Identity of Akubra man revealed!

I'm pretty excited about this post. There's no need for an introduction, so I'll just dive right in.

On the morning of my first Finke Desert Race I arrived early. The sun was just rising and there was a thick fog starting to disapate. Through this beautiful scene I spotted a lone campervan near the Finke track, with a figure in an Akubra strolling towards it.

I took a photo, which I started referring to as Akubra man. Some of you might remember it from my Finked blog post.

AkubraMan.jpeg

I remember admiring Akubra man on that chilly morning. The motorhome told me that he'd travelled to be at the event, and his iconic hat gave him a cool Australian swagger.

Who was this mysterious bush man? Where did he come from? Was he alone or with friends? What kind of beer does he drink?

I put my questions aside and focussed on shooting for the rest of the day. The identity of Akubra man would have to remain a mystery.

Then, a month later, the unthinkable happened. I got an email from Akubra man's wife!

I've removed the names to keep it anonymous (and to preserve the mystery), but this is what it said.


Hi Emma,
 
My husband and I recently attended the Finke Desert Race for his 40th birthday and we came across a photo you had taken of him via the Finke Facebook page. The photo is of a gentleman wearing an Akubra returning to his motorhome.
 
My husband was very excited, I think he was actually hoping it would go viral (lol).

Anyway, we were wondering if we would be able to have a copy of it, as my husband thinks that it’s not only a great shot but a perfect reminder of our trip (and his 40th).
 
Thanks in advance, I look forward to hearing from you.
 
Cheers, Mrs Akubra


How amazing! I was stoked to receive the email from Mrs Akubra, and uncover some more information about the illusive Mr Akubra. After some email exchanges I also received some photos from their holiday with their three Akubra children. What a treat!

There is one photo in particular that got me excited, as it was taken around the same time that I took mine.

Akubra man's daughter inside the campervan looking at the Finke track. I took my photo to the right of this one.

Akubra man's daughter inside the campervan looking at the Finke track. I took my photo to the right of this one.

Akubra man sitting outside his motorhome in the beautiful outback. All photos have been shared with permission from the family.

Akubra man sitting outside his motorhome in the beautiful outback. All photos have been shared with permission from the family.


Emma Murray is a documentary photographer based in Alice Springs. The Alice Years is a personal project documenting life in and around the red centre.

A boat race without water

I’ve spent two weeks trying to translate the madness and frivolity of the Henley on Todd Regatta into words, and have failed miserably. It’s the kind of event that has to be experienced to be fully appreciated. Nonetheless, I’ve given it a shot. I’ve included lots of photos to help illustrate the lunacy that occurred in Alice Springs on August 19.

This is a long one, so please settle in with your beverage of choice.


In my home state of Tasmania, the Royal Hobart Regatta was a yearly excursion for our family. My Dad, a keen sailor, would drag us down to the Derwent River to watch boats of all sizes race across the water, with a few rowing sculls and jet skis thrown in for entertainment.

As you probably know, Hobart is a great place to hold a regatta because it’s surrounded by water. Alice Springs doesn’t have a lot of water. In fact, it doesn’t have any water at all. By the time August rolls around it’s five months since the last drop of rain hit town and the riverbed is bone dry, but that doesn’t stop the locals from holding a day of water races every year.

The Henley on Todd Regatta (HoT) is held on the third Saturday of August in the waterless Todd River. The Rotary Club of Alice Springs started it as a fundraiser in 1962, and it has grown in size and reputation ever since.

The HoT shares its name with the most famous regatta in the world - the Royal Henley Regatta in Britain – but that’s about all the events have in common. One imagines the Henley on Thames is a sea of men wearing Polo t-shirts and ladies sipping Pimms. You’ll find none of that nonsense in Alice Springs. Here the men are donned in Viking furs and budgie smugglers, and the women can finish a can of Great Northern in one go.

A Viking charges his sword to the Henley on Todd crowd in Alice Springs

A Viking charges his sword to the Henley on Todd crowd in Alice Springs

A competitor waits for the highly anticipated budgie smuggler race in the dry sand of the Todd River

A competitor waits for the highly anticipated budgie smuggler race in the dry sand of the Todd River

I expect the British Henley Regatta has a long list of strict rules and regulations that must be followed to ensure each team has a fair and equitable chance of victory. In the Territory we follow Pirate rules, which means that whoever crosses the line first wins (no matter how much cheating or sabotage has taken place). I believe our government have also adopted this approach.

Vikings jump in to help the Navy team in the tug of war competition while a pirate tries to distract them

Vikings jump in to help the Navy team in the tug of war competition while a pirate tries to distract them

MC Eli Melky gives this team a helping hand around the buoy during the boogie board race

MC Eli Melky gives this team a helping hand around the buoy during the boogie board race

The 2017 HoT started innocently enough with the ‘BYO Boat’ race. In this event, people are invited to bring their own bottomless vessels to race around the river. I think this was my favourite event because contestants could get creative and show the crowd their personalities; in most other events the vessel was provided.

The best BYO boat was a yellow submarine crewed by a group of blokes in matching nautical outfits. When asked by event MC Eli Melky how long it took to design and build, the spokesperson replied “about two days and two cartons”.

As the first boats took to the competition course, conditions were perfect for sailing: clear skies, perfect visibility, and warm south-easterly breeze. The eventual winners of the race were a team of speedy local lads from Yirara College, who blitzed the field and finished boat lengths ahead of their competitors.

This Beatles inspired entry was my pick of the BYO boats. I particularly like the propellor and the red trim around the man hole.

This Beatles inspired entry was my pick of the BYO boats. I particularly like the propellor and the red trim around the man hole.

The Flight Centre team was my second favourite entry, crewing the first Qantas flight to ever crash.

The Flight Centre team was my second favourite entry, crewing the first Qantas flight to ever crash.

The team from Yirara College read the conditions perfectly and blazed their way around the course

The team from Yirara College read the conditions perfectly and blazed their way around the course

If the BYO boat race was a chance for contestants to show their personalities, the budgie smuggler race was a chance for them to show the crowd everything else. The race required men and (brave) women to jolt across the hot sand dressed only in a pair of swimming togs. In a field of five men just two of them wore the traditional speedos, with the others opting for boxer briefs. The disappointment in the crowd was obvious. One woman later said to me, “That’s a shame, I wanted to see some bollocks flapping around.”

It was still an entertaining race, with Barack Obama crossing the finish line first.

Clive Peters, Barrack Obama, and a couple of Tony Abbotts line up before the budgie smuggler race

Clive Peters, Barrack Obama, and a couple of Tony Abbotts line up before the budgie smuggler race

There was no where to hide as the lads ran across the the sand

There was no where to hide as the lads ran across the the sand

That awkward moment when you run into someone and you're both in your togs. There was a lot of flesh on flesh.

That awkward moment when you run into someone and you're both in your togs. There was a lot of flesh on flesh.

I think the main reason I liked the Henley On Todd so much is that it’s basically a whole day of watching people fall over in different ways: running with a group of people in a boat; sprinting along the river in a pretend kayak; tangled up with other competitors in the lolly scramble; dragging your child along the sand on a boogy board; or trying to walk with your feet strapped to two wooden planks with three other people.

A strong gust of wind takes the sails of this maxi as the Navy navigates around this buoy

A strong gust of wind takes the sails of this maxi as the Navy navigates around this buoy

With large clunky frames, the kayaks were deceptively difficult to carry along the sand

With large clunky frames, the kayaks were deceptively difficult to carry along the sand

The lolly scramble was one of the most ferocious events of the day, I wouldn't get between these kids and a chupa chup.

The lolly scramble was one of the most ferocious events of the day, I wouldn't get between these kids and a chupa chup.

Things came unstuck when this team turned the buoy in the boogie board race. THE DAD'S T-SHIRT KILLS ME.

Things came unstuck when this team turned the buoy in the boogie board race. THE DAD'S T-SHIRT KILLS ME.

