It’s World Rivers Day – a global celebration of the world’s waterways and a day to encourage improved stewardship of rivers around the world. Our photographer, Brad Leue, is a champion of aerial photography, with years of practise capturing the beauty of Australia’s winding waterways. He shares one of his favourite riparian experiences…
“There have been some pretty special moments working with AWC, but one of the most memorable has been documenting the arrival of flood waters in the desert river systems of Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre on Kalamurina Wildlife Sanctuary.”
The country needs a few things to align for Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre to begin it’s fill, but when it does there is not much as spectacular. Kalamurina Wildlife Sanctuary (SA) covers 679,666 hectares including the north shore of Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre – more than 65% of all water entering Lake Eyre passes through Kalamurina.
“In late May 2018, floodwaters from north-west Queensland arrived in the Warburton Creek on Kalamurina. For two months the waters travelled more than 1000km south, meandering down the Diamantina-Warburton catchment, filling Goyder Lagoon, and finally making their spectacular entrance to Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre.
Kalamurina is one of AWCs largest sanctuaries, and to me encapsulates the feeling of pure remoteness the most. At the time, I was working for AWC as a volunteer photographer/videographer. I had worked a few wildlife translocation and surveys but this assignment took things to a new level for me, both professionally and logistically. My objective was to document the floodwaters arrival on Kalamurina.
Mark and Tess, the then sanctuary managers knew the property inside out. Based on their advice and what information we could gather from satellite imagery and charter flight reports, we chose a location along the Warburton Creek where I set up camp to wait the waters out. I chose an elevated bank that would provide a vantage point for scouting. In retrospect, it was a poor choice as transporting camera equipment up and down the bank took its toll. I knew I only had one good chance to capture the water arriving in the dry river bed, so I hit it with every bit of kit I had available. I had a camera at the top of the bank to capture a time lapse, 3 cameras at the base (one zoom, two wide), one hand-held camera on a gimbal and a drone for scouting and aerial vision. Oh, and a series of microphones to capture audio.
I had set this all up in the late morning with the water expected to arrive in the early afternoon. Anxiously waiting on the river bank, with the light beginning to fade, I assumed my hopes were lost and the water would arrive during the night. With 45 minutes left before sunset, the floodwaters arrived.
It was quite a magical experience. Prior to the waters arrival, it had been peacefully quiet – just myself perched in a dry desert river bed with the occasional wedge-tailed eagle soaring above – and then all of a sudden this powerful presence was flowing towards me and the desert came to life. I ran to each camera, hit record and flew the drone to the front line. It looked unbelievable from above… the first stage of the water is grey and foamy with silt. As it mixed with dry sand and the odd pool of solidified stagnant water, the colours blended like a painter’s palette. As it came closer, the earth began to crackle and pop as dry, sunburnt sand was flushed through cracks and crevasses. It was nothing less than a spectacle and I was in awe to have a front row seat.
The first stage moves somewhat slowly, traveling at a walking pace. The second stage comes with a greater force. This was clear and faster flowing water, navigating its way through small channels until converging into a tidal force with waves and ripples as the river began to fill.
As the water passed I kept up for as long as I could, capturing every angle of the front line. As I rested in my tent that night, dingoes howling and legs cramped, I was astonished by what I had just witnessed.
The transformation of the Warburton overnight was incredible. What was a dry bed just 12 hours before had turned into a flowing river, teaming with life. Large numbers of fish had followed the frontline, ducks and pelicans perusing the surface and whistling kites and terns hunting from above.
For the following days we targeted the water as it made its way to Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre. With a helicopter on site working with the science team, we took the opportunity to document the floodwaters at points inaccessible by vehicle. This produced incredible results as dust storms and rainbows accompanied scenes of the iconic Warburton Groove and the Macumba River, and the opportunity to be the first to document floodwaters arriving in the Kallakoopah. This natural wonder brought new life to the desert and the wildlife that call Kalamurina Wildlife Sanctuary home – and, as cheesy as it sounds, sparked new life in myself. This was a momentous and life changing experience that I will be forever grateful for, encouraging further wonder, passion and commitment to my work and the telling of stories of our spectacular country.”