Articles, Column, Markus Jaaskelainen, Photo Focus
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Miners on Bicycles


I had driven along Great Western Highway past Blackheath and Mount Victoria when the scenery suddenly changed. Instead of endless, monotonous woods, there was a vast valley with open fields, farm houses, horses on paddocks and quaint little shops along the highway.

I breathed a sigh of relief. The long and winding descent down the hill eased into a leisurely drive on a country road. The bright Australian sun was up and doing its best to put a smile on these pastoral surroundings. We both had a job to do and we were feeling fine.

I was on my way to the “little house on the prairie”, as its owner called it. She had hired me to photograph her partner’s bicycle collection as a birthday surprise for him. The idea was to select one or two of the photos and make a canvas print to present to the hero of the day.

It was a great idea and I wanted to help make it succeed. As I arrived at the little house, my client had already lined up the first bicycle against the romantic wooden fence surrounding the yard. I introduced myself. We chatted about bikes, and about riding as a hobby. I wondered why bicycling in Australia was seen as a sport first, and a means of transport second. Or was that the case just in the Mountains?

Where I come from people are cycling to work and shops as a matter of routine. The bikes have mud guards and rear racks. They are seen more as utility vehicles than exercise machines.

I know there was a time when bicycles were a utility vehicle in Australia, too.

In the latter years of the 19th century, and the first years of the 20th century, there were brave (but poor) men who packed their knapsacks and shovels on a bicycle and set out to cross the desert separating the city of Perth and the mining fields of Kalgoorlie.

Many of them never reached their destination, let alone struck gold.

But it is to these poor cyclists that Australia owes it’s current wealth. To them and others—who mined minerals, raised cattle, grew wheat and started factories. Life was no doubt hard and there was little time to complain. You either made your way to your patch of land and your particular dream—or you died trying.

Some of that do-or-die spirit still survives in Australia. It thrives when people are encouraged to make their own fortunes and it is made possible by a population that values hard work.

We finished the photo shoot at an old abandoned service station in the historical village of Little Hartley. I took my client back to her little house on the prairie.

As I drove out, I thought how well the shoot had gone and I felt happy that my job allowed me to meet such lovely people as this client. Some of her bikes even had rear racks.

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