A pirate helps this team coordinate their steps during the skiing event

A pirate helps this team coordinate their steps during the skiing event

But by far the best event for spills was the Tour de Todd, alternatively known as the human hamster wheel.

Although some people were disappointingly cautious, there were plenty of contestants who had enough Dutch courage to go faster than they were capable of going. This led to numerous ways people fell over, I shall recount them know for my own entertainment.

  1. The competitor is thrown off balance and clings to the wheel as it falls over. The least satisfying fall to watch.
  2. The competitor falls over in the wheel and does an involuntary head stand. These were the most horrifying to watch, I’m surprised no one got a serious neck injury.
  3. The competitor loses their footing and falls out of the wheel, after which both the contestant and their wheel roll independently and uncontrollably along the sand while volunteers try to hone in the driverless wheel. Brilliant.
  4. The competitor falls over in the wheel and does a full rotation pinned to it, like an actual hamster. The king of all Tour de Todd falls.
Competitors in the Tour de Todd roll along in front of the VIP tent

Competitors in the Tour de Todd roll along in front of the VIP tent

The lads from the Navy team took a different approach to the Tour de Todd

The lads from the Navy team took a different approach to the Tour de Todd

An example of fall number three. How did this competitor get all the way behind the yellow wheel after being ejected from the blue one?

An example of fall number three. How did this competitor get all the way behind the yellow wheel after being ejected from the blue one?

Right next to the human hamsters was the ‘anchor the boat’ race, which was a tug of war event. Each team pulled a rope attached to a boat on a perch; the winning team was the one that pulled the boat off their side of the perch. The Vikings were crowned the eventual winners.

My colleague, who was besotted with becoming a Viking, got to present the team with their medals. She struck up a conversation…

“How does one become a Viking,” she asked.

“YOU SLEEP WITH A VIKING,” one boomed.

The 'anchor the boat' race, sponsored by the best paper in Australia!

The 'anchor the boat' race, sponsored by the best paper in Australia!

A team from the Alice Springs Hospital gives it their all (with the help of some Vikings at the back)

A team from the Alice Springs Hospital gives it their all (with the help of some Vikings at the back)

The powdery riverbed of the Todd made it hard to get a good grip, with many feet disappearing under the sand.

The powdery riverbed of the Todd made it hard to get a good grip, with many feet disappearing under the sand.

The Viking, Pirate, and Navy teams are all permanent fixtures in the HoT, as they are the only three ships that participate in the penultimate event: the Battle Boat Spectacular. The competition is decided by which team garners the most crowd support, so the teams roam the HoT grounds all day in full costume and character, storming the competition arena to sabotage races, start a water fight, or kidnap someone from an opposing team. I don’t think a minute went by without a hearing a hearty “Go the Pirates!” or raucous “Go the Vikings” bellowing from somewhere in the riverbed.

The Navy team were a bit more tame, perhaps that’s because the ACTUAL Navy was in attendance. That’s right, real Navy officers travelled down from Darwin to participate in some of the events and lend support to their theatrical counterparts. We don't have a Navy base in Alice Springs, for (hopefully) obvious reasons.

One of the events the real Navy officers participated in was Alice Springs’ answer to the America’s Cup, The Australia Cup. The boat race was hotly contested between defence boats from Pine Gap (the Americans), Norforce (Australian Army), and of course the Australian Navy.

The USS Freedom put in a valiant effort, but they were no match for the team from Norforce, who sailed the conditions perfectly and crossed the line first. John Bertrand would have been proud.

The Americans proudly fly their flag in the lead up to the Australia's Cup

The Americans proudly fly their flag in the lead up to the Australia's Cup

Norforce overtook the USS Freedom on the home stretch to snatch victory in this year's Australia's Cup.

Norforce overtook the USS Freedom on the home stretch to snatch victory in this year's Australia's Cup.

There were plenty of other events - too many to go into more detail - but as a summary here's a montage of photos for a visual (everyone loves a montage).

The kids were kept entertained the with egg and spoon race, and the rubber ducky sprint

The kids were kept entertained the with egg and spoon race, and the rubber ducky sprint

This team, aptly named Smashing Alice, celebrate their victory in the "Head of the River"

This team, aptly named Smashing Alice, celebrate their victory in the "Head of the River"

The sweaty and sandy "bilge clean" event made for some great photos

The sweaty and sandy "bilge clean" event made for some great photos

The crowd at Cape Todd enjoy the action on the arena

The crowd at Cape Todd enjoy the action on the arena

This team were a bit optimistic when they decided to swap roles halfway through the boogie board race

This team were a bit optimistic when they decided to swap roles halfway through the boogie board race

The Navy cheer on their competitor in the surf rescue event

The Navy cheer on their competitor in the surf rescue event

When the Battle Boat Spectacular finally came around I wasn’t allowed in the arena - not because of the water but because there are live canons on the boats. I’ll repeat that again, there are LIVE CANONS on the boats shooting flour bombs. I was happy to stay out of the way.

You’ll have to look at the photos for this one because words can’t describe how bonkers it was. The madness lasted about ten minutes, by that point everyone was covered in a fetching mix of flour, sand, and water, including the crowd. The Battle Boat Spectacular certainly lived up to its name.

After the official voting process the Vikings were crowned the 2017 champions by a margin of two decibels. They celebrated in true Viking style by downing a few horns of ale and mead before going home to wash their loincloths.

What the actual fuck?

What the actual fuck?

This is the wettest the Todd River has been for months

This is the wettest the Todd River has been for months

The poor crowd didn't know what hit them

The poor crowd didn't know what hit them

Long live the Vikings! 2017 Battle Boat champions

Long live the Vikings! 2017 Battle Boat champions

If you’re thinking about visiting the outback at some stage I highly recommend you time your trip to see the Henley on Todd Regatta. The frivolous fun and outright debauchery will make you feel like a kid again. I still have a smile on my face thinking about the day.

While I enjoyed shooting the HoT I’m becoming acutely aware that by photographing these events I’m not actually taking part in any of them, and I feel like I spend a lot of time watching life instead of participating in it. If anyone would like to join me next year I’m keen to put down the camera and be part of the action. I already have two cartons ready and waiting for our boat design session.


Emma Murray is a documentary photographer based in Alice Springs. The Alice Years is a personal project documenting life in and around the red centre.

Speedy humps

Alice Springs was a sea of dust and camel toes last weekend when cameleers from around the outback brought their speediest humps into town for the Camel Cup. They were joined by thousands of locals and tourists for a day of madness and hilarity at the Noel Fullerton Camel Racing Arena.

That's right, Alice Springs has a racing track just for camels. It's the only one in the southern hemisphere.

The facility is named after a local cameleering legend (Noel Fullerton), who founded the event 48 years ago when he and Keith Mooney–Smith raced camels down the Todd River on a bet. The track was built by volunteers in 1979, and has everything from holding pits to a commentary box.

2016 Camel Cup winner "Chrissy" in the holding pits at this year's event

2016 Camel Cup winner "Chrissy" in the holding pits at this year's event

Camel commentator Mary Meldrum doesn't miss a thing from the commentary box

Camel commentator Mary Meldrum doesn't miss a thing from the commentary box

After seeing my first camel race I can describe it as being much like a horse race but about ten times more entertaining on account of the fact that camels are batshit crazy. The start is the weirdest part. It's a battle between the camels and their handlers: the handlers pull, and the camels pull back. There's hissing, whooshing, and bucking, and wailing. Then out of nowhere the start gun fires and camels start running in every direction.

Eventually all humps are moving in the same direction, then it's up to the jockey's to hang on until the end. From what I can tell there's no real skill to riding a camel except for having a firm grip and zero concern for your personal safety.

Amid cries of "whoosh, whoosh" the camels are seated at the start line for the beginning of the first race

Amid cries of "whoosh, whoosh" the camels are seated at the start line for the beginning of the first race

And they're off! From this moment on I was covered in dust

And they're off! From this moment on I was covered in dust

Coming down the home stretch. Rachael (in the red shirt and rad helmet) ended up winning four races.

