and station managers and owners allowing me to visit the properties they are responsible for. Thank you to everyone who has helped me to record life in rural and outback regions, and thank you to all those who do so in future.

Cultural changes

The generation of men and women now in their 80s and older were born at the same time as the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS), in the depression years when wood-fired steam engines were pumping up bore water in remote areas. They went to school around the time of the Second World War and began work when bronco horses were used to brand calves, packhorses carted the camp gear around, drovers took weeks to deliver fat cattle to saleyards and abattoirs, and grain harvesters were pulled by horses. After the second world war, mechanisation really took off.  Increasingly trucks were used to cart cattle instead of drovers and the beef crash of the 1970s had a lasting effect on cattle station employment.

I began work on a cattle station in the early 1980s when the Brucellosis and Tuberculosis Eradication Campaign (BTEC) was in full swing. Millions of dollars was spent on running BTEC and it caused station owners to increase helicopter and motorbike mustering, fencing and yard building. Satellites beamed television into remote areas in the late 1980s and the development of reliable telephone and internet services through the 1990s brought significant social changes. Camping out is now becoming increasingly uncommon, windmills are disappearing in favour of submersible pumps and most timber cattle yards have been replaced by steel.

Australians born in the 1920s and 1930s (as my parents were) are unique and have been nicknamed 'frugals' due to their capacity to work hard, save hard, their sense of community responsibility and stoicism. They are a generation that will be sorely missed, both in rural and urban areas.

I've never been especially interested in formal museums.  Instead I find living, breathing culture and practical skills and knowledge infinitely more interesting. It is impossible to predict with certainty what changes tomorrow will bring, but the changes in the northern pastoral industry have been massive during the last thirty plus years. It is likely that technology such as robotics will be put to work in the bush, before too long - hopefully on weed eradication, to start with. Many of the photographs I have taken have been unrepeatable just a year or two later.

We must learn to value more highly what we have today, and take the best of the old and marry it with the best of the new.

Some of the links to online publicity & stories etc (not a complete list):

(Please note:  all the above website links were current at the time of posting.  However some of these pages may have been removed or had their address changed by the managers of these websites.)

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