Girt by sea: Epic journey to photograph Australia's vast coastline by plane

Luke Wong
Swellnet Dispatch

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."

Beautiful colours of the tidal plains on the western banks of the Gulf of Carpentaria in the Northern Territory

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.

Red mud exposed by tides in the early morning light in the gulf of King Sound, near Derby, WA

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.

Wetlands reveal a multitude of colour on an island near the Victorian south coast

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.

The 34,500-kilometre trip by light aircraft took 31 days to complete

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."

Evaporating salt ponds between the dry red dirt and cool blue waters of Dirk Hartog Island in Shark Bay, WA

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.

Incredible pastel colours blend in the remote waters off La Grange in north west WA


thermalben's picture
thermalben's picture
thermalben commented Sunday, 17 Jun 2018 at 7:59am

Unreal. Reminds me of the fabulous 'Readers Digest Guide to the Australian Coast', of which I finally got my mitts on a copy a few years back.

Mort's picture
Mort's picture
Mort commented Thursday, 21 Jun 2018 at 11:05pm

No, the Readers Digest Guide to the Australain Coast is a little bit different I think. It is probably from a lower height. There is civilisation in the Readers Digest book, what I like to call the writing of the old world (read settlement) of Australia. But there is the same beach tracks, that must still be there.

I felt guilty when I stole it from the library in Armadale, W.A., not just the Armadale library, they, I am pretty sure, got it from somewhere else, I lost it, I did. They sent me a three or four buck bill, which made me more guilty. But Karma comes around, I didn't get to use it in my trip around Australia and sits now in my book box, hidden.

I remember it is nice to read the commentary. I do remember the Royal National Park, I would like to go back there again. But, that is after I sell my book and buy one of those places hidden in the bush. I would sell mine to someone who is going to use it, you can cross reference with surf books, it works. Cause I anit going to do it, as long as you look after it. Nominal price for a nice family who will look after it, a decent book case.

Updated - Some fella got it for the same price as me in a secondhand shop. Ok, ten bucks and postage, that IS my final offer! And photos of the bookcase it will go in.

Mort's picture
Mort's picture
Mort commented Friday, 22 Jun 2018 at 12:39am

Tim would make a story or two out of this or put it in a coffee table book. What the fuck is a coffee table book?

Mort's picture
Mort's picture
Mort commented Friday, 22 Jun 2018 at 12:05am

My girls would make pictures.

crg's picture
crg's picture
crg commented Sunday, 17 Jun 2018 at 1:07pm good to see someone's passionate dream come to fruition. Stunning shots.

spencie's picture
spencie's picture
spencie commented Sunday, 17 Jun 2018 at 2:34pm

Inspiring. Makes me want to take off and travel around Australia again.


Mort's picture
Mort's picture
Mort commented Friday, 22 Jun 2018 at 12:46am

Ok, I am with you.

GuySmiley's picture
GuySmiley's picture
GuySmiley commented Sunday, 17 Jun 2018 at 3:48pm


truebluebasher's picture
truebluebasher's picture
truebluebasher commented Sunday, 17 Jun 2018 at 4:05pm

That's some kind of special! Thanks for sharing Swellnet!
Right you are Ben! Have the same book...Top shelf it is!

frog's picture
frog's picture
frog commented Monday, 18 Jun 2018 at 5:39pm

Keep it quiet but a few of those shots are actually from Planet 6783533 in the Southern Pinwheel Galaxy, 16 million light years away.


Mort's picture
Mort's picture
Mort commented Friday, 22 Jun 2018 at 12:03am

Ok, good definition.

Mort's picture
Mort's picture
Mort commented Monday, 18 Jun 2018 at 10:51pm

Some call it a Castle now, with high walls. But obviously, magnificent going ons just outside the walls.

Mort's picture
Mort's picture
Mort commented Monday, 18 Jun 2018 at 10:54pm

I still have the Readers Digest Coast book. I had planned my advertures around this book. But it didn't quite work out, I still have the book. It will be worth something someday.

robertmcrae's picture
robertmcrae's picture
robertmcrae commented Thursday, 21 Jun 2018 at 11:42am

The Readers Digest Book.. I just had a look back at the comments regarding the photo on the front cover. The last time I surfed that spot I had just bought a new stick, big SE swell, Few large wide ones sneaking around the corner. Waded out behind the rock, slid onto my board over a foamy one, sucked out and landed on hard rock. Punched a hole the size of my fist in my virgin board. Laugh about it now. Board still has the scares to prove it. Great day after some dubious tape work.

mattlock's picture
mattlock's picture
mattlock commented Thursday, 21 Jun 2018 at 1:15pm

Picked up a copy of that book for $2 at a Salvo's shop last year. Yeehah

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