Coming down the home stretch. Rachael (in the red shirt and rad helmet) ended up winning four races.

Between the seven camel races the crowd were called upon to provide ongoing entertainment. My favourite was the 'Kids Kamel' race, which saw the young ones racing hobby camels across the grassy field. The event ended up being more dangerous than the real camel races, and many of the kids got tangled up in their "camels" before face planting in spectacular fashion.

I wish I could say I didn't laugh, but someone falling over is pretty much the funniest thing that could possibly happen, let alone someone falling over while straddling a pole with a camel head on it.

The Kids Kamel race was adorable, until...

The Kids Kamel race was adorable, until...

There were multiple casualties in each race, with doting parents ready to pick up the pieces

There were multiple casualties in each race, with doting parents ready to pick up the pieces

The toughest event was the Rickshaw Ironman race, which required pairs to tow a couple of mates around the camel track. All the teams started off enthusiastically, but as the wheels of the rickshaws sank into the red dirt it looked like the competitors were wading through quicksand. It got a bit slow and boring by the end, but at least it gave me plenty of time to get a good shot.

The lads in this team had the right idea...all they needed was a couple of beers

The lads in this team had the right idea...all they needed was a couple of beers

Business at the front, party at the back for this team as they cross the finish line first

Business at the front, party at the back for this team as they cross the finish line first

As with Finke, the real highlight of the day was the crowd, who were up for as many camel toe and hump puns that you could throw at them. Like most mental events in Alice Springs, the day was really just an excuse to get drunk because, let's face it, there's not much else to do when you're 1500km from anywhere.

As one women said to me, "I love the camel cup, it's nuts! We're in the middle of nowhere here, so we have to make our own fun."

A couple of Alice Springs' finest ensure the safety of the crowd

A couple of Alice Springs' finest ensure the safety of the crowd

This group from Canberra came adorned in their finest Egyptian attire

This group from Canberra came adorned in their finest Egyptian attire

I feel really fortunate to shoot these kinds of events for the paper because my Advocate t-shirt gives me the best seat in the house. I could go wherever I wanted at the Camel Cup; from seeing the premium view from the commentary box, to being so close to the start line I could smell the camel's breath, and walking onto the track for the Rickshaw Ironman.

The best part of my privileged access was being able to walk onto the field during the "Battleship Hose-Off" - a preview of one of the events at the Henley on Todd Regatta in August. The rules of a battleship hose-off are hazy, but from what I can tell teams drive "boats" around while the crews fire water cannons at each other, the aim being to get the other team as wet as possible.

A few times I ventured a little to close to the boats and copped a shower, which was a welcome relief from the heat and managed to clean six hours of dust off my gear and clothes. It was worth the wet t-shirt remarks from the pissed bogans as I left the arena.

And that, my friends, was the Camel Cup.

I'll be offline for a bit while I'm on holidays but will be back mid-August to report on the Henley on Todd Regatta. From what I've been told the Henley on Todd makes the Camel Cup look like a Japanese tea ceremony. I'm sure it'll be a fun blog post to write.


Emma Murray is a documentary photographer based in Alice Springs. The Alice Years is a personal project documenting life in and around the red centre.

Finked

It’s been a while since my last blog post, and for good reason. The paper’s been keeping me pretty busy, and, since I’ve been writing more for work, I haven’t felt like doing it much in my spare time.

I’m working on a blog post with highlights from the paper over the last couple of months, but before I publish it I thought it was worth sharing my first experience with the Finke Desert Race, which happened last weekend.

For those who aren’t familiar with the event it’s an off-road race for motorbikes, quad bikes, buggies, and cars along a track from Alice Springs to the small desert community of Aputula (Finke).

The track is about 230 km each way and has a reputation of being one of the hardest in the world. You could say it’s like Bathurst with dirt.

My Finke coverage only spanned the prologue stage and the finish day, but I still got a taste of madness of the event.

Prologue started early. Like, really early. Too early for a Saturday. And if you keep an eye on the weather in Alice Springs (hi, Mum) you’ll know that the overnight temperature at the moment is dipping into negative numbers. So not only was it finking early, it was finking freezing, too.

The weather was no match for this Tassie girl, though. I was wearing so much Kathmandu gear I waddled into Finke headquarters looking like the Michelin man.

Despite the challenge, the great thing about being up that early was getting to see the spectacular outback sunrise.

As the cars started their reconnaissance lap, the sun climbed higher into the sky, defrosting eager spectators who had shown up to see the first competitor depart the start line.

I’m not much of a rev head, but I respect the skill and madness of the drivers, who drive at speeds upward of 150 kilometres per hour around the powdery red dirt track. The cars and bikes are the reason Finke exists, but it seems that the real draw card of the event is the camping. And beer. Actually, it’s probably mostly beer.

People travel from all over Australia to soak up the Finke atmosphere, around 7000 people in fact. The population of Alice Springs increases by 25% during the Finke weekend, which was an interesting spectacle to watch in itself.

During the week of Finke the town was inundated with four wheel drives and campervans carrying people who buy every piece of camping equipment and food we’ve got. The day they all depart for the track you’d be hard pressed to find one rasher of bacon or a single egg in all of Alice Springs.

Lucky I’m vegan; they tend to leave the vegetables alone.

As I made my way around the prologue track taking photos of the crowd and the riders, I met a lot of quirky characters having a very good time. With the luxury of a whole day to shoot, I had time to stop and have a yarn to them all, find out what brought them to Finke, and have a cheeky laugh.

The gig turned out well for my romantic life as well; by lunchtime I’d been offered five phone numbers, and, as the pile of Great Northern cans started to rival Mt Gillen, I received three marriage proposals.

Mark 'Jacko' Jackson and his mates laugh nervously after a close call with a rogue car

Mark 'Jacko' Jackson and his mates laugh nervously after a close call with a rogue car

Stephen 'Chinny' Chin from Darwin celerbated his bucks weekend at Finke

Stephen 'Chinny' Chin from Darwin celerbated his bucks weekend at Finke

I’m disappointed I couldn’t go to the actual Finke track – that’s where they real fun happens.

Usually the area is a bare outback landscape, but for the Queen’s weekend each year it has the population of a small town. People take down couches, full bars with fridges, ping pong tables, and even the kitchen sink. From sun up to sun down they’ll drink beers and run a muck while the bikes and cars fang past kicking dirt up over everything.

It sounds finking fantastic, and something that’s definitely on my list for next year.

Local rider Luke Hayes burning through the prologue track

Local rider Luke Hayes burning through the prologue track

At the start of the third and final day, the top three bike positions were held by Alice Springs riders, which is unheard of. The atmosphere around the finish line was electric as locals speculated a podium full of red centre riders.

Excitement quickly turned to disappointment when it was announced that David Walsh, who was leading the event, had pulled out with mechanical problems just 10km after departing Finke. Many times a Finke bridesmaid, 2017 was predicted to be David’s year. It seems the desert had other ideas.

The eventual winner was local legend Daymon Stokie, who, amazingly, completed the gruelling event with a broken clutch hand. It's the first win for an Alice Springs rider in eleven years, and the first win for Yamaha since 1986. I've never seen so many men crying in one place.

Fellow local Luke Hayes came in third after South Australian rider Ivan Long pulled off an incredible last day ride to cross the line second.

My biggest job on the last day was to get a photo of Daymon worthy of the front page. The bikes finished at around 2.00pm, and my deadline was 3.00pm. Given that we only print twice a week it was the most pressure I'd been under since I started at the Advocate.

My photos of Daymon crossing the finish line were okay, as were the images I took of him with his team just after the race, but nothing was suitable for a front page. As it passed 2.30pm, I knew I was running out of time.

Daymon was eventually ushered through to the media centre (a shed with WIFI) for post race interviews, and I knew this was my last chance to get a good shot.

