Break down at Uluru 2015

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As a professional Landscape Photographer I am generally ready to go at short notice unless other committments are on the agenda of course. I have a bag of clothes at the ready just in case I have to jump in the car and hit the road for a weather event. My Toyota Prado 'Old Girl'  is my trusted friend, well thats how I see it anyway as I spend so much time travelling and sometimes sleeping in her. She is packed with camping gear and my other essentials permanantly. However on a recent trip to Uluru in the Red Centre following a monsoonal trough and a major weather event 'she' let me down.

I think there is a misconception that what I do is glamorous and I pull off the shots I do out of pure luck. I hear this often and it is incorrect. The truth of the matter is that this is hard work, its my business and my livelihood it's definately not luck that gets me the shots. Its a combination of many factors including my passion, determination and of course my skills that produce some of the award winning images I have to date. It's also frustration, uncertainty and sometimes breakdowns. The monetary rewards are often not all that great. I take the good with the bad and I use the negative stuff to drive me and make me more determined to achieve my goals. I do it because I am driven and I love it and I want to be the best I can be at it.


I have had 2 other major breakdowns in the last 10 years in outback Australia and every time it happens it creates a world of pain for me. I am generally very remote and of course this was no different. It also adds an extra element of stress not to mention hitting the budget quite hard and this trip was cut short because of it. Sometimes I just sit back and wonder why I keep doing it as it can be so hit and miss as far as photography goes, very expensive and very unproductive when things go bad. To keep doing what I do I need to be three parts driven and one part mad. Yep that describes me perfectly!

Ok back to the breakdown, mmmmm memories as I ponder looking down at the temperature gauge which had risen to almost boiling. Lets back track a little first to a happy place.........

After driving 1100km from the outback town of Marree in remote South Australia to reach Uluru in the Red Centre of Australia and praying that the weather was still coming I settled in at the Yulara caravan park and then made my way out to the rock. It had been raining but it had stopped and I just hoped from what I could see in the sky that the worst or in my case the best was yet to come and guess what it did and I was excited as I love it when a plan comes together, dont you?

I spent three days shooting around Uluru and Kata Tjuta in and out of the rain. It was cool actually it was cold as the temperature plumeted and I was walking in the rain trying to keep my camera from getting wet and through pools of water around the rock that had flooded the pathways and many other areas. I watched the many waterfalls cascading over the sides through the already carved out valleys etched by time. I observed the changes in colour on the rock throughout my visits back and forth from the Resort and I photographed it all. I watched as the waterholes filled and the frogs came to life creating a symphony of croaking. That clean fresh rain smell permeated the air and the rain washed away the dust from all the flora adding a vibrant depth of colour to everything in the region. I could not have asked for a better trip... or so I thought.

After 3 days it was time to move on and I was on a high. I was about to head up to the Alice into the West and East Macdonnel Ranges to make the most of my time and the weather event. It was a sunny 30 degree morning and I had just picked up a take away coffee and a piece of banana bread from the cafe at Yulara before hitting the road. I was in good spirits as I drove out onto the Lassiter Highway I was excited about my next destination.


Heading down the Lassiter Highway, coffee in hand singing along to some old 80s tune on my IPOD I noticed my temperature gauge had risen to almost boiling. Instant downer! I was only about 20km from the Resort. I thought I was imagining things but unfortunately I wasnt. This is how quickly things can go south or is it north - well its some bloody wrong direction anyway. My stomach churned and at this point the only thing to do was turn around and head back into town which I did slowly. Being only a short distance from the Resort and noticing the car was getting hot was my saving grace. I was watching the gauge to make sure she didn't boil as I did not want to cook the motor. At this point driving back I was accessing what could possibly be wrong with my Toyato Prado which had just been serviced before I left. I remember thinking this better be something simple as I had only had a new cooling system and motor head relaced 2 years ago which cost a fortune.

Limping back into town into the servo I called the local RAA guy who promtly came out to access my Prado. Rex the local mechanic out here has seen it all, after filling the radiator up with water again and watching it intently he told me it looked like a head gasket or a cracked head but could not be certain until some more testing in the workshop was carried out. I could not believe what I was hearing and went numb. My mind was reeling with all the reasons why he had to be wrong - but he wasn't.

I was now stuck at Yulara my high obliterated into an irritating low. My worst nightmare was confirmed the next day by Rex "Julie you either have a head gasket gone or the head has a crack in it and your not going anywhere anytime soon" My reply to this was "the cars not the only thing with a bloody cracked head right now" We both laughed, what else could we do. Rex tried a product called camewell in the motor to try and quick fix and seal the problem so at least I could drive home, unfortunately it didnt work. I was stuck and needed to sort out what I was going to do with the car and then how I was getting home. Another 2 days staying in expensive accomodation and it was time to make some decisions.

Now I dont want to bore you silly with all the details of what went on over the 2 days that I was stuck at Yulara without my car but as different information came to hand I assessed the situation and weighed up my options. I decided to put the car on a truck and ship it down to Pt Augusta where I could get my mechanic to pick it up and take it back to Hawker to his workshop in the Flinders Ranges.

I then needed to decide how I was getting back to Marree, I had 2 options, number one catch 2 buses (kill me now) cheap yes but would have been the trip from hell and possibly make me want to slit my wrists by the time I arrived at the other end. I also would have had to leave most of my gear in my car which I would not see for at least 2 weeks. Number 2 hire a car which I chose and it cost me a fortune as i was driving one way and crossing the border. You know what sometimes sanity is more important than money and anyone who has been on a long bus ride will be able to relate to this. And yes I do have breakdown cover but it generally never covers you for everything depending on the circumstances.

Now back to the Prado which made it back to Hawker and my mechanic 2 weeks later, the head was sent back to the supplier who would not take any responsibility for the problem, you see it was out of warranty of course. Not happy jan. The desicion was made to replace the head again and then sell the vehicle. I now have the Old Girl back and she is as good as new but I dont trust her anymore and although it is a well maintained vehicle it has over 300,000 km on the clock and I think its time for retirement. She has been a great vehicle over the last 4 years and will continue to be a great vehicle for some one else I'm sure. Anyone want to buy a Prado??

This trip cost me a fortune not to mention all the stress, I do handle things quite well minimising the stress where I can and by not panicking. I keep a level head which I think is important when major decisions are required and also to stay safe. The moral to the story is shit happens, prepare yourself if your travelling remote as best you can by keeping your car well maintained, have RAA cover but more importantly know exactly what and how your covered, always carry food and water and warm clothes. I always have my camping gear in the car just in case even if I dont intend to camp. Never have the attitude that it wont happen to you and carry a safety device like a SPOT and a sat phone and this will minimise the stress when things go sour. 

I have been asked if the trip was worth it, my reply to that hell yes I would do it again in a heart beat even if I knew I was going to break down out there. It was simply stunning in the rain and one of my all time favourite places in Australia. I wouldn't have missed it for quids.

I live in the outback and I love the outback and have made it my signature for Landscape Photography, the outback can be a harsh place for anyone, never take it for granted.



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