Unveiling the heart of western Victoria.

Photo Melanie Faith Dove

When a team of photographers decided to work together to capture the heart and soul of the Mallee region over a two-year period, it wasn’t just the scenery that caught their eye. Sure, they loved shooting lakes fringed by ancient red gums, or kilometres of ripening wheat on rust-red dirt, under open, blue skies with little bits of gold sprinkled between. They also adored the heritage-filled towns that seem like time capsules of last century’s boom times. But it was the Mallee people that captured their photographic eyes.

“There is a great sense of patriotism and community in the Mallee regions,” says OUTBACK contributor Melanie Faith Dove, one of the photographers on the project. “People know how to work bloody hard and party hard, too – it’s what keeps them alive and it’s what I enjoyed most about the Mallee, the fantastic spirit of the people.”

Another contributor to OUTBACK and the project, Andrew Chapman, agrees. “They have such openness, trust and resilience, along with a persona that reeks of a tough environment – a few good times against the many hard ones.”

The result of the project is a wonderful new hardcover book called The Mallee, which has been well received by locals.

Difficult to precisely define, the Mallee is basically the region north of the Wimmera where mallee grows in western Victoria. It includes such towns as Yaapeet, Kulwin, Quambatook and Manangatang. 

Andrew had previously worked on a book for Manangatang’s centenary in 2011, but Melanie was new to the area. “Which is a good thing,” she says. “I didn’t have preconceptions and I let the Mallee open itself up to me slowly.”

She loved the changing colours as Lake Tyrrell, near Sea Lake, reflected the sky like a mirror on a salty seabed, but has the most fond memories of the “gold characters” at the Patchewollock Pub, who warmly welcomed her even as she pointed a camera at them. “Another favourite photo was when I was on my drive home from a few days’ shooting with the gang around Hopetoun, and I drove past these two young women riding horses bareback down the main drag of Birchip past the iconic Mallee Bull statue. I couldn’t believe my luck!”

Meanwhile, Andrew had been shown inside the limestone St John’s church at Pella by Rainbow barman Mal Drendel, where he discovered an 1870 wooden organ that goes in and out of tune with the climate.

Sometimes the photographers worked collaboratively, and other times separately. If they shot similar material, they’d only choose the best images for the book.

The Mallee book can be purchased from Ten Bag Press.

This story excerpt is from Issue #134

Outback Magazine: Dec/Jan 2021