While Daymon talked to journalists I made friends with his Yamaha crew, hoping to set up a photo of the champion on their shoulders. I got the lads on board, and, once they'd soaked him with cans of Jack Daniels, they hoisted Daymon onto their shoulders for my front page image. The NT News used the photo as well, giving me two Territory covers the next day.

Daymon undergoing scientific rehydration methods from his team after finishing first

Daymon undergoing scientific rehydration methods from his team after finishing first

"Don't waste that stuff!" Daymon yelled as his crew soaked him in cans of Jack Daniels

"Don't waste that stuff!" Daymon yelled as his crew soaked him in cans of Jack Daniels


Emma Murray is a documentary photographer based in Alice Springs. The Alice Years is a personal project documenting life in and around the red centre.

Australia's Purple Heart

When I started my job as a photojournalist at the Centralian Advocate I was expected to do "a little bit" of writing. Fast forward six months and I've just had a 1400-word feature published in the Sunday Territorian. It feels like a big achievement.

The only reason I accepted the assignment was because of my wonderful subject: Sarah Brown and Western Desert Dialysis.

The article was published in the lead up to the National Nursing and Midwifery Awards this week, which Sarah was a finalist in. I'm delighted to say that on Wednesday she was awarded 'Nurse or Midwife of the Year' at the awards dinner in Brisbane.

Below is the article. Leanne Hudson wrote the introduction and edited the piece.

If you feel inspired by Sarah and her organisation, I'd love for you to make a contribution to their latest fundraiser to help dialysis patients from Ernabella get back to their community so they can have the support of their friends and family during renal treatment.

Spread.jpg

From little things big things grow

Beavering away in the bush is a colourful organisation that has helped thousands live the best life they can and stay connected to their community while dealing with a chronic disease. It started as an idea cooked up in the Territory desert, but has mushroomed into something much bigger.

Sarah Brown in front of the purple walls of Western Desert Dialysis in Alice Springs

Sarah Brown in front of the purple walls of Western Desert Dialysis in Alice Springs

"Coffee time?” Kara Page calls from the kitchen to a packed waiting room. Her voice is just loud enough to be heard over an indigenous male singer crooning through the stereo. Someone places two freshly boiled eggs on toast next to her — a dish half the morning crowd is already eating.

Faces are happy and the mood is jovial; it’s not what you’d expect from a group of dialysis patients with end- stage renal failure.

That’s the magic of Western Desert Dialysis, or Purple House as it is affectionately referred to, thanks to the lilac walls of its centres. At Purple House, where Kara is executive assistant to CEO Sarah Brown, healthcare doesn’t stop with the clinical treatment of disease, but encompasses the entire treatment experience.

The culture of Purple House was built from the ground up by Sarah — an inspiring nurse with a penchant for remote work and a heart as big as Uluru.

“I’ve been nursing for over 30 years and I’ve never seen anything like this, and I’ve never met anyone like Sarah Brown.”

These words were spoken by Deb Lillis, Director of Clinical Services at Western Desert Dialysis. She has dedicated 12 years of her life to the service after deciding to work in Alice Springs “for a year”.

The only person with a longer association with the organisation is Ms Brown herself. Fourteen years ago she helped the Pintupi Luritja people set up the first remote kidney dialysis unit in Kintore, about 530km west of Alice Springs. Before then, the only option for desert people with kidney failure was to leave their families and communities — the things most important to them — to have life-extending dialysis in Alice Springs.

Fed-up with seeing their elders disappearing from country for treatment, the Pintupi Luritja people decided to come up with a solution themselves. The group united artistic talents from across the Western Desert to create spectacular collaborative paintings they auctioned off at the Art Gallery of NSW. They raised $1 million to set up their own dialysis centre.

All they had to do next was find the right person to help them.

At this time Sarah Brown was living by the sandy shores of Cape Barren Island, working as “the nurse” for the Bass Strait community. After hearing about the auction she rang a contact from her days previously working in Kintore, to check the group’s progress.

“He said, ‘They’ve advertised for a part-time manager in Alice Springs; 20 hours a week at $20 an hour. You interested?” she said.

The decision was a no- brainer for Ms Brown, who packed her bags and landed in the dusty Red Centre ready to make dialysis in the bush a reality. It proved more difficult than she first thought.

“There was an existing way of delivering dialysis in the Territory, which was run by the government, and suddenly this group from the most remote part of Australia turn up and say ‘we’ve got money and we want to do this ourselves’,” she said.

“You’ve got the way Aboriginal people want community health services to run, with cultural priorities at the top, and then you’ve got the whole world of bureaucracy and health regulations, and you have to try and make the two fit together. It was a big challenge.”

The secret to entwining the two worlds came from a willingness to honour the cultural needs of patients. Each centre and its services are customised to the desires of the community it serves, rather than a “McDonalds dialysis” approach.

After much consultation and hard work, the first Western Desert Dialysis units in Kintore and Alice Springs opened in 2004.

To the surprise of everyone, 14 years later the organisation has grown remarkably, providing dialysis in 11 locations in the NT and WA, with their first South Australian unit in the pipeline. There is also the famous Purple Truck — a portable dialysis centre that visits communities where the organisation is yet to set up shop.

Looking back, Ms Brown said it’s been a hell of a ride.

“There’s this analogy I have about driving along a bitumen road to a community and driving along the bush track,” she said.

“The bitumen road is smooth and quick, I feel like that’s the mainstream health service. The bush track is very bumpy and sandy, and you’re more likely to blow a tyre. We’ve always had to go along the bush track, but it’s a much more interesting way to get there.”

Sarah’s role at Purple House is all-encompassing, from meeting with government officials and developing strategy, through to carrying out the humblest elements of patient care.

“She gives a good massage, and she’s really good at cutting my toenails,” laughed dialysis patient Quentin Walker Jurrah.

Sarah with dialysis patient Quentin Walker Jurrah in the backyard of the Purple House in Alice Springs

Sarah with dialysis patient Quentin Walker Jurrah in the backyard of the Purple House in Alice Springs

Such is the volume and ferocity of Sarah’s work, Deb Lillis said she often likens her mentor to a “lovely tornado”.

“She makes all of this incredible stuff happen, and we just get swirled up in it, and get the pleasure of being involved in it,” she said.

The sad underbelly of Purple House, and the reason the organisation exists, is the alarming rate of kidney failure in desert communities — between 15-30 times the national average. Reasons for the disparity are varied: some blame high blood pressure and diabetes, others a lack of good nutrition. Some believe it’s sub-par housing. One myth Sarah Brown is keen to dispel is that grog is the culprit.

“Alcohol is not a major cause of kidney disease,” she said. “Most of the mob who are our patients live in dry communities and have never touched a drop in their lives.

“Their bigger risk is actually coming to Alice Springs where people do drink.”

In addition to quelling misconceptions, another aspect of her role is advocating for the rights of her patients, or potential patients, as was the case with prominent Kiwirrkurra artist Patrick Tjungurrayi.

In 2009 Mr Tjungurrayi, living a hop, skip and jump over the WA border, was in need of kidney dialysis, but renal centres in the Territory were swamped, leading the government to close its doors to interstate patients.

“There was a dialysis unit 150km away from Patrick in Kintore, but because of the policy they wanted to fly him 2600km to Perth for treatment,” Ms Brown said.

“Patrick couldn’t be that far away from his family; he’s a senior man for Kiwirrkurra, an incredibly important cultural man for a big whack of Western Australia, and he’s one of Australia’s 50 most collectable painters.

“He helped paint a piece that sold to Kerry Stokes for $340,000 at the original auction, and he was being told he couldn’t come here.”

Although advocacy work sometimes feels like “Chinese water torture”, Sarah happily takes it on as a matter of life and death.

“We had to keep moving or Patrick would have died,” she said. “We were out there every day with something in the media — drip, drip, drip.

