I’m currently in Canberra on location and while being here – surrounded by the bleached gumtrees and gentle colour palette, I’ve realised it’s been one year since my first book ‘Shelter, How Australians Live’ was released.
When I think back to that time of making the book I feel a mixture of many, many emotions. It was one full-on year of my life, which I gave up to create this book.
When I think back I still can’t believe that I travelled around the entire country visiting each state, on a whim of loose leads and trusting strangers’ advice, seeking out authentic homes.
When it was released I was beyond elated that people had a shared passion for Australia. It was something which I hadn’t experienced. Before it was released I was a little nervous that people wouldn’t fully embrace the Australian aesthetic – the aesthetic which I love so much. Though, luckily, I was wrong and it was fully understood and celebrated and perhaps even more voiced.
One of the best parts was actually taking my book on the road and meeting so many loyal readers and supporters; all sorts, people who had been with me from the very beginning, then somewhere in between and then caught wind of what I was up to at the end.
I thought it might be interesting to talk about some of the conversations we had at the book launches, on the radio and in the mags.
Q) How did the book come about?
A) In 2013, I was approached to do a book on vintage caravanning and the narrative was that I travel around visiting people’s homes and giving interiors advice. (I have a vintage caravan which I used to travel around in, in case you don’t know, check it out here) At that time I was flattered to have been offered a book deal, however I felt I had more to give, more from the heart.
To be offered a book deal is not something to be taken lightly and I wanted to make a larger contribution, rather than perhaps be part of a ‘cool hipster movement’ – without the bushranger beard.
At that stage I was doing a lot of travel around Australia as a photographer and in regional areas especially. I had totally fallen in love with the landscape and the light and I wanted others to experience what had drawn me in.
I hadn’t seen this kind of Australia documented before and in my heart I had already decided that this was going to be ‘the book’ – on Australia, not caravanning, but truly living within the landscape and lapping it all up.
I pitched the idea back to the publisher, ‘How about a book on authentic Australian interiors, a book which speaks to the landscape?’….. um, they didn’t love it. Whaaat? Which kinda crushed me. There were tears. …. I had to prove my vision – so I was encouraged to go back into the field, the landscape – which I love and start from the very beginning and shoot a ‘sampler’, what I was seeing in my mind.
Then this was taken to the acquisitions boards and approved. Then it was goodbye and good luck – bring us back a beautiful book.
Q) You could have done a book on anything, why this?
A) I felt like it was about time that Australia dissolved our cultural cringe about our country and embraced the qualities that I had been admiring and loving.
Australia is actually a very exotic place and has such varied climates and landscapes – so many beautiful vibrant colours within the landscape. I saw a constant repetition for looking abroad for interior trends and I became disengaged and bored with what I was seeing on the pages of the magazines and in books.
I wanted to showcase a certain reality, a reality which I could relate to living here in Australia, with our climate and landscape.
Q) What was your favourite place to photograph?
A) Hill End and the home of Luke Scibberas ( – a few shots up). There was just something in the air when I visited the old gold rush village. I was only meant to stay for a day and ended up staying for five. Hill End is a community that’s closely knitted and keeps it real.
Because of the artistic undertone, people were really receptive to what I was doing. The folk of Hill End live a very authentic lifestyle that has a strong connection with the landscape that they live within.
Once I hit Hill End I understood what the book was really going to be about – the direction I had to take with the visual storytelling and narrative. The story of the book had to be about the people I came across and their tales too.
Q) Which was your favourite interior?
A) Page 130, the pinks of Gracemere in the Central Interior chapter (above). It’s a small freestanding outdoor bedroom, incapsulated by fly wire to catch the breezes in the hotter months and to keep the bugs out and animals out.
It was so enchanting and connected to the bush. The summer fragrances travelled straight through the fly screen on the hot air.
Q) How did you find the people?
A) I put a call out onto instagram originally and so many lovely people emailed me. The initial response was wonderful, but there is something to be said about serendipity and getting your hands dirty.
I started off in Western Australia, because I wanted to be completely thrown out of my comfort zone, from there I went to Tasmania where I thought I was going to stay a week and I stayed for 6, zig zagging around the state.
I would meet someone either accidentally or through a connection – the pub was always good (and bad) for this! I would tell people what I was doing – a book, and I was looking for authentic Australian interiors.
I’d photograph a house and be sent on my way to a friend or relative, living in another part of Australia. It was the most eclectic and authentic time of my life. A year of true magical thinking and being.
When a stranger opens up their home and life to you, the friendship is sped up. I became fast friends with all of the wonderful people who took me in and fell for the idea of a book like this – my project instantly became their project too.
Q) Favourite landscape or place?
A) Ghost Gums was photographed in the initial pitch. When I photographed these trees with so much light and emotion I realised that’s how I wanted to photograph the landscapes for the book.
To be able to pour so much emotion into a landscape scene – that was the goal for me, not some boring landscape on a postcard.
Q) What is your favourite page?
A) It’s hard to say because every page offers such different emotions for me. None of the shots were particularly easy – no shot that’s worthwhile ever is.
That feeling of being so vulnerable and being alone within the landscape still gives me goosebumps. Sounds strange, though Instagram really helped me feel as though I wasn’t alone – putting a picture up on instagram and feeling people’s support, love and conversation was such a positive part of the journey, I will always be grateful for that.
I had to go back through the book to choose and it was hard – but the image on page 190 has to be a favourite.
I just can’t believe all those components came together – fog, irises, homing pigeons, horses kissing, and emus. It feels so cinematic and captured the mood of a Lucy Culleton’s magical animal sanctuary perfectly.
A) Did you really not style the shots?
I didn’t style the shots. At the beginning of the journey I would – changing a few things around, then when editing the photographs I realised that the essence of the shot had changed. I had altered it. I had made the photograph about me.
I realised that if I wanted to do this project from an honest perspective, I had to do it from a documentary viewpoint – I had to shoot what was in front of me and use my skills to make it intriguing…… if anything, I’d sometimes remove the landline telephone.
Q) Which was the most memorable journey?
A) The most memorable was definitely my time spent on the remote island of Satellite Island. It was haunting, in the best possible way. I stayed there by myself, alone on the island. Well, mostly.
On the second day I had been shooting all day and I had no mobile reception when I poured myself a glass of wine and sat outside the boat shed.
The sun had gone down, I lit an armful of candles and a small fire. It was pitch black and all the stars were bright across the nights sky. Then, on the horizon I could see a boat light coming straight for the jetty, closer and closer,
was I imagining this? until the boat pulled up right on the jetty and this man jumped out – ‘Hi, are you having a party?’ this strange man asked, as he lifted beer and live crayfish out of his boat onto the jetty – ‘umm, no, no party here’, I replied, ‘It’s just me, my name is Kara and I’m all alone, without even mobile phone reception’ – good work Kara, thats exactly how murder movies go….. Turns out he was a night watcher seal defender – as in, protecting seals in the waters.
Anyway, I shuffled the seal defender man back onto into his boat, explaining to him I was having a moment and he and his crayfish weren’t going to be part of it. Far out. Just when you think you are alone…..