Posted

June 16, 2018 06:00:20

As a child Tony Hewitt would sing the national anthem and ponder the meaning behind three words of its lyrics, and they would one day propel him on an audacious photographic journey of a lifetime.

“As I understand that translation ‘girt by sea’ — surrounded by water, it started to sort of build in my mind what an amazing adventure [it would be] to actually go out and experience it,” Mr Hewitt said.

“Because the only way you can truly understand anything is to do it.”

His wonder would convince his friend Denis Glennon to join him on a month-long trip circumnavigating Australia to capture aerial images of the nation’s coastline.

“It was a major undertaking that he was conceiving,” Mr Glennon said of his fellow photographer’s dream.

“As soon as he started to talk about it … his eyes lit up, his passion was obvious and he just wanted to do this thing.”

Critical planning to take off

Mr Hewitt’s fascination with the air came early on in life from his father who was a pilot.

Before taking on this massive trip he had already specialising in aerial imagery during his 30 years of commercial and landscape photography.

He enlisted the expertise of Mr Glennon who a decade ago swapped the corporate world for organising photographic tours to some of the world’s most remote locations.

With full financial backing from a major camera manufacturer, the logistics of planning the trip had to account for weather forecasts, flight plans and accommodation for a whole month.

“That sort of planning for this project is so critical and yet you’re doing that plan in knowing that you can’t guarantee that you’re going to follow that plan religiously,” Mr Hewitt said.

Following the weather

Researching historical weather patterns, the pair chose to travel in an anti-clockwise direction around the country during April when conditions were favourable.

“We left Perth, turned left and kept the coast on our left hand side until we got to Port Phillip Bay,” Mr Hewitt said.

“We backtracked and then headed across Bass Strait and around the bottom of Tasmania and continued on our merry way.”

All up they flew 34,500 kilometres over 31 days in a light aircraft; an odyssey that Mr Glennon believed had no precedent.

“Nobody had ever done it before — that is flown diligently and rigorously along Australia’s coastline including Tasmania, so that was a challenge,” he said.

Bird’s eye view

Flying for hours on end with the coastline in view, Mr Hewitt said he never tired of the sight outside the cabin windows.

“Every day we had some expectation of what to expect with the realisation that we could never be sure and it was always a surprise; it was magical,” he said.

“We often just grow up seeing the edge of a map and we think that’s the edge of Australia but it’s a fluid, organic, living thing.

“It goes in and out according to tides, the colours change, the weather changes so it was never boring; there was always something to see.”

A team effort

The expedition has culminated into a book and a grand exhibition featuring a selection of 100 large-scale prints curated from tens of thousands of images.

Mr Glennon said he hoped the pictures will inspire people to be curious, to explore and travel, especially emerging photographers looking to embark on their own adventures around the vast continent.

“It will be a legacy for every Australian who contemplates even for a microsecond those three most quoted words from our national anthem,” he said.

The two men agreed their trip would not have been successful were it not for the collaborative effort between the photographers and aircraft pilots.

“It was done in a spirit of adventure as would have been done hundreds of years ago when explorers set out to do something and relied on each other,” Mr Hewitt said.

“A lot of people have big ideas, but it’s not often you get the opportunity to see a dream like that come true.”

The Girt By Sea photography exhibition is on at Paddington Town Hall, Sydney, from June 16 to 27 before touring nationally to other capital cities.

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