“Finally, quietly, Patrick was put on a plane to come to Alice Springs to start dialysis.”

If it seems like she takes these predicaments personally, it’s probably because she does; in the world of Sarah Brown, her patients are like family.

“They talk about ‘professional barriers’ and not getting involved, but that was never going to be me,” she said with a smile.

“That just feels like you’re skating across the surface of life, trying to hope that nothing affects you or touches you.

“I think life’s too short and too precious to do anything half-heartedly.”

Despite her profound influence on the lives around her, she is coy about accepting credit for her work, and plays down her chances of being named ‘Nurse or Midwife of the Year’ in the HESTA Nursing and Midwifery Awards next week.

“There are so many nurses all around the country who don’t get paid a lot of money and don’t get a lot of credit,” she said. “And there’s lots of nurses who work for us who probably deserve it more for being out bush and helping people get dialysis.”

One suspects it’s this humility that makes Ms Brown the phenomenal caregiver she is, and a deserving recipient if her name is called out at the awards dinner on Wednesday evening.


Congratulations for making it to the end! Here's the donation link again incase you're feeling generous: make a contribution.


Emma Murray is a documentary photographer based in Alice Springs. The Alice Years is a personal project documenting life in and around the red centre.

Desert dessert

What a busy month! I wasn’t expecting so much to happen so apologies for the long post. You don’t have to read it all, but I promise to leave something fun at the end for anyone who has an attention span longer than 500 words.

On with the show!

The rainy weather has continued over Central Australia and on January 14 I saw my first proper flow in the Todd River. When the river’s raging it’s big news in town, and locals swarm to it like seagulls on a dropped chip at the beach.

I spent half the day photographing at different spots along the river, and met a bunch of excited folks having a paddle. You’ll notice yellow lines under people’s feet because the safest place to be in the water is where it runs over roads.

I saw my second Todd River flow later in the month, which means I’m just one away from becoming a local.

A week later my Mumma came to visit and during her stay we went to see the magical Field of Light installation at Uluru.

I offered to buy her a ticket for the ‘Night at the Field of Light’ experience for Christmas, which I probably should have checked the price of before I made the promise because the tickets were $235 each. Ouch. Lucky I have a steady income now.

I told Mum she had to drink lots of booze to ensure we get our money’s worth.

The experience started with a pick-up at our hotel with around thirty other guests. Our names were ticked off a list and we were given a lanyard, which instantly made me feel very important because only very important people have lanyards.

The bus took us to a secret Uluru lookout area for champagne and canapés at sunset, but since I’m not drinking I grabbed a lemonade and gave my glass to Mum. I think she’d knocked back about three by the time the sun went down.

Before the light completely disappeared we were guided to an outdoor dining area and seated at table of eight. Mum and I sat with a couple from England and another from Denmark — both pairs were about Mum’s age — and a young couple living in Melbourne (he was from Melbourne, she was originally from Los Angeles).

The night was pleasant and the food was fantastic. There were a few flies around but nothing too oppressive. That was until it was time for dessert.

The sugar in our third meal attracted every beetle, moth and mosquito in the central desert, and they were dropping out of the sky like a bonafide rainstorm. The Weather Girls started playing in my head.

At one point a big grasshopper dive-bombed straight into the Englishman’s wine. “Well that’s just rude,” he said with disgust and disapproval.

Moments later a giant praying mantis started crawling across the table. The tourists were horrified, they dropped their cutlery and leaned back with pursed lips. As it approached my plate of brownies (yes, plural) I picked it up and threw it into a nearby bush, earning me a round of applause from the table. “Hooray for Alice Springs!” the Danish man cheered.

Though the desserts were delicious, the Englishman was the only person to finish their sweets. “I think that was a bit crunchier that it was meant to be,” he declared as he folded his serviette.

Beverages were also left untouched — our glasses now hosting pool parties for alcoholic insects. It’s probably just as well because everyone was already pissed and we were about to walk along a barely visible path through the Field of Light. One drunken stumble and you could smash the delicate lights or step on a snake.

If you’re planning to visit the Field of Light my best tip is to leave your camera in your bag because you’ll just be disappointed. There's no daylight when you finally get to walk around and you aren’t allowed to take a tripod, so trying to get a decent photo will just distract you from enjoying the experience.

Don’t worry about taking any pictures and just look at the lights.

This week I covered the Alice Springs new citizens ceremony for the paper where I got to witness 90 people from around the world becoming an Australian citizen. Each one was ecstatic to receive their certificate and sincerely grateful for the opportunities their new country offers them.

In recent years it’s become increasingly hard to escape the politicism of the January 26, but the ceremony was a place where the controversy faded away and there was nothing but genuine joy. On the day it even transformed my perception of what the the Australian flag reprensents. Here are a couple of my favourite photos.

Photographically I'm bloody loving sports portraits at the moment; they offer so many creative possibilities and sports people seem happier than most to strike a pose. I was pretty happy with this photo I recently took of some cycling prodigies at the Alice Springs velodrome.

That's it! Congratulations if you've made it this far. As promised here's something fun to finish with. I give you full permission to have a five minute dance party to The Weather Sisters "It's Raining Men" (warning: some people may find parts of this film clip disturbing).


Emma Murray is a documentary photographer based in Alice Springs. The Alice Years is a personal project documenting life in and around the red centre.

Green centre

I’m back in Alice Springs this week after a ten-day break to see friends and family down south.

I had a great holiday; celebrating Christmas (West Fest) with my family in Hobart and spending New Year’s Eve with my sister and her husband in Melbourne.

West Fest is what we called Christmas for my mother’s side of the family — the Wests — this year. We had about 40 of them at my parent's house for Christmas lunch. My sister and I came up with the concept after our brother’s wedding this year. We wondered why we put lots of thought into weddings but not other family occasions like birthdays and Christmas.

We discussed the idea further over a champagne breakfast to celebrate my new job, and by the end of the morning had came up with a logo, marketing campaign, and two day festival running sheet (for more information you can see our website here).

Everything was pretty awesome until Christmas morning when we had to cook and set up for lunch for 40 people with the power cutting out whenever we turned the oven on. Dad came to the rescue and was soon set-up on the deck with pots of potatoes, beans, peas, and carrots boiling on every gas cooker he could find in the garage.

I would have taken a photo but life was particularly challenging that morning.

Our moods started to improve by about 11.30am, just in time to greet our guests and issue them with their mandatory West Fest lanyard and commemorative cup. Here are a few of my favourite photos from West Fest to give you an idea of what went on.

West Fest Nib-Off: everyone was required to bring a plate of their best nibbles and we all had a vote to determine "best nibble". 

West Fest Nib-Off: everyone was required to bring a plate of their best nibbles and we all had a vote to determine "best nibble". 

Left: Best dressed (team category), Peter's clan. Right: Best dressed (individual category), Maritta

Left: Best dressed (team category), Peter's clan. Right: Best dressed (individual category), Maritta

Most of the gang squeezed into Mum and Dad's lounge room so we could all sit together for Christmas lunch

Most of the gang squeezed into Mum and Dad's lounge room so we could all sit together for Christmas lunch

After lunch my brother put on a red suit to distribute gifts we bought for the kids 'from Santa'. The kids could see Don's ginger whiskers under the fake beard, and thought it would be more fun to shoot him with water pistols rather than open presents. Hilarity ensued.

After lunch my brother put on a red suit to distribute gifts we bought for the kids 'from Santa'. The kids could see Don's ginger whiskers under the fake beard, and thought it would be more fun to shoot him with water pistols rather than open presents. Hilarity ensued.

Pass the parcel is a tradition at West gatherings, my Auntie Pam is always in charge. Usually the person with the most buttons wins but in this case it was the person wearing the most yellow. Logan was beside himself when he opened the wrapper and saw the box of chocolates.

Pass the parcel is a tradition at West gatherings, my Auntie Pam is always in charge. Usually the person with the most buttons wins but in this case it was the person wearing the most yellow. Logan was beside himself when he opened the wrapper and saw the box of chocolates.

