Thursday, April 27, 2006

To Infinity And Beyond

Maths? No, it's a sign of the times

Photo copyright: DAVID McMAHON

We were in Queensland on holiday when I saw this great street sign on the Gold Coast.

So where was the sign pointing to? A mathematicians' conference? Some sort of lateral thinkers' club? A beach with never-ending sand, wonderful crashing surf and magical sunshine that lasted around the clock?

Or was it some sort of museum devoted to the `Toy Story' and `Toy Story 2' movies, so well known for the character of Buzz Lightyear and his catchphrase, ``To infinity and beyond''?

Alas, it was all rather prosaic. The sign pointed to a nightclub.

Still, I had to take the photograph, simply because it was so unusual. So I drove off at 7am on a warm April morning, parked down a side street and found my way to the sign. I had to walk a few metres down a narrow median strip, with cars on either side of me, to take this shot with my film camera.

It's a perfect Gold Coast reminder. Clear blue sky, not tainted by a single cloud. Towering high-rise condos. And the mandatory palm tree, slap-bang in the middle of the frame.

And to all the drivers who thought I was completely mad for venturing onto the slender median strip, my humble apologies. I'm just a crazy southerner from chilly Melbourne.

Doesn't that explain it all?

Thursday, April 20, 2006

This Is No Jumbo Jest

(Seeing eye-to-eye with a bull elephant)

Photo copyright: DAVID McMAHON

The photograph above was taken at the Elephant Safari Park in Bali, Indonesia, in January 2000. No long lens. No telephoto gizmos.

I should also point out that it is not a cropped frame. Nor has the image been digitally enhanced in any way.

Just me, a camera and an elephant.

Techinically, not a great picture, but hey, when was the last time you got so close to an elephant? This was the third or fourth in a series of shots and he was just starting to spark up and show an interest in the mechanical noises that the camera was making.

And me? I was just trying not to breathe too loud, just to ensure I didn't do anything to annoy the old fella.

By this time, he was looking pretty much straight at me and it's a little bit disconcerting when an animal fixes its beady little eyes on you. I'm no mahout, and I wasn't game to try his patience.

Time to get outta there? Eye, eye, sir.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Not A Plain Old Nullarbor

(This really is a land of sweeping planes)

Australia's Nullarbor Plain gets its name not from an explorer called Mr Nullarbor, it gets its name from the combination of two Latin words ``nullius'' and ``arbor'' meaning ``no trees''.
And they're not kidding. There really are no trees.

There are no tree surgeons on the Nullarbor. In fact, there's not much on the Nullarbor. Nothing apart from stunning desert flowers could possibly grow in such an arid expanse.

If you're driving across the Nullarbor, you need to pay attention to the signs that tell you where the next service station is, because it's not the sort of place you'd want to run out of fuel. No, not even in the month of April, when you could blame it on the undeniable fact that it's April Fuels Day.

It is a vast, treeless plain that can be as daunting as it is starkly beautiful.

You wouldn't want to lose your bearings anywhere on the Nullarbor, simply because there are no significant geographical features.

I once took a series of pictures encompassing the full 360 degrees from where I stood near a white four wheel drive. The first photograph in the series showed the open right-hand passenger door of the 4WD, just for a point of reference. The earth was red and flat. The scrub was a combination of brown and dark green and no more than ankle high. The sky was cloudless, spanning every shade of blue conceivable, like a giant paint palette.

Every picture in the series looked the same. If the negatives themselves hadn't been in a numbered sequence, I would never have known what the correct order was. There are no geographical clues. The last picture in the sequence has the white 4WD in it once more.

That's why I've used two easily distinguishable pictures with this post. The one above, taken by me in September 1999, shows a signpost for the Nullarbor Plain.

And what about the second picture, which I took during the same trip? Ah, that must be the Nullarbor Plane.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

All Roads Lead To Chrome

(The winner of the Easter bonnet contest)

Photo copyright: DAVID McMAHON

At Movieworld on the Gold Coast, in the sunny Australian state of Queensland, you can’t miss this sight. In the main square, where the daily parades command the attention of young and old alike, is this vintage DeSoto taxi.

Its sweeping lines and bold design hark back to a long-forgotten era in automotive design. The bonnet itself is high and imperious, almost like the upturned keel of a racing yacht.

As I reached for my camera, I faced a slight dilemma. It was early on an April afternoon and the light was harsh. I needed to find an angle that would capture the car’s majesty, while emphasising the sheer length of that amazing bonnet.

It’s one thing training your lens on a mass-produced Ford Falcon or a Holden Commodore; it’s quite another when you are confronted with a car with this sort of engineering pedigree.

There’s a great yarn from the DeSoto archives that I must narrate here, simply because it says so much about maverick thinkers and the willingness, in the heyday of the automobile industry, to encourage people to think outside the square.

If ideas are the lifeblood of any company, then the story of this publicity stunt by US carmaker DeSoto will always stand out. In 1933, racing driver Harry Hartz drove a DeSoto across the United States … in reverse!

While I could not locate medical records to support my theory that Hartz must have had a terrible crick in his neck at the end of his project, the DeSoto people were not just content to stop and congratulate themselves over the publicity.

Engineers studied the data from Hartz’s amazing drive and soon confirmed that the car’s fuel efficiency was greater when driven backwards. This led to a complete re-evaluation of car design, in the quest for greater speed, better styling … and of course, a greater share of the market.

Which just proves the commercial value of, um, reverse psychology.