While COVID-19 border restrictions dictated its focus within Queensland, photographer Sam Thies has orchestrated a storyline in Bush that celebrates so much that is remarkable about the people of inland Australia. 

Story Annabelle Brayley  Photos Sam Theis

In 2019, while the coronavirus was silently trickling onto the global stage, some of us were battling drought and some of us were fighting wildfires; some of us were agitating for equality and some of us were campaigning for respect; some of us were pleading for inclusion and some of us begging for help; but most of us were living our normal, relatively entitled lives. When the pandemic exploded, life as we knew it skidded to a bone-shattering halt. 

In a period of rising global unrest, since then, more than 130 million people have tested positive for COVID-19, nearly 3 million of whom have died. While we’ve fared relatively well in Australia, we’ve all had to adjust to a new set of rules and constraints; metropolitan jurisdictions have been particularly restrictive. Despair, loneliness and disorientation hover like suffocating blankets of sorriness and, for anyone unused to aloneness, the isolation must be dislocating.

Compelled to wonder how people in the outback navigated the impacts of COVID-19, Brisbane-based photographer/filmmaker Sam Thies said, “There is a need, like never before, for us to pause, to listen and learn as a new world evolves”. In mid-2020, Sam and his crew spent several weeks trekking through the outback photographing ordinary people sharing their lives. 

The resulting book Bush is a narrative woven together with depictions of tenacity, fortitude and strength; of social connection, mutual respect and shared purpose; of embraced diversity, welcomed inclusion and community solidarity; all of it backgrounded by geographic isolation. 

There is nothing more empowering than connected community, especially in a crisis. In the outback, we have an advantage – isolation, in all its guises, is a way of life. We’re used to staying connected from a distance. 

BUSH is a large 300-page book available for $200 online at samthies.com/shop.

This story excerpt is from Issue #137

Outback Magazine: June/July 2021