The water fight continued into the afternoon with many casualties. When the crowd dissipated we put a paddling pool on the deck so Pop could cool down. He was very surprised at the temperature when he first put his feet in!

The water fight continued into the afternoon with many casualties. When the crowd dissipated we put a paddling pool on the deck so Pop could cool down. He was very surprised at the temperature when he first put his feet in!

Okay, enough about West Fest.

On my return to Alice Springs I discovered that referring to this part of the country as the ‘red centre’ probably isn’t appropriate at the moment because everything is green! Approaching Alice Springs airport on my flight I couldn’t believe that the landscape, which ten days earlier was bone-dry, was lush and green.

With my camera in the overhead locker during our descent all I could do was admire the view while writhing in pain thinking “I should be taking photos”. I’m sure the lady sitting next to me thought I was mental.

Here's a comparison between two photos taken in the same spot two months apart.

Left: Taken on November 8 2016 at 5.30pm. Right: Taken on January 3 2017 at 5.30pm

Left: Taken on November 8 2016 at 5.30pm. Right: Taken on January 3 2017 at 5.30pm

Further along the river — so much green!

Further along the river — so much green!

A few days before I arrived back in Alice Springs there was a strong flow of water down the Todd River, but that had eased by the time I returned. Still, there was a considerable amount of water left in the riverbed; just enough for locals to swim in and cars to drive safely through.

I found Pearl and Lachlan splashing in the river at the north of town and took this photo for the paper. I got very wet.

I found Pearl and Lachlan splashing in the river at the north of town and took this photo for the paper. I got very wet.

I also made a special trip out to the Ilparpa claypans to see what they look like with water in them. You might remember the first time I visited the claypans for the supermoon (see blog post 'Mooned in Alice' for photos).

The claypans were beautiful and serene with water in them. Well, that was until one of the locals started fanging his remote control boat around the water, it sounded like a belligerent lawnmower with PMS. How's the serenity?

Still, up until that point it was very calming, and I was lucky enough to be there during a spectacular pink sunset. I took the below photo, which went off like a frog in a sock when I posted it on the Centralian Advocate's Facebook page.

Pink sunsets in the outback are like living inside a Namatjira painting

Pink sunsets in the outback are like living inside a Namatjira painting

There isn't much news at the paper because I've only just gotten back to work, but I thought I'd highlight a cool story I got to photograph late last year at Asia Pacific Aircraft Storage. The low humidity in the region is perfect for plane storage, and the business uses a large area at Alice Springs Airport to store and maintain commercial vehicles that aren't in service.

My colleague (and aeronautics nut) Andrea and I got to walk around the facility, including a wander under the big plane in the photo below, and stroll inside another. It was pretty cool (in a nerdy aviation kind of way).

My photo of Tom Vincent, Asia Pacific Aircraft Storage Managing Director, in front of a plane in storage at his facility

My photo of Tom Vincent, Asia Pacific Aircraft Storage Managing Director, in front of a plane in storage at his facility

That's it from me for now. I'll be taking the next month off blogging and Facebook to focus on a new project, and come to terms with my new year's resolutions of becoming a full vegan and giving up alcohol.

If I don't disappear up my own arsehole my next update should be posted in the first week of February.


Emma Murray is a documentary photographer based in Alice Springs. The Alice Years is a personal project documenting life in and around the red centre.

Until next year

I flew home for Christmas yesterday and am writing this week's post in the refreshing Hobart climate. It's 22 degrees outside and I'm cold, which tells me I've adjusted to the Alice Springs heat more than I realised.

I never thought I'd be someone who talks about the weather as much as I currently do, but for the past two months it's been the one thing that has impacted on me the most while I settle into the red centre.

Speaking of the weather, following the rain a few weeks ago there has been a bit of water around the town and surrounding areas, and a lot of the swimming spots along the West McDonnell Ranges have filled up.

The weekend before last I went to a couple of swimming holes with some friends to see how much water was still there and partake in some croc-free outback swimming. We started the day with a 90-minute drive to Glen Helen where we had lunch at the homestead and a swim in the gorge.

Glen Helen Gorge

Glen Helen Gorge

On the way home we made a stop at Ormiston Gorge — by far the prettiest swimming spot around Alice Springs — for another swim.

Ormiston Gorge

Ormiston Gorge

As more people leave town or go on holidays Alice Springs has slowed right down, and the streets have started to look a bit empty. Usually it's a surprisingly busy town and the community is always thriving with activity.

We don't attract big events — Taylor Swift didn’t visit and I’m pretty sure Adele won’t be stopping here on her Australian tour — but Alice Springs punches above it's weight when it comes to entertainment.

Occasionally a bigger name does comes to town, which is what happened last Saturday when Drapht took to the stage at The Gap View Hotel.

Primed by our work Christmas party my colleagues and I went to the gig to hear live versions of "Rapunzel" and "Jimmy Recard" (and all of the other songs that Drapht sings...).

Here are a couple of photos from the night.

Photographically I’ve had a good fortnight at the paper, the highlight being the Christmas issue released today.

For the cover I organised a special shoot featuring my good friend Bec, her colleague Laura, and my housemate Laura (yes, two Laura's). I went to high school with Bec in Hobart and it’s pretty crazy that we’re both living in Alice Springs 17 years later.

We had a lot of fun doing the shoot on Spencer Hill and I’m really happy with how the photo turned out.

I also had a photo on the back page which I was really happy with, although at the time my subjects weren’t so chuffed about it.

The story was about some local tennis players who are practising on grass for an upcoming tournament. I got three of them to lie on the ground in 40-degree heat looking directly into the sun while I tried to take a photo, it took us five minutes to get a shot where no one looked like they had just been stabbed in the stomach.

I felt awful. The photo was worth it though, right?

That's it for this year. I'll be in Hobart and Melbourne for the next nine days and then it's back to The Alice.

I can't wait to get back!


Emma Murray is a documentary photographer based in Alice Springs. The Alice Years is a personal project documenting life in and around the red centre.

Mass exodus

Now that we're a third of the way through December things have started to slow down here in Alice Springs.

As the 40 degree days become more frequent locals and tourists flee town in search of water and a cooler climate. For some the break is just a temporary holiday, but for a lot of people it's the end of their stay in the town and time to move back to the east coast.

That's the downside of living in a transient town like Alice Springs; you know it won't be too long before one of your friends leaves. After living here for seven weeks I'm now saying goodbye to half the people I know, including my housemate, Kat.

Kat left today for an exciting new job on the Gold Coast. As a farewell gesture all my housemates and I did a sunset walk to the top of Spencer Hill so Kat could have one last look at the town before she left.

It didn't take much effort to get to the top, and we were rewarded with amazing views of the town and surrounding landscape when we got there. Not to mention a beautiful sunset.

Whenever I watch the sun set I always wonder why I don't take the time to do it more often. When I was living in Melbourne a walk along South Melbourne Beach at sunset was a simple and easy way to lift my spirits, yet I seldom made the effort to do it. So my new years' resolution is to be outside more at the end of the day.

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My housemates Sophie, Kat, and Laura at the top of Spencer Hill

My housemates Sophie, Kat, and Laura at the top of Spencer Hill

At the risk of sounding too British, another highlight from the last two weeks is that it rained.

It was fucking amazing.

Although I love the heat and have finally nipped my dehydration in the bud, I'm still adjusting to day after day (after day) of high temperatures and constantly comment about the weather like a character in a Dennis Leary song.

But on Wednesday, out of nowhere, it started raining. And it didn't stop until the following night.

Cue Forest Gump rain montage.

I woke up on Thursday morning to a cloudy 23 degree day and couldn't wipe the smile off my face. I walked to work and, although the Todd wasn't flowing, there was a considerable amount of water sitting in the riverbed.

Everything also looked greener, and for a moment I didn't feel like I was in the middle of the desert.

