Traveling is something that everyone wants to do, no matter where they are in life. Studying abroad is something that many students dream about. The Edge of the Outback, Summer Photography in Australia is an incredible opportunity for those interested in photography and traveling. Not only do you learn about digital photography, but you travel into parts of Australia that locals rarely see.
When I went in the summer of 2014, it was the biggest group ever – 26 students. Typically, there is anywhere from 12-20, but the group worked incredibly well together, despite the size. On the departure date, I flew halfway around the world by myself, before I met the other students. During the time we spent together, we became extremely close and called each other “family” while down under. After we returned to the US, some of us refer to each other as “the Aussie fam.”
The program itself lasted 3 weeks, and nothing was close to what I was used to, in the best way possible. We stayed in a hostel in downtown Mildura. Mildura is an older town that reminded me of Cape Cod, where I grew up. With bars, shops, and restaurants all along the streets, there was always something to do even though it was winter there. It was easy to find food I was used to because pizza, burgers, and Italian dishes were common.
The first week consisted of lectures and learning how to shoot manually, along with getting to know everyone. With class Monday-Friday, 9-5, it was surprising that everyone got to know each other as well as we did right away. Living in close quarters with everyone in a hostel for the duration of the program really helped make friendships a lot stronger. After leaving La Trobe University each day, we would either go to the store for groceries or venture into the town for dinner; regardless, we ended up going into town for drinks almost every night. It took me being halfway around the world to like Jack and Coke, and now all I think about when I have it is being in Australia.
During the second week, we left Mildura and ventured into the Outback. When most people think of the Outback, they think of desert. The two places in the Outback we went to were Lake Mungo and Mutawintji National Park. Lake Mungo used to be a lake, roughly 20,000 years ago; now, it is more like a vast landscape with rock formations made out of compacted sand. Mutawintji is different, as we stayed in sheep sheering sheds with the aboriginals (natives whose families originated there), and hiked nature walks through the valley. The only bad part about our venture into the Outback were the flies; they were resistant to everything and would crawl on your face. After swatting away what felt like the billionth fly, I got slightly used to them being around me.
One of the days on the excursion, we hiked to St Mary Peak, which is the tallest point in Southern Australia. By hiked, I don't mean a leisurely stroll; in the beginning, it felt like a typical walk through woods. Once we got of of the base of the mountain, we literally had to rock climb to get past boulders that were almost as tall as us, as we held onto our cameras and backpacks. When we got to our lunch destination on the mountain, some of us decided to head back down instead of hiking the rest of the way to the top because it started to rain. Hiking up a mountain is pretty challenging in itself, but slippery rocks made it so much worse.
The course includes an aboriginal guide for the students. Peter Peterson, the aboriginal, is one of the most interesting people I have ever met. He would sit there and talk to you about anything, and then tell you about spirit animals and the Australian culture. He has one of the gentlest souls I have ever seen someone possess and cares so much about people he will only be around for the length of the program.
The trip ended with each student including one photo in a gallery the last Friday night in Mildura, which happened to be July 4th for us. During the gallery, locals were allowed to walk in and ask questions about our inspiration. The photo I chose, an outhouse from Lake Mungo, was purchased by the Dean of La Trobe University. After the gallery, we did what Americans do best and celebrated our independence at the bars. We requested American songs like Party in the USA by Miley Cyrus, Born in the USA by Bruce Springsteen, American Pie by Don McLean.
Knowing that none of us had ever done something like this before definitely made the whole experience so much better. I became close to not only the students, but also the instructors, and the land, which is something I was not expecting. I knew that it was for photography, but I had no idea that it would encompass making incredible friends and creating a journey with them that we will have memories of for the rest of our lives.
Going to a new country is an experience on its own, but seeing parts of a country that not many locals get to see is something I will never forget. It is hard to put into words what this adventure means to me because it wasn't just studying abroad. From campfire songs, to long, reflective bus rides; from breathing in flies, to almost sliding off a mountain; from late night conversations to cooking over a campsite; from hating on vegemite to eating kangaroo over a fire; the memories we created will last a lifetime, and only we will know how special this trip truly was. I became a local of Australia, though for a short time, and immersed myself into the depths of Australian culture, and no words can describe what that means to me.
Written By: Tyler Small