We’re driving up a hill, surrounded by native scrub, to the home of world-renowned landscape photographer Richard Woldendorp.
It’s a treat, not only to be on this striking property in Perth’s hills, lit up by flaming Christmas trees, but to be met at the front door by a warm and welcoming Richard, 92, and wife Lyn.
Soon we’re seated in the lounge room, chatting away like old chums, sipping newly ground coffee and admiring their home’s extraordinary views, along with some fine Junipers on the walls.
“Robert Juniper was a close friend,’ says Richard. “We’d often travel together. While I was doing my aerial photography, Robert would be getting inspiration for his paintings.”
Sadly, many of his contemporaries are now gone, but Richard still harbours many wonderful memories of artistic friends, and a fascinating life.
“When we were young we didn’t have much money, but we’d swap our creative works. Richard would swap some of his photographs for artist friends’ paintings,” says Lyn.
She met Richard, a Dutchman back in 1961, ten years after he’d migrated to WA, at the South Perth home of a bohemian friend, Fritz.
“We had a bit of a migrant community in South Perth, and everybody would get together overt Fritz’s place,” Richard recalls, eyes lighting up.
“It was an old house with eight or nine rooms, and I kept a room there to stay when it suited me.”
Chimes in Lyn, “there were a lot of interesting people there. You’d arrive and there’d be people playing table tennis and chess. And Fritz would be playing a big old organ. There was no alcohol so everybody would be having a lot of interesting conversations. I went there with my brother once, to see why he kept going back there, and I could soon see why. Fascinating people.”
One of those being Richard. It didn’t take long before she and the dashing fellow 13 years her senior, who met sitting on the couch, became an item. They married 12 months later.
“I was working as a house painter at that time,” Richard recalls. Then he bought a camera on a trip back to Holland to visit his parents, started taking photos for hobby, and was hooked. That hobby fast became a passion and in 1962, the same year he and Lyn married, he won first and third prize in the Craven A national photography contest.
This gave Richard immediate national recognition, and the confidence to put aside his brushes and start working as a freelance photographer.
Publications from the eastern states regularly commissioned him to photograph the WA landscape. “It was too costly for them to fly their own photographers over so they’d use me,” he says modestly.
Mining companies too, began flying him to the north-west to photograph the landscape for them.
On the way to his destination, he found himself mesmerised by what he saw from the sky; and thus began his lifelong passion for aerial photography.
He and Lyn have assembled some his favourite tree images from his vast collection for new coffee table book, The Tree, published by Fremantle Press.
It includes an astonishing array of images of trees: great and tiny, fragile and robust, chocolate brown and shiny-white. During forays across brown dry land, tropical lushness and frozen turf ; all have been caught and immortalised by Richard’s lens, reminding us of what a vast, varied, kaleidoscopic, yet fragile continent on which we live.
Kimberley Gums, Moreton Bay Figs, Jarrah, Marri, Paperbarks, Mangroves, are just some of the beauties in the book.
“Trees are like humans – each one is individual, with its own personality,” Richard enthuses.
“I have driven and flown over Australia many times, and I’ve always been astonished by the variety of plant life that I’ve come across.”
As he says in this book: “Across all these terrains, trees have sustained human existence for milennia, providing not only oxygen but also shelter, food, wood for burning and raw materials.
And yet, we are losing billions of trees eery year to logging and deforestation at unsustainable rates. Conservation is needed, not only for their protection: trees are necessary for our own survival.”
The Australian Conservation Foundation’s director Piers Verstegan concurs. “Deforestation due to land clearing, logging and fire is the number one cause of the habitat loss that is driving our wildlife to extinction,” he says in the book’s foreword.
“The release into the atmosphere of the great carbon stores in trees and forest soils is a leading contributor to climate change, which itself is taking its toll on forests.
“Our once great woodlands and forests continue to retreat to increasingly fragmented patches that remain largely unprotected. And yet, contact with trees and the wildness that they provide is essential for our own wellbeing.”
(Are you listening, politicians, bureaucrats, developers and land-clearers?)
It’s a sobering thought that Richard’s book – his 28th – is not just a collection of beautiful arboreal images, it may just be a record of how our country once looked, as the bulldozers continue to wipe out so many magnificent Australian trees.
The Tree, by Richard Woldendorp, (Fremantle Press) is on sale now, and makes for a great Xmas present.