Water in the Todd River on Thursday

Water in the Todd River on Thursday

Not even Uluru, which is a few hundred kilometres away, could escape the heavy downpour. I can highly recommend watching this incredible video of rain pelting down on it.

Since my last post I've also been working hard at the paper; taking photos and writing more articles. With a few our our journalists out of the office last week I was the lead news journalist, and I wrote a front page article about a local man in a wheelchair who was mugged. I also wrote a fun piece about a local filmmaker who was an extra in Hacksaw Ridge.

Photographically I've been experimenting with lighting and camera angles, particularly with my sports portraits. My recent favourites are a portrait of a local golfer, and another of a young tennis player that turned out so well it made the front page.

It's probably the best news photo I've taken since I started at the Advocate.


Emma Murray is a documentary photographer based in Alice Springs. The Alice Years is a personal project documenting life in and around the red centre.

One month down

There isn't too much to report this week, apart from making it a month in Alice Springs without melting or getting fired. With a few of my colleagues away on leave this week work has kept me pretty busy, and there isn't anything of much interest to write home about.

Instead, I've come up with a list of my favourite things about Alice Springs from four weeks of living here.

1. My walk to work along this path everyday

2. The inclusive nature of the people (like my housemates Sophie and Laura)

3. No one gives a damn about anything. It's a good thing — it gives you the space to do whatever the hell you want.

4. The clouds (when there are clouds) 

5. No matter the time of day, the weather always justifies eating ice cream.

6. I can get to any point in town within ten minutes.

7. The sunsets

8. Parking is free. Everywhere.

9. The stars

10. My job. I get to meet interesting people everyday and take their photo, and I get paid for it.

That's about all I can muster for this week.

Sorry for the brevity of this post, or if it reads like a buzzfeed article. And for those who clicked on the link thinking it was a buzzfeed article I'm sorry for the lack of dieting tips and photos of celebrities without make up.

I'll be taking my foot off the blogging pedal for a while; only posting when I have something interesting to talk about. In the wise words of Jorge Luis Borges, "don't talk unless you can improve the silence."


Emma Murray is a documentary photographer based in Alice Springs. The Alice Years is a personal project documenting life in and around the red centre.

Mooned in Alice

First-up this week are some images of the supermoon from the Ilparpa claypans — a set of twelve interconnected claypans about 15km south-east of town.

I knew I wanted to photograph the supermoon on Monday, but I had no idea where to take the photos from. Luckily, when I got home from work my amazing housemates were packing a picnic and told me I was coming with them to watch to moon with a bunch of their friends at the claypans.

This is a good example of how great the people in Alice Springs are; everyone is very inclusive and they're always keen to get out and do something.

We arrived at the claypans just as the sun was setting, and watched the supermoon rise into the sky while we sat on the red dirt and ate our picnic.

The biggest moon in fifty years rising over the red centre

The biggest moon in fifty years rising over the red centre

The outback landscape lit up by the supermoon

The outback landscape lit up by the supermoon

After three weeks in Alice Springs I decided it was time to get back into some proper exercise. I started this week with a walk to the top of ANZAC Hill on Tuesday, and a run along the trails behind my house on Wednesday.

The walk was a roaring success. The run was a mild disaster.

The view over Alice Springs on my way to the top of ANZAC Hill

The view over Alice Springs on my way to the top of ANZAC Hill

Before the run I was so preoccupied worrying about drinking enough water that I forgot to eat. I ended up running for over an hour sustained only by a fly that dived into my mouth in the first five minutes.

I arrived home after the run hungry and thirsty despite drinking about four litres of water during the day. Upon my return I promptly inhaled a tub of hummus and spent the rest of the night submerged in the pool, wishing I could drink its entire contents.

Which brings me to the subject of hydration — my biggest challenge since moving to Alice Springs.

The average daily temperature at the moment is 35 degrees, and I never seem to be able to drink enough water to replace what I lose during the day. As a result I’m always a little bit sleepy, and have the excitement of an octogenarian whenever I manage a trip to the bathroom.

I don’t think I’ve ever been this obsessed with the volume and colour of my urine.

To quote an old hockey coach of mine: “If your wee looks like lager you’re probably okay. If it looks like amber ale you’re probably dehydrated. If it looks like stout you’re probably dead.”

No doubt that’s already too much information on the topic, so here's a photo of a rainbow over a roundabout.

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This weekend was my first full weekend off since I arrived. I spent the majority of it by the pool, but I managed to drag myself away on Saturday evening to see the ‘Wrapt in Christmas’ craft market, and headed out later that night for some drinks at Epilogue (one of the few places in town to spend a night out).

I went to the craft market for the specific reason of purchasing a handmade mug from a group of kids who were raising money for Purple House — an organisation that helps indigenous dialysis patients in Alice Springs.

A wrote a story about Purple House earlier that week for the paper, and I took photos of the kids with their mugs for a yarn about the market.

I decided it was a good enough cause to break my rule of only owning cheap souvenir mugs from the U.K.

Photos from the Purple Truck party (and an article by me!), and the children with their mugs

Photos from the Purple Truck party (and an article by me!), and the children with their mugs

By the time I got to the market the mugs were almost sold out, but I managed to snare this one featuring a cute butterfly drawing by a six year old artist from Ross River called Aquaria.

I promise this is the last time I'll post a photo of a mug

I promise this is the last time I'll post a photo of a mug

My highlights from the paper this week (apart from my first published article on Purple House) include a portrait of Acacia Tree School Principal, Wendy Haynes, and my first photos in the sports pages.

I'll be here again next week posting about my one month anniversary in Alice Springs, after that I'll be reducing the frequency of these updates to fortnightly so there's more interesting content about Alice Springs and less talk about mugs and wee.


Emma Murray is a documentary photographer based in Alice Springs. The Alice Years is a personal project documenting life in and around the red centre.

Settling in

It was a glamorous start to my second week in Alice Springs when I was sent on assignment to cover the Wearable Art Awards — a creative fashion competition for local artists and designers.

I didn’t know much about the event before I went, and in all honesty I didn’t have high expectations. I anticipated there to be a few good pieces, with the remainder of the work resembling a year eight art project.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The outfits were spectacular, and demonstrated the incredible imagination and skill of the local arts scene. When models took to the stage they didn’t just stroll down the catwalk, they performed to show-off features of their outfit, adding an extra layer of entertainment to the evening.

My favourite pieces from the show were a gown covered in flowers made from curled-up magazine pages and an elaborate outfit made out of natural fibres. I photographed these outfits for my second front-page at the paper, I also got a double-page spread in the following issue.

My images from the Alice Springs Wearable Art Awards published in the Centralian Advocate

My images from the Alice Springs Wearable Art Awards published in the Centralian Advocate

The day after the Wearable Art Awards I moved to a new sharehouse on the other side of town, which is another step in making my relocation feel permanent. When I first arrived in Alice Springs I moved into my friend Bec’s spare room, and I’d like to say a big thank you to Bec and her housemate, Lauren, for making me feel so welcome during my first week.

The new house is in the desirable suburb of East Side. Here I have three housemates, five chickens, a pool, yoga room, and neighbours who run the best bakery in town. I can vouch for the quality of their goods — they’ve already dropped by with a big bag of delicious bread and pastry products.

Finding permanent accommodation has helped me feel more settled, and has meant that I can unpack the only kitchen items I bothered to bring with me — my collection of tacky English mugs. I’m not sure how the collection started, or why I love it so much, but I HAD to bring it with me. I just can’t imagine having a cup of tea in anything other than a mug with a British monarch on it.

My Prince George mug is a favourite for my morning cuppa

My Prince George mug is a favourite for my morning cuppa

The new place is near the Todd River, so I've been wandering down there after work to take some photos at sunset.

Before I show any of the images, a word about the "river"...

Google Maps vs Google satellite view of the Todd River

Google Maps vs Google satellite view of the Todd River

As you can see above, the Todd is a waterless river. It's dry all year round, except for a few days when heavy rains in the north flood down to Alice Springs. They say you aren't a local here until you see the Todd flow three times — a feat I'm hoping to achieve.

In August residents make decorative boats then get drunk and race them around the river in Flinstone-esk fashion. Ironically the boat race has been cancelled once, in 1993, because the river had water in it. I'm looking forward to blogging about the event next year.

For now, here are a few of the photos I've taken around the Todd this week.

The stunning view directly across the Todd River at dusk

The stunning view directly across the Todd River at dusk

Beautiful gumtrees grow in and around the river

Beautiful gumtrees grow in and around the river

This raised path gets me across the river to work

This raised path gets me across the river to work

In addition to the Wearable Art Awards, other photographic highlights from my week at the paper include a portrait of 2015 Australian of the Year, Rosie Batty, and a portrait of Rector Brian Jeffries in front of a heritage-listed mural. It also turns out my previous job as a newborn photographer at the Women's Hospital has come in handy, and I have a regular gig doing the Alice Springs "new arrivals" page.

That’s all the highlights for week two. Tune in again next week for more news from the red centre. Yabadabadoo.


Emma Murray is a documentary photographer based in Alice Springs. The Alice Years is a personal project documenting life in and around the red centre.

One week down!

My first few days in Alice Springs felt like a holiday, but after being here a week and starting my new job the permanency of the situation is starting to sink in. There has been a lot to adjust to in the last seven days; the rocky landscape, oppressive heat, persistent flies, and defiant sweat.

But enough about my underarms.

On my second night in Alice I was treated to a Spanish feast care of a culinary rivalry worthy of My Kitchen Rules. The sharehouse I’m staying in has an ongoing competition with another sharehouse in town, and they take turns cooking for each other and scoring the meals.

The competition has escalated with each round and is now at the point that teams buy new crockery and print menus to pimp out their table setting.

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Apparently entertaining at home is popular in Alice Springs due to a lack of dining options in the town. Barbecues are also common, so I’m working hard on my veggie burger recipe.

I should point out that although I was technically part of the cooking team for this round of the competition, I can’t take any credit for our banquet; my only contribution was designing the menus.

I’m sure Pete and Manu would have been impressed with their meal at Bowman de Casa

I’m sure Pete and Manu would have been impressed with their meal at Bowman de Casa

The night after the banquet was Halloween, which is a big deal in Alice Springs because of the large contingency of Americans working at Pine Gap — a facility just outside of the town centre. Pine Gap is a satellite ground station controlling U.S. spy satellites passing over territories such as China, parts of Russia, and the Middle East.

The location for Pine Gap was chosen because Central Australia is too remote for spy ships passing in international waters to intercept the signal. Operations at Pine Gap are classified, so If you meet someone who works there they will likely tell you they are a gardener or work in the mailroom.

Anyway, back to Halloween.

Patient zombies, witches, and vampires wait in line for candy as the sun sets over Alice Springs

Patient zombies, witches, and vampires wait in line for candy as the sun sets over Alice Springs

The Americans all live in the same suburb, and on Halloween the Alice Springs locals all converge there in costumes to extract as much candy from them as possible. I’ve never lived in a place that was enthusiastic about Halloween, so I headed over there to see what all the fuss was about. I wasn't disappointed.

There were hundreds of families in costume walking from door to door collecting candy. I was impressed at the lengths home owners had gone to to decorate their houses, and every single trick-or-treater was in costume.

Watching the whole event was so much fun I'm tempted to dress up and join them next year.

Every man and his dog embraces the Halloween spirit in Alice Springs

Every man and his dog embraces the Halloween spirit in Alice Springs

I wonder if the clown costume comes in my size?

I wonder if the clown costume comes in my size?

The feast and Halloween was fun, but the highlight of the week was seeing the paper on Friday. It was the first edition of the Centralian Advocate that my photos have been published in.

My cover photo was used for a witty headline about the Alice Springs Ice-Cream Festival, which may-well be the peak of my career as a photojournalist. I can't think of any future stories that will make me as happy as a pun about ice-cream (I also got to sample the product after the shoot).

Generally speaking, I had a great first week at work with the paper. Through the stories I covered I got to see a lot of the town and meet some interesting characters. I can tell my job here is going to be a great way to get to know Alice Springs.

Some pages of the Centralian Advocate featuring my photos

Some pages of the Centralian Advocate featuring my photos

That's all for this edition of The Alice Years. Check in again the same time next week for more highlights of life in the outback.


Emma Murray is a documentary photographer based in Alice Springs. The Alice Years is a personal project documenting life in and around the red centre.

Farewell Melbourne, hello Alice Springs

This post marks the start of a new and exciting chapter, both in my professional and personal life. Yesterday I flew to Alice Springs; the small outback town exactly halfway between Adelaide and Darwin. It was a one way ticket.

I've moved to Alice Springs for a job with News Corp. Starting tomorrow I will be the new in-house photojournalist for the Centralian Advocate, which is pretty amazing to me. There aren't many full-time jobs for photographers these days, especially photojournalists.

When I graduated from my photography course hoping to pursue photojournalism I accepted that I would probably be toiling away as an overworked and underpaid freelancer for the rest of my career. My plan was to shoot projects between portrait and wedding work, submit stories to magazines, and publish books and hold exhibitions on my own coin hoping to get some exposure.

It seems incredible that not even one year after leaving RMIT I'm going to be working full-time as a photojournalist — and getting paid for it.

This initial post is to say farewell to Melbourne, which I will miss dearly, and introduce the project I have planned for Alice Springs.

There are a lot of things I'll miss about Melbourne, like my daily walk through Carlton Gardens on my way into the city, secret cafes and bars in hidden laneways, sitting by the Yarra on a sunny day, and the beaches in the south-east.

Carlton Gardens

Carlton Gardens

It's funny thinking back to the first time I said goodbye to Melbourne — I'd just walked away from my marketing job and was getting ready for a year of travel. Beyond that I had no plans as to what I'd do next, photography was nothing more than an expensive hobby.

That moment was only four years ago. Life has certainly taken me in a new and exciting direction since then! This latest move is by far the biggest leap I've taken.

Much of my final week in Melbourne was spent catching up with friends and whittling my worldly possessions down to fit the 46kg weight limit. This kind of purging might strike terror into some people, but I bloody love it.

Checking-in at Melbourne Airport — everything I own fits in these bags

Checking-in at Melbourne Airport — everything I own fits in these bags

During my time in Alice Springs, on top of my job at the paper, I'll be working on a long-term project to document life in and around the town. The working title for the project is 'The Alice Years'. I'm hoping I haven't been too presumptuous with the name and won't need to later revise it to 'The Alice Months' or 'The Alice Weeks'.

I'm not really sure what to expect when I get to Alice Springs, apart from sunburn. Early research suggests that my work days will be spent covering the local footy, exhibition openings, and camel races (if you think I'm joking about the last one, just Google 'Alice Springs Camel Cup').

The red landscape of Alice Springs, taken from the plane just before I landed

The red landscape of Alice Springs, taken from the plane just before I landed

I'm anticipating the job to be hard at first because I've never worked at a paper before. No doubt it will be a steep and uncomfortable learning curve and I'll make mistakes. I hate making mistakes.

But that's the whole point of the move; to challenge myself and do something new. Well, that, and I really like akubras, and Alice Springs is one of the only places I can legitimately wear one everyday.

My first akubra on Mt Wellington, Hobart. Image: Nick Heather

My first akubra on Mt Wellington, Hobart. Image: Nick Heather

If you're keen to hear more about my outback adventures I'll be posting here regularly, so make sure you stop by from time to time. If you're lazy like me you can just follow me on Instagram and I'll let you know when a new post is up (@emma_louise_murray). There are bound to be some entertaining stories in the coming years.

For now I'll just say farewell Melbourne, hello Alice Springs.